In a desperate move to solve acute shortage of teachers in Gayshingoan Primary School in Samtse, the school and gewog administration and parents collected voluntary contributions to hire volunteer teachers last year.
They recruited three high school and fresh university graduates and paid them through their own contributions.
School’s principal Gap Tshering said that without proper training, the new recruits struggled to teach and had to be monitored. “But we are out of options.”
The move has raised questions on the quality of service delivered but the school and parents wanted someone to engage their children in learning rather than leaving students unattended in empty classes.
“As the ministry could not provide sufficient teachers, we allowed temporary measures like joint school-parent initiative,” said Samtse Chief Education Officer Karma Sonam Chophel. “It compromised the quality of education.”
This year, the school has six teachers which is much lower than the required number, said Gap Tshering. “There are eight sections in the school and we are short of two teachers. We are planning to recruit contract teachers.”
The volunteer teachers were relieved last month.
But Gayshingoan is not the only school facing teacher shortage in Samtse. This year, the dzongkhag is short of about 60 teachers even after recruiting 102 regular teachers.
The dzongkhag is in need of mostly Dzongkha, Science and general subject teachers.
As a result, for the past three consecutive years, the school was ranked 24th among those with the poorest quality of education.
Member of Parliament (MP) for Tashichhoeling, Dil Maya Rai questioned the Education Minister JB Rai during the question-answer session at the National Assembly yesterday.
The education minister admitted the problem. He said that the ministry had allocated the highest number of teachers to Samtse this academic session. “We have teacher shortage across all dzongkhags. Of 578 new teachers, 102 were deployed in Samtse.”
The ministry would recruit contract teachers to replace those who left for studies, maternity and extraordinary leave to address the temporary shortage, the minister said.
Meanwhile, Maenbi Tsaenkhar MP Choki Gyeltshen asked if the government had any plans to regularise contract employees in schools to deliver efficient services. The MP said that when contract employees in schools go out seeking regular jobs, some classes were left unattended for days and weeks, even.
Lyonpo said that although the ministry had talks with the Royal Civil Service Commission, it wouldn’t allow.
A 28-year-old man died when the bolero pickup he was travelling in fell 13 metres off the road at around 8:30pm at Bayu in Wangphu, Samdrupjongkhar on January 27.
The deceased and his 11 friends in the vehicle were returning to Gomdar from an archery match.
Sources said most of the villages are connected with roads and the more vehicles are carrying above the capacity. “But there is no one to monitor such cases in the gewogs,” a villager said.
Local leaders said they often monitor and carry out awareness to the drivers in the gewogs but it is challenging for them to monitor every day.
The govt. is also looking into opening a medical college
All 23 grade I Basic Health Units (BHU I), which will henceforth be called 10-bed hospital, will have a doctor each soon.
The health ministry will hire six general duty medical officers (GDMO) available in the market on contract and place them in the health facilities based on the priorities and where their requirement is necessary.
During the question hour session of the National Assembly yesterday, Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that BHU I in Gasa, Panbang, and Dorokha, which according to the health ministry’s record do not have a doctor, will have a doctor soon.
The minister was responding to Panbang’s Member of Parliament (MP) Dorji Wangdi’s question on the ministry’s plans to resolve the issue of some of the BHU Is not having a doctor.
Dorji Wangdi said several BHU Is were either without a doctor or the facility with doctors frequently faced erratic service of doctors as the doctors were out of the station most of the time attending training for weeks, affecting health services to the public.
Futther, he said that all BHU Is were located far from the dzongkhag headquarters. “I called the officials at all the 23 BHU Is and found that seven BHU Is – Dagana, Gasa, Dorokha, Khaling, Tsangpo, Panbang, and Khatikha do not have a doctor.”
He added that doctors in about 50 percent of the BHU Is were not available at the facility most of the time. “This is a big issue that is known to everyone.”
Lyonpo said that according to the records with the health ministry, the BHU I in Gasa and Dorokha did not have doctor for the last four months and Panbang BHU I was without doctor for seven months.
Such shortages, she said, were unavoidable because the country currently had only 337 GDMOs.
WHO recommends doctor-population ratio to be 1:1000, meaning 1,000 people should have a doctor. Going by this, Bhutan requires about 700 GDMOs.
“We have been managing temporary posting in the cases where the doctors are on short term training,” Lyonpo said.
Acknowledging that some of the doctors are attending training, Lyonpo said the training was important to upgrade their skills. “It should be understood that it takes at least five years for MBBS student to graduate and become a doctor.”
To become a specialist and subspecialist, it takes another four years or more, she added.
Lyonpo said that by the end of the 12th Plan the country would have107 more GDMOs. “The shortage of doctors and specialist in the country is also one of our biggest concerns.”
During the Prime Minister’s visit to Bangladesh in April last year, human resource development was one of the priorities. Lyonpo said the Prime Minister requested the Bangladesh government to increase the slots of MBBS to Bhutanese students and accordingly five slots were increased, taking the total to 15.
“We are also requesting the governments of Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal to increase MBBS slots to Bhutanese students,” Lyonpo said. “If we are going to send only about 20 to 30 students for MBBS every year, we won’t be able to address the shortage. We have also been sending only one to two doctors for specialisation.”
Lyonpo said that there was a need to send more students to pursue MBBS and that the priorities were set. “Everyone knows that there is a shortage of doctors and specialists in the country. Despite that, nothing much has been done to increase the slots for MBBS and address the issue.”
The number of seats for the resident courses at the KGUMBS was also increased from last year, Lyonpo added. “It is not possible to produce doctors immediately after planning.”
The ministry has plans for mass specialisation where doctors would be sent for specialisation and sub-specialisation to address the shortage. The government is also exploring to open a medical college in the country.
Dorji Wangdi said that some health facility had three doctors but none were at the station. “This is not because they went for short term training. Some are doing their postgraduate at KGUMSB, a few are in Australia.”
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said the issue of shortage of doctors and specialists was always there. “If we are having a shortage now then this is because of the poor planning about five to six years ago.”
When there are more people who are pursuing resident or postgraduate programmes then the number of GDMOs in the health facilities would naturally drop, Lyonchhen said. “And for once at least this has to be considered. After five to six years, we will fully address the issue of shortage of doctors and specialists in the country.”
Phub Dem | Paro
At the two-day meeting on South Asia Religious Leaders’ Platform for Children in Paro yesterday, 45 religious leaders of various faiths from the region committed to working with United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to protect and promote children’s rights.
They recognised the importance of their contributions in supporting and promoting the rights of the children in their countries.
Right to health care, access to education, clean and safe environment, and protection from exploitation, among others, are included in Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Regional director for UNICEF South Asia, Jean Gough, said that the religious leaders were often highly influential in their communities and could foster dialogue and contribute to behavioural change. They could also help ensure support for the most vulnerable groups, including children.“The leaders’ voices on child rights are important,” she said.
She added that some of the current priorities for Bhutan were promotion of adolescent health, nutrition and hygiene practices in the communities and monastic institutions.
Basic English literacy, she said, was essential in improving the quality of education in monastic institutions and nunneries besides the Child Protection Programme Strategy Action Plan.
Laytshog Lopon Sangay Dorji of the Zhung Dratshang said that the responsibility of religious communities for the well-being of children extended beyond the walls of the monasteries.
He said that although Bhutan opened up late, the country was among the first to sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. “We still have a long way to go before every child has their rights realised. But it is uplifting nonetheless to hear how religious leaders commit to accelerating actions in this new decade.”
The participants will discuss challenges in implementing the Convention of the Rights of the Child in South Asia. They will also look at how their contributions will help ensure that every child enjoys basic rights.
The meeting is being hosted with support from UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia and UNICEF Bhutan.
The Mines and Minerals Bill 2020, being discussed at the Assembly is drawing a lot of attention. It is an important Bill, it affects a lot of people and there is a lot at stake.
An amendment to the Act had been wanting. For whatever reasons, past governments have not attempted to amend it even with pressure from the Council who accused past governments of not keeping their words when the Act was not tabled for years.
The Bill is being discussed. Consultations were simultaneously held and honourable members are having a good discussion in the Assembly. Given the importance of the Bill, we can surmise that a lot of background works had been done before the Bill is passed.
There are several issues. The latest from yesterday’s discourse is reserving 30 percent jobs in mining companies for the people in the community where mines are located. Some are warning of consequences like locals blocking proposals if they are not benefited.
The discussions are considerate of both miners and the community. At the heart of the discussion is the understanding that natural resources belong to the country and that not a few individuals should prosper from it.
Such discourse should lead to an Act that will not be a bone of contention like in the past. Ground realities should be considered even if parliamentarians are pressured by interest groups.
Reserving 30 percent jobs for the community, for instance, is a tricky issue. Are we talking about unskilled miners, supervisors or skilled workers? What if a mine is located away from a community? Who all are left in the rural community? The young ones are out looking for better opportunities. Will a mine be stopped if 30 percent of the workers are not from the community? The questions are many.
That community trying to stop mines is not new. This had been the biggest threat to miners. Mining companies, in the past, had claimed that in the name of the community, some people in the community could stop mining for reasons other than for the benefit of the community.
It is true that communities are at receiving end of mining natural resources. We have, in the past, issues related to environment, damage to crops and properties, loss of water source and pollution. In the mining sector, these activities happen way beyond the eyes of the authorities. The remote the community, worse is the impact.
Local communities should be protected if not benefiting from mining activities. What we need is stringent rules and regulations. More important than having them are the implementation and monitoring. Once a mining activity starts, it is difficult to stop. Worse, before a community realizes the impact and gets it resolved, a lot would have been damaged.
The timing is good. At the consultation meetings, several issues from all stakeholders were raised. The parliamentarians are all aware of the issues to help them make good decisions.
The ball is in the court of the lawmakers. It is in their hands to ensure how mineral resources are managed, regulated and benefit more than a handful of people.
The National Assembly adopted a new clause in the Mines and Minerals Bill 2020, which states that at least 30 percent of the employment opportunities should be provided to members of the local community.
The Bill states that the lessee shall provide preference to eligible affected community for employment opportunities and procurement of goods and services.
However, Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said that it would invite problems if the mining company cannot get the prescribed human resource requirement from the community.
“It’s important that jobs should be provided to the community, but we don’t think we should prescribe the requirement in percentage,” he said.
The recommendation on keeping 30 percent of the job opportunities to the community was proposed by the economic and finance committee.
Khamaed Lunana MP Yeshey Dem said that setting a 30 percent benchmark was not in line with the Constitution as opportunities should be given to all Bhutanese. She suggested that the proposed percentage should be reduced.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that jobs should be available to people from all dzongkhags. He said there is no need to prescribe specific what percentage of jobs should be provided to the community.
Draagteng Langthil MP Gyem Dorji said that community engagement in mining was one of the most important aspects of the Bill. “Some families have lost their land and properties to mining,” he said.
Chairman of the economic and finance committee, Kinley Wangchuk, said that the community could delay the community clearance if the direct benefits are not prescribed in the law.
“The local community faces all the impacts of the mining work. If jobs are given to the community, they would be willing to give clearance,” he said.
The affected community shall be granted priority to buy equity stake in the mining company.
The affected community shall be compensated through benefit sharing scheme as prescribed.
The Bill states that the communities should have access to social infrastructure developed by the lessee and other infrastructures such as medical facilities, road and water supply.
The committee also proposed a new Section, which states that 10 percent of the revenue collected by state from the mining companies should be kept for the community. “The money should be used for constructing roads and water facilities in the community,” he said.
According to the Bill, a lessee may in the mining area have the exclusive right to mine any permissible minerals and sale, construct, operate and maintain mines, roads, aerial ropeways, communication systems and other facilities necessary for mining.
The lessee shall start mining operation within the period specified, carry out mining operations in accordance with the Mine Plan, Environmental and Social Risk Management and Mitigation Plan.
The Bill aims to build mineral value chain, ensure broad-based ownership, achieve economy of scale of mines, enhancing transparency and accountability in the mining sector.
Ensuring scientific, environment-friendly and socially responsible mining has also been emphasised.
The deliberation on the bill completed yesterday. The House will vote to pass the Bill today.
Local women in Tsirang take up the responsibility of addressing gender-based problems
Sonam Pem Tshoki
Last July, RENEW conducted a workshop in Tsirang for RENEW microfinance members to create awareness on social rights and sexual hygiene.
The members were expected to go out, spread the message and create a difference. Members today claim the awareness campaign is working.
Their claim is based on the fact that there is a growing awareness among women about sexual and reproductive health rights and the importance of addressing gender based violence.
Pema Wangmo, 37, is a member of the advocacy group who studied till eighth standard and her dream to pursue her education ended when the responsibility to look after her mute-aphasic sister fell on her.
Pema Wangmo is currently serving as a tshogpa in Patsheling and never fails to grab the stage in any meetings held at the gewog office.
She said, “Whenever there is a meeting organised by the gewog office, we request the officials to give us some stage time to talk on topics like Teenage Pregnancy, Domestic Violence and good touch, bad touch”
She added that she lives in a remote village where women being subjected to domestic violence was common. “Continuous awareness programmes and activities have made a difference.”
Yangzom, 34, is another participant at advocacy workshop. She too had to discontinue her education after Class 10 due to financial constraints.
She said that she conducted numerous advocacy programmes after participating in the workshop. “We talked about domestic and gender based violence. The women in the community are much aware and alert now,” she said.
The participants of the workshop all hail from different villages so they have formed groups to efficiently create mass awareness.
Meena Maya Gurugai, 45, said advocacy programmes are educational and talking about it changes the lives of women. “In my community, everyone knows everyone so sometimes it gets tricky and embarrassing when I talk about domestic violence, marital rape, and husbands treating women like property. It is important to talk because if we don’t address it then no one will understand the cause of the problem”
But the women have also faced harsh challenges and their programmes have raised eyebrows in the community.
Due to the location, Pema Wangmo has to travel a lot to get to the gewog office and sometimes when she can’t catch a ride, she has to walk for hours.
Meena’s problem is different.
“Men have verbally attacked me saying that I’m trying to preach women’s superiority and trying to brainwash women into believing we are above men. But I tell them that RENEW also helps men who have been victims of domestic and gender based violence,” she said.
Apart from Gender Based Violence and Sexual Health and Reproductive Health rights, these women also talk about issues like marital rape and gender stereotypes.
Paro FC (PFC) enjoys double advantage going into the second qualifying match of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup against Defenders FC (DFC) at Changlimithang Stadium today at 2:30pm.
Besides the three away goal advantage, PFC can also capitalise on home support which would also mount additional pressure on the visitors.
During the pre-match press conference held at Namgay Heritage, yesterday, PFC’s coach, Jangchuk Dorji said that his players are physically and tactically prepared.
Coach Jangchuk said that his team does not underestimate the opponents as they are a good team. However, he said that they are at a disadvantage due to cold weather conditions in the capital.
The temperature is forecast to be about 8 degrees Celcius which is likely to bother the foreigners who are more used to warmer weather conditions.
“During the first match at Sri Lanka, the weather was good and we performed well despite their home supporters. As a team, our confidence level is always high,” he said.
The PFC’s players had played many games at Changlimithang on different occasions. For them, the climate adaptability won’t be an issue.
The earlier match ended 3-3 at home to Defenders FC at Race Course International Stadium in Colombo, Sri Lanka on January 22. In general, Paro dominated the game with the most number of shots and ball possession. It was also observed that the DFC were quick to convert their limited chances.
Despite brilliant performance by attacking players like Dieudonne Fabassou, and Chencho Gyeltshen at Sri Lanka, Paro FC conceded three goals due to proper coordination between the goalie and the back four.
Coach Jangchuk said that they have analysed the match and rectified the mistakes. “We do not want to repeat it again. The opponents will experience a pressing game today. We have some changes in the defence.”
Sri Lankan Coach, Dudley Lincoln Steinwall, said that his team had practised at the Changlimithang and was adapted to the climate. “We had a good first leg match with Paro FC and I am glad that my team did well. AFC 2020 is very important and we are working for it.”
Officials at the press conference said that the Defenders FC’s game-changer, Evans Asante and Sajith Kumara could pose a challenge to the Paro FC. “Evans Asante’s speed and stamina on the pitch is something that the Paro FC must take care off.”
Team Defenders FC reached in the country on January 25.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Two Bhutanese truck drivers ferrying boulders to Bangladesh were brutally beaten by local residents at Fulbari, the Indian town that borders Banglabandha, Bangladesh on January 27.
The incident occurred between 2pm and 3pm at Fulbari, which is about 160km from Phuentsholing. They were beaten up for not being able to pay a donation for a local ritual.
One managed to escape but the other was badly manhandled by the mob. An Indian driving a Bhutanese truck in the same convoy was beaten up when he intervened. The two were admitted at a nearby hospital.
The Bhutanese driver who was manhandled, Jamyang Jurmey was brought home and admitted at the Phuentsholing hospital. He was discharged yesterday.
The 26-year-old said he was beaten up because he did not pay the amount the locals demanded. It happened while he was about to enter into Bangladesh.
“They asked Rs 50 per each truck at the parking,” he said, adding those who had money had paid and left.
“But those without money tried to negotiate for Rs 20. I didn’t have money. I just had Rs 300, which was saved to pay before crossing the border.”
After getting out of the parking area, Jamyang Jurmey had left for the border area to enter into Bangladesh. But three local men caught him and started manhandling. He was dragged, harassed and beaten by the locals along the road.
“People who were on the roadside, even women would just come and beat me,” Jamyang Jurmey said.
Shaken and traumatised, Jamyang said without the intervention of the Indian fellow driver, it would have been difficult for him to get out of the mob.
“They were planning to tie me up and continue beating,” he said. “When my friend intervened, he was also beaten up.”
However, the other Bhutanese driver was able to run away, Jamyang said. It is a shameful act because the drivers had done nothing wrong, he added.
Bhutanese truckers have a designated parking space at Fulbari. Each truck pays Rs 130 to park for 24 hours. Trucks are parked for several days before their turn to enter Bangladesh. Truckers pay up to Nu 3,000 to different parties on the way up to Fulbari, Jamyang Jurmey said.
Jamyang Jurmey’s brother-in-law, Pema Namgay, who also operates a mining and export boulders said Bhutanese people would help Indians facing problems in Bhutanese highways.
“Bhutan and India have a very good relation,” he said, explaining such problems across the border was unfortunate and unwanted.
“Government should do something to resolve this matter.”
Pema Namgay said Bhutanese drivers have been facing countless problems at Fulbari.
On September 23, 2019, an angry mob in Fulbari pelted stones to more than 35 Bhutanese trucks ferrying boulders to Bangladesh. Windshields and windows of the trucks were smashed and broken. Complaints were filed with the police in the locality but no one was arrested and no compensations were paid.
The Bhutan Exporters Association (BEA) general secretary, Tshering Yeshi said the ones who instigated the locals and manhandled the drivers on January 27 are from among the same people who had created problems in September last year.
“If they were arrested, this problem would never occur,” he said.
Tshering Yeshi said such problems were occurring on a daily basis in Fulbari. It is high time that the government should “strongly intervene” and sort it out.
The general secretary also said that the Fulbari locals were showing frustration because boulder export to Bangladesh from Bhutan was increasing due to better quality compared to their stones, while their export dropped. The frustration is being shown at the drivers, he added.
“BEA has been coordinating border coordination meetings frequently to maintain law and order but to no avail,” Tshering Yeshi said, explaining the enforcement agencies were weak at Fulbari.
A boulder exporter in Phuentsholing said that Fulbari locals felt that Bhutan has eaten into their boulder business due to excise duty exemption and better quality boulders.
“So, in order to disrupt our smooth businesses, they will stop our vehicles and check the load, despite having paid all the fees,” he said, adding that they will unload excess load or demand money.
“Today, it is Fulbari. It could reach Birpara, Dhupguri, Hasimara and Jaigaon tomorrow. Boulder is a dying business that will ultimately add to the fall of our economic activities and increase non-performing loans.”
BEA general secretary Tshering Yeshi said a first incident report has been immediately filed after the incident. BEA officials are visiting Fulbari for further investigation today.
… from fiscal perspective 9% or higher made sense
The intent of the goods and services tax (GST) is to initialise a robust and smart taxation system and this must begin without placing undue burden on the people and businesses, according to Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering.
If the intention was to strengthen revenue, a GST of nine percent or higher would make for an affirmative fiscal position.
While many are yet to understand the new taxation system, Lyonchhen said that this system would curb leakages, give local products competitive edge in the export market and limit imports of luxurious and unhealthy products.
The government, he said even debated on imposing a GST of five percent. In this case government is at the losing edge.
The GST is a broad taxation attracting seven percent levy on all goods and services, save for those in the exempted and zero taxed list. Consequently, for the consumers and producers prices of goods and services might change because 11 different slabs of the existing Bhutan sales tax (BST) will now be done away with.
For instance, imported vegetables and meat was zero taxed under the BST regime.
With GST, a seven percent tax will slapped. Lyonchhen said that the concern hereon until the Bill is passed is that the exemptions and zero taxed items may expand in the Parliament for political reasons.
The government, he said has been cautious and aware of implications. Vehicles and processed food will attract both GST and EET, making vehicles cheaper by atleast three percent and latter attracting 27 percent.
Excise Equalisation Tax is another aspect of the GST Bill to discourage import of select commodities, for instance, alcohol and tobacco, vehicles and plastics, among others. But EET, officials from the finance ministry said is not levied on exports.
The good part of the GST is that it will eliminate the compounded tax that is usually passed down to the consumers.
Another historic turn in passing the Bill comes with the date of commencement. The Speaker of the national Assembly has already declared GST as a money Bill. By law, a money Bill takes effect from the date of tabling the Bill.
However, GST Bill is an exception since the implementation has different stages beginning with awareness, education and registration. The software is not even ready. Lyonchhen added that this was extensively deliberated at the cabinet, whether to lay out the infrastructure and the propose the Bill or to do it otherwise.
As the tax paying capacity among the people improve, Lyonchhen said that the government might have to increase the GST.
Similarly, the EET might have to be revised, exempt items and zero taxed list may get reduced to encourage domestic production.
For instance, he said that there were proposals to slap EET on red bricks and vegetables imported from India. Doing so in the immediate course, Lyonchhen said, could lead to inflation since local produces cannot meet the demand and quality is constantly being questioned.
Imported red bricks and fuel may attract two percent more tax, as five percent BST will be replaced by seven percent GST.
“But as local production increases and quality improves, revising the EET on imported items make sense,” he said adding that this is the whole intent of GST-to introduce a smart taxation system.
Imported noodles, like wise attract 10 percent BST. But in the proposed new regime, it will attract seven percent GST in addition to 20 percent EET.
One issue with the Indian GST, which could surface in Bhutan, too is the threshold. Since the threshold to mandatorily register for GST is that businesses should have an annual turnover of more than Nu 5M.
In this case, big businesses that procure materials from small businesses will stop doing so since big businesses do not reap tax credits. Lyonchhen however said that while registration threshold is there, it is voluntary. This means that if small businesses making supplies to big businesses want to reap the benefits of tax credits, they can go for voluntary registration.
Because the GST keeps track of goods and services from one point to another, Lyonchhen said that revenue leakage could be substantially arrested. This is because of the input tax credit which not only ensures that cascading effect is minimised but also guarantees that at some point of time in the value chain, products are taxed.
In line with tax reforms
The GST regime will subsume some components of fiscal incentives in near future because incentives in the trading of goods and services are ingrained in the GST Bill.
As the GST evolves, Lyonchhen said that a point in time might arise where people don’t have to pay Personal Income tax because GST is consumption based tax, meaning everything consumed is taxed. Consequently, the corporate income tax should be as low as possible while GST may increase.
Currently, Lyonchhen said it is unfair for the salaried employees because they pay personal income tax and also bear the tax burden for all consumable. To lift this burden, he said the government has proposed for increasing the PIT slab to Nu 300,000 while adding a surcharge to those earners in the highest bracket. In addition, taxes on dividends were relaxed.
The property transfer tax is now formally becoming an Act, should the Parliament approve it. To encourage more transactions and ownership transfer, the government proposed to lower the tax by two percent.
During a consultative meeting with civil servants on January 24, both the Prime Minister and Finance Minister acknowledged that they had sold their vehicle quotas while in civil service. Transferring ownership was costly and there is no monitoring mechanism in place.
A common issue in the past, related to constitutional post holders and its members, was the early retirement age, especially when they were at the peak of their career.
This was because members, commissioners and heads of constitutional offices had to resign from their post and cannot be reappointed. The National Council (NC) yesterday proposed to increase the minimum service years for the members and commissioners to 25 from 20 and the heads of the constitutional offices to 30 from 25 years.
The NC was discussing the Entitlement and Service Conditions Amendment Bill for the Holders, Members and Commissioners of Constitutional Offices 2020.
This according to the Chairperson of the NC’s Good Governance Committee, Lhatu would give opportunity to capable members, commissioners and heads of constitutional offices to use their full potential before the age of resignation. As of now, the minimum service limit of 20 and 25 years forced the members and commissioners to resign before reaching the age of superannuation, hence wastage of human skills.
However, member of Punakha, Lhaki Dolma, said that the number of years should be not be changed to make the selection of candidates more open and convenient according to the requirements of a member or a commissioner. “Increasing the minimum service years would make the selection process more complicated,” she said adding that it would be difficult to find candidates.
Some members also suggested the possibility to include nominees from private sector besides government and public sectors for the posts to diversify candidates. However, Zhemgang’s member, Pema Dakpa, said that appointing individuals from private sector would defy the whole purpose of apolitical nature of the nomination. “Candidates are selected from among public servants because they are apolitical.”
Private individuals, according to Pema Dakpa would be politically inclined.
The House directed the committee to re-visit the section and finalise the amendment for final adoption.
Another amendment was on Section 4, which demands the resignation of the person appointed as the holder of a constitutional office with post service benefits.
However, members of the House sought clear definition of the constitutional post holders because according to Article 31 (2) of the Constitution, holders of constitutional offices are the Chief Justice and the Drangpons of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice and the Drangpons of the High Court, the Chief Election Commissioner, the Auditor General, and the Chairpersons of the Royal Civil Service Commission and the Anti-Corruption Commission.
Eminent Member Karma Tshering said that the clause created confusion whether Drangpons of the Supreme and High courts were eligible to post service benefits during resignation because they had different entitlements according to the respective Acts.
Member of the committee, Nima said that the clause did not include the drangpons. The committee was told to review the section.
The committee also recommended addition of 10 new sections in the bill—submission of list of names, code of professional conduct, nomination panel, procedure of nomination panel and time-bound secretariat among others.
The chairperson of the committee, Lhatu, said that the bill was amended considering the significance of constitutional offices and the holders, members and commissioners thereof.
The members of National Assembly yesterday decided that further discussions is needed to fine-tune plans and policies regarding the farm shops in the country.
Policy changes and recommendations will be presented in the next parliament session.
The proposal to fine-tune plans and policies regarding the farm shops came after Zhemgang Tshogdu, which states: “The farm shops under Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) has generally benefitted people in Zhemgang. However, as opposed to the agreement, the farm shops have not been providing the people with agricultural aids like farm machinery and seeds, and had not followed the buy-back policy.”
It also states that the system differs from gewog to gewog and the tshogdu has urged the government to implement a uniform system of farm shops across the country.
Bardo–Trong’s MP, Gyembo Tshering, said that within five years, governments established 173 farm shops with an expenditure of Nu 158.117 million. “However, as per the 2019 report of Royal Audit Authority, there was no fixed price and no book of accounts maintained by the farm shops.”
Further to that, he said that there was price difference in the village and market in towns due to lack of proper guiding policy. “For example, a kilogram of potato was bought with Nu 16 from village and sold at Nu 30 in towns. A kg of ginger cost Nu 14 in village, it cost Nu 142 in towns.”
Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor said that the objectives of the farm shops were very clear, but there was problem regarding implementation.
Lyonpo Yeshey Penjor said that the farms shops benefitted the nine remote gewogs. “In the other 164 farm shops, it was followed like a private business by selling imported items. It has become like a competitor to the local business people. So far, this trend has incurred a financial loss of Nu 39.53 million to the FCB.”
Currently, the government collects products from the farm shops to supply to other dzongkhags, schools and hospitals through FCB.
“If the products are of less quantity, it is not worthy for the farm shops to buy it,” Lyonpo added.
However, Khamaed-Lunana MP, Yeshey Dem, said that it would be better if the farm shops could buy from local people and supply it in the towns. “The vegetables vendors in the town areas do not have to go to other places to buy vegetables.”
The MPs raised the concerns about the growing pressure facing the private business people due to selling of mixed products in the farm houses, shortages of farm products in the existing farm houses, lack of technician and farm machineries, mistrust between the supplier and the vendors.
The lack of quality seeds, cold storage house, and interaction between the people are other concerns.
MPs suggested that it’s acceptable to sell other products in farm houses in the place where there are no private business ventures.
Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that government had discussion with the relevant agencies to improve the existing system. “We are also working to let the people sell only the farm products in the farm shops.”
Athang-Thedtsho MP Kinley Wangchuk said the FCB must bring changes in the business framework in the country. “FCB should focus on exporting our products to other countries.”
Gangzur-Minjey MP Kinga Penjore said that the FCB should concentrate on the place where the private businesses have not been able to nobble.
We now know a lot more about coronavirus. Each new day we are discovering something new about the disease. What this indicates is that the governments, medical experts and scientists are working together to find a solution to a problem that is new and potentially very dangerous.
Coronavirus, an outbreak of pneumonia-like illness that was first reported in Wuhan, China is now spreading not only fast but also alarmingly. Chinese officials announcing new measures to contain disease, including wildlife trade ban and travel suspensions. The real danger facing us today is that the disease has arrived at our doorstep. Nepal and Bangladesh have already reported cases of the disease. India is increasingly tackling with suspect cases.
The threat so has to be taken very seriously. Surveillance systems are proving inadequate the world over. We are yet to understand how the disease can spread. First we were told it could have come from bats. Then it was snakes. Now it is fresh or warm meat. We are also told that human-to-human transmission is possible. What we know is that we do not know enough yet about the complexity of the disease entirely.
Bhutan has responded swiftly but we need to be still very careful and vigilant. We already have infrared fever scanning system at Paro International Airport. Surveillance at every point of entry should be beefed up. But that is not enough. The people need to be told how to prepare or to keep themselves at bay from the disease. This is not happening and every hour lost in such a situation is dangerous.
In the more interconnected world today, not being proactive will be costly. We are facing multiple risks today because this is the time when Bhutanese go to Nepal and India for pilgrimage and vacations. Many do not seem to have clear knowledge of the disease. How countries and regions are responding to the disease can be helpful to Bhutan even though that will barely be enough.
Health ministry has advised people to refrain from travelling to the affected placed unless it is totally unavoidable. At the same time, how are we monitoring the tourists visiting the country at this time? The current surveillance system is visibly too weak. Temperature check is just one of the many monitoring systems we could have.
The disease outbreak has become such a global concern that the head of the WHO is visiting China to fully understand the devastating capacity of the disease. Perhaps the world leaders have already missed the issues facing the humanity like climate change and disease outbreaks that can that can do a whole lot more damage to the world than arms race that they are focusing on. But there is still hope. Leadership must rise in other tones if diplomacy of the 21st century is not working. Arms race is by much lesser problem than common danger facing the health of human habitat today. Let it be a lesson. But the Bhutanese people want it from the government clearly, now, how it is protecting its people from such a dangerous global threat!
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
The Jitti lift irrigation channel at Singeygang in Tashichholing, Samtse, which has remained idle since the completion of its construction three years ago, could finally come to life.
The irrigation channel is undergoing maintenance. When the work is completed, it will benefit more than 100 households of Singeygang and Namgaychholing. The channel was constructed mainly for supplying water during winter for vegetables and areca nut trees. Without the channel, farmers did not have other options.
For paddy, Singeygang people relied on rainwater.
The channel was constructed in 2017 to supply water to 200 acres of paddy fields. About Nu 20 million (M) had been spent on the project.
The lift irrigation system pumps water from Jitti river using electricity. The water takes an uphill route to Singeygang. The channel was not used, as it was expensive.
A Singeygang resident said government is providing materials such as cement and rod and labourers.
“People from the community are also contributing labour,” he said.
Tashichholing gup Samir Giri said the channel is being widened at present.
“The motor has also rusted,” gup said, explaining a new motor would be installed.
Gup Samir Giri also said expenses on electricity bills for pumping water would be around Nu 5,000 to Nu 6,000 per month with the improvement of the channel and replacement of the motor. Earlier, electricity bills were estimated at Nu 1,500 per hour. This was found during a trial farmers carried out after the construction.
The government has also provided Nu 350,000 for electricity bills at the moment. However, how will they use it has not been decided.
The irrigation committee’s chairman KN Sharma said they will come to a conclusion on the expenses only after the channel is repaired and used.
“The work has just started and it is only four days. It will take two months,” he said.
Meanwhile, the lift irrigation system was implemented by the agriculture department and then handed over to the Singeygang people. The gewog and the beneficiaries were taught how to operate the system.
The National Assembly disapproved the motion to deposit budget directly in gewog’s account instead of the dzongkhag’s during deliberations on petitions from the local government, yesterday.
Of the 45 Members of Parliament, 13 voted for the motion and 32 voted against.
Panbang Member of Parliament Dorji Wangdi, on behalf of local governments in Zhemgang submitted the petition.
He said that while the responsibility of preparing and planning for any Small Development Projects (SDP), Common Minimum Infrastructure (CMI) and flagship programme remains with the gewog administration, the budgets allocated for the programmes were given to the dzongkhags or retained by the central government. “This is causing delays in work progress and inefficient use of the budget,” he said.
“Therefore, the local governments submitted that the budgets for the development programmes be directly provided in gewog’s account instead of the dzongkhag’s account during the annual budget appropriation,” the MP said.
In response, Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said budgets that are kept with the dzongkhags are for SDP and CMI projects as these development projects require international financial support and other technical support which, the 205 gewogs do not have currently.
Lyonchhen also said that as these projects need adequate human resource support and frequent consultation with the central government, it is convenient to maintain the budget with the dzongkhag administrations.
“As gewogs are part of the dzongkhag, I don’t see any problem with dzongkhag coordinating and distributing the financial resources,” he said.
He also said that about Nu 12 billion from domestic revenue was already distributed to the gewogs. “And from the current plan budget, Nu 19.8B was provided to the gewogs, Nu 20B to dzongkhags and Nu 10B was provided to four thromdes.”
Lyonchhen said that he supports the importance of decentralising local government. “But without adequate human resources to handle the responsibility of the budget in the gewogs, the government is concerned that the resources may not be used efficiently.”
With the government in the process of addressing the issue, Lyonchhen said that decentralisation would happen gradually.
While the members of the House recognised a need to provide the budgets to the gewog administrations, they agreed that the local governments should have adequate human resources and technical capacity to handle the budget.
The new continuous formative assessment that the government would implement in classes PP to III besides other benefits would correct the flaws in the continuous assessment, Education Minister Jai Bir Rai said.
He said that the existing system continuous assessment of children’s performance was misused.
“It had changed from formative assessment, which was the initial objective to internal assessment, and then to kidu assessment to help students obtain better marks to for the sole purpose of maintaining the reputation of the respective schools,” he said.
National Council (NC) member from Trashigang, Lhatu said that NC has found that the current continuous formative assessment system has not been effectively implemented in most schools due to various reasons.
“How does the education ministry plan to ensure effective implementation of the new CFA methods?”
The minister said that a previous National Council report also indicated the biases of teachers in the existing assessment. “The ministry acknowledges these flaws in the system,” the minister said.
To correct such flaws in the system, he said that motivating the teachers was important and for that, the government had raised their remuneration.
For a successful CFA, it is important to keep the teacher to student ration as low as possible. “The ideal ratio would be 1:18 but since there is a shortage of trained teachers we are thinking of keeping it at 1:24,” the minister said.
The minister said that if the ratio increased, teachers would resort to team teaching. The ministry is in consultation with the Royal Civil Service Commission on the recruitment of assistant teachers.
The existing system only assesses children through unit tests, and examinations. The CFA will stress more on their attitude and skills development than their cognitive abilities, the minister said.
He said even the teachers would be assessed on their proficiency regularly. “Monitoring and evaluation would be conducted strictly from the beginning. The ministry would conduct an assessment of students every three years,” Lyonpo JB Rai said.
NC member Lhatu also said the government has decided to remove examinations for Classes PP to III from this academic year. As an alternative to examinations, the Royal Education Council has developed a new package of continuous formative assessment.
“A review of Classes III and VI found that the class III year-end assessment was important as it served as a benchmark to measure the student and school achievement. Besides, it helped maintain quality across schools.”
Lhatu asked if the ministry has conducted any study to prove the removal of examinations would be a better option for learning outcome of children from classes PP to III.
The minister said that there was no need to conduct any more research. “There is plenty of research done both within as well as internationally,” the minister said.
He said that it was time to implement the outcomes of the research rather than continuing with more research. “It is not early, if not late to implement CFA.”
The minister cited studies such as PISA D, Human Development Index 2019, REC’s Quality of school education 2009 report, Bhutan Education Blueprint 2014, and Education Without Compromise report 2008, among others to support the ministry’s reform.
“All these studies only point to one thing that CFA should be implemented to bring about quality education,” the ministry said.
The annual education conference this year decided to implement CFA since the curriculum is ready too.
“We now need to train the teachers adequately to properly implement it.”
Whether or not to have a chapter on the Cabinet Secretariat in the Lhengye Zhungtshog Bill 2020 sparked a lengthy debate at the National Council (NC) yesterday.
Some members said including it would be a duplication of the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC)’s Organisational Development Exercise (ODE), which elaborates the roles and responsibilities of the civil servants including the Cabinet Secretariat (CS).
Lhuentse’s MP Tempa Dorji however, disagreed. He said that there was a need for a permanent office that would ensure the continuation of major policies and work. “The policy changes with the change in government. Therefore, there is a need for a permanent CS to maintain momentum.”
Social and Cultural Affairs Committee’s member, Lhaki Dolma said that the committee decided to recommend inserting the chapter that provides the rules of procedure for the CS the legal standing. “The chapter gives a clear synopsis of the role of CS because the role was not clear in the RCSC Act.”
It came to a vote and the majority decided to deliberate on the proposal of the committee. The House will decide whether to retain or remove the chapter during final deliberations.
Of the seven sections in the chapter, the committee proposed the recruitment of a maximum of three national employees outside of civil service under the Prime Minister’s Office to meet specialised manpower requirements.
Referring to international best practices, Tempa Dorji said that there were practices of including experts and advisors from outside the civil service.
He said that the civil servants’ mandate of maintaining apolitical nature would contradict the provision if a civil servant was included in the CS. “We should not include such practice in the country.”
There were major issues of recruiting private employees in CS’s office due to the lack of specific laws regarding recruitment.
Deputy chairperson of NC, Jigme Wangchuk said that the first government recruited four non-civil servant employees. He said that despite NC reminding the then government about the recruitment breaching the law, the private employees continued working in the office until the end of the government’s tenure.
Eminent member Phuntsho Rapten raised a similar issue over the recruitment of a press secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office.
He, however, said: “PM clarified that the government sought Attorney General’s (AG) advice on the recruitment and was not breaching the law.”
According to Article 29 of the Constitution, the AG as the chief legal officer shall be the legal advisor and legal representative of the Government. Section six of the Article states that the Attorney General shall have the right to appear and express opinions on any legal question in Parliament.
He said that if the employee was a civil servant there was a clear Act. “However, when it comes to a private employee, there should be a clear guideline and the House should seek the possibility for internal discussion on the issue.”
Some members raised the concern of its legitimacy, while others proposed for its removal.
The Committee was directed to re-deliberate Section 75 along with other sections and prepare for final adoption. The Bill is expected to be adopted on March 4.
The National Assembly’s refusal to deliberate the Impeachment Procedure Bill 2019 and the Minister and Equivalent Post Holders’ Entitlement Bill 2019 has raised questions on the fate of the two Bills.
There are no clear legal provisions on how to go about a Bill that is passed by one House but rejected by the other without deliberation. The Bills were passed in the summer session of the National Council (NC) last year.
The Right to Information Bill, which was passed by the National Assembly in February 2014, became a dead Bill.
Some are of the view that the Bills are deemed to have been passed by the lower House. However, the two Bills will be deemed passed only if the National Assembly does not return it to the National Council, according to the Constitution.
A Bill, under the Constitution, is returned to the House in which the Bill originated with amendments or objections for re-deliberation. Such Bills are presented in a joint sitting.
A member of the National Assembly said that the intention of the government was to make it a dead Bill.
However, a Bill becomes dead only if it fails to obtain the endorsement of not less than two-thirds of the total number of members of both the Houses present and voting in a joint sitting, according to the Legislative Rules of Procedure (LRoP) 2017.
Citing Article 13(8) of the Constitution, Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said the Assembly had to return the Bills with objections to the NC.
“If the NC accepts the objections, it can re-send to the Assembly as and when it wishes. If not, the NC can submit it to His Majesty for Royal Assent as extreme measure,” he said.
But the problem, he added, was that such objections have to be on the content of the Bill.
The National Assembly about a week ago returned the Bills to the NC with justifications on why it did not deliberate them. The NC is expected to hold a plenary on the issue today.
According to the National Assembly’s secretary general, Sangay Duba, the House has communicated to the NC that there were already many Acts in the country and that the two Bills were not very important at the moment. He was of the opinion that the Bills were not dead and that it was up to the NC to see the course of action on them.
However, a political observer said it was unacceptable for the National Assembly to return a Bill to NC without deliberating it. He said justifications of the National Assembly on returning the Bill should be on changes in the content of the Bill, not on why the House did not deliberate it.
“The issue created tension between two Houses and their confidence level has been lowered. We lost five years to have those Bills,” he said.
Deputy Chairperson and spokesperson of NC, Jigme Wangchuk, said that the House will review the justifications of the National Assembly today. “We can give our opinion only after that,” he said.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering earlier told in the National Assembly that there was no need to discuss the Bill. He justified that not all provisions of the Constitution was implemented.
Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said that although the Bills were not very important, it was important for the Parliament to follow the rules of procedure. He said that there were no provisions where a House can reject a Bill passed by another without any deliberation.
The two Bills also does not qualify as “withdrawn” either under Chapter 4 of the LRoP.
According to the LRoP, a Bill passed by one House may be withdrawn by the other House on the grounds of, but not limited to, the legislative proposal covered in the Bill being dropped or a more comprehensive Bill on the same subject being proposed at a later date.
However, the LRoP adds that where a Bill has been passed by the National Council and is pending before the National Assembly, the Assembly may recommend to the National Council that leave be granted to withdraw the Bill.
“If leave is not granted by the other House for withdrawal of the Bill, the Bill shall then follow the procedures outlined for Disputed Bills,” the LRoP states.
The Minister and Equivalent Post Holders’ Entitlement Bill proposes the establishment of a national committee on the entitlements of minister and minister equivalent post holders.
The NC drafted the impeachment Bill in line with Article 32 of the Constitution, which states that the procedure for impeachment, incorporating the principles of natural justice, shall be as laid down by law made by Parliament.
The Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) will take over the Mangdechhu Hydropower Project (MHPA) February 29 on ‘as is where is basis’.
The MHPA’s managing director, AK Mishra, said that the DGPC’s team had been running the plant since April and all minor issues were spotted and rectified.
“There are no contractual issue and we have ensured that all components of the project fulfil technical standards,” he said. In fact, in the peak season, he said that the plant is capable of running at 10 percent overload, meaning that the plant built to generate 720MW is capable of generating 792MW.
As a component of the royalty energy that the government gets, MHPA has started to load its power into the Trongsa and Bumthang grid.
AK Mishra said that he had requested the authorities to close the project. This will be another record in the hydropower history.
He said that usually took about two years to close the project because of contractual and technical issues. “But this is costing the project. For instance, my monthly salary for another two years is added cost to the project,” he said.
Of the total project cost of Nu 51B, he said majority (Nu 12B) was on account of payment to NHPC for the design.
However, he said a number of times, he had to deviate from the Detailed Project Report (DPR) and methodology, taking enormous risk. For instance, the design of pressure shaft had to be completely changed due to the geology. In some cases, he said it was done to save cost and, in a few other cases, deviation was made to save time.
While audit has raised concerns, he said as long as the objectives are met and his conscience was clear, it was not a difficult task to convince the authorities.
Problems at the powerhouse
Soon after spinning the turbines at four generating units, oil spillage put the generation to halt.
To cool down the components of the generating units, special oil is being used as a coolant. Oil leakage was observed in all the units. Once the shaft of the turbine rotates at 75 rotations per minute, oil oozed out.
AK Mishra said that the units were stopped immediately. The designers from Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) came and did some modification. He said that oil spillage is now minimal and below the allowable standards.
Even after that, something unusual happened in Unit-3. When it was run on manual mode brakes were applied leading to some wear and tear. “BHEL was of the view that someone might have turned the knob by mistake,” he said. Brake pads were burnt in the process.
As of last Friday, he said that pads were replaced and the unit was put to run. This did not have impact on the generation since at this time of the year only one unit run due to low water discharge.
“I take this responsibility because I waived off the testing time for BHEL, which is around a month,” he said, adding that this was done in the interest of generating revenue, which today amounted somewhere close to Nu 600M.
Was MHPA responsible for cracks in Kuengarabten?
No, said AK Mishra.
As soon as the report on cracks began circulating, AK Mishra said that MHPA formed a committee, separate from the one government formed. While it was difficult to ascertain the cause, findings points towards multiple factors, claimed AK Mishra.
He said that the geology in Kuengarabten and Samcholing comprised of clay and there is an overburden. On the project’s part he said the water discharge was monitored. The volume of water dispensed from the reservoir and the volume of water at the powerhouse indicated that there was no loss of water. This, he says, meant water seepage from Kuengarabten and Samcholing had nothing to do with the tunnels.
The crack was observed until the Trongsa-Gelephu highway and it did not reach the valley. AK Mishra said that there was no continuity and the cracks did not reach the river. He said that from Samcholing to the powerhouse there were paddy fields containing high water and clay.
It was also noted that there is a stream in Kuengarabten, which seep underneath the ground and does not come out from anywhere. AK Mishra said there could be an accumulation of water below the earth.
Moreover, another theory leads to the earthquake of magnitude 3 in Mongar on October 7, which could have disrupted the geology. “This is not ascertained, however,” he said.
The problematic area is between adit 3 and 4 of the headrace tunnel. He said that this part of the tunnel was shut and physical monitoring was underway.
“There was no water seepage,” he said. Plying of heavy vehicles was also attributed to the vibrations.
In the meanwhile, the project has installed sensors and survey points to monitor the cracks.
“But I’m 100 percent sure that cracks will not extend further and the problem will be arrested,” he said, adding that the project provided Nu 300,000 to each affected households as a part of corporate social responsibility.
After a decade, the government could do away with the ban imposed on issuance of bar licence.
Issuing new bar licences in the country was suspended in 2010.
Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma on January 24 said that banning anything was not a solution to problems and that the ministry was reviewing the policy.
He was responding to a question from Chumey Ura MP Karma Wangchuk, who said that the ban on bar licence had deprived rural people of earning an income.
“We believe that banning anything and imposing fines are not a solution to problems. It’s time to revise the policy,” he said.
He said that while hotel that have more than eight rooms could acquire bar licences, people in rural places did not. He described the discrepancy as a policy gap.
“The intent of suspending the issuance of bar licences may have been good, but that has not fulfilled its purpose. It’s said that a bar licence is illegally traded at up to Nu 600,000,” he said.
The economic affairs minister said that the ministry’s study had showed that there were no indications of any reduction in alcohol consumption.
“The number of beer factories has increased from one to three. Similarly, wine factories have come up. These are not indications of reduction in alcohol consumption,” he said.
He said the ministry had completed a research on the matter and that it would be submitted to the government for necessary feedback and comment.
“We feel it will be better if the government can look into it and lift the restriction,” Loknath Sharma said.
MP Karma Wangchuk said that it was easy to acquire a visa than to get a bar licence. “Shopkeepers in villages are not able to make much income as they do not have a bar licence,” he said.
However, he added that alcohol was being sold irrespective of whether one possesses a bar licence.
“They have to pay hefty fines when they are caught,” he said.