Haa is preparing to host the sixth edition of Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition and is bringing in something called beautification audit. Simply put the idea is that the investment made for the celebration remains and will be maintained forever. The concept is not only beautiful but also promising.
Unique as our system is the initiative has every chance of succeeding because we even have a beautification officer in every dzongkhag whose primary responsibility is to develop long-term plans for beautification of the dzongkhag and to ensure long-term sustainability of the programmes. In Haa, beautification officer would be tasked with the responsibility to audit the beautification projects.
Samdrupjongkhar, the home of the fifth edition of Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition is today a changed town. It is arguably Bhutan’s most beautiful town. The exhibition helped add special quality to its aesthetic charm and the town’s residents took ownership of the investment. There are parks for children and adults alike and shopfronts are lined with beautiful plants and flowers. Samdrupjongkhar could also easily be Bhutan’s cleanest town today. And since the exhibition the number of regional tourists has visibly increased in the town.
In Haa too the developed sites would be asset for the dzongkhag. Because the celebration will covers all six gewogs audit will cover the entire dzongkhag, including dzongkhag administration office, religious institutions, community lhakhangs, main event site, drungkhag administration, gewogs offices, schools, hospital and BHUs, RNR centres and regional offices such as forestry and park, among others. The people will participate in the celebration by cleaning their homes, planting flowers and trees in their surrounding with special focus on maintaining their own kitchen gardens.
Haa might not even need beautification audit but it is always good to have one. People are now increasingly realising the salience of civic responsibility. The good thing is that the Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition does not have a permanent home. It has the potential to leave its mark wherever it goes just like Thimphu’s Memorial Choeten and Samdrupjongkhar stand as the living proof.
As we aim to take the benefits of tourism to the dzongkhags other than Thimphu, Punakha and Wangdue, Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition could play a critically important role. For the dzongkhags such as Haa, transformation after the celebration could be beyond physical beautification.
State Trading Corporation of Bhutan Limited (STCBL) will now distribute 200 metric tonnes (MT) of liquified petroleum gas (LPG) to consumers.
This is to maintain uninterrupted supply and distribution of LPG in the country, according to trade officials.
The distribution would begin once the construction of Ramtokto and Dechencholing petroleum, oil and lubricants (POL) outlets in Thimphu are completed. STCBL will establish 10 other outlets in the country.
Department of Trade approved STCBL’s proposal to allow them to distribute LPG December 2018.
The decision to award the distribution to STCBL, according to trade director Sonam Tenzin was to encourage competition to improve delivery services and not to limit POL services to dealers.
He also said there was no application from the private sector to venture into the business. “It was STCBL who proposed for the distribution of POL services.”
Economic affairs minister, Loknath Sharma, said the ministry was not trying to undermine the private sector but except for Tashi Commercial, other POL depots could not pick up the business well. “It will be difficult for private entities to enter into POL business because of high capital requirements and low-profit margin. LPG’s distribution is more of moral responsibility than business.”
Meanwhile, the ministry also deferred its decision to lift subsidised LPG cylinders from four thromdes after the stakeholders’ meeting with regional directors, regional trade and industry officers and dealers of POL on December 12 last year.
While a discussion was held to resolve the shortages and to discuss the operational plans and strategies to lift subsidised LPG from the thromdes, dealers reported that stock position of subsidised LPG was adequate following the increase in quota from 700 metric tonnes (MT) to 1000MT per month.
Lyonpo Loknath Sharma also reasoned that urban poor should also get subsidised cylinders.
Although the ministry has data on urban poor compiled by thromdes and National Statistics Bureau, the authorities said the data on urban poor was not credible.
Trade director said that as per the data, the urban poor were less than 300 households from four thromdes.
“The data on urban poor could not be verified,” Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said.
Lyonpo said that the notification would have been implemented if the contingency plan to increase subsidised from 700 to 1000 did not come through. “Now we have some time to plan distribution between urban and rural conveniently, open additional outlet, and if required increase distributors as well.”
DoT issued a notification in July last year stating that the supply of subsidised LPG cylinders will be lifted from the four thromdes of Thimphu, Gelephu, Phuntsholing, and Samdrup Jongkhar with effect from January 2020.
The move was to address LPG shortage by promoting the use of non-subsidised LPG among urban consumers and to divert subsidised LPG to rural and underprivileged consumers.
Trade officials also said dealers claimed they are having difficulty in selling non-subsidised LPG cylinders because of less demand from the public in four thromdes due to availability of subsidised LPG.
The dealers were asked to circulate adequate numbers of new cylinders and to open separate counter for subsidised and non-subsidised LPG in all depots to reduce queuing time.
Sonam Tenzin said dealers would have to deliver service from nine in the morning to five in the evening without lunch break.
He also said that the concerned regional offices were asked to monitor the shortage of LPG in rural areas and appoint gewog LPG agents if required in all gewogs. “We already gave a few licences to gewog LPG agents. And we encourage more to come forward. ”
Two male tourist guides are undergoing treatment at the Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA) after testing positive for controlled substances during the Tourism Council of Bhutan’s (TCB) mandatory drug test.
The two were referred to the BNCA’s Treatment Assessment Panel (TAP) after they tested positive for cannabis in December last year and January this year.
TCB, in collaboration with BNCA, began the drug test from December last year to ensure a healthier, safer and productive tourism industry free of drug abuse.
The guides are required to renew their license between December and February each year and the drug-free certificate is a mandatory document for the renewal of the license.
Tourism officer with the quality assurance division, Karma Tenzin said that those who tested positive can appeal if they wish, presenting evidence like medical prescriptions.
“The evidence will be verified by experts including the BNCA pharmacists and medical doctors,” he said.
An official with the BNCA said that they are undergoing pre-counselling sessions for two and a half hours every day.
The official said they have a TAP meeting on coming Tuesday where the TAP members will decide on the appropriate treatment to be provided to them based on the severity of their substance use.
Karma Tenzin said that the initiative was not to penalise those consuming controlled substances but to offer them an opportunity to get appropriate treatment services.
He said that it is reported that some of the tourist guides turned up at the psychiatric department at the national referral hospital for detoxification. “This means people are seeking help and treatment, which is good.”
People with substance abuse problems, he said should be provided help and treated, not stigmatised. “That is the main objective of the mandatory drug test.”
The license of those who tested positive for commonly used illegal drugs including marijuana, opioid, and cannabis, among others will be suspended during the time of the treatment.
The guide license of those who tested positive will be renewed after the TCB receives treatment completion letter from the BNCA. There will be a random drug testing for those who tested positive earlier.
Of more than 4,000 registered tourist guides in the country, only 956 renewed their license and underwent the drug test so far since December 1, 2019. About 26 trekking cooks also underwent the drug test as of January 8.
Karma Tenzin said more guides are expected to appear for the test next month as testing will end on February 29.
Jigme Choden & Sonam Chukey
Pema Tamang observed her friends folding edges of pages repeatedly to mark their reading. She decided to give them an alternative: her handmade book marks.
The student of Arekha Middle Secondary School said: “I started making bookmarks using waste paper and started selling them.” Pema made a profit of Nu 700 last year. She gave special discounts to students who could not afford to buy gifts on Teacher’s Day.
The 16-year old is a participant in a 10-day Students Business Seedling (SBS) winter programme featuring a special little CEO’s business session underway in Thimphu and hopes to further enhance her business idea.
Financial Institutions Training Institute (FITI) in collaboration with Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) is conducting the training for 24 students between 13 and 16 years from different schools. The participants were selected based on their writing skills on business ideas.
The programme was conducted to help children understand about Business Model Canvas (BMC), idea pitching, financial literacy and also to teach them how to create a business name.
The programme coordinator, Rohit Gazmer, said this was the second time the annual programme was organised. All the participants were from Thimphu last year. This time organisers focused on rural students and had only two participants from Thimphu.
The concept of this programme was inspired by Julie Ann Wood’s work “More Than a Lemonade Stand” a camp where young entrepreneurs are guided in planning, implementing and running their business ideas. SBS winter programme took her content but in the Bhutanese context.
Rohit Gazmer said that this programme not only enhanced their entrepreneurship skills but leadership skills as well.
The programme began with each student presenting their business ideas, which the organisers helped to improve. The business ideas were school banks, opening a theater in Sakteng, a cobbler shop with shoe manufacturing factory in Paro, among others.
A class X student of Gesarling Central School, Kamali Maya Darjee wants to open a bank in her school. She said many students are wasting money on junk foods and other things. A bank in her school would enable them to save money.
“When we grow up, not everyone is going to get government jobs so we should do something different from the rest in order to earn a living,” she said.
Yeshey Dorji, 12, said, “In Paro there are not enough cobbler shops, my plan is to open one, where I will also make shoes.”
Dorji Tenzin, studying in Shema Gangkha Primary School wants to focus on helping the poor and unemployed youth through his dairy business.
Rohit said that students at the beginning of the session were shy and did not communicate much. “But today they are gaining confidence and communicating well with anyone.”
Pema Thinley, 12, from Sakteng Lower Secondary School said that the programme was helping him and other participants to be independent, a responsible citizen, and to be a good businessman.
By the end of the programme, the participants are expected to learn the rationale and processes for starting a business and understand various financial and business concepts with the best practices.
On the final day, the organisers would set up a fair to help the participants gain experience in selling products.
The participants are given allowances and meals at the Department of Youth and Sports (DYS) hostel where they stay. The programme will end on January 17, 2020.
…will be piloted in seven schools near existing TTIs and zorigchusum institutes
Younten Tshedup | Gelephu
With the completion of the competency based learning material (CBLM) for technical and vocational education and training (TVET), TVET curriculum will begin as an optional subject for class IX starting this academic year.
The curriculum will be implemented in seven pilot schools – Bayling, Rangjung, Chumey and Punakha Central Schools, Khuruthang and Babesa Middle Secondary Schools, and Bajothang Higher Secondary School.
The new TVET programme would be available for students besides other optional subjects like economics, agriculture for food security and environmental science.
Unit head with the vocational and commercial studies unit of the Royal Education Council (REC), Kinley Namgyal, said that by 2021, the subject would be introduced for class X.
“We are currently developing CBLM for classes XI and XII, which would be implemented in 2022 and 2023 respectively,” he said. “While we already have a curriculum in place, the CBLM is a tool for teachers and students to implement the curriculum.”
He explained that the new TVET curriculum is different from the vocational programme that was implemented since 2011 in selected schools.
Following a study carried out in 2014, it was recommended that the curriculum be reformed. “The previous curriculum was tailor-made and only those components that were deemed important for the students were incorporated.”
In the new curriculum, courses are being offered in line with the National Certificate (NC)-II and NC-III levels, meaning that major components of the two levels would be taught to students should one opt the subject.
The new curriculum would also have a credit transfer system.
The benefits of the reforms according to Kinely Namgyal is that students wishing to pursue vocational training from class X or XII would not have to undergo similar basic trainings as their fresh counterparts when they join the technical training institutes (TTIs).
“This enables the students to complete the training faster than other fresh candidates because they have already learned most of the components of the course.”
Today, a regular class X or XII joining TTIs would have to undergo two years of training to get a NC-II level credential. However, should one opt the TVET subject from class IX, by the end of class XII, he/she would spend 864 hours (36 days) in total, besides studying the regular subjects.
Kinely Namgyal said that when vocational programme was first offered as an optional subject, the number of students opting for the course were not encouraging.
To generate interest in TVET among students and to encourage them to pursue the course, vocational clubs and pre-vocational orientation programmes for classes IV to VIII would also be introduced in the seven pilot schools.
“These programmes would entice our children to choose TVET as an optional subject and we expect the students to take interest and embrace TVET when they reach class IX.”
In the wake of the growing youth unemployment, Kinley Namgyal said that the new TVET curriculum is an attempt to generate an understanding and interest in the vocational field.
“The lack of skills among jobseekers, which is one of the main reasons for unemployment among youth today should be addressed should this programme be successful.”
The winter session of Parliament beginning January 15 is expected to be crucial for the government in terms of passing the legislations that it believes would achieve the objective of narrowing the gap.
At the heart of the agenda will be reforms in the tax system and the mining sector on which the government has been doing homework for more than a year now. The proposed legislative changes if passed are expected to set the tone for the government for the remaining three and a half years.
However, the government’s reforms are expected to come under thorough scrutiny of the Opposition. Some Opposition members have hinted that they will draw the government’s attention to major issues like unemployment and the economic slowdown.
The session is being held after a delay of about two months and at the backdrop of a 3.03 percent GDP growth in 2018, which is the second lowest growth recorded in Bhutan’s modern history. The lowest GDP growth was 2.12 percent recorded in 2013.
Observers say the success of the government will largely depend on the achievements of the upcoming session. This is the first session where the government will be tabling major policy changes since assuming office in November 7, 2018.
Members of the ruling parties are upbeat that the Mines and Minerals Bill (MMB) 2020 and reforms in the taxation system will go a long way in narrowing the gap.
The National Assembly’s chairman of the economic and finance committee, Kinley Wangchuk, said that the session will be different from the rest given some crucial bills, especially Tax Revision Bills and Mines and Minerals Bill, in the agenda.
“The DNT government has flagged the ideology ‘narrowing the gap’ and the success of the upcoming session followed by one or two sessions will significantly determine the success of this government,” Kinley Wangchuk said.
He said that tax reforms coupled with passing Mines and Minerals Bill will eventually bring fortune to the government’s coffer should the government levy taxes on goods and services that need to be taxed. “In doing so, we should also carefully consider ease of doing business in Bhutan.”
Drakteng-Langthel MP from Trongsa, Gyem Dorji, said that reforms that the government is expected to bring in the taxation system and the mining sector would address some of the major issues facing the country. He added that the Mines and Minerals Bill and tax reforms Bills are not aimed at taking away the wealth from the rich to the poor.
On the Opposition’s expectations of the session, Deputy Spokesperson of the Opposition, Passang Dorji (PhD), said, “Among others, the session will deliberate important tax-related bills. The kind of deliberations and consequent outcomes will determine the future of our economy, which is already in the red.”
National Assembly members, Passang Dorji said, will have to transcend partisan politics and put their heads together to chart the future of our economy – in which every Bhutanese has a high stake. “The ramifications will be serious and wide should we miss the opportunity to correct some structural and fundamental problems of the economy through appropriate laws.”
“It is high time that the government solidified the clarity of its economic vision and direction. This session will provide us a platform to work as a team to pave a progressive economic path of our country,” he said.
On the poor GDP growth, ruling party MPs said that the two proposed reforms would create conducive environment through policy changes to propel the growth of the economy.
The emphasis on the Mines and Minerals Bill has been so much that the National Assembly is holding the first legislative public hearing on it today. It seeks to replace the Mines and Minerals Management Act of 1995.
Article 1(12) of the Constitution states: “The rights over mineral resources, rivers, lakes and forests shall vest in the State and are the properties of the State, which shall be regulated by law.” But it is said that most of the business is dominated by a handful of people.
As part of its policy to revamp the taxation system in the country, the government will introduce reforms that are expected to increase the PIT slap. But the PIT rates for those earning those earning above Nu 1 million (M) could increase.
The government is also expected to introduce a Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) for regional tourists and table the Tourism Levy Exemption Act 2017, which exempted tariff paying tourists for visiting eastern dzongkhags, for amendment.
The government plans to recoup Nu 10 billion (B) through tax reforms. But critics say the government should be careful not to pinch the private sector too hard and that the the tax reforms should not affect the the sector’s growth.
The government has promised to increase the PIT slab from Nu 200,000 to Nu 300,000 and to exempt BIT for business establishments and firms that have less than Nu 200,000 annual turn over.
It has also promised to do away with the five percent voucher tax. The government’s publication on its first year in office, the Executive states that the voucher tax pledge is expected to come through. But some people are of the view that the voucher tax should be retained and data and call charges reduced.
Observers say that the success of the session depends on the government’s ability to build consensus and homework on the Bills. At least three Bills were withdrawn from the Parliament last session due to lack of homework on the part of the government and relevant committees.
The two-month delay in the commencement of the winter session is supposed to have given more time to come up with well drafted Bills.
Prime Minister’s Office wrote to the education ministry yesterday telling them to start work on bringing down the admission age to five years beginning this academic session.
Despite hassle on the admission age, last month, Lyonchhen said the government was looking into the policy on the age criteria for admission into pre-primary (PP) to ensure that the age aligned with the National Service (Gyalsung) that would be instituted by 2022.
According to the annual education statistics 2018, enrolment in primary education was 92,298, out of which 63.4 percent enrolled at the right age (six years old) of primary education, while 3.4 percent were under-aged.
Underage students are those who have not attained six years, as per the ministry’s criteria for PP enrolment.
Last year, upon Prime Minister’s request, admission of 890 underage pre-primary students (below 5.5 years) in public and private schools across the country was reconsidered by the ministry.
Meanwhile, many social media users appreciated the move and some are awaiting timely enforcement of the policy. One woman on Facebook wrote: “I am excited and thankful to the government for this decision.
I am waiting for the ministry to circulate the letter to individual schools so that we can start processing the admission for kids as admission to school has been closed.”
However, a number of them raised concerns about the limited infrastructure to accommodate the students.
Another user noted that the young students won’t be able to handle the burden of learning at an early age. Some parents said that the decision caused inconvenience to them as they had already registered their children in the early learning centres. “We have paid the fees, even.”
“I just hope that the decision is not to derive short term political gains but would have tangible benefits for the individuals and the education system,” a Facebook user wrote.
The officials from the education ministry were not available for comments.
… conducts 55 ear surgeries in its 8th ENT camp
Tshering Namgyal | Mongar
A mobile medical team from Thailand treated 538 ears, nose and throat (ENT) outpatient department cases from the eastern region and few from Thimphu and Phuentsholing in Mongar regional referral hospital.
In the eight ENT camp held on January 7 and 8, 55 ear surgeries were also conducted.
A 15-member team called ‘Thai Medical Friendship Mission to Bhutan’ is a part of the rural ENT foundation in Thailand. The members are volunteers from King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital, Rajavithi Hospital, Phyathai hospital, Sriraj hospital, Prince of Sonkla University and Bumrungrad international hospital.
Although the camp was scheduled from January 6 to 9, roadblocks because of snow delayed the programme.
The team coordinator, Dr Paniree Charusripan, who is an ENT specialist and an associate professor with the Department of Otolaryngology in Chulalongkorn University, said otitis media (perforation of eardrum and discharge of puss), cerumen infection (ear wax) and meningitis (eardrum infection) and hearing loss at the young age were common problems.
She said cold weather especially in winter that causes nose block and runny nose followed by bacterial infection cause it.
Dr. Paniree said the camp was conducted to help Bhutan reaching its ENT services to the needy ones until Bhutan is well equipped with ENT specialists. “The team is keen on continuing its service until it reached the state where Bhutan doesn’t need the assistance.”
She said they are glad that the number of cases is decreasing every year.
The first ENT camp was conducted in 2008.
An ENT specialist of the national referral hospital, Dr Sonam Jamtsho, said the Thai medical team has benefitted Bhutan in providing ENT service. Bhutan has only five ENT specialists or surgeons as of today.
He said it was difficult for the national team to cover all ENT cases during ENT camp conducted in the regional referral hospitals conducted quarterly. “The Thai ENT experts have helped us.”
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) charged three Indian businessmen for smuggling 1.49kgs of gold worth Nu 5.065 million (M) into the country from Thailand to Paro dzongkhag court on January 6.
Of the three suspects, two are from Mumbai, Maharashtra and the third man from Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
Businessman Ishan Yogeshchandra Bhatt, 33, of Ahmedabad, is charged for attempting to smuggle 800.8 grammes (gm) of gold worth Nu 2.725M into Bhutan through Paro international airport. He imported 111gm of gold chain and three gold biscuits weighing 689.8gm.
A businessman from Mumbai, Suresh Digambar Vernekar, 62, was also in possession of 111gm of gold chain and four gold biscuits weighing 465.86gm. He is charged for importing 576.86gm of gold amounting to Nu 1.962M.
The third businessman, Aboozar Abdul Shakur Shaikh, 56, who is also from Mumbai, is charged for importing 111gm of gold chain worth Nu 377,719.
They are charged for gold smuggling, violating Bhutan Penal Code’s section 279. The offence of smuggling shall be a value-based sentencing. The prosecution charged both Ishan Yogeshchandra Bhatt and Suresh Digambar Vernekar for third degree felony with a prison term ranging from five to nine years.
Aboozar Abdul Shakur Shaikh is booked for misdemeanor, which is graded as a felony of fourth degree with a prison term ranging from one to three years.
How the racket was busted?
The gold racket was busted after the Revenue and Customs officers apprehended the three men at the airport terminal in Paro International Airport around 2.46pm on November 8, 2019.
The suspects were coming from Bangkok in Bhutan Airlines. Customs officers caught them with 111gm gold chain each worn around their necks and they were handed over to the Paro police along with the gold chains.
Police detained the three for further investigations. Police then found and seized four gold biscuits weighing 465.86gm from Suresh Digambar Vernekar and three gold bangles weighing 689.8gm from Ishan Yogeshchandra Bhatt.
OAG stated that suspect Ishan Yogeshchandra Bhatt travelled from India to Bangkok on holiday while two other suspects, Suresh Digambar Vernekar and Aboozar Abdul Shakur Shaikh were in Bangkok for their business trip.
Suresh Digambar Vernekar while staying at his hotel room met Aboozar Abdul Shakur Shaikh during which they planned to visit Bhutan. The trio told the police that they bought gold chains, gold bangles and gold biscuits from Bangkok for their personal use.
According to Customs Rules and Regulations of Bhutan 2017, gold and silver in the form of coins, bars or bullion including jewelry in excess of the quantity mentioned (50 grammes) shall require a permit from the relevant agency and is subject to levy of customs duty.
“Bhutanese nationals or the non-Bhutanese national residing in Bhutan, on their return to Bhutan from any country by air shall be allowed only 50gm of gold including jewelry,” it states.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Doing businesses online through social media sites on a large scale is illegal, according to officials from Department of Trade (DoT).
Officials also said people into businesses online at a commercial scale, without proper establishment and registration, would be liable for penalty.
The chief trade officer with DoT, Rinchen Lhazom, said most individuals using social media platforms to sell products, including those imported ones, was allowed if the size of the business was small.
“But doing business at a commercial level without a valid license is illegal,” she said, adding that necessary actions would be taken as per the rules prescribed by the existing trade laws.
Rinchen Lhazom said the department is hopeful that people interested to do e-commerce would go through the e-commerce guidelines of July 2019, get licence and do e-commerce legally.
In the two-day workshop on e-commerce, market modernisation and skills development held in Phuentsholing on January 7 and 8, about 40 private sector employees from across the country participated in the workshop. Trade officials from other regional offices also attended the workshop.
DoT officials also said that the Department of Cottage and Small Industries had taken over the issuance of e-commerce licence and 18 licences were issued. Today 13 more have been approved taking the total number of e-commerce ventures to 31.
A participant, Sonam Ratu, said the courier company he represented has tremendous potential in doing e-commerce. “It would be easy for our clients. There are transparency and accountability.”
He said they are working on it but it might take time.
Meanwhile, the workshop was also held to give private sector representatives a chance to raise their concerns. However, not many officials, who could make decisions attended the workshop.
Directorate Services’ director, Yeshey Rangrik Dorjee, said chief executive officers and senior officials from the management did not attend.
“They should come and raise their concerns,” he said, adding the workshop was a forum for private sector representatives to communicate.
Yeshey Rangrik Dorjee said the department’s motive was to enhance public service delivery, which the private sector players could avail. “It would bring efficiency and profit in their business.”
Fire season is just around the corner. There is a need to prep up for the major disasters that threatens to visit us come.
An eight-year-old boy died in Samdrupjongkhar on Monday when fire razed a semi-permanent house.
In Bhutan, fires are always blamed on short circuit.
If short circuit is the main source of problem, by now we ought to have been able to address our shortcomings.
Digging into Kuensel’s archive we find that this has been the problem since late 1980s.
In a way, the dangers were already forewarned. There has been not a lightest development since then, however. This shoes how much we care about such disasters.
In fact, our squatter settlements are increasing which is indicative of our failure in plan development. It is in such areas where dangers of fire are ever present.
Faulty wiring is one. No one seems to care how the electric lines are carried from one place to the other. And it is in these areas where safety measures are desperately lacking.
And then we have our forests to take care of. They will now begin to burn one after another, helplessly. We never get to know what causes forest fires.
There are investigators who either tells us it is all due to natural causes or that investigations are underway.
We have even—often—heard investigators say that they have no clairvoyance and will not be bothered by questions from the people.
Such dereliction of duty should be punishable by law. Sadly this does not happen in our society. Holding someone accountable for his or her actions is becoming a rarity by the day.
Because our system does not hold them accountable, such preventable disasters continue to happen. There is more to come so.
Simple things can save a lot of things indeed. Personal initiatives are so critically important. Being aware and making sure how an individual’s actions can impact the other or the whole community is the key, particularly in the growing shanty settlements of the growing towns and cities.
Going the way plans are shaping our society up, such dangers to the people could only grow. For the politicians, these aren’t even a problem. For the poor electorates, however, there is no help coming from anywhere.
Hazard warnings and advocacy should go beyond TV programmes.
Tshering Namgyal | Mongar
Distance between Mongar and Lhuentse is expected to shorten by more than 32kms once the Yongkola-Dorjilung bypass is connected.
Department of Roads (DoR) officials in Lingmethang said works on the 20kms bypass will start by July this year and commuters will not have to pass through Gangula.
Officials said the 10kms Tsamang gewog centre road from Yongkola to Tokari village in Tsamang is already blacktopped, while another 10kms farm road is also connected to Dorjilung recently.
DoR’s chief engineer, Karma Rinzin, said they only have to blacktop the 10kms farm road and construct a 200ft bailey suspension bridge at Dorjilung over Kurichhu to connect the bypass.
He said survey was conducted and a detailed project report has been submitted. “Work is expected to be awarded to the contractors by July this year.”
Meanwhile, for the commuters travelling from Mongar to Lhuentse these days, the road after crossing Gangula is not only narrow and curvy but also filled with potholes.
Commuters say the road has not been maintained for years and it takes more than three hours to reach Lhuentse. “Initially, it took only two hours but now poor road condition increased the travel time,” a commuter said.
DoR officials say they are aware of the problem and they resurfaced 6kms of the stretch in Chali and Palangphu area.
Officials said the whole stretch of 65kms Lhuentse highway from Gangula junction requires maintenance but they do not have budget.
Karma Rinzin said the regional office maintained only a few kilometres last year due to lack of budget although maintenance is critical. “We even had the plan to widen this national secondary highway once but the idea had to be dropped because of the budget issue.”
He, however, said the regional office has decided to do resurfacing work stretch wise and resurfacing another 5kms stretch is approved for 2019-20 financial year. “The work has been already tendered out and would be awarded to the contractor soon.”
Tshering Namgyal | Mongar
When the Gyalpoizhing-Nganglam highway was inaugurated in May 2018, the business community in Gyalpoizhing was excited and expected their businesses to prosper.
Less than two years after the inauguration, shopkeepers are baffled with the decline in business.
But the community say there is still hope.
After years of delay as a result of a major land scam, the town could eventually become one of the most unique towns in the country, a lakeside model town.
As of now, construction of a double-lane main road, storm water drainage and a vegetable shed are complete.
While the old sewerage system is used, officials said the streetlight has been proposed and work related to water treatment plant for the drinking water from Drepong and plantation of flowers and plants (evergreen low height trees) in between the structures and road is underway.
Similarly, the construction of Namgyal choeten along with wangkhang (prayer hall) aimed at hosting religious activities especially in winter is also going on.
With the salient features of smart growth principles, dzongkhag officials said Gyalpoizhing town would serve as the business, tourism, transit, sporting and conferencing hub in eastern Bhutan.
The salient features include resort and convention center, compact building design, walkable neighbourhood, foster distinctive and attractive neighbourhood, environmental preservation and a children’s park.
All-weather-soccer stadium, guest house, conference hall and resort, boat riding, vegetable shed, a choeten with wangkhang would be some of the prominent features the town once complete.
There will also be a river rafting along the 3.6km ferry route over the 250m wide still river with six boat stations.
This, according to the dzongkhag officials, is going to be the most unique part of the town and it is expected to attract tourists.
“This is an interface of water-bred activities with human-settlement pattern to turn Gyalpoizhing into winter destination for local tourists for water-based recreational activities,” Mongar architect, Sangay Wangchuk said.
The 10.6-acre Bhutan Olympic Committee area, which already has an artificial turf will be turned into a sporting complex with in-door games and sports facilities.
In order to supplement drinking water supply, thromde officials said an additional water source has been identified at Kalapang in Saling gewog and included in the 12th Plan in the flagship programme.
However, the resort area designated at the lower part of the town including the river rafting facility and children’s park are yet to be developed.
For the service precinct, except for relocating the BOD fuel depot to Kurizampa area, dzongkhag officials said Bondeyma industrial estate will suffice.
Gyalpoizhing town has 105 allocable plots excluding the government institutions, of which 57 plots were allotted. Among those allotted, 18 are already developed, three are being developed and two are set, according to a town committee member Tshering Wangdi.
Among the government agencies that have applied for plots of the remaining area, economic affairs ministry has applied to establish a cottage and small industry start-up center, and the Royal Monetary Authority has applied to open its regional office.
Gyalpoizhing town has an area of 400 acres with an estimated population of more than 2,400 people.
Many people, including commuters and residents were taken by surprise when it snowed in Gedu on the night of January 4, stranding vehicles and causing inconveniences to commuters.
Official records indicate Gedu received its first snowfall this year. Some Gedu residents said the place received a light snowfall in 2008. “But this is the first time we are receiving snowfall of such thickness,” a local resident said.
Many people attributed the snowfall to climate change.
The National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM) officials, however, said western disturbance along with convective clouds, which were fed with continuous moisture from the Arabian Sea caused the snowfall with hailstorm and thunderstorm in Gedu.
A hydromet officer, Pema Syldon, said surface temperature of Gedu was one degree Celsius that evening. “Since Gedu had favourable conditions such as drop-in temperature and moisture in the air, precipitation occurred in the form of snow with hailstorm.”
She said that due to frequent western disturbances, the country was experiencing precipitation this winter season. “There will be numerous snowfalls this winter.”
Although many said the change in weather conditions was because of climate change, the hydromet officer said that winter precipitation over the country was governed by seasonal variability.
She also said that a single event shouldn’t be directly linked with climate change because climate change studies require longer historical data analysis.
Meanwhile, rainfall and temperature forecast of Bhutan for 2019 winter season projected most likely ‘below normal’ temperature forecast for winter.
Thimphu experienced its coldest day on December 18 last year in 23 years. The lowest minimum temperature reached -9 degree Celsius, which is about 3.7 degrees below the average for winter from 1996 to 2019.
As per the record with NCHM, the average minimum temperature recorded from 1996-2019 was -5.3 degrees Celsius.
As of today, the winter temperature observed across the country is below normal by an average of 3 degrees Celsius.
Meanwhile, NCHM forecasts snowfall in the northern, western and central regions of Bhutan today.
The defending champions, Buddhist Arts were losing the deciding set, and were on the verge of being knocked out of the Druk Wangyel National Traditional Archery tournament at Changlimithang archery range yesterday.
The opponents, TSD and STS had hit a karey (target hit) and two dayangs, booking four points enough to finish the set and secure a berth at the final on January 11.
The four time champions needed a hero.
For the past two days, despite losing a set to the opponents, Buddhist Arts were leading and at that moment needed only a point to win the deciding match. TSD and STS fought back tooth and nail. The organisers extended the match with two more rounds on the second day but Buddhist Arts couldn’t finish it.
The next day, TSD and STS returned stronger and went up from 17 to 21 in the first two rounds excluding the numerous hits that Buddhists Arts cancelled. Neither of the teams could score in the next three rounds as both teams successfully prevented the other team from scoring.
It came to the sixth round and TSD and STS had enough points, a karey and two dayangs, to finish the set with only three archers remaining. Buddhist Arts players appeared dejected and desperate.
They ran, yelled, and whistled summoning the spirits to intervene and hoping for a miracle. Their supporters at stands wore anxious looks and encouraged the archers to prove their worth. The scene was a battle-like. It was now or never.
Then Dorji Tshering from Sakteng rose to the occasion. His performance in the past two days were not convincing. But now, both his bamboo arrows landed on the target squashing all hopes for team TSD and STS from Thimphu. His teammates ran riot around the targets spraying dust and singing their lungs out.
The match ended, Buddhist Arts entered the final from Pool A.
Dorji Tshering was extremely happy. “In the past two days, other friends have performed well. We became hopeless as the opponent hit the target continuously in the deciding set. But I aimed with full determination and it worked at the last moment,” he said.
Besides their talent in archery, spectators enjoyed their sense of humour and camaraderie. They said safety of spectators is an issue as many move out of the gallery and stand close to target. “The lone Bhutan Indigenous Games and Sports Association (BIGSA) lady staff controlling the crowd was not enough,” a spectator said.
Meanwhile, team Yango Automobile from Thimphu lost to Radhi gewog, Trashigang on January 6. Radhi dominated the game winning both the sets 25-14 and 25-2 and cruised easily into the final.
Radhi didn’t take even a day to thrash the opponent.
Buddhist Arts’s captain Kezang Dorji said, “While selecting the players, we look at both talent and attitude so that all can work together as a team.”
“It is difficult to say who will win the final. Radhi payers are sharp shooters and some of them had been our teammates.”
The teams paid tournament an entry fee of Nu 7,500 each. The tournament was started in 2004 by the BIGSA.
Each team has 13 players, of which two remain as spare archers. The teams were divided into Pool A and Pool B and the winner had to finish two sets of 25 points.
BIGSA’s coordinator, Tshewang Namgyal said, “In 2016, we saw the highest number of participants with 40 teams and 39 teams this year.” The tournament is sponsored by the government.
Tshewang Namgyal said BIGSA also organise two other traditional archery tournaments.
“Team members breaking the rules, lack of budget, and timing are the major challenges in organising the tournament,” he said.
Buddhist Arts will play team Radhi gewog on January 11.
Yangchen C Rinzin
More than 150 applications to set up industries have been kept pending because of incomplete infrastructure at the industrial estates, non-issuance of clearances for various agencies, and bureaucratic hurdles.
In an attempt to find out why the establishment of the industrial estates were delay, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering met with officials from the Department of Industry, and Gross National Happiness Commission.
Dhamdum Industrial Park in Samtse, Bondeyma Industrial Park in Mongar, Motanga Industrial Park in Samdrupjongkhar, and Jigmeling Industrial Estate in Gelephu were identified since the first government’s term.
Although some of the works are underway, the establishment of industrial parks has been moving at a ‘snail’s pace’.
Lyonchhen said that the government is trying to sort out the hindrances to help boost the economy and enhance private sector development for which industrial park development has to move faster.
“I found out that industrial park development is a major work of economic affairs ministry and I wanted to find out the status of the parks and what government can do to prioritise, re-prioritise or coordinate the works,” he said.
Lyonchhen said that although works are underway, there were many issues mainly in coordination among agencies that have hindered the progress. “Nothing concrete has come as of now.”
He said that the industrial park concept has been developed, applications were submitted by the interested people. “However, many are anxiously waiting for the approval and we hear some of the applicants have even expired waiting for the approval.”
Prime Minister said that these applicants could create employment but they are kept waiting while there is a lot of noise on the need to solve unemployment.
“More graduates are looking for business, and many more are encouraged to do business through entrepreneurship courses, start-up training, but on the other hand, people who are genuinely interested to do business are still stuck.”
Department of Industry’s director general Yonten Namgyel said that the development works are underway to provide immediate amenities like electricity, water, and roads.
“However, some areas require clearances, and obtaining them take a long time delaying the entire work,” he said.
Reporting the work progress at four parks, the director general said that it is uncertain how the work could be fast tracked, as various factors have to be considered before establishing the industries.
“But we’re definitely in touch with officials from the dzongkhags and thromdes to ease the processes,” he said. “Studies are being carried out wherever needed.”
Yonten Namgyel said that coordination and waiting for clearances for every work from the National Environment Commission (NEC), National Land Commission, and other agencies are some of the reasons that have slowed work progress.
He said that there is no shortage of budget and that the ministry is trying to use the budget prudently.
At the end of the meeting, Lyonchhen said that he would soon meet all the applicants, officials from the NEC, and other relevant agencies to discuss the issues.
“It’s time we ask and identify each others’ problems and give the applicants a straight answer on whether they should wait or if their application is cancelled,” Lyonchhen said.
“We should come together and see how to solve the problems, is there a need to tweak some policies because your 20th Century mentality shouldn’t spoil the 21st Century proposal.”
Lyonchhen said that the government will also try to fast track the clearances, talk with the NEC, ask applicants what kind of expertise and skilled workers they need to see if the government could facilitate.
“When I meet individual applicants and agencies, they’ve their explanation and are right in their own ways. So, if we come together we can identify the problem together and solve the issues right away.”
Lyonchhen said that government will expedite the completion of industrial parks within 2021 by giving the required budget and use of additional contractors or execute works by CDCL if needed.
The government will also expedite approval of business proposals by addressing issues with the environment clearances, immigration and work permit issues or any other required clearances, provide training to Bhutanese in the skills those industries need, and set up, if possible, one-stop service for fast-tracking establishment of industries.
The planning for industrial estates began in the 10th Plan while the economic affairs ministry received a budget sometime in the middle of the 11th Plan. Actual works like providing electricity, temporary water supply and access roads began from 2016.
Initially, Druk Holding and Investment was supposed to implement the plan on Public-Private Partnership model. However, the project was returned to the ministry following land ownership issues. Most of the development work at the industrial parks are stuck because of the environment clearance and some even for more than two years.
…MoE lumbered in implementing the rule
In recent years the number of teachers of both private and government schools in urban areas providing tuition to students for monetary benefits has increased by manifold.
Many teachers advertise tuition opportunities on social media sites and some even have created group forums to encourage parents to send their children for tuition after school.
This practice and open declaration of the service contradicts with the education ministry’s policy guidelines and instructions 2012 that prohibits tuition. The decision was first brought to light during the sixth education conference in 2002.
The ministry even issued circulars after parents complained, reasoning that tuition classes for monetary reasons deterred teachers from proper service delivery, and that rule was applicable to principals, teachers, contract teachers, community-based teachers, physical education teachers and counsellors of both public and private school.
Many parents are now asking whether the education ministry is implementing the rule or if it was just framed to show there is a rule.
A parent, who chose to remain anonymous, said that providing tuitions had become a moneymaking business among teachers in major towns.
“The trend is worrying for the students from disadvantaged families. They might be left out.”
A parent said that teachers were most of the time attentive to only those students who took private lessons from them.
A corporate employee said she had to question the intentions when her niece’s Mathematics teacher persuaded all parents and guardians to send the students for tuition. “What they don’t understand is that some students may not be able to afford the fees.”
The director general of Department of School Education, Karma Tshering, said that the notification was valid and if the complaints were genuine, the ministry would take action according to the teacher’s code of conduct and civil service rules.
“We will record the offence as misdemeanour and it will affect their assessment and promotions,” he said.
Meanwhile, a teacher in one of the schools in Thimphu said she gave tuition classes two times a week after school hours. Each session is two hours. She earns Nu 1,500 per month from each student. The number of learners varied according to the subject, parents’ willingness and affordability.
Although the teacher said that the lessons did not affect her daily routine in school and even helped her earn extra income for the family, the government should do away with such rampant practices.
“I think it should not be allowed and there should be strict monitoring from the ministry,” she said.
According to her, children from well-to-do families can afford but students from low-income family face difficulty in paying the fees.
Similarly, a teacher from another school in the capital said he used to give lessons in the past but only during winter and summer breaks.
He said the workload was heavy during academic sessions.
A teacher in a remote school said that he saw the ministry’s notification once but had no idea if it was implemented. “In remote schools, we have teacher shortage and there is no time for tuition classes. We are always in a rush to cover syllabus.”
He said that teachers in towns had time as a result of ‘one teacher one subject’ while primary schools in rural areas have only about three teachers according to the ministry’s teacher enrolment policy. “The policy’s teacher-student ratio is 1:22 but in our school, it is 1:40. There are loopholes.”
Parents and concerned individuals can lodge complaints to the ministry or inform the school principals and dzongkhag education officers if they find any teachers providing tuitions.
Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
An eight-year-old boy died when the semi- permanent house he was living in was razed to the ground by a fire in Samdrupjongkhar on January 6.
The incident occurred at around 10:25pm near the Bhutan Post office in Jomotshangkha.
According to sources, the deceased was at home with his two sisters and a friend. His father was away from home during the incident. The deceased was a class I student of Jomotshangkha middle secondary school.
Jomotshangkha did not have electricity or mobile network for the past few days due to windstorm and rain. The children lighted candle at night but forgot to put it off before they felt asleep.
“The fire is suspected to have started from the candlelight,” a source said, adding that the victim lost all the belongings worth about Nu 367,950 in the fire.
Meanwhile, Kuensel learned that the deceased slept in a separate room while his two sisters and a friend slept in a room together. The 13-year-old elder sister knew about the fire and took their five-year-old sister to safety after the deceased had refused when she tried to wake him. She went in again and brought her friend out of the house. She could not re-enter the house as the fire had spread all over it. She then shouted for help from the neighbours.
However, they could not contain the fire. One of the neighbours then informed the police. The police team along with the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) and drungkhag officials immediately arrived at the scene to battle the fire despite the scarcity of water and contained it.
The deceased’s sisters were evacuated to Jomotshangkha hospital as they have sustained first degree burns on their hands and are under medical observation.
The drungkhag administration provided emergency kits such as utensils, and other household items while the RBA provided the tent to the victim. Meanwhile, Samdrupjongkhar dzongdag handed over the Royal semso to the victim yesterday.
Despite much progress in decentralization in the past 40 years, various studies showed lack of proper guidelines has led to numerous lapses in the conduct of the local government (LG) sessions.
In view of such findings, the Department of Local Governance (DLG) has awarded the Centre for Local Governance and Research (CLGR) to come up with proper guidelines to conduct Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT), Gewog Tshogde (GT), and Thromde Tshogde (TT).
The CLGR would also develop tools to help implement the guidelines and diagnose areas of reform for effective functioning of local governments.
The DLG recently released ‘Assessment Study on DT and GT’ which stated that such issues have rendered LGs largely ineffective in terms of exercising their powers and functions. The main function of a local government, according to LG Act, is to provide democratic and accountable government for local communities.
Executive director of CLGR, Tharchen, said that the assessment study on LG found numerous lapses in conducting LG sessions starting from agenda setting process from the chiwog zomdu to following up works on resolutions. He said the project would be completed within the next three months.
Other shortcomings observed are that LG sessions are either too short or feature issues that could be addressed at the sector level. It is also observed that there is no proper procedure for passing resolutions, some of which are passed in absence of data and proper research.
The CLGR is also expected to come up with protocol for sitting arrangements for LG sessions. There is no uniformity in the sitting protocol of LG members, dzongkhag officials, media, observers and members of the public. In a recent DT session, it was observed that officials were seated with DT members.
Some of the major issues observed are holding of GT and DT without preparation meant to prompt an in-depth decision making process. It was also found that no reading materials like progress reports, financial reports, budget and expenditure figures or any other background information and data are distributed.
The CLGR is also conducting trainings for local leaders from eight pilot gewogs from Haa, Trongsa, Trashigang and Tsirang. The pilot gewogs are selected by DLG and Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation Bhutan.
“We urgently felt the need to extend the scope for rest of dzongkhags and gewogs as early as possible,” Tharchen said. He said that there was a lack of understanding on the legal intent of LG Acts and functions of LGs.
Tharchen said that reporting and accountability systems in carrying out plan activities at the local level were not properly organised. He also cited poor awareness on the powers and functions of LG institutions and local government administrations.
Sources said that it was not only local governments but also civil servants and regional officials that need awareness on elected LGs and LG administrations. Due to such gaps, they say clashes between LG officials and dzongkhag officials are expected.
The project is funded and technically supported by Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation Bhutan as part of the on-going decentralisation and local governance project.
An official from Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation Bhutan said that the project would contribute in capacity building of local government LG functionaries.
The study on DT and GT has highlighted limited understanding of the rationale and basis of having DTs and GTs as instruments of decentralised governance and the main institutions of decision-making at the local level.
The study was conducted to collect baseline information on the issues facing the DT and GT, while functioning as a means to facilitate designing of strategies to enhance the effectiveness of these institutions. The study covered 14 dzongkhags involving 92 participants, out of which 25 were women.
According to the study, meeting fatigue without proper coordination, poor turnout and lack of quality engagement in community meetings also hamper the functioning and effectiveness of LGs as the institution of decision making bodies at the local level.
According to the study, there is no specific timeline of conducting DT and GT sessions, coupled with delay in agenda submissions and difficulty in prioritisation of agenda items. Some of the challenges for GT and DT sessions are limited items in the agenda, irrelevant discussion points and delay in submitting points for the sessions.
LGs are also faced with absence of clear working modality between LGs and LG administration (non-elected). Lack of support and untimely response from LG administration officials and regional offices on the implementation of DT resolutions also impede the effectiveness of LGs.
…for gainful employment and talent-hunt
Younten Tshedup | Gelephu
The courtyard of Losel Gyatsho Academy in Gelephu is bustling with noise and excitement. In this crowd of over 100 students are the future actors, movie directors, dancers, singers, and painters.
Over the next two weeks, the participants would undergo basic training on filmmaking, dancing, singing, painting and sketching, among others under the programme, Art for People.
Borne out of a vision to nurture a culture of performing arts in a society that has limited scope for artists, Art for People programme started as an initiative of two like-minded individuals who harboured a passion to create a platform for individuals to hone their innate interest and talent in the performing arts.
One of the founders, Chand RC, said that educating the youth out of the content-driven classroom-learning was important. “If children are academically inclined, their doors are open for many opportunities. But what about those children who are not academically inclined?”
He said for those thousands of graduates and out of school youth who are not cut out for the civil service, private enterprises or other businesses, a platform needed to be provided to carry forward their lives.
As a filmmaker, Chand RC said that the realm of performing arts had enormous potential that could shape the youth into self-confident, disciplined, responsible, and caring individuals capable of making a positive impact in their communities.
“Art for People acts as a medium for people to express through performing arts and also open up a sustainable career opportunity for them.”
He said that although the film industry in the country is in its nascent stage, it has prospects for those with talents.
“There is a huge untapped potential of talent among the young Bhutanese. Given an opportunity, they can be at par with any youth in the world today,” he said. “We just need to provide them with the right path to channelise this energy. And this is what our programme is aiming for.”
He added that, “Art is not solely created for the aesthetic sake; art is a powerful tool that can initiate personal reflection, raise collective awareness and it may even inspire social change.”
Another founder, Tshering Dema, said that most of the Bhutanese artists today are self-made with no proper training and guidance. “Our youth have the skills but they lack in techniques. We are trying to provide them with a platform where they can explore their talents and potential.”
As an educationist, she said most of the parents expect their children to listen to them and act accordingly. “This makes the child grow up in a culture that makes them dependent on instructions and they cannot think on their own.”
She said that most of the time parents don’t even realise the kind of potential their kids have. “Some of the kids have talents of very high level, which with proper training and guidance could actually be in the international market.”
If the programme goes well, Tshering Dema said that their idea is to develop a full time course in performing arts. “Today, we live in a society where people perceive performing arts as a hobby and a part time job. We want to change this.”
Chand RC said that seeing the massive impact of the programme on the participants and community, Art for People Foundation aspires to develop into a full- fledged contemporary performing arts center, the first of its kind in the country.
“We aspire to become a pioneer institute in the country that provides holistic performing arts education and help nurture the creative talents among the youth.”
One of the participants, Rinchen Drukpa, said that he wants to pursue acting as a career. “Despite all the challenges we have today in our film industry, I want to become an actor for the sheer love for this art,” he said.
He said that the industry could grow if the present language barrier is broken. “Today, we only have Bhutanese watching our movies. We can have global audiences if we explore the opportunities because the quality of movies we produce are very high.”