Of the 23 cases, 11 are in the isolation ward, six have recovered and another six are in de-isolation
Two more Bhutanese have tested positive to Covid-19 taking the total number of positive cases to 23 as of yesterday.
The two women, aged 28 and 30, who arrived in the country from the Middle East on May 11 tested positive while in the quarantine centre in Thimphu.
The fourth Bhutanese who tested positive for Covid-19 on March 28 was discharged on May 20 following the completion of two-week de-isolation period. She now joins the five others who are declared as recovered.
With six people under de-isolation in a hotel, there are 11 patients in the isolation ward at the national referral hospital.
Health Minister Dechen Wangmo during a press briefing yesterday said that while many positive cases have recovered from the disease in Bhutan, the majority of them were young and with a strong immune system.
Lyonpo said that the vulnerable population, which includes the elderly, people living with comorbidities and disabilities and pregnant women including families with children, have to be more cautious and strictly adhere to the health advisories.
“Should our situation worsen, the objective then would be to prevent deaths. And for this, we need to look after our vulnerable population,” she said.
Emphasising the need to be extra vigilant in the light of the increasing positive cases and the deteriorating regional and global situation, Lyonpo said that additional measures have been put in place based on the risk assessment conducted by the ministry.
Because of conditions such as high population density, close proximity to the border and illegal movement of people across the border, Lyonpo said all communities at the border have been identified as high-risk areas.
She said that should there be a community transmission, it would possibly be from the border areas.
Lockdown contingency plan
While the country has not recorded any community infection for now, Lyonpo said that there is no guarantee that the situation would remain the same.
In a hypothetical scenario, the Health Minister said that if there are X numbers of positive cases in Dechenchholing area, the government would immediately cut off the community from the rest and start investigation including contact tracing.
She said that if there were indefinite number of people who have travelled out of the community to various parts of Thimphu, the whole of Thimphu would be under lockdown. Accordingly, if people from the same community had moved to other dzongkhags, those dzongkhags would also be under lockdown.
However, Lyonpo said that if the X number of individuals had followed the health advisories and not travelled out of the community, the whole dzongkhag would not be locked down. “In this case, we would have the benefit of locking down only the particular community and not the rest of the dzongkhag,” she said, adding that these are some of the advantages of following the public health advisories and measures that are in place.
She said that in the event the country enters the red zone, the arrangements would come in multiple phases – cluster lockdown, dzongkhag, region or the whole country lockdown. The idea is to break the link of transmission, she added.
Lyonpo said that despite several advocacies and reminders on mass gatherings and non-essential travels, people are still not taking the health advisories seriously.
“People should understand and carry out a risk assessment at the individual level. If you have grandparents and children at home, you should take the responsibility to ensure their safety,” Lyonpo said. “The government and health ministry cannot come after each individual. That would undermine the individual’s decision-making right and we don’t want to do that.”
The minister also urged people to use the Druk Trace app. “Not many are using the tracing app. If the situation worsens or should there be a community infection, the app will help to trace people and prevent the spread of the disease.”
Meanwhile, on the reopening of schools, Lyonpo said, “I would not recommend opening schools for the next few weeks. As the health minister, I am not comfortable. We must feel the pulse of the epidemic and then decide.”
She said that the health ministry has completed a risk assessment exercise and submitted the prerequisite conditions that should be in place to the education ministry and Prime Minister’s Office. “If these prerequisites are not in place, the schools cannot open.”
Chimi Dema | Tsirang
The continuous rainfall in Tsirang since May 20 due to cyclone Amphan have left about 20 minor damages in eight gewogs in the dzongkhag.
The Dzongkhag Disaster Management Unit prepared the disaster consolidated report yesterday.
In Rangthaling, Semjong and Doonglagang, falling boulder brought partial damage to houses.
The rain also caused landslides. Residents were advised to evacuate to safer ground.
In some gewogs, acres of maize fields and farm roads were also damaged.
According to the district disaster focal person, Sonam Phuntsho, gewog and dzongkhag officials along with officials from Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Limited were carrying out assessment.
Gewog officials were also helping with clearing minor blocks along farm roads.
Meanwhile, the Mongar-Trashigang highway is blocked at Drametse zero point (12km from Chazam towards Mongar) at around 3.30pm yesterday. The highway is also blocked at 23.6km from Trashigang towards Mongar at around 6pm. DoR expects to clear them by tomorrow morning provided the rainfall subsides.
The Trongsa-Gelephu highway still remains blocked at Reotala, 68km from Trongsa towards Tingtibi. It could not be cleared because of incessant rainfall, shooting boulders and poor visibility at the site.
Traffic between Chumey and Ura has been diverted via Chamkhar town (old route) following falling boulders on the Ngangar -Ura highway near Gaktongzam.
Continuous rainfall for the past few days has caused a flash flood in Threna village of Udzorong gewog, Trashigang, damaging crops and posing risk to houses on May 21. Five households in the village have been evacuated to Chiya Primary school yesterday.
Three gewogs of Lingzhi, Soe and Naro in Thimphu reported the death of 17 yaks and horses due to incessant rain and windstorm in the past few days.
Economic Minister Loknath Sharma said that despite battling the coronavirus pandemic, the ministry is working hard to ensure continuity of industries, construction works and import of essentials food items.
The ministry had deferred interest payments, demand charges, payments of utility bills such as energy bills for the industries to retain cash flow.
“The ministry has been assisting industries with the working capital so that they can get raw materials and operate their industries at least by 40-50 percent of their capacity and retain their employees. Most of the big industries in the country are still functioning,” Lyonpo said.
According to Lyonpo, the ministry is working to export goods produced in the industries to ensure cash flow to meet the payments for the employees.
Regarding the shortages of raw materials and labourers in the hydropower sectors, Lyonpo said the situation is challenging, but hydropower works are continuing. “Most of the industries and factories which supply raw materials for our hydropower were shutdown. Before the pandemic, foreign workers went back to their country for the holy festival, but before they could come back, the lockdown started.”
However, he said that with the support of India, Bhutan had been consistently getting crucial raw materials.
“Some construction materials used to be available in the country, but the factories are located at the border areas. Due to the lockdown in India, production has decreased as there are shortages of labourers,” Lyonpo said adding that in earlier days people used to go to Jaigaon to bring raw materials which are not possible at present.
To supply essential commodities, the ministry had divided the wholesalers for every dzongkhag.
“Besides FCB, there are wholesalers who have stocked essentials. We have submitted the list of the wholesalers to the dzongkhags. Dzongkhags have a focal person to deal with this. Shopkeepers should contact the focal person so that they can contact the wholesalers,” said Lyonpo.
Currently, most of the executive members and decision-makers of the economic ministry had been carrying out Covid-19 task force activities in Phuentsholing.
Yangchen C Rinzin
Owner Lhab Dorji and his wife Karma Tshetrim Dolma appealed to the High Court to order Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to keep the “View Point Resort” in Trongsa and compensate for ruins and opportunity lost the appellants have had to face.
During the preliminary hearing on Friday, representing the appellants, its representative lawyer argued that the freeze notice issued by the ACC in 2015 in connection to the Trongsa land case brought ruin to the whole resort which was beyond repair.
In the statement to the High Court, the appellant appealed that the respondents (ACC) must compensate Nu 306M with the addition of 15 percent interest.
“The resort was supposed to be sold to Tangsibji Hydro Energy Limited for Nu 306M before the emergence of this case,” the appellant Karma Tshertim submitted. “However, just a week before finalising sale deed, the freeze notice was issued and the resort was closed.”
They also appealed that the ACC should be held liable for payments of loan interest and interest outstanding on the principal availed to construct resort, including insurance premium.
The total outstanding loan is Nu 292,487,837M and outstanding insurance premium of Nu 2,884,389.85.
Lhab Dorji and his wife including four other people involved in the case had appealed to High Court after Trongsa Dzongkhag Court convicted them and sentenced in connection to an illegal land acquisition case in Trongsa.
The appeal was submitted to High Court on December 6 last year.
The Trongsa Dzongkhag court on November 14, 2019 convicted Lhab Dorji and was given a concurrent sentence of five years for four counts of forgery, three counts of official misconduct, and execution of the document by deception.
Karma Tshetrim Dolma and the former Drakteng Gup Tenzin were given a concurrent sentence of six years for fabricating sale deeds, submitting false reports to the courts for transfer of land ownership, and for deceptive practices.
The court also sentenced former Nubi Gup Phuntsho for forgery to a year and six months and former surveyor, Narayan Dangal, for aiding and abetting and for official misconduct. Retired drangpon, Ugyen Tenzin, was sentenced to a year and six months in prison for forgery.
Appeals made by Lhab Dorji and Karma Tshetrim
The lawyer submitted the appeal to High Court on four grounds against the Trongsa Dzongkhag Court’s verdict.
It was submitted that ACC lacked locus standi to prosecute the appellants stating that if ACC is allowed to investigate and prosecute at the same time, the ACC would turn vindictive.
“The Trongsa Dzongkhag Court not having considered locus standi, we would submit that the court judgment should be set aside,” the appeal letter read.
On the second grounds, the appellants submitted that the court denied them fair trial accusing that the ACC staff, including the Commissioner, had visited Trongsa court before the case was registered, which could have put pressure on the judges.
The appellants have also appealed to High Court that they are not guilty of any charges and that regularisation of excess land of 1.933 acres is lawful.
Lhab Dorji appealed the charges against official misconduct and execution of the document by deception.
Former drangpon Ugyen Tenzin has appealed that he was not the drangpon at the time when the case was on-going in 2011 and that he was at that time with high court.
Another appellant, Narayan, appealed that he did not submit any false report and was not the beneficiary of any offence in this case.
Two gups appealed to High Court to drop the Trongsa Court judgement against them.
The case first surfaced in 2011 after a landowner, Gyalmo, complained to the ACC that she did not sell her land to Karma Tshetrim Dolma.
Chhimi Dema & Yangyel Lhaden
Health Minister Dechen Wangmo yesterday reiterated that people visiting public places must wear masks.
She said that with number of cases growing in the region,it was important for the country to level up precautionary measure. She added that if the country’s situation worsened there could be severe resource shortage.
People living in border towns, she said, were at high risk and the illegal movement of people across the border was a serious concern.
The use of face mask was a preparatory step to make people comfortable using it, she said. “Wearing of face mask should become a habit.”
The local authorities have begun implementing the directive. The vegetable market in Shaba, Paro, for example, doesn’t allow people without face mask to entre.
Lyonpo said: “It is absurd to have to force people to use face mask.”
The ministry, she said was advocating on the benefit of using face mask. “We cannot appoint kudrung for every person.”
Are there enough face masks?
Adequate for health officials in the country. The ministry doesn’t have enough for the general public.
Civil Society Organisations in the country are involved in making face masks. Over 200,000 face masks will be handed over to the health ministry.
This week, Bhutan suffered a partial shutdown, which was potentially more debilitating than the Covid-19 lockdown that we have been fearing. The disruption of our Internet connectivity brought many functions of government and society practically to a standstill and distanced us from the rest of the world.
We suddenly realize how digitalised (read dependent) we have become when we find ourselves disconnected from essential services in education, health, banking, and most amenities provided by the state because they are all going online.
As luck would have it, this happened at the height of the Covid-19 crisis when we needed to be connected to families, community, and work places.
Such a situation was anticipated since Bhutan introduced the Internet in 1999. Erratic connectivity was bearable in the early years of the Internet but connectivity has become so crucial today that we need, in technical terms, “99.999 percent redundancy” (full back up). Even a split second loss of connectivity costs countries and agencies trillions of dollars with even larger social implications.
This week Internet was out for about 24 hours, not very encouraging when we look to digital connectivity as the answer for a landlocked country with rugged terrain and a scattered population. Another dream of hosting data centres for international companies was shattered.
We were shut off when fibre lines broke down more than 1,000 kilometres away. Bhutan is connected through India with at least five lines but, unfortunately, all of them come through the Siliguri “chicken neck” corridor. Both the Phuentsholing and Gelephu gateways are connected to Siliguri.
That is why we had identified the option of a back-up connection from Bangladesh, through Assam, to Samdrup Jongkhar, which then becomes the third international gateway and guarantees redundancy.
The good news is that our government is talking to our friends and neighbours – India, an advanced ICT nation, and self-declared “Digital Bangladesh”. The not so good news is that we have been discussing this for 10 years already with no progress.
But we remain optimistic because we are discussing the issue with two close and friendly neighbours. What we hope for is that, as neighbours that share borders, we can find the common interests and grounds, like other regions that have achieved development and progress through cross border connection and cooperation.
Affordable connectivity is a necessity today with some countries even declaring it a basic human right. For Bhutan, it will provide the foundation for Digitial Drukyul, which is a national priority and an exciting strategy for the future.
Bhutan has survived and thrived because of our genuine goodwill towards our neighbours. As a small country, we pose no threat, so it is time to call on our larger friends to extend their support in the interest of friendship and development of our region.
Construction workers charge exorbitant rates with shortage of labourers
With the Covid-19 pandemic rendering many jobless, the construction sector was seen as the saviour.
There is a shortage of workers, skilled and otherwise, in the construction sector after expatriate workers got stranded across the border. The remaining foreign workers want to return home once the lockdown in India is lifted. There will be more openings created.
However, the ground reality is much different without a pricing mechanism or a formal wage system fixed. Those in the construction sector looking for hands are left at the mercy of the exorbitant wages and charges the limited workforce is demanding.
Meanwhile, the labour ministry’s Build Bhutan Project is expected to provide 7,000 jobs to people in the construction sector. Will there be takers? Will construction owners, especially private builders be able to afford it?
Dechen Peldon’s building in Motithang is half complete. It is planned to be rented out by July. As of now, she has nine Indian labourers. The other half couldn’t return from their winter break. She is worried. Construction might take another year at this rate.
About 30 percent of internal works like electric fittings and panelling are complete, but she needs skilled workers—carpenters, plumbers and tillers or tile masters. In the last few months, she was running from pillar to post, looking for skilled Bhutanese labourers. There are plenty, but only willing to work at double the market price.
“They charge on their whims and fancies taking advantage of the shortage,” she said. Citing an example, she said an electrician charged Nu 120,000 for 70 percent of electrical fittings work left. “This is usually the cost for a whole building,” she said, adding that charges range from Nu 1 20,000 to 220,000 depending on the size of the building.
Private construction owners are finding that Bhutanese jobseekers are for one-off profit. They said Bhutanese workers don’t work at a single construction site and take up jobs at many locations simultaneously, prolonging the work and compromising the quality. “If they focus on a single site, it takes only four days to complete,” she said.
Dechen Peldon said at the time of signing a contract for a work, certified individuals come, but unskilled workers carry out works.
Shacha, who is building a house in Debsi, Thimphu has six Indian labourers at his site. For the last few weeks, he was looking for skilled workers for his site, but none of the Bhutanese came forward. He said that he approached a few groups from which most were unwilling to work at the market price. “Foreign labourers are also demanding a raise in their daily wage. They are charging Nu 900 a day now,” Shacha said.
The sector is also feeling the brunt of hiked prices of construction materials and consignment charges, among others. The landlords are willing to pay the price if the labour ministry fixes the amount for different kinds of services.
A site engineer in Thimphu, Bhim Bhadhur Biswa, said that Bhutanese demand higher wages compared to foreign workers. At his site, there are 10 Indian and 17 Bhutanese workers. Bhutanese are either masons or helpers.
He said that the Bhutanese workers lacked confidence, patience, and did not want to take risks. However, the quality of works differed according to different types of work. “Bhutanese are good at masonry and Indians are good in plastering works,” he said.
President of Construction Development Board, Thinlay Gyamtsho, said that the current scenario was a labour force issue and pricing was difficult to control. He said that even if there were fixed pricing systems, private builders would take advantage of the shortage in the market depending on the market’s ability to supply labourers.
The service providers, however, refused to comment.
About 40,000 job seekers have registered on the labour ministry’s job portal from which 25,000 were laid, sent on unpaid leave, or partially paid due to Covid-19 impact.
The ministry’s rapid assessment of skilled and unskilled labour force found that there was a need for workers in 20,000 numerous public and private projects in the construction sector. The ministry is also looking into training around 2,000 for different certificate levels and reskill 800 technical training institute graduates.
The government initiative to incentivise the construction sector with topping up the wages for employees might encourage both employers and job seekers.
As of now there are both shortages of jobs and labourers. Most of the construction works across Thimphu are on hold.
… PHPA I will help employ them
Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue
A contactor company under the Punatsangchhu I hydroelectric project (PHPA I), Larsen and Toubro (L&T) Limited, relieved 48 employees on May 21. However, they were reinstated after they approached the PHPA I management.
According to the employees (drivers) they were asked to leave work immediately on May 21.
It was later decided that they would be released from work on May 31 and would also be paid the salary for June according to the labour laws.
The employees are paid a daily wage of Nu 308 and earn a monthly salary of Nu 15,000 including overtime work charges. Overtime has been discontinued for the last one and a half months.
According to an employee, the company’s decision was abrupt.
“It isn’t like we have failed in our work. Being asked to leave suddenly is sad. Under the present circumstances, where can we find a new job?” an employee who has been with the company for three years said.
It was learned that the company had not much work in the past six months. Its headquarter in India paid workers’ salary for the past three months only.
Kuensel learned that with the plan to close the Taksha quarry and the work yet to begin on the left bank of the PHPA I dam area, L&T today is out of work.
According to PHPA I’s Joint Managing Director (JMD) Karma Tshewang, the project had enough stockpile of aggregate and didn’t require more.
He said that L&T was informed to stop bringing the aggregate from Taksha. “The dam work is ongoing. And about the geological issue on the left bank of the dam (landslide area), we have a meeting on May 28 from where we will know what work to pick and go ahead.”
Meanwhile, the PHPA I management has discussed with the PHPA II management to employ the drivers if L&T cannot retain them.
“The L&T Company also doesn’t have an option. They don’t have much work and revenue. It is a genuine situation,” JMD Karma Tshewang said.
The PHPA II management will meet the employees today and render help where required.
The employees are today distressed with the news and are seeking help.
According to another worker, there were around three Indian drivers among them.
“They are crying. Everyone is so desperate. I have four children and have to pay Nu 4,500 rent.”
Clears Ed of Rigsar and former ES of Pling thromde for bribery and misuse of power
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) will not prosecute the executive director of Rigsar Construction Private Ltd. and the former executive secretary of the Phuentsholing thromde, which the Anti-Corruption Commission forwarded for alleged bribery.
The government’s prosecutor dropped the case, in relation to the construction of walls along the banks of Toorsa (Amochhu) river, justifying that the accepted rates and funds appropriated for the gabion wall construction were legitimate.
The decision to not prosecute was conveyed to the ACC on May 20 in writing.
The Attorney General (AG), Shera Lhundup, who demitted office on Thursday, stated that the Thromde Tender Committee (TCC) had followed due process in awarding the work to construct the gabion wall.
ACC has recommended the OAG to charge Rigsar’s ED Sherab for active bribery of public servant and former executive secretary (ES) Wangchuk Thayey, for passive bribery for receiving Nu 250,000.
The former ES is also implicated for abuse of function, as he did not follow due process in re-appropriating additional budget from the budget allocated to the construction of Khariphu road.
In its investigation report forwarded to the OAG on December 31 last year, ACC also recommended the Phuentsholing Thromde management to take administrative action against the TTC members for failing to carry out proper cost estimates of the gabion wall.
ACC Investigation report
In 2017, Phuentsholing Thromde awarded the construction of gabion wall at Amochhu to Rigsar at Nu 11.9M. There were controversial issues pertaining to the award of the work directly to Rigsar, including the fund arrangement by the Thromde.
ACC through their investigation found that the construction of 450 meters long gabion wall at Amochhu bank was awarded directly to Rigsar.
ACC stated that awarding the contract directly to Rigsar was an undue favor extended by abusing official functions of the ES and by means of bribery of Nu 250,000, which the ES received in his personal bank account from Rigsar’s ED.
The ACC determined that the ES had improperly used his position to seek approval of Nu 4.502M for the construction of a 250m gabion wall and had also failed to follow the budget re-appropriation procedures while allocating additional Nu 7M from the Khariphu approach road construction budget when the length of the gabion wall was increased from 250 meters to 450 meters.
The investigation alleged that the proposal to increase the length of the gabion wall, its technical design and the cost estimate were as per proposal made by Rigsar and the committee awarded it without analyzing the rates, especially the cost of boulders which was readily available at the site. They concluded that those failures had let to Rigsar gaining Nu 3.252M from the total project cost of over Nu 11M.
The contractor executed the project for the full stretch of 423.2m gabion wall and was eventually paid Nu 11.232M out of which Nu 7M was appropriated from road construction to Khariphu.
OAG findings and decision
OAG found that the danger posed to the lives and properties by the annual monsoon floods of the Amochhu was real and that it was the thromde’s duty to protect them. “Yet both the government agency and local companies have declined to undertake the task to dissipate the flood’s rage by dredging the cumulating stone materials in the river that inevitably diverts the monsoon rage towards human settlements,” OAG stated.
“Rigsar’s willingness to undertake the dredging works on a cost-recovery modality basis came as a saving grace to the desperate thromde authority. Although the thromde invested zero, the project was taken up at Nu 65M, for the presence of accumulated bounders and commercial scope it offered if one could substantially invest in it,” it stated.
Notwithstanding the economic scale of the investment, Rigsar taking up the unwanted project should be morally applauded, as, after that, the riparian made no cries for help to save their lives and properties, the OAG noted.
OAG also noted sections of the Local Government Act 2009, where Section 277 mandates the ES to plan developmental activities and explore necessary funds for their executions. According to the OAG, the ES through a note-sheet on January 6, 2017 to the finance ministry, rightfully sought both the financial support of Nu 4.502M for the initially proposed 250m gabion wall and the permission to award the work directly to RCPL stationed at the site and willing to complete the work before monsoon. “Following the usual tendering process under PRR, the employee could have only a month’s time to complete the wall,” it stated.
“Putting up of note-sheet to the finance ministry for approvals of the fund with unambiguous request to allow the work to be awarded directly to Rigsar, and following up on it with authorities cannot be construed as unusual or collusive acts, unless substantial undue material gains made can be proven against the accused,” OAG stated. “As no material gain could be proven in the present case, the perceived opinion cannot substitute the material evidence required to prove, beyond doubt, the proposed offence against each accused.”
OAG also supported the ES reasoning that as the ex-officio chairman of the tender committee its was his duty to call members, adopt agenda, maintain decorum and enter the majority decisions taken by the committee. “It is too farfetched to allege the committee’s decision as that of the chairman, specifically when there were no complaints of imposing unilateral decisions by the chairman. Hence, the decisions of the committee to increase the length of the gabion wall from 250 meters to 450 meters and award it directly to Rigsar cannot import illegal culpability on the ES.”
OAG also found that Rigsar’s proposed design with the increased length, from 250m to 450m, was found to be more relevant to ground reality need of the Thromde’s Technical Review Committee.
With regard to the alleged appropriation of additional fund of Nu 7M from Khariphu road construction, the thromde finance officer, who was also a member of the committee, had clearly stated to the ACC that the fund used was from the “Block Grant” which the thromde was empowered to prioritise its use on a need basis. “The ES cannot be found culpable for unauthorised exercise or abuse of his official functions for appropriating the block grant that was legally permissible,” OAG noted.
On the Nu 25,000 alleged bribery, the AG also stated that the printout copy of the SMS text sent by ES to the Rigsar ED is self-speaking that money was borrowed at applicable banks’ interest rate. “That fact is corroborated by the borrower’s refusal to receive it in cash payment and having made the lender deposit it fully into his personal bank account is conclusive on the sincerity of the borrower’s intent,” OAG noted.
“The third party’s statement to the investigation on the payment receipt confirmed the stated purpose for borrowing.”
Meanwhile, an ACC official said that the commission hasn’t received the letter from OAG.
Beginning with a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan, China, this novel coronavirus has spread with alarming speed, shaking the foundations of health systems, economies, and societies around the world.
European countries are among the most heavily affected. At the time of writing, five of the six most-affected countries are in Europe.
And yet, even as Europe is fighting to bring Covid-19 under control at home, it is also playing a leading role in building global solidarity.
Even as we are physically distancing as individuals, we need to pull together collectively as actors on the world stage.
The European Union and WHO share a commitment to supporting vulnerable communities and countries around the world. Standing together as a global community is particularly crucial now, because we are all in this together as the disease knows no borders and does not discriminate. As long as it affects some of us, none of us is safe.
To support the global response to Covid-19, the European Union and its Member States recently put forward a Team Europe package, which is growing to be well over €23 billion. Of course, Team Europe will be delivering parts of its response to the coronavirus pandemic with the United Nations.
Like in so many crises, the most vulnerable suffer the most, and they must be our focus. The EU is supporting the WHO Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan with €30 million in new funding to strengthen emergency preparedness and response in countries with weak health systems or which are affected by humanitarian crises.
In addition, the European Commission, WHO, and partners from around the globe have also teamed up to launch ‘The Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator’, to speed up the development, production and equitable distribution of vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics for Covid-19, so that all people have equitable access to these lifesaving products.
Building on this historic commitment, the European Commission hosted a pledging event on 4 May at which more than 40 countries came together to pledge some €7.4 billion to support research and development for vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.
But our partnership extends well beyond the current crisis.
The pandemic exploits the gaps and inequalities in health systems, underscoring the importance of investing in health workers, health infrastructure and systems to prevent, detect and respond to disease outbreaks.
Strong health systems are the best prevention not only against outbreaks and pandemics, but also against the multiple health threats people around the world face every day.
And yet, on current trends, more than 5 billion people will lack access to essential health services by 2030 – including the ability to see a health worker, access to essential medicines, and running water in hospitals.
Even when services are available, using them can mean financial ruin for millions of people.
These gaps don’t only undermine the health of individuals, families and communities; they also undermine global security and economic growth.
That is why the EU has contributed €102 million to the Universal Health Coverage Partnership with WHO, supporting health system strengthening in 115 countries in Africa, the Caribbean, the Pacific, Eastern Europe, and Central and South East Asia. The world spends around US$7.5 trillion on health each year – almost 10 percent of global GDP.
But too many countries spend too much of their health budget on managing diseases in hospitals – where the costs are higher and the outcomes are often worse – instead of promoting health and preventing disease at the primary health care level.
The Covid-19 pandemic will eventually recede, but there can be no going back to business as usual.
As we work on responding to this pandemic, we must also prepare for the next one. Now is an opportunity to lay the foundations for resilient health systems around the world.
Investments to strengthen health infrastructure and workforce are the only way to avoid future global health crises like the one we are facing now.
If we learn anything from Covid-19, it must be that investing in health now will save lives later.
History will judge us not only on whether we got through this pandemic, but on the lessons we learned and the actions we took once it was over.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
World Health Organization
Commissioner for International Partnerships
This is not the first time and will not be the last time where media will interview people committing criminal offences. This week a report on “Smoke in Thimphu despite border closure” the reporter interviewed some people involved in illegal selling or buying of tobacco in the capital raising questions as to the law enforcement agencies of their inefficiency to implement the law effectively.
Some people took to social media to raise concerns why police could not question the reporter to reveal the identities of source and get them arrested. This brings an interesting issue of freedom of press (right to protect sources) and reporter’s duty to report a crime as a responsible citizen.
Section 430 of Penal Code (PCB) makes a criminal offence for failure to report a crime, if the person, “witnesses any person committing a crime.” Section 167 of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (CCPC), empowers the citizen to arrest another person, if one “reasonably believes that person has committed or intends to commit a criminal offence or is wanted by the law for the commission of an offence.” And Article 8(10) of our Constitution mandates that “every person shall have the duty to act in aid of the law.”
Further, Section 6.6 Code of Ethics for Journalist in Bhutan (This code has not been revised as per ICM Act, 2018) makes a legal duty for a journalist to reveal their sources if required by any law. The reporter as an individual citizen has a fundamental and legal duty to report the crime to the authority. Article 7(5) of the Constitution which guarantees the “freedom of the press, radio and television” seems to only way to protect source.
However, the constitutional jurisprudence on this aspect remains a tussle between the liberal and conservative judges across the world. For example, in a famous case of Branzburg v. Hayes, the Federal Supreme Court of United States, the majority view was a reporter’s “privilege should be judged on its facts by the striking of a proper balance between freedom of the press and the obligation of all citizens to give relevant testimony with respect to criminal conduct. The balance of these vital constitutional and societal interests on a case-by-case basis accords with the tried and traditional way of adjudicating such questions and the courts will be available to newsmen under circumstances where legitimate First Amendment interests require protection.” But the minority (dissenting) view was that “informants are necessary to the news-gathering process, the press must be far more than merely print public statements or publish prepared handouts, unless the press is to be a captive mouthpiece of ‘newsmakers’.” If the state can “compel newsmen to disclose information received in confidence, sources will clearly be deterred from giving information, and reporters will clearly be deterred from publishing it, because uncertainty about exercise of the power will lead to ‘self-censorship.”
While there are no specific legal means to protect media’s sources in Bhutan, there are laws which can compel the reporter to reveal their sources. The Article 7(5) of the Constitution is still away from the judicial interpretation and the media’s right to protect source or privileged information remains undefined. The dilemma of “to reveal or not to reveal” remains in the hands of the state. Yet, on the positive side, neither the law enforcement agency nor our courts have summoned or compelled any journalist to reveal their sources till now.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.
A photo of a lone White-bellied Heron attempting to catch a fish without success and finally resorting to feeding on insects and grasses in a unique habitat won the best photography in the habitat category.
This is how Bhutan celebrated the international biodiversity day (IBD) due to the Covid-19 pandemic- through an online photo contest yesterday.
Themed: “Our solutions are in nature”, the photographer, Phub Dorji, said that nature is providing solutions for the survival of critically endangered species to adopt with other habitats as well with changing natural habitats.
This year’s theme emphasises on hope, solidarity, and the importance of working together at all levels to build a future of life in harmony with nature.
About 111 participants submitted 266 photos under various categories like wildlife, abstract, habitat, and nature-based solutions to the National Environment Commission (NEC). Most of the participants were tour guides, forest rangers, and college students.
An NEC official said that there were exciting entries from young and amateur participants encouraging conservation through nature photography among youth.
The initiative by NEC in collaboration with UNDP-Bhutan, is expected to increase awareness and understanding of biodiversity issues and enhance appreciation towards biodiversity in the country facing an increasing number of threats.
Experts from UNDP, National Biodiversity Centre, and NEC evaluated the photos submissions.
A press release from the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) stated: “As the global community is called to re-examine its relationship to the natural world, one thing is certain: despite all our technological advances we are completely dependent on healthy and vibrant ecosystems for our water, food, medicines, clothes, fuel, shelter and energy.”
This year is an important year of reflection, opportunity and solutions—final period for the 2011-2020 strategic plan on biodiversity and its 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets; the end of the 2011-2020 United Nations Decade on Biodiversity and the UN Biodiversity Summit which highlights the urgency of action at the highest levels in support of a post-2020 global biodiversity framework.
The United Nations declared IBD on May 22, 2000 to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. Bhutan is a member of CBD since 1995.
Nim Dorji | Trongsa
This time of the year the cordyceps collectors make the most out of the short season. However, in Bumthang, the number of collectors particularly from Tang and Chhoekhor has decreased significantly.
Every year chhoekhor gewog issue more than 850 cordyceps collection permits. But this year, only 730 people came for permit.
More than 600 people have left for collection since May 19 by registering at the entry points in dhur and khagthang.
The entry gates have been set up to monitor illegal collectors.
This year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the collectors from Chhoekhor gewog should undergo mandatory flu screening. Suspects will be sent to quarantine facilities.
Bumthang Dzongdag Passang Dorji said that the collectors were briefed about the Covid-19 preventive measures by conducting awareness program in various locations.
“The collectors are asked to restrict from mingling with collectors from across the border,” he said. The collectors were also briefed about the cyclone Amphan and have been asked to stay alert.
Entry gates are established at a various locations which will be strictly monitored for 24 hours.
Collectors should come to collect the permit personally. Student, monks, and civil servant are not eligible for the permit.
Chhoekhor Gup Pema Dongyel said that unlike in the past the permit was distributed from various locations to discourage gathering.
“Only individuals who produce the certificate of participation in the awareness and collector card are issued with the permit,” he said.
Tang saw only four collectors come for permit.
Collectors from Tang go to Pagsalum where collectors from across border also come. “We have asked the people to refrain from going there which has led to a decrease in the number of collectors” gup added.
This year, the number of foresters to monitor area has also increased. Close to 80 foresters have been deployed.
Collection permit for Chumig gewog will be issued on May 25.