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PM suggests a re-look at non-hydro loan cap

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 16:09

Should the country limit its non-hydro debt to 35 percent of the total debt when Bhutan is eligible for highly concessional loans extended to the least developed countries (LDC) or should it take advantage of this facility before graduation?

This was the concern Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering raised when reviewing the Annual Performance Agreement (APA) of the finance ministry yesterday.

Once the country graduates, he said, Bhutan would no longer be eligible for concessional loans with long grace period and interest rates as high as one percent. However, the public debt policy, which was framed by the previous government, states that non-hydro loan should be capped at 35 percent of the portfolio. The rationale behind this was that hydro loans are self-liquidating in nature and that non-hydro loan was a concern.

“I personally feel that this policy should be re-looked and 35 percent should be increased,” he said adding that such facility would no longer be available after five year, if the country graduates.

Another APA target was to bring down the debt to GDP ratio from 117 percent to 106 percent by the end of the fiscal year. Should the government decide to extend this concessional loan facility, this target would fall short.

The target to achieve more than 7 percent GDP growth, contain fiscal deficit and enhance domestic revenue is not as per the initial projection, mainly due to delay in commissioning of Mangdechhu project.

“I am little disappointed with the intelligence used because from day one, revenue from Mangdechhu is calculated at full capacity,” Lyonchhen said.

While officials claimed that development in hydropower sector is beyond control of the ministry and the government, Lyonchhen said that this is a misconception. For instance, he said the government of Bhutan has scrapped the 20,000MW by 2020 policy. The government of the day, he said has decided to pursue no other joint venture projects until Kholongchhu is completed. Similarly, Lyonchhen said that Sunkosh would be implemented at a time when Punatsangchhu projects near completion. “After Sunkosh, then we will negotiate for another project,” he said.

Lyonchhen added that the Macroeconomic Framework Coordination Committee (MFCC), which involves key stakeholder in the economy and serves as macroeconomic advisory committee to the government, must involve international expertise to review their reports.

Amidst all the reforms, Lyonchhen said that the e-procurement, tax reforms, e-PEMS and other online tools should come under the purview of flagship programme, Digital Drukyul.

On one hand, he said, clients and users alike are performing operations online and on the other, officials do most assessments and evaluations manually in printed form.

This, he said is impeding digitisation and that manual procedures could be more efficient in some cases. “It is time we legalise e-signatures,” he said.

The Department of National Properties’ main target is to expand the e-procurement system. So far the department has trained more than 1,800 individuals representing more than 400 procuring agencies, suppliers and bidders.

The department plans to train more people and integrate the e-tool provided by the Construction Development Board, price schedule and bill of quantity into the e-GP.

Lyonchhen also said that procurement norms in the country should facilitate local products. For instance, he said the recycled printer cartridges produced by Bhutan Alternatives (BA) must be given an opportunity for a year or two, to really see its efficiency.

Citing the BA’s stand, Lyonchhen also touched on the import figures pertaining to cartridges, which is staggeringly low compared to usage. “BA cartridges don’t qualify for bidding because it has labelled itself as recycled produce. Many imported cartridges are also recycled, but branded as original,” he said.

Tshering Dorji

Pap smear coverage improvement essential to reduce cervical cancer

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 16:08

If the number is anything to go by, Bhutan has come a long way in providing pap smear test to women in the country.

The number of pap smear slides (tests) increased from 18,371 in 2013 to 36,897 in 2017.

A gynecologic oncologist with the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH), Dr Ugyen Tshomo, said that the number of slides did not represent the actual number of women who did Pap smear test because some would have done the test more than once.

“By 2018, about 40,000 slides were done,” Dr Ugyen Tshomo said at the national workshop for cervical cancer elimination in Thimphu last week.

When the pap smear programme was started in the country, she said that the pap smear coverage was less than five percent and the number of slides used to be less than 5,000. “Of which, many were kept in the health centres without transporting to the cytology centres, resulting in no reports.”

In the past, Bhutan had only one cytology centre, at the national referral hospital in Thimphu. Currently, the country has 14 cytology centres and six colposcopy or LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure) centres.

“In 1999, when I visited Gelephu hospital, they had thousands of slides that were not transported to JDWNRH and the slides were collecting fungus,” Dr Ugyen Tshomo said.

That was the situation in the 1990s.

The national pap smear programme was launched in October 1999.

The programme was piloted in three districts for three years and then went nationwide in 2006.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that after more than a decade after introducing the service, Bhutan had a pap smear coverage of 56 percent. “And this is not acceptable.”

Lyonpo said that the coverage could increase to 60 percent even if nothing was done. “It would increase just from the sheer changes that are happening around.”

Dr Ugyen Tshomo said that cervical cancer prevention had taken a back seat because of lack of support. “Health assistants and cytology technicians are left to do what they want.”

She said that no one cared whether women were coming forward for pap smear test or if they were collecting the reports. “The slides have to be transported to the cytology centres, which doesn’t happen. The reporting time is longer because there is no coordination in the districts because the key people are not involved.”

Coverage remained low due to various factors.

“Improving coverage is essentially important if cervical cancer is to be prevented,” said Dr Ugyen Tshomo.

A screening programme takes 15 years to show results.

Dr Ugyen Tshomo said that Bhutan was in the 13th year. “So, in the next two years, our cervical cancer rate should drop down drastically if this pap smear programme is working.”

It takes 70 percent coverage for cervical cancer to come down.

Social and political barriers of screening

Dr Ugyen Tshomo said that education and literacy made impact. “Women are not aware about screening and, therefore, the lack of demand.”

Women unable to travel for screening or to follow up is also one of the barriers.

“Majority of the women are also shy to come forward for the test,” said Dr Ugyen Tshomo. She said that there was no local or national supervision and monitoring.

REACH Bhutan study 2016 shows that women aged 50 years and above think that they are too old for the test. Distance from health centres, especially in rural areas, misconception about pap smear being connected to family planning and women who are not married but sexually active, among others, are some of the factors for why women do not participate in screening.

Another study carried out in Thimphu in 2012 found that women who were educated and who were in business were not coming forward for the screening. This means timing inconvenience was also there, Dr Ugyen Tshomo said.

Recently, two health officials were sent for supervision in Wangdue, Punakha, Trongsa, and Bumthang, who found that guidelines and pamphlets were not available in all the centres.

It was also found that pap smears were done infrequently with very few clients in a month and the coverage was not calculated.

Dr Ugyen Tshomo said that every health centre knew how many households are there in their area and details about the women living there.

“The information about the eligible women in his or her community, the number of pap smear test conducted, among others, should be at your fingertips,” she told dzongkhag health officers and chief medical officers at the workshop.

This information, she said, was not available and smear taking was also not uniform. There were no proper registers and no proper data-keeping.

She said another important finding was that cytology technicians were not given time for cytology, and so, many slides remained pending.

Some centres were not reporting abnormalities.

Dr Ugyen Tshomo said that Punakha had no abnormal pap smears while Punakha reported a higher number of cervical cancers in the last five years. “This means the health assistants are not taking pap smears properly or the cytology technicians are not reading properly.”

There were many factors that affected the quality of the programme, she said.

Of the seven dzongkhags that refers patients with abnormal pap smear reports to JDWNRH for colposcopy, Paro recorded the highest. She said this meant Paro was actively doing pap smear tests, was catching abnormal pap smear, and was sending them for colposcopy.

Wangdue and Trongsa were picking up, she said.

“Colposcopy is very important. The number of colposcopy shows if pap smear test is being carried out,” she said.

The number of colposcopies has also increased over the years. In 2002, less than 100 colposcopies were carried out, which increased to more than 800 in 2014. Now, more than 1,000 colposcopies are being carried out annually at JDWNRH alone.

In JDWNRH, LEEP, which is a treatment for cervical pre-cancer, is the second most common minor surgery done after abortion complications.

Way Forward

Providing information on cervical cancer, screening and treating are the three important things in the prevention of cervical cancer.

Reaching the unreached and improving the coverage, making colposcopy and pre-cancer treatment accessible to women with abnormal pap reports are the way forward to eliminate cervical cancer in the country.

The definition of elimination is bringing down the incidence of cervical cancer to less than four per 100,000 women by 2030. Currently, the country has the incidence rate of 20 per 100,000 women.

“We have lot of homework to do,” Dr Ugyen Tshomo said.

Dechen Tshomo

Cross-border collaboration crucial for malaria elimination 

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 16:07

After failing to achieve zero indigenous malaria cases last year, efforts continue to eradicate the fever.

If it weren’t for the six indigenous malaria (locally transmitted) cases detected last year, Bhutan would have achieved malaria-free status by 2021.

A new target has been set.

The country had initially targeted to achieve zero indigenous malaria cases by 2018.

For a country to achieve a malaria-free status, it has to maintain zero indigenous malaria cases for three consecutive years, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Bhutan aims for malaria elimination (zero incidence of indigenous malaria) by next year. If Bhutan maintains this status for three consecutive years, the country would achieve the malaria-free status by 2023.

In an effort to achieve the target, a two-day meeting on cross-border malaria elimination is underway in Gelephu.

Chief Programme officer with the Communicable Disease Division of the Department of Public Health, Rixin Jamtsho, said that cross border malaria posed a considerable threat for malaria elimination, prevention and control of re-emergence of malaria.

He said that Bhutan shared a long and porous border with Assam and West Bengal, both malaria endemic states. “Thus, cross border issues need to be addressed strategically and promptly both at the local and national level.”

He said that despite the political will for malaria elimination in both countries with major achievements in reducing malaria incidences, the ambition remained fragile given the high cross borders transmissions.

Of the 54 malaria cases detected in 2018, majority of the cases (34) were imported (infected outside Bhutan).

Indigenous malaria cases in the country have declined over the years. The number dropped from 31 in 2015 to 15 in 2016 and further reduced to six in 2018 from 11 in 2017.

Health Secretary Dr Ugen Dophu said that at a working and health facility levels, Bhutan and the neighbouring Indian states of Assam, West Bengal and Arunachal shared a good collaboration in terms of addressing vector-borne diseases.

However, he said that because of the international border, the need for the permission from central government was critical. “The concurrence of both the governments is crucial in order to synchronize the vector control and patient management activities, including distribution of bed-nets and others activities.”

Once this understanding is in place, it becomes easy for people to function at the ground level, he added. “All that the central government needs to do is issue an order to collaborate with neighbouring states across the border to work together and synchronize the activities.”

Dr Ugen Dophu said that it was possible for Bhutan to achieve malaria-free status as targeted. “I think we are doing well. Transmission from within the country is only a few.”

However, he said that the target would be achieved only with the help of effective cross-border collaboration. “Most of the reported cases are imported from outside, which is why addressing cross-border transmission is important.”

He added that an effective cross-border collaboration would not only help address malaria elimination but also other vector-borne disease like dengue including tuberculosis and HIV.

Younten Tshedup  | Gelephu

RCSC yet to deliver on DG’s suspension

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 16:06

The Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) is yet to deliberate and decide on the suspension of labour ministry’s director general (DG) Sherab Tenzin.

The Anti Corruption Commission, on August 26, sent a letter RCSC asking the Commission to suspend the director general. An official from the legal division said that RCSC has received such cases in the past from ACC and that due process is well established.

“Once the letter is received, the legal division reviews it and submits with their findings to the next earliest Commission meeting for deliberation and decision,” the official said. “The case is still under review.”

According to ACC, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) charged the DG on four counts of offences related to two different overseas employments in Japan and India at the Thimphu dzongkhag court on August 23.

ACC stated that its letter is in line with Section 168 of the ACC Act of Bhutan 2011. “As per Section 167(2) of the ACC Act 2011, the agency concerned is required to suspend the public servant charged,” the letter stated. “However, if it decides not to suspend, the commission should ensure that the DG does not use public resources including office time to appear before the court.”

The RCSC official said that irrespective of whether a civil servant is suspended or not, a civil servant charged in the court for any kind of charges cannot use public resources to appear before the court.

“This responsibility is decentralised to the respective agencies’ management.”

On the delay, the official said that the letter was received last week after which legal division has to follow the due process. “The issue will be submitted to the Commission where they meet every Tuesday.”

Chapter 19 of the Bhutan Civil Service Rules and Regulation (BCSR) 2018 states that the authority to impose a penalty on a civil servant shall be exercised by the respective authority. Since the director general is in the executive position, as per the BCSR, only RCSC can investigate and take action on the DG and not the agency.

The Commission in April had completed its own investigation after it received the case from the labour ministry to take administrative action against the DG. However, the complete investigative report and administrative charges would be established only after the court verdict.

As provisioned in Section 45 (k) (under the rights of civil servant) of the Civil Service Act of Bhutan 2010, a civil servant shall not be removed, demoted, terminated or administratively penalized without due administrative process. The procedures for administrative actions are clearly stipulated in the BCSR.

For instance, the official said that in the case at hand, ACC has criminally charged DG for seeking financial assistance from placement contractor of department of employment and human resources violating civil service code of conduct and ethics.

“The ACC’s alleged administrative charge of violation of code of conduct and ethics can be established only if the court of law determines that DG has sought financial assistance,” the official said.

Last week, the Commission met for the entire day, but the letter might not have reached the office, said the official. However, with the Commission meeting scheduled today, it is expected to deliberate on the case today.

Meanwhile, the labour and human ministry would wait for the RCSC’s decision on the DG to take action against assistant programme officer Ugyen Tashi who is also charged for similar case with the DG related to overseas employment programme in Japan.

Yangchen C Rinzin

Fixing accountability

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 16:05

Dagana dzongkhag had been making headlines recently, unfortunately all for the wrong reasons.

From planning blunders that resulted in dry irrigation canals and cold storages worth millions going to waste to shortage of human resources like doctors and engineers and fuel for ambulance that resulted in the tragic death of a six-week-old baby, things are not going well in the dzongkhag.

What’s happening in Dagana, especially after the death of the baby, has frustrated many who are pouring out their anger on social media. There are differing views and opinions shared on the issues.

The problems may not be isolated to Dagana. Many other dzongkhags and even central agencies must be facing such problems, but it might not have caught the media attention.

It is evident that there are improper planning and implementation of developmental activities in the dzongkhag. Worse is the lack of monitoring and accountability.

When an irrigation canal alignment is not in line with the topography, it is not only the villagers who suffer. Their fields are dry but the government’s Nu10.1 million budget is wasted. The villagers, it’s is now learnt, were not even shown the drawing of the canal.

Technical failure turned the cold storage constructed with 2.6M into a white elephant, but some officials still risk their life to open the shed every day. Dagana is known for growing cash crops like mandarin and cardamom. The facility would have really helped farmers and their cooperatives. They also turned a vegetable shed into a bus terminal.

While local leaders and dzongkhag officials are worried that shortage of engineers would affect their annual performance compact they signed with the government, they are forgetting that it is hampering service delivery too. We cannot have hospitals without a doctor or doctors on long leave, particularly if it is in a poor dzongkhag.

It is a case of becoming wiser after an event, but an ambulance not having fuel is not an acceptable excuse. It is a vehicle used in emergency. Having proactive and responsible administrators in place would have solved the problem. The dzongkhag administration should listen to the grievances of people and spearhead investigation to find out what went wrong. It’s the responsibility of dzongkhag administrators to ensure transparency and accountability.

The Dagana issue also brings out a common issue with remote dzongkhags. It is now surfacing that some remote dzongkhags receive civil servants who are either recent recruits or transferred as a punishment.

The irony is that it is the least developed and remote dzongkhags that are in need of efficient and dedicated civil servants who look up to their posting as an opportunity. We have some good examples of how civil servants led by proactive administrators have changed the lives of people.

The whole purpose of decentralisation was initiated to create efficient an administrative machinery with technical capability at the local level. If those serving the people at the local level are complacent, decentralisation would never reap the expected benefit.

We need action-driven public servants, especially in the light of more powers being devolved to local governments.

Stick rule to control dengue

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 16:04

In their effort to control dengue, residents of Phuentsholing failing to keep their surroundings clean and let mosquitoes breed would be penalised.

The thromde would severe the water connection if people do not maintain their area. 

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Beautification of Trongsa town

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 16:03

Civil servants, corporate and regional office employees and residents of Trongsa town will dedicate every Friday afternoon to beautify the town.

A consultation meeting between the dzongkhag and other relevant stakeholders was held last month, where six groups were formed. Team leaders of the group should submit a quarterly progress report and attendance to the dzongkhag.

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10 students leave for seven-day trip to India

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 16:02

Eight students from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) colleges along with a mentor from Royal University of Bhutan (RUB) left for a week-long trip to India today to witness the landing of Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft on the southern side of the moon on September 7.

The landing will be witnessed from ISTRAC (ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network) in Bengaluru.

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Decrease in potato yield this year in Trashiagang

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 16:01

Encouraged by good price, many farmers in Trashigang started growing potatoes. The total yield reached 13,729.68 metric tonnes (MT) last year.

However, the potato yield dropped by 1,308.03MT this year. 

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MUFC beats Friends United FC 3-0

Tue, 09/03/2019 - 16:00

Motithang United FC beat Friends United FC 3-0 in the ongoing Thimphu league at Changlimithang Stadium yesterday.

With both teams taking a defensive approach to the game, the first half was limited to a very few off the target attempts. MUFC came strong in the second half with a purpose and their approach paid off in the 56th minute when Sabir Tamang scored. Buoyed by the early second half lead, MUFC pressed hard and were rewarded in the 63rd minute when Yeshi Samdrup doubled the lead.

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Incidence of cervical cancer high in Bhutan

Mon, 09/02/2019 - 16:09

About five in 100,000 women die of cervical cancer every year in Bhutan.

The population based cancer registry, 2014 to 2018 report, which is yet to be published shows that the country has an age-standardised incidence rate of 19.9 and age-standardised mortality rate of 4.7 per 100,000 women.

A gynecologic oncologist with the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH), Dr Ugyen Tshomo, during the national workshop towards cervical cancer elimination held in Thimphu last week, said these are true figures, not estimates.

“It means about 20 women out of 100,000 gets cervical cancer every year and about five die,” she said. Bhutan’s incidence rate per 100,000 exceeds the world rate, which is 14 per 100,000.

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in females worldwide, representing 12 percent of cancers in women. The number has come down in developed countries because of the screening, she said, In America, it is now the 14thmost common cancer.

About 85 percent occurs in the developing countries, and it remains fourth in the developing countries, as there were no screening programmes in most of the developing countries. South and South-East Asia carry 50 percent of the world’s burden.

In Bhutan, Dr Ugyen Tshomo said that cervical cancer continues to be the most common cancer in women. It is also the most common cause of cancer deaths.

“Although our incidence is high, the number of deaths is less. This could be because our screening programmes are picking up women with cancers at an early stage,” she said. “In the past, death was also very high.”

Cervical cancer is also the most common cancer referred for treatment. Surgery could be done at an early stage of cervical cancer, but radiation therapy is the main treatment for the cancer at an advanced stage.

While JDWNRH has started providing radiation therapy since January 2018, Dr Ugyen Tshomo said complete treatment for cervical cancer is not yet available.

 

Causes and risks

Early marriage, early age at first childbirth, multiple sexual partners of a woman or her partner, human papillomavirus (HPV) and other STIs infection, Immunosuppression (the partial or complete suppression of the immune response of an individual), cigarette smoking, prolonged oral contraceptive pill use, are the risk factors for cervical cancer.

If a woman gives birth to her child before she is 17, she is seven times more likely to get cervical cancer.

Dr Ugyen Tshomo said Bhutan has all these risk factors. The biggest risk, she said is not having enhanced screening programme. “When women come to us with abnormal bleeding, we always ask if she has done pap smear. If she has not, then she is more likely to suffer from cervical cancer.”

In terms of age, a majority of the women diagnosed with cervical cancer are between 40 and 60 years.

In the past, cervical cancer was most common in women who are in 40s and the deaths were also more common in woman in this age. But, deaths from cervical cancer now has shifted to women aged in 50s and 70s.

“Deaths are more in older women because they do not participate in screening. By the time the cancer is diagnosed in them, it is at an advanced stage,” she said.

It was found that cervical cancer incidence is more common in women from the eastern dzongkhags. Trashigang has the highest incidence, followed by Mongar and Wangdue.

“In cancer, we always see the ethnicity because different ethnic groups have different cultures and customs,” she said.

High incidence, she said could be because of high or poor screening coverage, poor access to treatment of pre-cancers, or poorer socio-economy. It could also be because there is only one treatment centre.

If there are no treatment centres, she said dzongkhag health officers and the public should demand.

She said that just having a pap smear test is not be enough. The test must pick up abnormal pap smears and these women with abnormal test result must undergo treatment. “This is the most important part of the screening.”

If a woman with an abnormal pap smear report is not treated then the test has not done her any good, she said.

 

Prevention

Primary prevention of cervical cancer can be done by providing sexuality education including educating the women on the risk factors and vaccination against HPV.

In secondary prevention, the focus is on the screening and early detection. Women who are infected with HPV should be treated.

Dr Ugyen Tshomo said that HPV is the necessary cause of cervical cancer which is a sexually transmitted infection. “According to our studies, nearly 40 percent of the young women were infected with HPV.”

In 80 to 90 percent, the HPV infection disappears meaning it gets rid of by the host immunity. In 10 to 20 percent, the HPV will persist and develop into cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) and it is these women who are a higher risk of getting the cancer if not treated.

Tertiary prevention is provided when a patient suffers from the cancer. The patient is treated with radiation and surgery to prevent death and providing palliative care.

Information is one of the three important things in prevention of cervical cancer.

Dr Ugyen Tshomo said that informing women of cervical cancer and its prevention would attract as many women as possible to use the services. “Aim at women in their 30s and 40s to make your programme cost-effective.”

Screening younger women will lead to exhaustion of resources without bringing down cancer incidence since most of the HPV infection and CIN will disappear in this age group.

Screening as many women as possible is also important so that coverage of more than 70 percent is maintained.

She said that there should be a linkage between screening and treatment centres to decrease loss of follow up. “The health assistants in the dzongkhags have to make appointments with the colposcopy centre and send the women on a fixed date so that she gets the service.”

Currently, the country has 14 cytology centres and six colposcopy or LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure) centres.

“If any of these is not working then the pap smear programme will fail,” she said.

Dechen Tshomo

Pressure on trees from smoke offering

Mon, 09/02/2019 - 16:08

Changangkha, Thimphu — Early morning, the city is still in deep slumbers. At the lhakhang that is now a popular tourist destination, though, the day has already begun with the usual prayers and rituals.

Slowly, as dawn approaches, the faithful come in ones and twos, prayer beads in hand, to circumambulate the lhakhang—distant echo of street dogs barking.

The lhakhang’s main door opens and Sonam, a 25-year-old monk, is out with a bunch of incense sticks. He places them, almost with practiced care, inside the sangbum, a small stupa in the shape of a vase used for smoke offering. He places fresh cypress and pine trees on top of the incense. From neck of the little sangbum, thick billow of curling smoke rises up the heavens.

Informed by religion, smoke offering is an indelible culture and Bhutanese way of life. And the implication of deep-seated belief of offering smoke to the deities is showing in the most visible forms—thinning of trees, especially cypress and pine. If these species of trees are becoming increasingly ungainly part of the capital’s landscape, worse is yet to come.

Sonam is soon joined by his friends. They agree that it has become difficult over the years to find trees nearby to be used for smoke offering. Huge cypress trees with their branches lopped stand testimony to this daily practice at the lhakhang.

Before performing any kind of Buddhist rituals, smoke offering is a requirement for cleansing and purification in the monasteries. 

But then, such offerings also happen at homes, adding pressure on the nearby forests.

The head lam of Memorial Chorten, Leki Tshering, said that during important rituals the monks go to collect sang as far as Dochula. “Trees and shrubs such as pangpoe, bahlu, sulu, arura, tsendhen, tongphu, and poikar can be used as an offering but they are a thing of the past now. We don’t even get pine trees. Sometimes, we ask commuters to bring junipers from Dochula.”

Although controlled lopping could contribute towards tree growth and timber quality, excessive and unhealthy lopping can cause stress and expose trees to external ailments, pest, and diseases, affecting the tree growth.

“Leafy biomass would decrease and increased canopy opening due to lopping can lead to increase in growth of understory species,” said forestry officer with the Thimphu division, Tshering Dorji.

Rule 395 (6) of Forest and Nature Conservation Rules and Regulations (FNCRR) 2017 prohibits lopping activities and requires a special permit. Defaulters are liable for a fine of Nu 500 per tree.

The practice is widespread and people rarely come to obtain permits, Tshering Dorji said. “Often, Bhutanese adopt unsustainable practices such as felling of entire trees and excessive lopping, causing harm to trees.”

Besides environmental impacts, large-scale burning of trees and branches cause emission of greenhouse and other harmful gases such as carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and particle matters that can cause serious health problems.

From October last year until June this year, forest resource management division under Department of Forest and Park Services approved 15 applicants to collect herbs and aromatic substances for manufacturing incense and related substances.

Although the division allowed collection for the dead and dying trees for sustainable reasons, it has been observed that number of juniper trees is dwindling in Chelela, Thimphu, and Paro, said forestry officer with the Paro division, Sherab Jamtsho.“Looking at the degree of junipers being cut illegally, we can clearly see the juniper vegetation is decreasing. Detailed field observation and long-term research is necessary.”

According to National Forest Inventory report, there are close to 14 million juniper trees corresponding to more than 8 million cubic metre volume in the country. The species is mostly found in higher altitude but if further encroachment continues, the species is at risk considering its slow growth.

“If normal trees take years to grow 10cm, juniper will take double or even triple the years of that normal tree to grow 10 cm. Everyone wants juniper for so many spiritual and material purposes as it is a high quality wood. But if we set precedence, everyone will follow,” said an official from forest protection and enforcement division.

Juniper is also required during cremation. FNCRR 2017 allows a total of four cubic metre of juniper wood for cremation. The fact that Bhutan’s death rate is estimated at about 6.5 per 1,000 person, which translates to 5,000 deaths annually, 5,000 cubic metre of juniper is felled for cremation.

This is discounting unaccounted felling of trees.

Aum Tshewang, 68, from Changbandhu in Thimphu pays Nu 100 per week to her neighbor who brings her a sack full of pine branches from the mountains. Early every morning, Aum Tshewang makes smoke offerings. She now finds it increasingly difficult to find trees for the ritual.

“Sometimes, as soon as I hear about pine or cypress trees being felled, I send my children to collect the  branches,” said Aum Tshewang.

Similarly, Aum Kinley Pem, who makes daily smoke offering in front of her house, brings the pine and cypress leaves from Kuenselphodrang.

“Getting pines and cypress branches has become more challenging,” Kinley Pem said.

Choki Wangmo

Local manufacturers feeling the heat

Mon, 09/02/2019 - 16:07

Local manufacturers of construction materials are struggling to stay in business despite construction being one of the biggest sectors in the country.

The former government issued at least five executive orders, stating that government agencies must consider procuring construction materials from local manufacturers to curb imports and create jobs. The local manufacturers aren’t close to achieving that.

Instead, some of the manufacturing units have closed their business, while others are suffering a significant decline in their business.

A Gelephu-based businessman, Chimi Dorji, closed his brick factory, Kuengacholing Concrete Bricks, about one and a half years ago in Gelephu. He established the factory in 2013.

“There is no market for the product. We can stay in the business only if we get supply orders from government agencies,” he said.

Pema Wangchuk, who owned a wire mesh gabion enterprise in Bumthang, closed his business about eight months ago without buyers. He said government agencies preferred imported wire mesh gabions despite them being inferior in quality in comparison with the ones produced by him.

He alleges collusion between officials and suppliers for the inability of local manufacturers to get business from government agencies.

Pema Wangchuk cited the example of a court case he had filed against the government agency and won in about 10 years ago. The agency had procured wire mesh gabions from another supplier at a higher rate than the price he had quoted.

He said his product was certified by Bhutan Standard Bureau. “In fact, my products were better than imported ones,” he said, adding the use of imported wire mesh gabions was rampant, while locally manufactured product remained unsold.

An official from YT Bricks in Trongsa said production has been suspended. One of the issues facing local manufacturers, he said, was lack of cooperation from procuring agencies.

The main customers for local manufacturers should be government agencies in dzongkhags.

“When the government construction goes for imported materials, there is no market for local products. Even the public hesitate to use local products when the government does not use,” he said.

The factory owner won a contract to construct a school toilet in Trongsa, but had to procure bricks from Wangdue, according to him. The reason was that his product was not included in the bill of quantities (BOQ). 

However, he added that it was the responsibility of engineers in the dzongkhag to include them in the BOQ. The government did not follow up with its own order on the use of local products that was issued in 2015, he said.

Proprietor of Yangjung Sonam Bricks and Still Fabrication Enterprise in Gelephu, Sonam Dorji, said that his business has shrunk since January 2018.

He said his business, which was established in 2012, ran well untill 2014. “Now there is no market as customers prefer imported bricks,” adding that a huge chunk of his products remained unsold.

Most of public construction sites continue to use imported blocks and bricks. The Bank of Bhutan Limited’s main building in Thimphu, the expanded building of the Thimphu TechPark, and the Bhutan Post building in Gelephu are some of the major construction sites were imported bricks are used, claims the local manufacturers.

Local manufacturers also say that road construction sites prefer imported wire mesh gabions despite them being produced in the country.

Government’s strategy to support local manufacturers

Given the competitive advantage and the choice of customers, there is little the government can do.

However, economic affairs minister Loknath Sharma said the government will come up with a strategy to help local manufacturers within a few months. The government, he said, was reviewing the procurement rules and looking at providing fiscal incentives.

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said the taxation policy and procurement rules are undergoing change and that local manufacturers will be one of the target beneficiaries.

He said that the choice of products was still determined by prices as the procurement rules allowed agencies to buy the lowest rates.

Construction materials from India were cheaper than local products as local producers were not able to minimise the cost of products due to high labour costs.

“We are trying to support local manufacturers. This government will do more in doing things that are doable.”

However, the economic affairs minister added that local manufacturers should meet the quality standards and the products should be market-oriented. Local manufacturers, he said, should also minimise the cost of production.

The government has included the use of  local products in its manifesto, which states that the government will support establishment of import substitution industries such as construction materials, wood-based industries, paper and agro-industries, among others.

“Green procurement policy will be implemented to encourage green technology. We will consider protecting these industries through preferential procurement by reviewing all trade agreements,” the manifesto states.

The Ministry of Works and Human Settlement in 2015 issued an office order stating that unless government agencies should procure locally manufactured wire mesh gabions as far as possible.

Local manufacturers say that they cannot create employment opportunities in the current scenario.  They are concerned about the sustainability of their enterprises if the import of construction materials from India continues.

However, some corporation officials told Kuensel that while they encourage locally produced materials, irregular supplies from local producers hamper work.

According to the former government’s executive orders, import of blocks and bricks should only be allowed upon non-availability or non-feasibility of local materials with prior approval and written certification from concerned agencies and the project engineer in-charge.

Local manufacturers say import of Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (ACC) Blocks and Cellular Lightweight Concrete Blocks that resemble locally produced bricks have affected local enterprises.

They also cite lack of awareness among people and government agencies on the use of locally produced bricks as one of the reasons for the continued import of bricks from India. A manufacturer of local bricks from Paro earlier said his product was cheaper and better than imported ones.

Most local brick owners say they availed loans to set up factories after the government issued the order to stop the import of bricks and that even private construction owners should be encouraged to use locally produced blocks.

In March 2016, the then economic affairs minister Norbu Wangchuk also issued a circular asking all procuring agencies, government agencies, public corporations and hydropower authorities to consider procuring mesh wire from local manufacturers.

MB Subba

Social well-being is a shared responsibility

Mon, 09/02/2019 - 16:06

As the Royal Bhutan Police celebrated their 54th Raising Day yesterday, it was a solemn occasion to acknowledge the contributions of the police force in maintaining the law and order and, by extension, public safety in our fast-changing society. More important, however, it was a moment to pause and reflect on the many emerging challenges and how we are reacting to them. Many questions arise.

With developments come challenges. In our case, as a late entrant on the path of modernisation, we were acutely aware that for us just to set the ground running would not be enough, that we would have to do some tall stepping to catch up with the rest of the world at the approach of the new millennium. We also knew that, in the process, we would be increasingly impelled to deal with the growing instances and changing definitions of crime and social well-being.

Although it was formally established only on September 1, 1965, on the command of His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the need for a separate law enforcement agency was felt right after the planned socioeconomic development activities began in the country in 1961. Today, exactly fifty-four years since the establishment of the Royal Bhutan Police, where are we in terms of addressing the rising instances of crime and in ensuring public security in the society?

Looking inward, we have much to be proud of. Also, at the same time, there is much more that needs to be done.

Going by the statistics, instances of crime are growing, especially in the bigger and growing population centres. And there is the familiar pattern to it. Thimphu and Phuentsholing continue to be the leading centres of crime and, burglary; battery; larceny; offence of substance abuse; and illicit trafficking of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances are the most common criminal offences.

With the kind and rapidity of change that we are witnessing today, perhaps it can’t be helped. What is interesting and also worrying at the same time is that these crimes are committed mostly by young individuals who are either school dropouts or those who are looking for employment.

As youth unemployment continues to rise, the young people, in frustration, will increasingly resort to criminal activities for livelihood and survival. Without a well-structured support system and a safety net for those who are convicted, recidivism seems to be the natural and unfortunate eventuality.

Public safety and law and order threaten to be the biggest issue facing the nation today. Because social well-being is a shared responsibility, we cannot leave it entirely on the police to handle this growing problem in our society. Knowing who is susceptible to criminal activities and why and not doing enough to address these issues should make us all feel guilty.

Mongar referral hospital in need of specialist

Mon, 09/02/2019 - 16:05

The regional referral hospital in Mongar is in short of Ear Nose Throat (ENT) specialists, psychiatrists and a full time pediatrician.

While the hospital administration expects an ENT specialist to join early next year, they are concerned about the lack of psychiatrists and a pediatrician. Although the hospital got a pediatrician for a month starting August 14, public raised their concerns, as the duration is closer to completion.

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Fuel price down by a few Chhetrums

Mon, 09/02/2019 - 16:04

After four consecutive hikes in fuel price this year, the prices of petrol and diesel was slashed by Nu 0.06 and Nu 0.09 respectively. The price cut came into effective since last midnight.

The price of petrol in Thimphu is now Nu 62.73 per litre, down from Nu 62.79. Similarly price of diesel in the capital is now Nu 61.79 a litre, decrease from Nu 61.88.

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Parliamentarians to discuss ensuring rights for all children

Mon, 09/02/2019 - 16:03

Parliamentarians from Bhutan will attend the third annual South Asian Parliamentarian Platform for Children (SAPPC) in Colombo to discuss how to ensure rights for all children.

Parliament of Sri Lanka together with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is hosting parliamentarians from across South Asia to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

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Picture story

Mon, 09/02/2019 - 16:02

The Bhutanese team won bronze at the  Robotic Games held in Thailand from August 21 to 31. Acho V1, MaMa V1, Tattu R500 and Chunku R300 are the four robots the Bhutanese –  Kinley Dolkar and Jetsen Patruel Gyelpo from Druk School and Ugyen Dendup and Kuenga Jamtsho from Pelkhil School – created and competed in the Rugby Robot Category against 29 teams from 10 countries.

Picture story

Mon, 09/02/2019 - 16:01

The Royal Bhutan Police celebrated the 54th Raising Day yesterday. The Raising Day is observed every year on September 1 to commemorate the continued allegiance, unwavering dedication and service of the Royal Bhutan Police. (Photo:  RBP Facebook page)

A football league of a different kind

Mon, 09/02/2019 - 16:00

The English Premier League (EPL), a football competition in the United Kingdom is followed closely and with keen interest by football fans in the country.

Hear to Brain team is leading the Bhutan fantasy Premier league as of Saturday

In the 2019-2020 season, Liverpool Football Club (FC) is leading the competition with 12 points from four games. Manchester City FC is second with 10 points. Sergio Aguero  of Manchester City is the top scorer with six goals as of yesterday.

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