Yangchen C Rinzin
The 12th Plan is being reprioritised based on four key priority areas related to Covid-19 pandemic with health as the number one priority sector, followed by education, food security, and infrastructures, Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) officials said.
Establishment of a mini dry port in Gelephu, installation of fuel (POL) reserve depot in Mongar, and granular sub-base work (GSB) of 201 farm roads are the new activities in the 12th Plan following the reprioritisation.
These are new activities in the plan as per Covid-19 related activities, the GNHC secretary Thinley Namgyel said.
Other new activities are the construction of Gomtu-Tading road, construction of Samrang-Jomotsangkha road, and establishment of a mini dry port in Samtse.
“Reprioritisation of the plan will be more of a regular kind of an exercise now, as the pandemic is uncertain,” the secretary said. The reprioritisation of the Plan was done to create fiscal space for new critical activities.
The secretary said that the purchase of personal protective equipment, Covid-19 testing kits and mandatory quarantine were activities out of the 12th Plan.
“This is why we had to reprioritise other activities to create fiscal space to meet these expenses. Almost Nu 2 billion (B) has been spent,” he said.
Thinley Namgyel said that Gomtu-Tading road had to be included to facilitate the transport of cement export from Gomtu where about Nu 300 million (M) has been allocated as of now.
“The importance of this road was felt during the lockdown. The budget, however, is subject to change,” the secretary said.
Another Nu 29M is kept for the Samrang-Jomotsangkha road where the detailed project report (DPR) is completed and Project DANTAK will construct the road. The road is being frontloaded so it would help people of Jomotsangkha.
Although the 12th Plan had only DPR of mini dry port in Gelephu, it is now being fast-tracked and tentatively about Nu 460M has been allocated for the project. Department of Trade is already working on the establishment of the dry port.
The secretary said that besides this, a small mini dry port was also established in Samtse to enhance the export of boulder.
Another Nu 600M was adjusted for the construction of a new Mother Child Health care hospital in Mongar at the Royal Guest House.
On the farm roads, the secretary said that the plan is to have one GSB farm road in each gewog in the first phase and Nu 2.5B has been mobilised.
“For this, we don’t require foreign workers as the work can be carried out with the locally available resources and materials,” he said.
The plan is to start with 201 farm roads with the mobilised budget, which means 1,552Km is expected to complete in the next seven months. However, it would require Nu 15B to cover all 2,311 farm roads.
Thinley Namgyel said that following the reprioritisation of activities, some major activities were deferred so that the allocated budget could be used for new activities. The deferred activities are construction of Shingkhar-Gorgan highway, Lhamoidzingkha-Sarpang highway, and Maokhola bridge.
“The budget allocated for the deferred activities were re-allocated in the new activities planned for Covid-19 related activities. We deferred activities that were not critical at the moment or during pandemic and activities that did not have resources mobilised yet,” the secretary said.
Other deferred activities include the construction of dzongkhag courts for Thimphu and Chukha, construction of offices, staff quarters, training, study tours, workshops, and establishment of premiere institutes or schools.
“While reprioritising the activities, it was not easy to shelve activities because the resources or budget available were not our’s,” the secretary said. “Out of Nu 116B total capital budget for planned activities, Nu 68B is from external grant.”
This means the GNHC should have concurrence from donor countries or seek their agreement for reprioritisation although many donors have been forthcoming.
As for Government of India, although the discussion is still on, the secretary said that they have agreed in May to reprogramming of almost Nu 3.5B worth of activies and re-allocate them. “In certain cases, it’s difficult since they’ve to have agreement from the headquarter and they have their own priority activities.”
The secretary said that although there is a plan to boost the economy by spending and slashing some of the activities, it was difficult with limited resources and resources tied with external financing. “We want to invest but we need resources to invest. So, we need to reprioritise or cancel activities.”
The reprioritisation of the Plan created Nu 4.5B for the economic contingency plan for tourism, agriculture, GSB of farm roads and Build Bhutan project.
Almost Nu 600M was created for the agriculture sector in addition to its regular allocated budget. The plan focused on construction of green house, three cold storages, distribution of seedlings, and poultry, among others.
While domestic resources have decreased, the expenditure related to Covid-19 has increased.
The secretary said that the only way to cover the expenses was to defer the less important activities to the 13th Plan or continue in the later part of the 12th Plan.
“However, this would happen only when the domestic revenue improves or the situation improves,” the secretary said.
The GNHC also plans to review the progress of road construction projects that were awarded but work not started.
“If we find that the work cannot be completed, we’ll reprioritise and use the fund for activities related to Covid-19,” the secretary said. “Whatever the reprioritisation will be, we want to make sure construction activities are continued although getting skilled labour would be a challenge.”
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, in his inaugural statement at the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on September 22, highlighted the importance of multilateralism, the theme for this year’s General Assembly, among member countries in the wake of the pandemic.
The annual meeting, which commenced on September 21 in New York, was held online this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the pandemic high on the agenda, among other issues of global concern.
In his first virtual participation at the General Assembly, Lyonchhen said that the Covid-19 pandemic, like the impacts of climate change, has once again reminded how countries across the world are all interconnected.
“If we don’t strategise and if we don’t act together, Covid-19 and future Covids will turnaround the human developments and achievements by decades. And for the poorer countries, it will be almost irreversible,” he said.
Lyonchhen said that issues like climate change and pandemic affected the developing countries disproportionately, which was why the theme for the 75th session was very appropriate and timely.
Among others, who called for member countries to come together to fight the pandemic, the UNGA President, Ambassador Volkan Bozki Bozkir of Turkey said:
“Today, we must leave our differences and disagreements aside. Today, we must renew our collective commitment to multilateralism. Today, we must combine our efforts to address this global problem, and we must make sure that no one is left behind.”
The ambassador said that the world was witnessing rising levels of mistrust and rivalry between major powers and that international institutions succeed only when they manage to mediate such tensions.
Meanwhile, going forward, Lyonchhen said that 25 years later when the UN observes its 100th anniversary, in 2045, member countries must achieve 100 percent literacy rate to empower everyone with relevant skills and knowledge to help them live a meaningful life.
He added that along with education, everyone must be 100 percent digitally competent to help them explore business and opportunities from anywhere in the world.
“As a doctor, I cannot help but pray that as the UN turns 100 in 2045, our health system should have advanced so much that our life expectancy should touch three digits,” he said. “If the world comes together, driven by common goals and dreams, no challenges can be difficult and no task unachievable.”
Lyonchhen also congratulated the global body for touching the 75 years milestone.
“If not for Covid-19, this event is worthy for a festivity. I take this opportunity to congratulate all the Secretary Generals and their teams who have contributed so much to make the UN a success story,” he said.
With every leader, the organisation rose to greater heights and millions of families were lifted out of poverty, conflicts and crisis, he added.
He said that nations, irrespective of size and location, received a common platform as a member of a common planet. “UN has been a friend who has supported our socioeconomic programmes and also set impetus to keep pace with the rest of the world. I thank the UN and partner countries for the support.”
Thimphu dzongkhag charted a long list of things to do after meetings with officials who served during the recent lockdown to improve the arrangements for a future lockdown.
The standard operating procedure (SoP) Thimphu dzongkhag had drawn out before the lockdown came in handy when the lockdown was announced. But there were still many issues the SoP did not cover.
There was no guideline to address issues such as stranded people and vehicles, and the overwhelming phone calls without a proper toll-free number. The livestock feed was not included in the essential items list.
Some of the services provided during the lockdown by the dzongkhag were essential items delivery, livestock feed, movement of stranded people and vehicles, communication and information desk, and health check-ups.
Officials catering services, during a feedback session, said that there was a need for multi-sectoral approach and coordination among agencies with information and direction from a central agency.
The officials also said that an efficient call centre with more manpower and vehicles for service delivery was needed. The dzongkhag has plan to set up one such call centre by November.
Mobile numbers of a few officials were given as contacts for various services but there were too many calls. A toll-free number was installed but it could handle only five mobile numbers.
There were too many contact numbers, officials said, and residents complained the numbers were always busy. They were unaware of the two separate delivery task force for thromde and dzongkhag administration. Vegetable vendors and shops were not identified before the lockdown for service delivery which posed challenges for essential items delivery.
The dzongkhag is now identifying shops, wholesalers, vehicles and drivers for the delivery of essential commodities especially during the complete lockdown and to cater isolated areas during the unlocking period. The dzongkhag task force will also fix standard rates of vegetables.
During the lockdown, farmers would be provided with transportation to harvest crops or for any important agriculture work. Surplus products would be exported by Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) and Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives for distribution.
If there happened to be another lockdown Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) would monitor uniform price and stock liquid petroleum gas in the main branch.
Delivery of liquid petroleum gas became a challenge with poor monitoring on uniform price and limited stock at the main branch. Additionally, the delivery to far-flung gewogs such as Soe and Lingzhi was difficult.
Local leaders said that FCBL outlets did not have the required variety and that delayed essential items delivery. The gewogs did not have the cash to procure directly from FCBL.
There was no proper guideline on the distribution of tobacco products and led to hoarding.
By the second week of October, FCBL would replenish essential items in identified shops or gewog store, and coordinate with Bhutan Duty-Free Ltd shop on tobacco distribution.
The health team lacked a plan to address some of the issues that surfaced during the lockdown.
There was plan to deliver essential health care services but there was no plan to deploy vehicles for essential health care services. In the first week due to the shortage of vehicle, the delivery of essential medical services was delayed.
Health officials did not have individual movement pass when they were stopped on road by the police and de-suups which delayed attending emergency cases. Hereafter, they would be given movement passes immediately after lockdown is announced.
A hotline number would be set up for each health centre.
Refilling medicines for chronic patients also became an issue.
During the lockdown, the dzongkhag’s health team identified shops for chronic ailment patients to drop and pick their prescription and medicine. However, lack of cooperation between shopkeepers and front liners on-duty lead to loss of prescription and delivering medicines to the wrong location.
The health officials would personally drop the medicines if there happened to be a lockdown.
Livestock farms and agents hereafter are required to stock feed to last at least a month.
Cold chain facility is expected to be improved for livestock products by 2021. During the lockdown livestock products spoilt due to lack of cold storage facility.
Suppose there is another lockdown. Thimphu Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said that the thromde staff were better prepared to provide essential services.
“In case of another lockdown, the thromde will be stringent and professional with provision of services,” he said.
Call Centre 1009
The thromde has decided to not use the many toll-free and cell phone numbers, which created confusion during the lockdown.
The complaints concerning water supply, sewage leakage, waste management and drain blockage, among others were routed through a toll-free number 2550.
Kinlay Dorjee said: “Going by the lockdown experience, we will only use the toll-free number 1009 for all thromde-related services.”
The call centre, which used to be handled by 80 people, will now be handled by 40 De-Suup.
Thromde will use google documentation software to provide the online services.
Wholesalers and retailers in the zones and subzones
Thromde has worked out the supply chain of essential grocery item and has added one more stock centre, taking the number of centres to 9.
The Four wholesalers
FCBL, Zimdra, Sherza Ventures and 8 eleven didn’t have adequate manpower when the first lockdown happened.
“It hampered our service delivery turnover as there were thousands of orders everyday,” said Kinlay Dorjee.
Nine retailers have been chosen after lucky draw based on their capacity and manpower and four wholesalers to render supply and delivery services.
The Thrompon said that some wholesalers were given soft loan by the government to supply the required items.
It is mandatory for the retailers to stock up 21 essential items enough for 21 days.
“We asked the retailers to submit a list of the items they need to stock up. If we don’t get the list, we will consider that they have enough stock for the next lockdown,” Kinlay Dorjee said.
Each retailer should manage at least five vehicles and bear transportation cost.
The retailers also must set up at least three counters to speed up service delivery.
Thromde faced a huge challenge during the second phase of the lockdown in the 45 zones. Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) had allowed about 600 shops to open and people were allowed to go shopping with movement cards.
The thromde took over the opening of shops from MoEA. Kinlay Dorjee said: “If we allow 600 shops to open, the very purpose of lockdown will be meaningless.”
Thimphu Thromde will open about 200 shops in the second phase depending on the size and population of each zone. There will be restrictions.
Thimphu Thromde in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MoAF)will start delivering vegetables in the next lockdown.
MoAF will now bring in vegetables and livestock products in the 9 stock centres. Kinlay Dorjee said: “We can deliver vegetables along with essential rations.”
He said that the ground reality could change. “No matter how much awareness you create, people will still face problems. Thromde will keep the centres ready.”
Construction of vegetable shops
Thromde is also constructing about 24 vegetable shops in the zones. “We are rushing to complete the vegetable shop construction. It might take about two months,” said Kinlay Dorjee.
During the first lockdown, the government supplied vegetables to the grocery shops in the zones with no vegetable shops but the shops were not willing to sell vegetables, he said.
City address system
Lack of a proper city address system is one of the main challenges for the service providers. Thromde in collaboration with the National Land Commission and Ministry of Works and Human Settlement are working together to put the city address system in place.
“City addresses are critical during such unprecedented times. It will take four to five months to complete the city address system. If the lockdown happens next week or next month, we still don’t have the city address system,” said Kinlay Dorjee.
Last week, thousands of students returned to school after a long Covid-19-forced break. Parents, students and even teachers are relieved that the schools, although only for selected standards, could be reopened.
A lot of lessons were missed. Teachers would probably have to rush to cover the lost grounds. School might go on until spring to complete the vast syllabus. Classes X and XII will have a board examination, which will determine their further educational journey. For many, it will be the end of their formal education and end up with “vocational education,” still a vocation jeered upon.
The students who returned to formal classes had a brief experience of what is now called the “future of education.” Forced out of classes and left on their own, they experienced online, phone and peer-to-peer learning besides exploring ways for independent learning. What our students and educationists experienced may be just the tip of the new iceberg. Educationists and experts are exploring and are convinced that technology is driving and determining a new education model.
There is a lot of debate and discourse on the future of education and preparing children for the future work as the world prepares for a “Fourth Industrial Revolution” characterised by shift in technological developments where new terms like Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing, or Supercomputing have become the norm and are already changing the way we live work.
In 2011, the Institute For the Future (IFTF) predicted future job skills. The future then was 2020. All the jobs predicted from Trash Engineers to 3D printing fabricators to Data junkies, for instance, had strong STEM subject background, mental elasticity, critical thinking as the most common skills.
It is way beyond the comprehension of a student or teacher in a remote school in Bhutan where education tools like the internet is missing. But if we are to remain relevant, it is time to rethink.
A small start has been made. Yesterday, the United Nations Development Programme and Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy launched a conversation series. The idea is to spark new thinking and innovative ideas for a more inclusive, resilient, greener and sustainable Bhutan. The first series was on Future of Skills, Work and Education, relevant issues as we resume work and school.
It brought many issues as to how we can reshape our school or education system in making our young workforce relevant to the future of work. Like the speakers said, the Covid-19 pandemic was a good reminder. The construction sector came to a standstill when hundreds of foreign workers left the country. Tour guides, cooks, drivers, thousands of young people in the service industry became jobless overnight. There was no hesitation to look for odd jobs. The construction sector is short of people but have to skill or re-skill the employed.
Vocational education was for the underprivileged. Thus we felt so far. It is true to a large extent because we failed to make it attractive and competitive. We realised a long time ago that the civil service and the corporations can take in only so much. We have unemployed engineers, but no plumbers. Agriculture is still seen as a backbreaking job as we are still doing it the old way. We have more unemployed graduates because we produce thousands every year, but have failed to equip them with different skills. No wonder we see 1,000 applying for a job of a Personnel Officer, for instance.
The series talked about rethinking education, blending learning and even independent learning so that each child can discover their potentials and explore opportunities, all naturally. There were many questions about how we change our mindset from chalk to talk, of teachers becoming a guide by the side and inculcating attitude to learn.
These are relevant questions as we rethink and experience the new normal. How can we translate these brilliant ideas into reality? This is by far the more important question.
We have some serious soul-searching to do.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Without movement beyond the Rinchending check post, many truckers in Phuentsholing have been rendered jobless.
There are more than 100 trucks lying idle in different locations, truckers say. Although a few get jobs to deliver goods until Rinchending from where the consignments are transshipped, 70 percent of the trucks in Phuentsholing do not have work.
A truck driver and owner, Dorji Wangchuk, said this problem had left many drivers and truck owners without any income.
“When there is no work, it means a big problem,” he said, adding that soon it would be difficult for him to provide for his family.
Dorji Wangchuk said that trucking business came to a grinding halt after the pandemic hit the country and the sealing of the border gates on March 23.
Truckers can still send their trucks beyond the Rinchending check post but drivers from other dzongkhags will have to take over the vehicle and the load from Rinchending.
This, truckers in Phuentsholing said, was not the best option. The driver who takes over from Rinchending takes a certain portion from the total transportation income.
Pem Tshering, who had a load to drop at Rinchending from Toorsa, said that about Nu 8,000 to Nu 10,000 was invested on the driver if he chose to send his vehicle to the PHPA-II project site.
“My driver had come from Thimphu and stayed at Pekharzhing, at his friend’s place, because he is not allowed to enter Phuentsholing,” he said.
Another trucker, Tshering Dorji, said it was also risky to trust other truckers.
“Since there is no better alternative, we are just staying idle,” he said, adding that his earning was zero these days. “I was not able to pay for my insurance. I am hearing that we will have to pay for our loans from next month.”
Tshering Dorji said that the truckers felt it was not appropriate to raise the issue to the government because it was already under huge pandemic pressure.
If the trucks from other dzongkhags come to Phuentsholing, the drivers are not allowed to drive beyond Rinchending. Driver from Phuentsholing has to be managed. This is also an additional cost.
Truckers also raise their concerns that there is no logistic arrangement for the drivers who come from other dzongkhags who have to stay in Rinchending.
Meanwhile, several drivers are also stranded in Phuentsholing after the nationwide lockdown on August 11.
Kinga Dhendup is stranded along with his wife and son. He is currently living inside his truck at Toorsa.
“We came from Thimphu on August 10 and were headed to Nganglam,” he said.
Kinga’s friend, Pema Thinley from Thimphu, is also stranded in Toorsa and sleeps in his truck.
“It has been 45 days now,” he said.“I eat at Kinga’s kitchen inside the truck sometimes. Otherwise I buy from the canteen nearby.”
Kinga Dhendup and Pema Thinley said they called the helpline and registered for their movement. They were told their turn would come after the relocation of Phuentsholing students, they said, adding that they have received no further information.
“But how long will this continue?” asked one truck owner, adding that drivers could become desperate if they don’t earn and may even resort to other illegal activities.
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
Farmers of Kharmi and Gurka in Shongphu gewog, Trashigang are expecting a better harvest this year having beaten the denizens of the forests nearby.
Unlike in past, villagers no longer spend sleepless nights guarding their crops. Following a high rate of human-wildlife conflict, the gewog installed solar fencing in Kharmi and the two neighbouring villages.
With tangible outcomes, the initial suspicion of its effectiveness has faded gradually. Farmers all praise for it today.
Solar fencing benefited about 63 households in Kharmi and Gurka villages.
“After the solar fencing was installed, we don’t worry as much as we used to do in the past years,” Chanu, 70 said.
Chanu spent his entire life guarding the crops in the fields. Despite the hard work, wild boars would devastate their harvest in just one night.
Increasing instances of wildlife predation have led to more fallow lands across the country and also farmers depending more on imported rice.
“Life is much better now as we can devote more time to perform household chores and other farming activities,” Chanu said.
“We needn’t chase wild animals shouting day and night.”
Another villager, Tshewang Namgay said if not for the solar fencing, by the time they approach the harvest season, half the crops would be lost to wild animals.
“Besides the crops, the fencing has helped us to protect domestic animals too,” he said. “We could harvest 90 percent of what we cultivated in the fields.
“You lose interest in work when such things happen,” another villager, Sangay Choden said. “But since it is our only means of survival, we don’t have any options than imports.”
The 64-year-old farmer said that in the past crops were lost to wildlife despite sleepless nights of guarding in makeshift sheds that dot at every end of the field.
A villager said that it would be helpful if RNR increased the current-voltage or they are allowed to use electric current.
“It’d be helpful for both farmers and the government if they could provide us railing fencing instead of solar fencing,” he said. “Solar fencing does not last long.”
The only complaint is that the solar fencing is not so effective against monkeys.
Villagers said as monkeys were clever and that they knew that the solar fencing wire does not produce electric current continuously.
“The monkeys tend to touch the fencing and wait for a while before they quickly jump over the fence,” Dechen Dorji said.
“Sometimes porcupine penetrates into a field from space below electric wires and attracts our crops,” the villager said.
Those in the gewog without electric fencing have lost their crops to wild animals.
“When the wild boars couldn’t enter the solar fence, they attracted our fields,” a 45-year-old farmer from a neighbouring village said. “The solar fencing has proven effective. We hope the gewog would provide us too.”
Meanwhile, Gewog agriculture extension officer, Nim Dem said: “We have proposed another 20 kilometres of electric fencing in the CARLEP project in 2020- 2021 financial year.”
She said that releasing the benefits of electric fencing more villagers were coming up with requests.
The Anti-Corruption Commission has written back to the National Council (NC) stating that the commission has no mandate to give its legal opinion over the government nominating Tenzin Lekphel as the next Secretary General (SG) of BIMSTEC.
This comes after the NC requested the ACC officiating chairperson to validate any contravention of the provisions and sections of the Act. The letter signed by NC Chairperson Tashi Dorji stated that the House of Review is of the view that the nomination of candidature for BIMSTEC SG could possibly contravene sections 54, 58 and 63 of the Anti-Corruption Act of Bhutan 2011 (ACAB).
Sections 54, 58 and 63 of the ACC Act pertain to active trading in influence, commission amounting to an abuse of functions and failure to declare a conflict of interest.
The NC expressed its concern over the government’s nomination while calling upon the government to urgently review the matter and rule out contravention of the specified sections or any other sections of the ACC Act before the commencement of the next BIMSTEC Ministerial meeting.
An ACC official said that the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is the legal entity to provide legal opinion to the government. “Therefore, we wrote to the NC on September 21 that the commission doesn’t have the mandate to do so,” the official said.
However, the commission forwarded NC’s letter to its complaint management division to register as a complaint. ACC officials said that once they registered the complaint in an online system, the complaint evaluation committee discusses and recommends to the commission.
The outcome would be, according to ACC officials, either investigate it, conduct a discreet inquiry, share for action or sensitisation and if there’s nothing illegal then drop it.
“In this particular issue, we will have to see whether it merits for investigation or not,” the official said.
The NC wrote to the Prime Minister and ACC on September 18 after the foreign ministry’s response on the government’s nomination of Bhutan’s candidate to the post failed to convince the NC.
Bhutan’s nomination has been endorsed by the foreign secretaries of the member states during the 21st session of the BIMSTEC Senior Officials Meeting on September 2 and the nomination has been submitted to the foreign ministers for their final approval.
There are no set criteria for the post of secretary general. As per Article 4(A) of the Memorandum of Association on the establishment of the BIMSTEC permanent secretariat, the SG shall be appointed by the BIMSTEC Ministerial Meeting upon nomination by a Party on the principle of alphabetical rotation.
However, for directors of the secretariat, Article 4 (B)(2) the Ministry of Foreign Affairs clearly states “the directors shall be at least at the rank of a counsellor or equivalent diplomatic status. In the event any party is unable to nominate a director from its foreign service, that party may make an appropriate nomination from its government service”.
Therefore, the nomination of the BIMSTEC SG is left to the prerogative of member states, according to the foreign ministry.
The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a regional organisation established in 1997 and comprises of seven-member States- Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand- lying in the littoral and adjacent areas of the Bay of Bengal constituting a contiguous regional unity.
A 23-year-old policeman died on the way to hospital after he was stabbed when trying to break a fight between two friends on Tuesday.
The incident occurred at around 11:30pm in Bonday, Paro.
According to police, the victim was sleeping when the suspect and one of his friends got into a fistfight.
During the fight, the suspect, who is from Trashigang, got hold of a knife.
Another friend who was cooking in the kitchen snatched the knife from the suspect and hid it. However, the suspect grabbed another knife.
That is when the 20-year-old victim woke up and tried to snatch the knife. In the process, he was stabbed.
The policemen were under the influence of alcohol, according to a source. The two engaged in the fistfight are under custody.
Four of them were a part of police force deployed by the Special Reserve Police Force (SRPF), Tashigatshel in Chukha on a temporary quarantine duty. Paro police are investigating the case.
Paro United FC (PUFC) stunned Druk Stars FC (DSFC) 3-0 to grab their first win in three matches so far in the BoB Bhutan Premier League yesterday at Changlimithang Stadium.
Both teams could not break the deadlock until the 40th minute. PUFC’s Pema Dorji scored a volley to give his team some cushion before the break.
None of the teams has a national player. In the first half, the teams contested a tight game both registering three shots each. PUFC had six corner kicks and DSFC played three.
With a goal lead, PUFC played more decisively in the next half.
PUFC’s Tshering Dhendup snatched a second goal from a free kick in 73rd minute. In the dying minutes, Karma Phuntsho, who was unmarked netted and sealed the victory for PUFC. Karma Phuntsho slammed home Tshering Dhendup’s free-kick that rebounded from the post.
PUFC had five more shots and two corner kicks in the second half, but the DSFC could fire only one and mark two corner kicks.
Earlier, PUFC lost to Thimphu City FC and High Quality United FC with 2-1 and 4-2 goals respectively. DSFC lost their first game to Paro FC with 8-0.
Ugyen Academy FC leads the table with seven points as of yesterday.
Thimphu City FC will face High Quality United FC in a neutral ground today at Changlimithang Stadium.
They did twice in the past, but it didn’t work because of market
Phurpa Lhamo | Punakha
Farmers in north Punakha are well aware of the onion business. They tried their hands, not once but twice. Both times it didn’t succeed.
Farmers will try it again with the government making it mandatory for all dzongkhag to cultivate onions and tomatoes. However, given the risk, it will be tried on a small scale.
The dzongkhag has the potential to grow both the leafy spring and the storage onions. It didn’t pick up in the past because of the poor price, lack of market and the competition from imported onions.
Nearly two decades ago in 1996, about 30 of the 50 households in the Sirigang-Wakoo-Damchi chiwog took up onion cultivation. However, mass production ceased four years after cultivation began because of lack of market, price and lack of expertise.
Onion cultivation was once again introduced in the chiwog in 2013. This time, around seven households took up cultivation. However, the crop didn’t gain much popularity. Today, a household cultivates onions on less than 10 decimals land for self-consumption. The chiwog’s former agriculture extension officer, Kinley Dorji said that research officials were also involved to ensure that the plantation process was correct in 2013. “I am not sure but it was part of a vegetable promotion programme after the country faced the Indian Rupee crisis.”
Perhaps farmers would be lucky this time with the Indian government banning the export of onions and the uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic drawing the attention of the government on import substitution.
There is a ready market and the dzongkhag agriculture office will provide technical support.
One of the first farmers who tried onions, Tshewang Dema said that onion cultivation thrived for four years when cultivation was introduced in 1996. “The price we got was also good. I cultivated onions on around 50 decimal of my land. Some had acres of onion fields.” The onion from Punakha was different. The bulb was bigger and flavour not as strong as the Indian onions.
As it flooded the market, farmers couldn’t sell it. They shifted to chilies, cabbages and beans.
Another hurdle was the difficulty in curing the bulbs. Curing is a process of drying onions to prepare it for storage for a longer duration. The weather of Punakha and lack of curing shelter proved inconvenient for the farmers.
Kinley Dorji said that harvest time fell around June and July at the peak of monsoon and the rains damaged the onions.
Chiwog Tshogpa Kinley said that it was easier and more profitable to grow chilies. “We once produced onions in huge quantities from Punakha,” he said on the potential of the dzongkhag taking up onion cultivation.
This year, onion cultivation will begin in January in seven gewogs.
Dzongkhag Agriculture Officer Gaylong said that because cultivating onions on a commercial level would be risky, farmers would take up cultivation on small scale.
This is on trial-basis. “It is risky if we do it at commercial and it would be a loss for farmers if it doesn’t go well. There are farmers who are interested in increasing onion cultivation. So if production goes well, we will increase it next time.”
Gaylong said that the other four gewogs in the dzongkhag would focus on cultivating other crops. Winter crop plantation has begun in Punakha.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering will address the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on September 25, themed “The future we want, the United Nations we need: reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism – confronting Covid-19 through effective multilateral action.”
The 75th session of the UNGA will commence from September 21 at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
The UN will mark 75th anniversary of its founding with a one-day high-level meeting on September 21 during which Lyonchhen will address the event through a pre-recorded video statement.
Lyonchhen will also address the United Nations Summit on Biodiversity on September 30.
On September 24, at the invitation of the UN Secretary General, Lyonchhen will participate in a virtual high level roundtable on climate action.
Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji will participate in important high-level events during the UNGA.
Lyonpo will participate in the annual ministerial meeting of least developed countries (LDC), the annual ministerial meeting of foreign ministers of landlocked developing countries (LLDC), and the high-level meeting of the 25th anniversary of the fourth world conference on women through pre-recorded video statements.
Lyonpo will also attend the virtual informal meeting of the SAARC Council of Ministers on September 24.
Owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, engagement at the UNGA this year will mostly be virtual. Heads of state and government will virtually address the high-level general debate, which will take place from September 22 to 29.
Events of the UNGA can be viewed live on UN web TV through the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/general-assembly/
Established in 1945 under the Charter of the United Nations, the General Assembly occupies a central position as the chief deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the United Nations.
Comprising of 193 members of the United Nations, the General Assembly provides a unique forum for multilateral discussion of the full spectrum of international issues covered by the Charter. It also plays a significant role in the process of standard-setting and the codification of international law.
Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) yesterday declared a 35-year-old businessman, Tenzin Norbu as its Chhoekhor-Tang candidate for the parliamentary constituency bye-election.
Tenzin Norbu, a businessman for the last 11 years and married with two daughters is from Chhoekhor gewog in Bumthang.
Tenzin holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Hotel Management and Tourism from the University of Applied Sciences in Business Administration in Zurich, Switzerland. He also has an undergraduate degree in Business Management from Bangalore University, India.
The press release from the party says that Tenzin Norbu’s experience and knowledge in the tourism and hospitality industry, public relations management and the private sector would serve the citizens through a political platform.
“Politics must be an instrument of our national progress and point of convergence of our common aspirations for generations of Bhutan’” said Tenzin Norbu.
The party’s press release stated that for Tenzin, it is not the case of the return of the native. “It is rather the native of the native.”
The party’s release stated that he understood the issues, problems and collective aspirations of the people in his constituency since he has been living with the people for a long time.
Bumthang being the heartland of tourism, Tenzin Norbu believes that it holds great potential to upscale the country’s economic development through tourism. “His passion for this developmental vision makes him the right candidate,” the press release stated.
Tenzin Norbu joined DPT because of the party’s core mandate and visions. He said, “The party’s overreaching vision to achieve Bhutan’s economic self-reliance, anchored in the principle of equity and justice, rings aloud during unusual difficult times such as Covid-19 pandemic we are reeling under.”
The press release claimed that Tenzin Norbu is ready to embrace politics as a platform for public service and to serve the people of Chhoekhor-Tang constituency.
The official resignation of former OL and Member of Parliament from Chhoekhok-Tang constituency, Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) on September 7, created a casual vacancy.
As per the Election Act, section 580 states, “A member elected to fill a casual vacancy shall only serve for the remainder of his/her predecessor’s term of office.”
The ruling party, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) is expected to declare its candidate for the bye-election after Thimphu Tshechu.
The ruling party DNT has 30 members while the DPT had 17 members in the National Assembly.
The meat shops above Centenary Farmers’ Market (CFM) saw a huge crowd rushing for meat yesterday evening.
Except for one meat shop in the area, most were out of beef.
A 40-year-old meat vendor said that more customers walked in yesterday because of Thruebab (Blessed Rainy Day). “In other days, the frozen meats do not sell well.”
A civil servant said that she went to buy meat for Thruebab on Wednesday. “Local meat was not available. So I bought frozen beef.”
Nado, 59, from Tsirang, said that meat was important during events such as Thruebab and Losar. “This year, because of the pandemic, we do not get meat and the ones available in the market were costly.”
The price of frozen beef and chicken today range between Nu 300-400 and Nu 250-300 per kilogram respectively.
The price of frozen boneless beef costs between Nu 400 and Nu 450. Local beef costs Nu 400 per kg. A kg of chicken costs Nu 300.
A kg of local pork costs at least Nu 650. The ban on import of pork from India by the agriculture and forests ministry still stands.
A customer said that the prices of meat vary from shop to shop. She said, “The agencies concerned should look into the pricing of meat.”
The festive season is here. We start with the sacred Thimphu Dromchoe today. Then comes the Blessed Rainy Day, celebrated across the country. Looking around in the capital, there is excitement as people rush for last minute shopping. Meat has become dear, but it is a must as we prepare for picnics, even if indoors, this year.
The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives. We have missed a lot of occasions. The festive season comes as a relief, not because of the holidays, but because of the significance.
Tshechus are an important event on the Bhutanese calendar. It is a sacred as well as a fun festival with a distinct Bhutanese flavour. This year, there will be no crowd or tourists at the tshechus. But the blessings, our respected Lopons say, will not diminish even if we watch the events on television, at home. Bhutanese come to tshechus for blessings as well as to enjoy the break from work. The only thing missing will be a chance to display our tshechu wear-kiras and ornaments.
We ardently believe taking bath on the Blessed Rainy day wash all our defilements, bad deeds and obstructions. Let’s all, as we take shower tomorrow morning, pray that the sanctified or the blessed water cleanse us and remove our obstructions. The biggest obstruction this year was the new coronavirus pandemic. It has left a mark already. Livelihoods are affected, businesses are ruined and the economy is in a bad state.
Thanks to the wise leadership of His Majesty The King, the hard work of the government and the thousands of people on the frontline, we have managed the pandemic well. The Blessed Rainy Day marks the end of monsoon, let it be the end of the disruptions the pandemic has caused.
We enter the last quarter of a troublesome year. We have to look forward with positivity to end the year on a high note. And we need the positive energy that our religious festivals bring. Not long ago, tshechus means a break to prepare for a fruitful end to the year. It is harvest time in many parts of the country. Farmers look forward to the break and ready themselves for the hard work ahead.
There is so much to do after the holidays. All attention has been diverted on Covid-19. We have done well at that front and successfully prevented a full-blown community transmission without any fatalities. But we must return to work and return with a renewed sense. Life has to go on. The government needs to return to governing, business and industries should start opening, investments have to be made to generate work and employment. There is some sort of normalcy returning with children returning to schools, shops opening and people going back to work.
We can’t achieve in three months what we have lost in the last six. But after the holidays, we should return to work rejuvenated like the farmer who after the tshechu break is ready to toil until the harvest is secured. The responsibility is on us all. We need not be civil servants or corporate employees or in the private sector. The biggest contribution in a pandemic year is following the Covid-19 protocols, which we tend to forget, as life seems to return to normal. Another case of local transmission could derail all our plans and undo what we have achieved so far.
As we take part in the celebrations, let’s not forget that we have to live with the pandemic and our actions would determine how we get through this crisis.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests’ (MoFA) Renewable Natural Resources (RNR) has been one of the priority sectors. It employs over 2,800 civil servants—policymakers, administrators and extension agents. However, the sector today lacks vision and seems to be running out of ideas to stay relevant in the changing socioeconomic atmosphere of our country. With over 56 percent of Bhutanese employed in the sector, mainly in subsistence farming, it is worth sharing a few ideas to overhaul the sector.
The agriculture officers are one of the busiest civil servants. You can hardly spot them in office because they are perennially engaged in the ‘field’ work. Sometimes they become so busy that they even seem to forget what their actual mandate is.
Let us quickly look at the work routines of a District Agriculture Officer, in the following order:
Monitoring farm road constructions.
Forming farmer groups.
Training farmer groups in managing group.
Providing subsidies in the form of seed and seedlings to farmers.
Constructing market shed.
Attending endless training and workshops from MoAF and Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives (DAMC).
In this seemingly hectic list, the key thing missing is the actual work that a technical expert like an agriculture officer is trained for, which is doing agriculture. To a generalist like me working in rural areas, this is an obvious responsibility that must be at the top of the priority, followed by:
Providing technical expertise to farmers on how to get the best yield from a crop.
Providing mentorship and guidance to illiterate farmers on improved farming methods seen elsewhere in the world.
Increasing agricultural land usage through land development and rehabilitation initiatives.
Ensuring that infrastructure built through agricultural projects, especially market sheds, are functional.
Adopting indigenous knowledge and learning from farmers.
Such experts are in fact so habituated to their systemic routine that suggestions, which might actually help them meet their goals are not only met with resistance, but outright suspicion and antagonism. They will not be educated and advised on agricultural production by anyone other than their superiors. What they end up doing is fabricating statistics for their ministry rather than actually producing agricultural prosperity for our country.
So, what next?
Hand over farm roads to MoWHS
The simple answer is, let the agriculture officer do what they are trained for—grow crops and provide technical expertise to farmers. Gewog by gewog, chiwog by chiwog and village by village, the agricultural officers and agriculture extension agents should meet with the farmers and help them grow crops better and teach them improved methods of farming and of upscaling their production.
Overhaul DAMC and separate Farmer Group formations
DAMC has been in existence for almost a decade now. Its main job, in brief, is to explore agriculture markets and form farmer groups and cooperatives. In practice, however, it means attending endless workshops and going abroad to explore agriculture markets while making the farmers and agricultural officers do the actual group formation work. It will be interesting to see how many times DAMC has actually visited villages to talk to the farmers. It would be more interesting to see how many Bhutanese crops have they successfully sent to the international markets that they so often visit. Value chain booklets published by them are many, but did any of them actually materialise?
Farmer training and group formation: This is one asset they will not let go at any cost. In spite of RAA observation that farmer training funds are being misused year on year, they will not let go of this source of income. DAMC was once put out of existence, for reasons only inner circle in MoAF know. A relook and possible overhauling of this department is urgently needed. People who are actually involved in agri-entrepreneurship will be especially desirable in such an exercise.
Human touch and embracing indigenous knowledge in agricultural development
It is time we realised the past mistakes and embrace a new way of doing agriculture. And the new way is to get closer to the farmers and learn from them and provide skilled mentorship and resource support. The gap between what agriculture sector promotes and what farmers grow has been huge, especially in cash crop production and marketing. One case example is Ground Apple. It is an important cash crop for farmers. But who actually introduced it to Bhutan? Its introduction in the country remains a mystery. It is believed that a ‘farmer brought it illegally from Nepal and planted it in his kitchen garden. It was sold at Nu 500 per kg. The seedlings for the crop were sold at Nu 1,000 per kg. It spread like wildfire and everyone started growing this crop and customers munched on the tubers for the alleged anti-diabetic benefits. Now every farmer grows it and there is excess production. The price per kilo has now plummeted to just Nu 20.
Farmers are pleading with agriculture officers to do something about it like adding some value to the crop syrup and exporting to international markets. What has DAMC, guardians of exploring market opportunities, done for this? Nothing so far. It took more than a year for the RNR-RC just to legalise this crop in our country. Two lessons can be derived from this Ground Apple case:
Firstly, in this age of mass information and entrepreneurial pursuits, you can be caught off-guard. The champions of agricultural knowledge who have travelled hundreds of times to Nepal to learn about crops and cultivation have not found Ground Apple, but a small-time farmer brought this seedling on his maiden visit to this distant land. The quarantine and all crop phytosanitary aspects went out of the window, but the result was a small miracle. We can expect similar crops to come in future as well, unless our RNR-RC and DAMC remain proactive.
Secondly, when farmers take initiative and ownership, it invariably results in success. MoAF should ride on such new entrepreneurial spirit, and provide technical and resource support. Sometimes, our experts should eat humble pie and just follow the native wit of ours.
Contributed by Sangay Thinley,
Sr. Economic Development Officer, Chhukha Dzongkhag
(Disclaimer: The views presented in this article are that of the Author and not that of Chhukha Dzongkhag)
Sudeva FC will participate in the upcoming Hero I-League for the first time in Kolkata later this year in November. Chencho Dorji, 38-year-old Bhutanese international coach will lead the team as the head coach.
Sudeva FC’s management recently nominated Chencho Dorji as head coach.
“It was really a big moment for me and I am excited. I want to thank the president and vice president of the club for having faith in me. I want to take this opportunity as a challenge,” said Chencho Dorji.
Sudeva FC is the Delhi-based professional club founded in 2014. The club recently won the bid to take part in the I- League.
In a video conversation on the Sudeva’s official Facebook page, the club’s co-founder and the president, Anuj Gupta, said that Chencho Dorji’s commitment to the club was commendable. “He gives equal importance to all the players and shares a good bonding with the management. He is farsighted.”
The club’s co-founder and vice president, Vijay Hakari, said that Chencho Dorji’s communication with players and management, field knowledge, his passion and caring attitude for the players, especially during Covid-19 pandemic were inspiring. “He believes in developing players.”
Chencho Dorji is from Mongar and joined Sudeva in November last year. He became the first Bhutanese coach to be hired by an international football academy in March last year when he became a new youth coach for Manipur-based FC Imphal City.
“It will be a challenging task being a part of I-league which is mostly managed by coaches from European countries. I-League is one of the best football leagues in South East Asia. It is an opportunity to learn and experience new things,” said Chencho Dorji.
Currently, the club has more than 130 players comprising of both junior and senior players.
His contract period in Sudeva will complete in May next year.
Chencho Dorji was a national coach for 12 years under the Bhutan Football Federation. He also coached the junior teams for SAFF U-19 (Nepal), U-16 (Sri Lanka and Japan), and U-16 AFC qualification (Iran).
Chencho Dorji said that Bhutanese football was gaining momentum and clubs were becoming more professional.
Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
A windstorm destroyed more than four acres of maize belonging to 19 households at Durungri in Dungmaed gewog, Pemagatshel at around 4am on September 20.
The dzongkhag agriculture officer (DAO), Tashi Phuntsho, said that the gewog agriculture extension officer and gewog administration carried out the assessment and submitted the report to the dzongkhag disaster management office.
“Of the 19 households, three households have been severely affected as they lost more than 10 percent of their crops.”
The DAO said that since maize is in the tasseling stage, most of the plants would recover as they were not severely damaged. This is the second time windstorm had destroyed maize.
He said that the dzongkhag agriculture office would provide high-breed maize seeds to the farmers.
“The estimated yield loss to the storm was found to be more than five metric tonnes.”
Yangchen C Rinzin
There is no dearth of loaders at the Mini Dry Port (MDP) in Phuentsholing, despite the detection of Covid-19 positive cases in the area as youth come forward to shoulder the tasks.
The MDP was shut down after Phuentsholing reported the first local transmission case when a 25-year-old loader at the MDP tested Covid-19 positive on August 11.
Another 12 loaders tested positive the next day. Almost 140 loaders along with almost 60 MDP officials were quarantined.
Following deployment of 20 officials from Paro to Phuentsholing on August 15, the work at the mini dry port (MDP) resumed from August 17.
A labour ministry official said that after the approval from Phuentsholing Covid-19 taskforce, 44 candidates were deployed as loaders. However, five was relieved and one was home quarantined as per the containment protocols.
Currently, 38 loaders are working at MDP. The loaders comprise of retrenched private employees, unemployed youth, students, and other job seekers.
“The regional labour office informed interested candidates to register via social media, Facebook to expedite the supply of loaders to work at MDP,” an official said. “Initially 144 candidates registered for the job, but only 44 showed interest to work.”
The official said that some either did not respond to calls or some could not be contacted. However, 40 candidates withdrew after a few more positive Covid-19 cases were detected from the MDP who were primary contacts of the first positive cases.
“Only four candidates were actually willing to join the MDP as loaders.”
The official said that the regional office managed to recruit additional 16 candidates as loaders through Bhutan Helping Hand Coordinator Phurba Wangdi in Phuentsholing. “But due to the shortage of loaders, the ministry recruited 28 candidates for the MDP who were willing to take up the job.”
With the imports now opened mainly for the essential goods and clearing of more than 100 consignments that were stranded across the border, the MDP could require additional loaders.
The official said that should additional loaders be needed the labour ministry is confident to provide following due process of recruitment and selection.
“In fact, we already have 37 jobseekers registered with the regional office and willing to work as loaders. They’re ready for deployment at MDP on a need basis.”
A Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for loaders of MDP and RRCO Transshipment Area has also been developed. The recruitment would be taken care of by the regional labour office.
All the workers would be tested for Covid-19 before entering the MDP quarantine facility where the loaders would be stationed inside a school. The loaders would be guarded and monitored by De-Suups on duty conducting daily attendance.
The SOP also states that workers would not be entitled to leave unless instructed by Covid-19 taskforce in case of unavoidable circumstances.
“Loaders are strictly prohibited from meeting their families or friends at school or workplace. The labour officials will help loaders to give their money to their families or deposit it.”
However, the workers would be sent home if the person meets with an accident at the workplace, resulting in temporary disability or permanent disability upon testing.
The loaders earn Nu 1,600 per day.
Loaders are also supposed to arrange their own appropriate personal protective equipment such as safety shoes, gloves and facemask at the workplace as per the SOP.
Thimphu is perhaps the only capital city in the world—in the 21st century—that does not have traffic lights. There is no need for it, the argument goes. Singularity brings fame and allied advantages, for sure. But Thimphu still doesn’t have a proper GIS (geographic information system)-based street mapping. And this has been bringing many complications.
On the first day of lockdown, on August 11, Sonam ordered a bag of rice, a kilogram tomato and half a kilogram of onion. They did not come. He waited. The wait prolonged. The orders did not arrive even after two days. There were stories of chaos. What came out starkly naked was that there was poor organisation among the many agencies and offices involved.
The first—the only lockdown in Bhutan due to Covid-19 so far—was a lesson, many say. It indeed was a significant lesson. How each individually looks at it matters. Dangers have come and gone but new dangers will come.
The vital question is: Why and how are we failing to organise ourselves smalls as we are?
There was the need and the National Land Commission (NLC) walked in. It had the expertise. The problem in Bhutan’s development journey, as in much else, is the how they are often sadly rendered hollow. The project started from April this year because service delivery can take many shapes and incarnations.
Duplication of responsibility is another story. What Thimphu Thromde did in 2011, which could have been a major success story, is now buried in heavy dust. Why must city residents go to the office of Bhutan Post to collect letters and parcels?
There was a general disregard for all the efforts made then, said one official who was involved in the first address planning process.
Some people got rich, very rich, said an official who knows Thimphu City planning quite well. The thromde experimented twice with the idea that did not come to any visible success.
April of 2020 is the month. NLC had already started mapping the city. Then came the lockdown. What happened after that, how and why, are the questions. Did the Thimphu residents even know that there are 14 “urban villages” in Thimphu?
Here is how the things are going to happen now:
Led by NLC, every residential unit in Thimphu will be reflected in the map—flat first, building number next, then the street name (lam) and then the postal code. G01, 53, Tshachu Lam, 1101, Thimphu. Simple, logical, and precise.
Talking about service delivery, the problem is with education. There are more than 900 streets in Thimphu Thromde, Debsi included. Culture killing is a crime but it is also a benediction. When direction and address is reduced down to landmarks—even as landmarks are important to draw true shape and the very nervous system of the community—service delivery takes the beating.
The obvious question is: What next?
Naming of the roads and buildings. NLC and the agencies involved have achieved it all. What is reassuring is that the stakeholders, led by NLC, is looking at developing an App that will record and show right address and directions.
NLC’s Samdrup Dorji and Sonam Yangdon are at and on it every day. The naming and marking of the streets is the next step. If successful, the initiative will be tested in other dzongkhag, down to the last village.
Director Geley Norbu of NLC is not in the habit of painting a glorious picture. He believes that NLC has worked enough to map the city for functional addressing system. “There were failures but we have built on them and moved on. We are designing a new App in collaboration with information technology department and human resource ministry,” he said.
The home-grown App—yet to be named—will guarantee perfect location and seamless service delivery.