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དུས་མཐུན་བཟོ་ཡོད: 52 min 49 sec གི་ཧེ་མ།

9,624 passports issued in 2.5 months

12 hours 1 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Rumours that the govt. will stop issuing passport is untrue: MOFA 

Nima Wangdi 

If the number of new passports being issued is any indication, thousands of Bhutanese are leaving the country.

The Passport Division under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is overwhelmed with people even with an online application service. Chief of the Passport Division, Tshewang Dorji T said the division issued 7,124 new passports in the last two months, June and July. This month, until August 17, 2,500 new passports were issued.

“It is mid-August and if the trend continues, the division will have issued about 5,000 passports this month,” he said, adding that going by the trend, people applying for passports in the months towards the end of the year will increase with people going on pilgrimages.

Before the outbreak of Covid-19, the division issued about 13,000 passports in a year but this year, in just five months since April, about 19,000 passports have been issued already, according to Tshewang Dorji T.

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He said most of the people applying for passports are those who are planning to go abroad or who are ready to leave.

Efforts to clear Backlogs 

Tshewang Dorji T said that the division has not been able to issue passports in time because of the huge number of applicants.

The division usually issued passports between one and two days, which became impossible today due to the high volume of applicants.

Tshewang Dorji T said that to encourage online applications, in July, the division started a system wherein those coming in person to submit applications would take seven days to get the passports and those who applied online got in one to two days. 

“This system could not be continued due to the increasing volume.”

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He said they have backlogs to clear that are actually leading to delay in issuance of passports as scheduled. The division is planning to work one of these weekends to clear all the backlogs and start from ground zero again. “We might have to increase the manpower and equipment if we fail to clear the backlogs.”

The division also attends to those who require passports to leave for emergencies such as medical treatment.

There are seven full time employees working throughout the day starting at 9am. The work goes on till 8pm and 9pm. Some office drivers are also helping laminate the passports since it does not require expertise, according to Tshewang Dorji T.

“We are putting in all the efforts we can but the number of applications keep increasing,” he said.

The division has three printing machines of which two are in operation and one is kept as a backup. In the last two weeks, about 200 passports were printed in a day.


Govt.  will not stop issuing passport

Tshewang Dorji T said that the people are rushing for passports probably because of a rumour that the government is planning to stop issuing passports. “This is untrue and there are no such policy decisions.”

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He said that the division would always facilitate issuance of the passports. “That is why we have not set a cap on the number of passports to be issued in a day and we would work to enhance the division’s capacity.”

The other reason is due to the news of some 30 people winning the Diversity Visa (DV) lottery to live and work in the United States of America during the pandemic. It was learned that some people are applying for passports to apply for the lottery.

The chief said that issuing passports on time was one of the G2C services that was least complained about. “People have now started complaining.”

“I have given my own number and email address to the public. I am responding to each of the enquiries round the clock.”

Consumer spending up amid record inflation

12 hours 2 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Thukten Zangpo 

Consumer spending jumped 2.3 percent last year and continued to absorb high prices on groceries, fuel, and other basic needs.

Spending rose as annual inflation hit an all-time high of 7.35 percent last year. Inflation was reported at 5.63 percent and 2.73 percent respectively in 2020 and 2019.

The prices of household goods and services increased by 7.35 percent last year from the previous year. Food prices accounted for about 60 percent of the overall inflation and 40 percent of non-food.

Inflation as of June this year was 6.54 percent, higher than the Royal Monetary Authority’s upper threshold of 6 percent.

Last year’s consumer spending, measured in the private final consumption expenditure adjusted for inflation, was recorded at Nu 32.5 billion (B), an increase of Nu 725 million (M) from 2020, the National Accounts Statistics 2022 showed.

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However, the spending was below the pre-pandemic level of Nu 33.85B in 2019.

Private household final consumption expenditures are the household purchases of products for their everyday needs, like food, clothing, cars, rent, and personal services.

Household spending on food and alcoholic beverages, which accounts for 37 percent of household spending rose by 1 percent to Nu 9B in 2021, with alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and narcotics spending shrinking about 6 percent to Nu 739.5M.

However, Nu 12.2B was spent on food and alcoholic beverages in 2019, and Nu 737.8M on alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and narcotics.

The price of alcohol beverages, tobacco, and narcotics saw the highest increase with 16.66 percent last year.

Spending on clothing and footwear declined by about 4 percent to Nu 2.5B in 2021 from the previous year. Clothing and footwear reported 11 percent inflation increase.

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Housing, water, electricity, gas, and other fuel costs advanced by about 20 percent and 28 percent from 2020 and 2019 respectively at Nu 5.3B last year.

Spending on transport costs increased by 1 percent at Nu 3.2B, and those on leisure and culture and eatery and lodging services went up slightly. Transport costs saw an increase of about 15 percent.

That increase came when the petrol and diesel prices rose from Nu 59.73 and Nu 57.01 to Nu 72 and Nu 67.3 respectively in December last year from December 2020.

Bhutanese have spent more to buy the same amount of goods because the purchasing power of Ngultrum was Nu 62 as of December last year compared to Nu 100 in December 2012. This means that Nu 100 in December last year is worth only Nu 62 at December 2021 prices.

“The purchasing power of Ngultrum as measured by consumer price index has dropped by 6.43 percent in the last one year because of price increase in the economy,” according to the National Statistics Bureau.

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The year also saw an increase in the gross domestic product per capita by Nu 18,279 from the previous year, which was estimated at Nu 284,33.

Money power could decide candidature 

12 hours 2 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

MB Subba 

Even though the number of party members decreased significantly after the election, political parties have been able to maintain their secretariat offices with limited sources of funds.

However, the political parties’ expenditures are expected to shoot up as they prepare for the fourth National Assembly elections, which will begin towards the end of 2023.

To meet the expenses and to strengthen their support base, parties are expected to recruit new members.

More importantly, party officials said that voluntary contributions from candidates and party supporters would be the main sources of funding for political parties besides the state finding.

However, some sources said that need for candidates to make voluntary contributions to the party would give an advantage for rich aspirants in terms of getting party tickets.

“It is natural for political parties to consider how a candidate can strengthen the party financially,” one of the sources said, adding that contributions from members were insignificant.

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However, the general secretary of Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), Phurba, said that it was not compulsory for all the candidates to contribute to the party and that it was based on affordability.

He said that the party office was comfortable financially as each of its MPs contributes 10 percent of his or her salary to the party. “A member can contribute up to Nu 500,000 to the party annually,” he added.

Parties outside of Parliament have also maintained their offices despite not having MPs.

The secretary general of People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Kuenga Tashi, said that the party has been receiving voluntary contributions regularly from senior members, including former ministers.

He said that members were also contributing to the party’s fund although the amounts were not significant. He said the party has about 900 members compared to about 5,000 in 2018.

A party official said that given the small numbers of membership, registration and renewal fees collected from members are not enough to sustain a party’s office.

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The DNT has about 256 registered members, according to the party secretariat. It had more than 11,000 members in 2018.

The past trends show that most of the members resign soon after the election. A registered member must complete a one-year cooling-off period to take part in activities like contesting a local government election.

The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), however, claimed that it has more than 4,000 members.

Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party had 1,200 members in 2018. The party could not be contacted for the latest information on its membership.

Nurturing a saving culture this World Savings Day

12 hours 3 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Neten Dorji | Khaling

Students of Khaling Muenseling Institute in Trashigang competed in narrating stories and reciting poems about the importance of saving money on August 17.

It was not a regular school competition but a special event to create awareness of financial literacy and encourage the youth to save, organised by RENEW Micro-Finance Private Limited(RMFPL).

It is one of the events in the run-up to World Savings Day on October 31 this year.

A student, Kinley Dorji said, “Now, I want to open a savings account where I can save money little by little.

“We cannot predict what will happen in the future and that is why I think saving money is important.”

Another student, Tshering Pem said, “I want to save more money to pursue teaching profession.”

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She said that she wanted to share the importance of saving culture with her parents.

A 13-year-old student of Khaling Lower Secondary School, Rinzin Dorji said that until the event on saving money held in his school he knew nothing about saving money. “I will seek help from my parents to open a savings account.”

A RMFPL official, Yeshi Wangdi said, “We want to educate people as well as to create ambassadors of saving.”

He said that they decided to start observing World Savings Day in the east since most of the events are held in the western and central dzongkhags.

RMFPL initiates various activities in 11 dzongkhags to encourage savings, especially for rural women.

“To encourage savings, we make short films from rural areas and educate rural women, nuns and monks,” said another official.

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He said the initiative is also to take RMFPL services to the doorsteps of the customers. “It is not just to help the youth in making wise money decisions but also create awareness on saving culture and its importance.”

RENEW microfinance was established in 2012 and was undertaken by German Sparkassentiftung for International Cooperation which is funded by the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany.

Farmers need incentives

12 hours 4 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

At this time of the year, farmers are battling with one of the biggest problems—the human-wildlife issue.

Lives are being lost and crops are being plundered and marauded. For farmers who toil day in and day out to secure their sustenance, such destructions are costly.

The issue stems from a lack of vision. And our laws related to the preservation of culture and environment are not helping the rural folks.

We talk about power tillers from donor countries, and we have programmes to develop and adopt new farming methods to increase agricultural production.

For the agriculture ministry, rolling out programmes is easy. What happens after the programmes in the villages, sadly, is not accounted for. There is no follow-up.

This must change. The policies should benefit the people.  This is not happening.

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For a country like Bhutan with a huge potential in the agriculture sector, not investing in it can have a far-reaching impact. We are already selling ourselves to the world as “organic” brand.

Branding ourselves as organic is one thing; not being able to feed ourselves is a different thing altogether. Food import has been increasing by the year.

What our policy-makers do not seem to understand is that depending on food import can hit hard on our sovereignty. This is a very serious issue. Set aside your patang, gyentag and the many perks for a while and put yourself in the shoes of the farmers. 

When the nation can produce enough, we do not depend on others. When we do not depend on others for basic necessities, we can chart our own development path.

So we come back to the difficulties facing the farmers. First, a large number of people are leaving their villages for better opportunities in bigger towns. In the villages, so, is an acute shortage of farmhands. The problem is aggravated by conservation laws that affect the farmers more.

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The time has come for Bhutan to incentivise farmers in more innovative ways. Power tillers were good then. No doubt. We need now to focus more on production and marketing.

Changing conservation laws is an option.  Our farmers need reasons to work in the fields.

Saling farmers thrive on tengma business

12 hours 4 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Tshering Namgyal | Saling

If one travels along the stretch between Menchugang and Yongkola on the Lingmethang-Bumthang highway, one can enjoy a tantalising aroma of fresh tengma.

Most often it succeeds in compelling travellers to halt for a moment to pick up some of this natural and healthy diet on sale. The tengma-making machines dot the highway at various locations.

The decade-old business has always been a successful source of income for Saling farmers in the locality. It has encouraged farmers to increase production over the years. They sell in their small temporary market sheds along the east-west national highway.

A few years ago, only a handful of farmers were engaged in tengma business. Today, all of the 80 households in Thrindangbi village and some from Jangdung village under Saling gewog are into this business.

Today, most farmers (more than 50 households) own individual machines to flatten the maize at home and only a few depend on neighbours.

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Tengma on display in the market shed along the Mongar-Bumthang highway

Each household sells at least 500kg of tengma in a year earning more than Nu 100,000.  A 1-kg packet costs between Nu 150 and Nu 200.

Residents said they don’t even keep any maize to produce kharang (ground maize) for self-consumption. They buy rice after selling tengma.

“We don’t sell kharang because it can fetch only about Nu 50 a kg,” said one of the farmers, Tshewang Dorji.   “Selling tengma makes more income than kharang.”

To preserve the natural taste, the farmers first fry the maize lightly. It’s then put into the corn sheller machine to remove the grains from the cob. The grains are fried again and flattened in another machine and packaged.

“It tastes better, sells better that way. So most of us do that,” another villager Tshering Wangmo said. She sells more than 1,000kg of tengma a year.

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Farmers who have dry land in the low-lying areas cultivate maize as many as three times a year while those in the higher regions do seasonal business.

Customers are both travellers who take it for personal consumption or as gifts, while others buy it to sell.

One of the earliest roadside vendors in Thrindangbi, Pema Thinley, who sells up to 3,000kg of tengma in a year charges as high as Nu 300 a kilogram. The price drops gradually to Nu 150 when those in neighbouring areas harvest their maize.

He said he sells tengma almost round the year including off-seasons after buying dry maize grains from Tsamang, and Kengkhar in Mongar, and Lhuentse. He said the business has helped him raise his seven children and educate them.

There are few others like him who do tengma businesses on a large commercial scale.

Pema Thinley said usually those who have manpower shortages at home prefer to send the maize to customers in Thimphu and Phuentsholing in large quantities while others sell from the sales counter along the highway.

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Of late, more farmers are seen coming up with new sheds after they were allowed to construct market sheds and operate businesses by the roadside following the change in road guidelines earlier this year.

Sangay Zangmo recently started the tengma business and sells tengma and other vegetables at the government-built market shed at Menchugang. She said there is good demand for tengma.

“Our tengma is known for taste and we want to maintain it to attract more customers in the future,” she said.

Farmers of Chali gewog also sell tengma but on a smaller scale at the Mongar vegetable market and the Gangola junction on the Mongar-Thimphu highway.

Asian Para Games deferred 

12 hours 5 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

Thinley Namgay 

The fourth Asian Para Games (APG)  scheduled to take place in Hangzhou, China from October 22 to 28 this year is postponed to October next year.

The Asian Paralympic Committee (APC), Hangzhou Asian Para Games Organising Committee (HAPGOC) and other stakeholders, decided on the deferral on August 17.  The decision was taken considering the Covid-19 pandemic in China.

Bhutan first participated in the third APG, held in Indonesia from October 6-13, 2018. Archer Pema Rigsel and shooter Kinley Dem participated in the APG.

Bhutan today has only a few para -athletes. They are para -archer Pema Rigsel, para shooter Kinley Dem, and para -badminton player Sapuna Subba.  Sapuna Subba is a student at Royal Thimphu College (RTC).

Two other para -athletes reside at the kidu hostel in Thimphu, but they don’t have minimum qualification standards to take part in APG.

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Para-athlete Chimi Dema, who is also studying at RTC said she will not compete in the upcoming APG. Para-athlete Gyeltshen has resigned.

One of the officials from the Bhutan Paralympic Committee said it’s concerning that there are only a handful of para -athletes today to participate in such important regional games.

The official said that people with disabilities are not coming forward to take part in para games.

Official said limited budget from the government hinders sending para -athletes for classifications and qualifications games in other countries.

This is the second time China will host the APG after staging the first edition of the games in Guangzhou in 2010.

With the motto, “hearts meet, dreams shine”,  4,000 athletes from 43 nations are expected to gather at the event and compete in 22 sports.

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Govt. suspends import of select vehicles 

12 hours 6 minགི་ཧེ་མ།

… the measure is to save foreign currency reserve

Tshering Palden and Thukten Zangpo 

The finance ministry yesterday announced the moratorium on the import of non-essential vehicles with immediate effect until further notice.

The moratorium is implemented to ensure adequate foreign currency reserves for maintaining macroeconomic stability. The announcement comes after the country’s foreign currency reserve has dwindled after Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted.

The surge in imports widened Bhutan’s trade deficit from Nu 13.8 billion (B) in the first three months of this year to Nu 27.3B as of June this year.

Bhutan imported more than 8,000 vehicles between June 2021 and June 2022. The import of vehicles is one of the main contributing factors to depleting the reserve.

Bhutan’s foreign currency reserve currently stands at USD 845 million (M), including USD and Indian rupee. Royal Monetary Authority’s record shows the reserve depleted by over 30 percent from April last year (USD 1.46B) to March this year at USD 984.8M. The foreign currency reserve was able to meet 9 months of essential imports.

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Article 14, Section 7 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan states: “A minimum foreign currency reserve that is adequate to meet the cost of not less than one year’s essential import must be maintained.”

This measure, the ministry stated, is to uphold the Constitutional provision and most importantly to address the macroeconomic imbalances that the entire world is going through as an initiative toward protecting the foreign currency reserve.

The moratorium applies to import of all vehicles including two-wheelers except utility vehicles, heavy earthmoving machines and agricultural machinery. only utility vehicles costing less than Nu 1.5M or USD 20,000 (whichever is less) will be exempted.

Vehicles for the use and promotion of tourism are also exempted from the moratorium. 

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The terms and conditions, and type or number of vehicles to avail of the exemption from this moratorium will be submitted by the Tourism Council of Bhutan, according to the ministry’s notification.

Taxis both fossil and electric which are due for replacement shall be exempted from this moratorium.

The moratorium shall be reviewed and amended (where necessary) after six months depending on the foreign currency reserve position.

“In this national endeavour, the government calls upon every individual to collectively support the measures to strengthen our economy,” the notification stated.

Retail shops in Thimphu under bribery investigation

པ།, 08/18/2022 - 11:16

… suspected of commercial bribery and tax evasion

Rinzin Wangchuk

The proprietor of Nobgang Tshongkhang, who also owns the Sale Zone has appealed to the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) on August 15 to allow them to sell their stock of goods to remain in business even as  the anti-graft commission is investigating a bribery case.

The proprietor claimed that with a  freeze notice on his business,  he could default on his loan repayments if he is not allowed to sell the goods in stock at his two shops.

The ACC closed both Nobgang Tshongkhang and the Sale Zone, a subsidiary business, on July 25 after finding a prima facie case of corruption in connection with alleged commercial bribery and tax evasion in 2021.

In the suspension order, the commission stated that individuals or business entities are prohibited from conducting or entering into any business directly or indirectly using the licenses hereinafter suspended till pending the outcome of the case. “Non-compliance to the ACC’s lawful demand constitutes an offence under the Anti-Corruption Act of Bhutan (ACAB) 2011,” the suspension order stated.

ACC officials declined to comment  why the business was suspended. However,  Kuensel learnt that the ACC took up the case after unearthing a racket of collusion among customs officials, importers and loaders  while importing goods through the Mini Dry Port (MDP) and other designated areas in Phuentsholing.

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ACC’s investigation revealed that a senior customs inspector stationed at the MDP and truck parking (temporary) port in Phuentsholing had been receiving illicit payments from multiple parties in relation to import of goods. He allegedly concealed these bribes using bank accounts of other private individuals. ACC detained him on October 8 last year.

Kuensel also learnt that the proprietor of Nobgang Tshongkhang and Sale had allegedly transferred Nu 37,500 to one of the customs officials’ bank accounts. The proprietor could have transferred the amount to the inspector’s bank account to pay for the loaders working at MDP and truck drivers who transported his imported goods.

He claimed innocence. “It was during Covid-19 pandemic that the transportation of goods from Phuentsholing to Thimphu were restricted,” he said. There was no option but to rely on people working at MDP to clear and transport goods from there.”

He also said that he didn’t suspect customs officials would deceive him since importers had to pay loaders and truckers for the consignment.


The modus operandi

Sometime in June 2021, ACC began investigation on the unrelenting surge in Covid-19 cases in Phuentsholing despite being under a strict lockdown.

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It was found that senior customs inspectors allegedly used different individual bank accounts to receive bribes from the importers. For instance, an inspector requested one of his old schoolmates working at Pasakha, to use his bank account. He convinced his friend saying that he had money to receive from someone in relation to import of betel nut and that he was not comfortable using his own savings account, as it would make law enforcement agencies suspicious.

The suspect shared his bank account number with importers or suppliers in Jaigaon, India, to transfer the bribe amount. In less than a month, he collected about Nu 800,000 from four individuals. Every time a deposit was made, the suspect requested his friend to withdraw cash and deliver it to the containment area.

On other occasions, he instructed the friend to transfer money to other accounts that he claimed to be his family members.

He then switched to another old schoolmate operating a small shop at Pekarshing in Phuentsholing. Using this account, the suspect collected about Nu 1.99 million from about 35 individuals or business entities. The suspect invested the amount received in bribes to operate a beer supply business, and at one time, to sell betel nut. He also engaged in a more deceitful means of hiding corrupt proceeds by routing through additional layers of account.

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Youth gets 9 years in prison for rape of minor

པ།, 08/18/2022 - 11:15

… he was also found guilty of battery 

Staff reporter 

Wamrong drungkhag court last week sentenced a 22-year-old from Kurchilo of Lumang gewog in Trashigang to nine years in prison for the rape of a minor.

Sonam Jamtsho, from Kurichilo in Lumang gewog met with the victim on social media, Facebook. The victim was 15 years old at the time of the incident in 2021.

They lived as a couple in Babesa, Thimphu. The two then moved to his village.

Sonam Jamtsho was also found guilty of physically abusing the victim. The girl was also a victim of domestic violence and he had beaten her, the judgement stated.

“After the victim had arguments with Sonam Jamtsho, she was slapped and kicked,” the judgement states. “One day, when the victim was at her friend’s house, he tied her to a pillar and beat her again.”

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The victim reported to Wamrong police station around 5:30pm on February 4, this year.

The Penal Code states that if a person commits any sexual intercourse against a child between the ages of 12 and 18 years, he or she will be guilty of rape of a minor above 12 years. However, consensual sex between children of sixteen years and above shall not be deemed to be rape.

The crime is graded as a second-degree felony with a prison term of a minimum of nine years and a maximum of fifteen years.

Bhutan’s merchandise export falls by about 4.5 percent to Nu 8.62B

པ།, 08/18/2022 - 11:14

…trade deficit widens by over 90 percent in the second quarter

Thukten Zangpo

Bhutan’s merchandise export fell in the second quarter (April-June) by about 4.5 percent to Nu 8.62 billion (B) compared with the first quarter, as reported by the finance ministry.

In the first quarter (January to March), export was recorded at Nu 9.03B.

Export to India, excluding electricity, declined from Nu 6.84B in the first quarter to Nu 6.17B in the second quarter. At the same time, export to countries other than India grew to Nu 2.45B from Nu 2.01B in the quarter.

Year-wise export projection (Hydro vs Non-hydro) Source: Budget report 2022-2023

With a fall in exports and a surge in imports in the quarter, the trade deficit (excluding electricity) widened by over 90 percent to Nu 27.27B. With the export of electricity worth Nu 6.04B in the quarter, the trade deficit narrowed to Nu 21.23B.

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Import recorded a growth of over 50 percent with a value of Nu 35.89B in the second quarter from Nu 22.87B in the first three months this year.

Of the top ten commodities exported, the export of ferroalloys dropped to Nu 5.08B from Nu 5.6B in the first quarter. The quarter also saw the export value of dolomite decrease from Nu 728.4 million (M) in the first quarter to Nu 601.5M.

The export of cardamom improved by Nu 50M to Nu 407.39M in the second quarter. Boulder exports also saw an increase from Nu 342.21M to Nu 374.65M.

Pebbles, gravel, and broken or crushed stone saw a surge in export by over 40 percent to Nu 353.43M in the second quarter.

Improving the country’s export figure improves the country’s balance of payment. It also helps maintain the foreign currency reserves.

Last week, the finance ministry was asked by the Cabinet to enhance the export of commodities after a discussion with the economic affairs ministry as part of a plan to replenish the dwindling foreign currency reserves.

Both export and import figures increased by 18.9 percent and 35.8 percent respectively in 2021. The overall export value was near Nu 58.25B, and the imports value at around Nu 90.32B in 2021.

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Merchandise exports increased by 65.2 percent in 2021.

Merchandise imports from India also bounced back, recording an increase of 39.2 percent in 2021 due to a pick-up in public investment projects and hydropower construction, according to the budget report 2022-23.

The trade is expected to rise over the medium term owing to the recovery in the demand coupled with the revival in domestic activities.

Overall exports and imports are estimated to increase by 25.7 percent and 30.7 percent respectively by the end of 2022 from the pre-pandemic level.

Helplessly, not a good sign

པ།, 08/18/2022 - 11:13

Bhutanese going to Australia is a new trend. It is a new trend because of the sheer number of people leaving the country.

Is it a cause of concern? Yes, it is. No, it is not.

Whenever people talk about Bhutanese going to Australia, the debate is, unfortunately, centred only on the so-called “brain drain”. For any country, developed or developing, brain drain is a serious issue.

For a country like Bhutan, the issue becomes big and much deeper because, small as we are, we are losing professionals from all sectors. At a time when we are talking about a compact and efficient human resource pool, we could be losing big time.

Experience is important for the long-term success of the civil service system; not just in Bhutan but also in governments everywhere. Brain drain is a serious issue facing the country today, but how are we really tackling the issue?

Not very appreciably, going by the developments we are witnessing.

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It took years for Bhutan to unshackle itself from the banes of a system that helped the country to launch forward. But the system now seems to be becoming more enclosed and corralled, which appears to be one of the main reasons why mid-level and senior civil servants choose to go to Australia.

Bhutanese going to Australia is not a problem. When the country cannot give the people hope and opportunities to do well, financially and otherwise, a move to a greener pasture is something that no one can stop.

The reality is that people are leaving, in droves, from critical sectors such as education and health. Leaving is one, leaving with years of experience is another.

Schools are losing experienced teachers and the country’s health system is losing manpower at a rate which has already left a huge void. There are simple reasons we need to understand.

Our civil service system has not been able to catch up with the massive changes that have occurred in the way human resource is employed for better results over the years. Medals and accolades do little to inspire professionals in the sector.

There are some serious issues that we must deal with, urgently. Burnout, toxic and unfair working conditions and inadequate benefits are some of the cancers that are creeping into the system.

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A revolution, sort of, seems to be coming, which is welcome. But unless we deal with the inherent problems in the systems, nothing will stop Bhutanese from going to Australia and elsewhere.

There must be a major policy shift to effect a significant change. Experience pool leaving the country is not a good sign.

Cornell University and RCSC establish King’s scholarships

པ།, 08/18/2022 - 11:12

Staff Reporter

Bhutan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Doma Tshering and representatives from Cornell University exchanged letters yesterday establishing the King’s Scholarships at Cornell University.

Cornell University was represented by the Vice Provost of Enrollment, Jonathan Burdick and Vice Provost for International Affairs of Cornell University. Ambassador Doma Tshering represented the Royal Civil Service Commission.

The King’s Scholarship will be awarded to two undergraduate students from Bhutan admitted to Cornell University in the fields of Applied Economics and Management in the Dyson School in the SC Johnson College of Business, and Agricultural Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

A press release from the foreign ministry stated, “The establishment of The King’s Scholarships at Cornell University is inspired by His Majesty The King’s vision of a well-educated, forward-looking society that is ready to meet and seize the opportunities of the 21st century.”

The scholarships advance the government’s commitment to strengthen Bhutan’s human capital and invest in the development of a future pool of leadership within the civil service, it stated.

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The signing ceremony took place on August 16 at Cornell University’s campus in Ithaca, New York.

Besides the representatives, attendees at the ceremony included Professor Michael Kotlikoff, Provost, and Fred Van Sickle, Vice President of Alumni Affairs and Development of Cornell University.

Bhutan gears for Snowman Race 

པ།, 08/18/2022 - 11:11

Thinley Namgay   

Snowman Race Secretariat is gearing up for one of the world’s most challenging ultra-marathon that will kick off on October 13 coinciding with the 11th Royal Wedding Anniversary of His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Queen.

Around 30 runners in five days will cover 222km from Gasa to Bumthang at an elevation of 5,470 metres  above sea level across the difficult landscapes of the Himalayan ranges.

Of the 30 runners, 12 are women including three Bhutanese. Thirteen of them are foreign male runners.  Runners have to cover around 42km a day starting at 6am.

Recently, 17 trekkers comprising the race director, members of the production team, Snowman Race Secretariat members, and volunteers trekked for 14 days to re-survey the entire course of the Snowman Race between Gasa and Bumthang.

It was to check the standard of the race, plan more safety measures, document the route, identify night halt locations, and make a runners guide.

Sonam Euden from the Snowman Race Secretariat said that she never experienced such a tough trek before. “All the passes along the way were difficult.”

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She said that Gophula and Tshorim passes were the most challenging as the oxygen level was less in these places.  “Both the passes are more than 5,100 metres above the sea level.”

There are four-night halts during the race and four local tour companies were involved to ensure the catering services.

Another trekker Sonam Yangzom said that the places look like a desert at a high altitude and the overall view was mesmerising with beautiful vegetation, flowers, landscape, mountains and nomads along the way, among others.

“It will be very risky for those who have never been to high-altitude places,” Sonam Yangzom said.

The Snowman Race route has an elevation ranging from 2,850 to 5,470 metres above sea level crossing 11 passes, six mountains over 7,000 metres, glaciers and two national parks, Jigme Dorji National Park and Wangchuck Centennial National Park.

Race Director Luis Escobar said that 21 athletes died last year in China during the ultra-marathon race due to some problems.

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He said the team will learn from such experiences and provide real-time trekking services. “We are confident to conduct the race.”

Each runner will carry a water-resistant GPS device with lithium batteries to enable tracking throughout the route.

Chairperson of the Snowman Race, Kesang Wangdi said the success of the race would be measured by the safety of the runners. “Safety is our top priority.”

He said that to acclimatise, runners would reach Gasa on October 10.

Snowman Race is intended to realise the vision of His Majesty The King to raise awareness on the issues of global climate change and to protect and preserve highland communities and the environment. The run was supposed to take place in 2020 but had to be deferred after the Covid-19 pandemic hit Bhutan.

The Snowman Race Secretariat organised a series of Snowman Race pre-event activities to date such as the 12.5km Boomers Run, 41 fun challenge for climate action, and the women’s marathon in Gasa.

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Picture story

པ།, 08/18/2022 - 11:10

Fuel prices drop: The prices of petrol fell more than a ngultrum and diesel by more than Nu 3 yesterday. A litre of petrol in Thimphu now costs around Nu 82.18 down from Nu 83.41 and diesel around Nu 97.44 from Nu 100.94. 

Picture story

པ།, 08/18/2022 - 11:10

BPL update: Tensung FC beat Paro Rinpung FC 3-1 at the Changlimithang Stadium yesterday.  The only goal in the first half came from Sherab Tobden who scored for Tensung in the opening four minutes. Paro Rinpung FC’s Jigme Tsheltrim equalised in the 67th minute. Sherab Tobden scored his second and his teammate, Gayden Tshering added another in the dying minutes of the game. 

Transport United FC will face Ugyen Academy FC tomorrow at the Changlimithang Stadium at 6pm.    

More than 13,000 tourists to come paying old tariff

པ།, 08/18/2022 - 10:46

Dechen Dolkar

The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) approved 13,244 tourists to visit Bhutan at the previous minimum daily packaged rate (MDPR) of USD 250.

All tours confirmed before June 20, this year can avail of rates applicable under the Tourism Levy Act of Bhutan 2020, MDPR, which includes the royalty of USD 65.

The Tourism Levy Bill 2022 was tabled in National Assembly (NA) on June 20 and it is the day the Act comes into effect.

The NA passed the Bill saying that old pricing under the Tourism Levy Act 2020 will apply only to those tourists who had paid and confirmed their tours before June 20, this year.

TCB asked tour operators to submit documents related to bookings that were confirmed on or before June 20. The applications are verified and TCB issued an endorsement letter to operators formally approving the tours. 

Once the tour operators receive the TCB endorsement, the tour can commence within December 31, 2023. 

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TCB Director General Dorji Dhradhul said that TCB has received 18,490 tourists from 388 tour operators claiming that they have applied for a visa before June 20 this year. 

Of that, 14,429 applications were validated. TCB disqualified 4,061 applications for lack of adequate information about the tourists.

The DG said that 1,185 applications were not approved since they didn’t have the passport details of the applicants.

“The passport details are mandatory because it is possible that the guest could change the name when their visa is approved and there is a chance for a different person to come,” Dorji Dhradhul said. “We’re looking for only genuine cases who want to visit Bhutan.”

The applications were validated using the following information: visa application, name of tourist with passport details, booked air ticket, and payment made. 

Dorji Dhradhul said that they have also verified with the airlines if tourists have booked their tickets.

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He also said that not all the tourists have made the payment, there were some who have made some indications that they wanted to pay and there was evidence.

He said that they have checked and validated email conversations to confirm that they have applied before June 20.

The DG said that the main objective was to consider those tourists who have booked a tour before the pandemic which was postponed because of Covid-19.  

Meanwhile, Bhutan is not the only country imposing high fees and welcoming high-end tourists after the pandemic. 

According to euronews.travel, an international media organisation, as travel restrictions ease, some countries are being more selective about who they welcome.

Last week, New Zealand’s tourism minister reiterated his desire to attract “high-quality tourists” rather than those who campervan around the country by eating dried noodles.”

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In September 2021, Indonesia joined the list of countries seeking ‘quality’ visitors post-pandemic. Indonesia also mentioned that they won’t allow backpackers to enter once tourism is reopened. 

Similarly, in Thailand, the government is attempting to lure high-earning digital nomads with its new 10-year work from Thailand visa.

For no fault of their own, 53 civil servants could have huge financial implications

ཕུར།, 08/17/2022 - 11:23

Dechen Dolkar 

If the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) does not consider the promotions of 53 civil servants, whose promotions were revoked, the civil servants at the senior supervisory and support category (SS) level could lose more than Nu 100,000 in six months.

Many civil servants are facing huge financial implications with the six-month delay in promotion considering their basic pay, allowances, provident funds, and benefits.

For the professional and management category (PMC) level, financial implications could be even higher.

The RCSC has revoked the promotion of 53 civil servants in Pemagatshel, which was due last month because document submission in the Zhiyog Electronic System (ZESt) was not completed before the deadline. 

If a civil servant is promoted from SS4 to SS3, the basic salary would be increased by more than Nu 2,000 a month. The allowances for civil servants also increase when their basic salary increases. This means a civil servant would have to forgo more than 20,000 in a month.

Some civil servants are superannuating by the beginning of next year, others will be promoted from supervisory to senior supervisory which will be their last promotion.

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For a civil servant, currently, in the S1 level, the promotion due is for SS4 level, which is equivalent to grade 8. With the promotion, he or she gets the opportunity to serve for additional two years. 

According to BCSR 2018, a civil servant will retire after attaining the age of 56 for S5 to S1 level and 58 for SS4 to SS1 level.

 “After promotion, I thought I will get two more years to serve since my superannuation age will be 58 years,” a civil servant said.

A civil servant said that even if they get a promotion in January next year, six months have been lost already, which will have huge financial implications. “For us, we get a promotion only after every five years and, when it is revoked for doing nothing wrong, it demotivates us.”

Many claim that 53 civil servants are being punished for doing nothing wrong.

Civil servants say that the RCSC should reconsider their promotion and provide salary increments as arrears.

The affected civil servants did not appeal further after appealing to RCSC and Prime Minister, feeling that they could be blacklisted for doing nothing wrong.

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According to the Prime Minister’s Office, they are discussing the issue with the RCSC.

Outdoor gym helps Trashigang residents keep fit 

ཕུར།, 08/17/2022 - 11:21

Neten Dorji | Trashigang

As dusk descends on the quiet Trashigang town, Dorji Dema and her friends, all physical exercise enthusiasts, gather at the open-air gym below the road between the hospital and town. Some are already at the gym.

Within minutes on the cross trainers, they sweat. This has become their regular routine.

For the likes of Dorji Dema, the facility has proved a good remedy to get rid of aches in the back and knees after an hour-long exercise at the gym every day.

She said the frequent visit to the gym has helped her both physically and mentally. “It helps me to control blood sugar level and the pain in the knee has subsided,” said the 49-year-old.

She said that most of the residents are becoming health-conscious and the gym has helped them promote a healthy lifestyle among people.

The open-air gym, set up two years ago, is drawing a good response among the residents.

Like Dorji Dema, Karma Uden hits the gym whenever she has time.

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“I come here twice a day since I have gained weight. It helps me keep my body fit,” she said.

For many like Karma, the gym has come as a blessing. Easy and free access to the gym could encourage other residents to exercise, she said. The residents make use of the facility mostly in the evening and after office hours.

A regular gym-goer, Sangay Dorji said that the open-air gym gives him full body exercises.

“It helps a lot to those who are post-ortho surgery patients, but one must be a regular,” he said. “In the beginning, I have to wait for my turn. Now I do not see many like before.”

It is not just the middle-aged or youngsters, the senior citizens are also at the gym.

Lobzang Dorji, 65, who lives in Trashigang town, could not walk properly for the past few years due to a stroke. He had severe knee pain. Lobzang went to the hospital and he was advised to do some physical exercises. But that wasn’t easy.

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“I tried to exercise inch by inch. And that has helped me walk again,” Lobzang, who can walk without any assistance, said.

Organic fertiliser production firms hope for profitable business 

ཕུར།, 08/17/2022 - 11:21

Chhimi Dema  

The Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine have disrupted the supply of fertilisers to Bhutanese farmers.

Given the shortage in the market, local organic fertiliser producers are optimistic about better business and market visibility.

Flora Bhutan’s proprietor, Deepak Chhetri, said that the business was good. “There is a huge demand for vermicompost.”

He said: “With support from the National Soil Services Centre and the National Centre for Organic Agriculture, now I can produce 40 metric tonnes (MT) in a year.”

According to Deepak, compost making has a huge market. His firm sold 8MT of vermicompost to date this year.

“I’d be interested to train youth who want to start their compost business. There is a future in the compost-making business because the demand grows each year,” he said.

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Flora Bhutan’s customers include some government offices, flower nurseries, and private individuals in Thimphu.

There are 12 organic fertiliser producers in the country today producing compost, vermicompost, and bio-slurry compost according to the National Soil Services Centre records.

They are in Thimphu, Sarpang, Gelephu, Chukha, Tsirang, Samtse, and Samdrupjongkhar.

Padam’s Bio-slurry Compost located in Rametey, Chukha, produces 100MT of bio-slurry in a year. 

A staff of the compost firm said that the business faces some challenges because customers are unaware. “With a little push to increase the firm’s visibility in the market, we’d get more demand to the current requirement today.”

Daina Nursery located in Samtse produces 100MT of vermicompost yearly. The firm was doing well since its establishment in 2013 until the pandemic.

Proprietor Sarad Gurung said that the movement restrictions in the dzongkhag made it difficult to transport compost to Thimphu, Paro, Haa, Punakha, and Wangdue.

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“The business keeps growing because of the rising demand for compost,” he said.

The establishment provides a few kilogrammes of compost on trial to the interested farmers. He said that the customers returned to buy.

The National Soil Services Centre (NSSC)’s annual report 2020 to 2021 stated that the centre provided worms to farmers and youth interested to start vermicomposting.

About 477MT of organic fertilisers was produced from small and large-scale fertiliser production firms in the country. 

Bhu Org Farm in Gelephu produces 250MT of compost yearly.

Its owner, Kamal Pradhan, said that he was hopeful that the business will improve with the country focusing on growing organic and becoming self-sufficient.

He said that with some State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) producing organic fertilisers the growth of those newly established organic fertiliser firms could be affected.

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“SOEs have support from the government that the private firms will not have,” he added.

NSSC distributed 65.79MT of locally available organic fertilisers to promote them and encourage farmers to venture into organic farming.