The government will not issue new licences for mines and quarries until the enactment of a new mines and minerals Act, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said at the Friday Meet yesterday.
The Department of Mines and Geology on September 10 issued a notification calling interested members of the public to apply to the department for lease of mines or quarries.
Following the lifting of the moratorium by the government, the National Council (NC) through a letter addressed to the prime minister on September 12 called on the government to revoke the notification. The moratorium on new mines and quarries was issued on February 17, 2014.
The NC stated that the moratorium should be imposed until the Mines and Minerals Management Act 1995 is amended.
However, the prime minister clarified that the government would only accept applications until the new law came into effect. Calling applications now, he said, would enable the applicants to obtain sectoral clearances while the law was being enacted.
The Prime Minister thanked the NC for showing the concern as part of its role in maintaining a check and balance.
“There is a difference between allowing/issuing permits and accepting applications. We removed the moratorium now to accept applications. We are not issuing licenses,” he said.
“If the concern of the NC is about the issuance of licenses not being in keeping with the country’s laws, then I fully agree with that concern. We have not decided to issue any licence,” he said.
He said that there was no issue and that he would soon reply to the NC’s letter
The NC has said that the government’s decision has come despite the economic affairs minister having assured the House that the issuance and renewal of licenses would be suspended until the Mines and Minerals Management Act 1995 (Amendment Bill) is passed by the parliament. The minister had specifically mentioned that the moratorium would not be lifted until the Bill was passed, it added.
“The abrogation of the government’s assurance and commitment made to the National Council during the Question Time is a matter of grave concern,” the NC stated.
Signed by NC Chairperson, the letter states that considering that the parliament was reviewing the mines and minerals Bill, the lifting of the moratorium at the juncture not only preempted the decision of the parliament but also directly undermined the supremacy of the Parliament.
The NC also stated that the government on 21 August 2019 had extended the lease of Eastern Bhutan Coal Company till December 31, 2019 in contradiction to its assurance given to the NC. “Such a decision of directly allocating high value strategic mineral resource to a private entity could undermine the principles of fairness, transparency and propriety.”
However, the prime minister said that renewal of old licenses was taking place as the Mines and Minerals Policy came into effect about 10 months ago. He justified that the moratorium was regarding acceptance and issuance of new licences only.
The NC stated that the moratorium on issuance of new licenses was imposed from 2104 till 2019 to enable the revision of the Mineral Development Policy. “It is logical that law must be amended to enable the revised policy to take effect. Hence, it is only logical for the moratorium to continue till the law is amended.”
The National Assembly’s Economic and Finance Committee is currently reviewing the new mines and minerals Bill for deliberation in the winter session of the Parliament. Following that it will be tabled in the next session of the NC.
The government had plans to pass the Bill as an urgent Bill. But it could not fulfil the criteria of an urgent Bill.
Both Houses must agree on an urgent Bill, which shall be passed in the same session.
Until the Home Minister Sherub Gyeltshen’s case is over and the government cannot take any formal stand or take any action against the minister, according to Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering.
Thimphu dzongkhag court’s criminal bench I convicted the home minister to two months in prison for claiming false vehicle insurance worth Nu 226,546 on August 27. The minister had appealed to the High Court where the case is still pending.
During the 30th Friday Meet yesterday, Lyonchhen said that he would ensure the government’s noninterference in the judicial proceedings concerning home minister’s case.
The prime minister was reminded about Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s (DNT) stand as a party outside the Parliament in the former Foreign Minister Rinzin Dorji’s case in 2015, as both were serving cabinet ministers with charges of corruption in the court.
DNT then had appreciated the former government when it took action against Rinzin Dorji who was removed from the ministerial post when he was implicated in the Lhakhang Karpo corruption case in 2015. Although Rinzin Dorji appealed to both high court and Supreme Court and was later acquitted, the former government stood by its decision.
Rinzin Dorji was also sent on “authorised absence” right after the case was charged to the Haa district court to prevent controversy and conflict of interest.
DNT then, through a press release, welcomed the decision and stated that it would have a positive impact on the efforts to root out corruption in the country although it questioned the former government for delay in such decision.
The press release stated: “If the recent decision was an action on high moral ground, why was the foreign minister in the first place nominated as a candidate and then as a minister. This contradictory decision is a demonstration of the weakness of the executive and poor judgment of its leaders.”
The Anti-Corruption Commision had earlier asked the government to suspend the home minister when the case was sent to the court in April this year.
Lyonchhen had then said that the case is not related to the home minister’s current position and there is no risk to obstruct justice or tamper with information.
However, Lyonchhen said that it was two different cases where, in the former case, the foreign minister was removed only after the final court verdict. “If it had appealed to the court, DNT would not have made any comment,” he said.
“But in the case of home minister, it is still an on-going case. So, I don’t think I can make any comment right now. We will see what can be done once the appeal system completes.”
Lyonchhen said that when it came to such issues, it is time to use both the brain and the heart to see the balance and welcome whatever the decision will be in the end, which will come without any interference from the government.
“I am absolutely clear on this and nothing else will matter, but it will depend on Lyonpo Sherub Gyeltshen what he wants to do or take the case, as it is his case and not DNT’s,” Lyonchhen said. “This case started way before he became a minister and the only thing I can ensure right now is government will not interfere.”
Lyonpo Sherub Gyeltshen in his intimation letter to Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (RICBL) stated that his Toyota Prado met with an accident at Lamperi on the Thimphu-Wangdue highway on July 21, 2016. In another statement Lyonpo claimed that his car engine malfunctioned when it was on the way to Mongar.
There were no evidences to indicate the accident actually happened, the judgment had stated. It was then when the former executive director (ED) of RICBL, Sonam Dorji, offered his help to claim insurance on the Lyonpo’s vehicle. Knowing that Lyonpo was not eligible for the insurance claim, the two then decided to make a false claim.
For submitting false letter to make insurance claims, Lyonpo Sherub Gyeltshen is charged of fraud under section 311 of the Penal Code of Bhutan. He was also asked to refund the full amount to the insurance company through the Office of Attorney General (OAG).
However, home minister has appealed to the High Court on August 27 stating that the case involved ‘question of law and question of facts’.
Yangchen C Rinzin
The economic affairs minister, for the first time, signed performance agreement with project authorities of Punatsangchu Hydroelectric Project Authority (PHPA) I and II on September 12.
The objectives of the agreement are to ensure that the project management, consultants and contractors are fully responsible to complete the projects within the stipulated deadline.
It is also expected to provide an objective and fair basis for evaluating the performance at the end of the year.
The preamble of the agreement states it represents an important accountability mechanism for inculcating a performance-based culture in the project implementation.
Both the projects have missed several deadlines and escalated its construction cost.
The construction of PHPA I started in November 2008 and was supposed to complete by November 2016. Major landslides because of geological instability on the right bank of the river delayed the construction of the dam and pushed to the deadline to 2024. The project cost also escalated from Nu 35 billion (B) to Nu 93.7B as of July this year.
The main priorities highlighted in the agreement are having the proposals to provide holistic solutions for the right bank slope stabilisation finalised with targeted dates from September 15 to November 30 this year, revision and submission of project schedules along with the project completion date, completion of installations of 26 two diametres reinforced concrete cement piles at the national highway, completion of downstream surge gallery and completion of pothead yard building.
The agreement also prioritised the resolution of all audit issues from inception till financial years 2017 -18.
The performance agreement also highlighted specific performance requirements from consultants and contractors involved in the construction of the hydropower projects.
The engineering and design consultant, Water and Power Consultancy Service Limited (WAPCOS) has to conduct a timely review of measures to stabilise the right bank and issuance of drawings and design notes and provide final proposal on dam right bank holistic measures.
The equipment supplier, Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL), have to supply balance turbine shafts to erect generator stators and rotorsand turbines for unit 3,4 and 6. It is stated that the shaft vendor has issues with BHEL.
Hindustan Construction Company (HCC) has to deploy adequate skilled manpower and improve cash flow to complete the pothead yard building. HCC is not able to deploy adequate skilled manpower and has financial issues.
The construction of PHPA II, which started in December 2010, is now scheduled to complete by 2022. The downstream surge gallery (DSSG) in March 2016 affected the powerhouse complex.
The main priorities in PHPA II are the finalisation of the project completion deadline, dam concreting, completion of invert concrete lining of headrace tunnel (HRT), completing of loose much grouting in DSSG, completing the benching by removal of much and simultaneously strengthening of walls in machine hall and transformer hall of the powerhouse.
The agreement mandates the management of both PHPA I and II to sign similar performance agreements with consultants and contractors. The management should release the payment based on their performances.
Lyonpo Loknath Sharma met with employees of both projects on September 12. “We tried to identify issues and problems and also acknowledged where there were good initiatives and development,” he said.
The contradiction between the applicant’s proposal and activities actually carried out on the ground is the main reason behind high loan default cases in Micro and Small Enterprise (MSE) loan scheme.
The agriculture minister said this when asked about high non-performing loan (NPL) in MSE that led Bhutan Development Bank Limited to temporarily suspend the loan scheme to seven dzongkhags.
With the increase in the NPL, some are pointing out that it was the role of agriculture ministry to conduct feasibility studies and assess the projects before encouraging people to ply for loans.
The bank has stopped giving loan from 2016 owing to a high number of NPL and the issue was raised during the 32nd Annual General Meeting of Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry last week.
About 185 clients have defaulted with a total overdue of Nu 21M. The highest NPL was recorded in Bumthang.
Acknowledging the concerns of NPL, Prime minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the Cottage and Small Industry (CSI) bank should have an advisory board to identify economic opportunities and to study the viability of the project. “CSI bank should have a desk to ensure continuity to the business and predict if the business has any chances of defaulting. Any intervention that is critical to reducing the rate of NPL will be provided.”
Lyonchhen said that NPL was an issue and many clients were not repaying the loan at all. He said that there was a policy loophole to trace defaulters. “The same defaulters from two to three commercial banks can avail loans from MSE scheme, and they fail to repay the loan.”
Finance minister Namgay Tshering said that Rural Enterprise Development Corporation Limited (REDCL)’s NPL was 12.5 percent and that it was within the acceptable threshold (below the acceptable limit of 30 percent).
To improve the rural economy, Revolving Fund (RF-I) is mandated to finance major CSI projects including agriculture under the umbrella of Bhutan Development Bank Limited (BDBL). RF-I has the highest NPL.
However, RF-II under REDCL has minimum NPL in comparison to all banking sectors.
Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that the transformation of REDCL to CSI bank would enhance loan portfolio beyond agriculture and CSI. The bank is expected to extend its services to other sectors such as seasonal export loan and overseas employment loan.
“The ministry is already engaged with the financial institutions of Bhutan to upscale the loan portfolios of agriculture and rural-based economy. CSI bank will have more equity,” he said.
There is yet another attempt to promote Dzongkha, our national language. This time, it is with a different approach.
The Dzongkha Development Commission will sign a compact with the Prime Minister that all official correspondences will be made in Dzongkha. It is a tricky agreement. The DDC is actually imposing it on the government. Their performance will be judged by how much the government or decision-makers keep to the spirit of the agreement.
Some might say the Commission has pulled a fast one on the government if their annual performance agreement, yet to be signed, is signed as it is presented.
Notwithstanding the protocol of preparing an APA, Dzongkha should be promoted and the Commission has found a good opportunity to make another attempt.
There had been several initiatives, including issuing orders and commands to promote the national language. Some orders date back to the 7th Plan. The irony is that after 25 years, we are still talking about the same issue.
Where have we failed?
Insisting on making official correspondence in Dzongkha alone will not promote the national language. It is not a new initiative. We tried this several times before. If official issuing orders or those at decision-making level are finding Dzongkha cumbersome or boring, it was not helping the initiative.
There should be an interest in the language. How do we make it interesting? How do we make it the language of choice? How do we make it simple and attractive? The questions are many.
Our Dzongkha readers have been a little disappointed that the language is difficult to read, write or understand. There is a belief that everything foreign is better and fashionable. Among the young, an inferiority complex has developed if you are not speaking English.
Dzongkha has come a long way. But it is not because of our policies. The major boost the national language got was from the film or music industry, the media, especially radio and television. There is no communication problem if we visit Sakteng in the east or Bara in Samtse. It is widely spoken and has seen phenomenal development.
The parliament sessions, the gewog and dzongkhag tshogdes are helping more and more people master the language. These are all positive signs, but not a result of policies that make the language easy, attractive and fashionable.
There should be positive and innovate approach to promoting Dzongkha. It must be enjoyed and not thrust upon to promote it.
We should be better with advanced technologies. We have Apps available to teach and learn Dzongkha. There are Dzongkha dictionaries, grammar books and other reading materials.
Those who know Dzongkha say that finding Dzongkha difficult or complex language is a myth, a reason or an excuse to not learn. If we put effort like our kids learn Korean, Dzongkha is not difficult.
Dzongkha is important. It is an essence of our identity. We should learn it to be able to read, write, and speak.
The Press Release issued by Royal Civil Service Commission and reversal of the decision of the Anti-corruption Commission is a cause of concern. This has also caught the attention of both social media and mainstream media. Numerous presumptions and theories came on this issue and seem to have caused confusion among the general public. Such decisions may ruin people’s confidence in the institution of civil service and also may encourage more public servants to commit corruption. Some feel, RCSC’s decision rendered the nation’s anti-corruption laws toothless. Others feel, other public institutions may come up with similar administrative rules and regulations in the interest of their institutions and may offer similar justifications. As a result, the fundamental objectives of campaign against corruption may be defeated. This may also jeopardize any similar investigations and court proceedings from being free, fair and non-interference.
At a closer glance, RCSC remained silent on the actual contents of the Supreme Court decision cited in their press release. Public have no knowledge of what the court has decided. The Commission resorted to interpret Rule no. 19.10.1 and 19.10.5 of BCSR, 2018 elaborately to justify their decision. This interpretation seems incorrect in every legal sense. Firstly, BCSR, 2018 is mere a delegated legislation and has no authority of whatsoever to nullify provisions of the law made by the parliament. Secondly, BCSR itself categorically stated that, it is promulgated under Article 26 of the Constitution and Civil Service Act. This means, every provision of BCSR originates from Civil Service Act and applying these provisions to nullify Suspension Order issued under ACC Act is nothing short of fundamental error in interpretation of a law. Neither the ACC Act nor the Civil Service Act provide any provision authorizing RCSC to review suspension orders issued under the ACC Act.
The Sections 167 (2) and (4) ACC Act, 2011 is unambiguous. These provisions provide that, once the suspension order is issued becomes mandatory and no other institution has discretionary power to revoke in any way. In fact, the suspension order not only extends to investigation but also till the end of outcome of final appeal. The parliamentary act manifested in the ACC Act is crystal and thus, suspension order is binding. Discretionary authority derived by RCSC in the present case deviates too far from the whole gamut of legal interpretation, validity and enforceability of laws enacted by the parliament. This also undermines the parliamentary sovereignty. It would not wrong to presume that, ACC would have reviewed and considered all the circumstances before, they issued the suspension order. The only proper and legitimate way to challenge such order is through courts.
It is universally recognized that, the constitution has overriding effect on the statutes (parliamentary acts) and parliamentary acts have overriding effect on rules and regulations (delegated legislations) made by the executive. However, in this case, delegated legislation tried overriding provisions of parliamentary act. This contrives the universally recognized principle. In fact, to ensure this principle, Bhutan’s Constitution explicitly provides a clear separation of power among the legislature, the judiciary and the executive. Balancing the pros and cons of such decisions in a democracy will be the only means of nurturing and strengthening our unique democracy, envisioned by our farsighted and visionary monarchs.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Kuensel or JSW school of law.
More than 85 percent of the participants vying for a plot at the Industrial Service Centre (ISC) in Gelephu returned home dejected after they thought the distribution method was unfair.
To provide equal opportunity to all the participants, thromde organised a “lucky dip” for the distribution. This was the fourth round of plot distribution at the ISC conducted by the thromde since 2017.
Of the 28 shortlisted participants, 21 turned up for the lucky dip on September 12.
One each plot was available for automobile workshop and godown and five for manufacturing units. These plots were surrendered by the previous owners.
Thromde had received more than 400 applicants for the available plots.
Of the seven plots that were up for grasp, only three participants received the ‘yes’ chit from the lucky dip. The remaining four plots were retained by the thromde.
This according to the participants was unfair.
Participants argued that thromde should have removed the chits for those who did not make it to the event. “Keeping a slot for the absentees was unfair for those who were present,” said one participant.
There were 12 people competing for the five manufacturing unit plots and seven and eight people each for the lone automobile workshop and godown plots.
During the lucky dip despite missing some of the participants in each category, the number of chits for the lucky dip was kept same.
For instance, of the seven competing in the automobile workshop category there were only five who had turned up. However, the number of chits for the draw was maintained at seven. None of the five participants picked the ‘yes’ chit. The plot will remain with thromde.
Participants requested thromde officials for another opportunity to pick for the unclaimed plots. Thromde denied the request stating that it was not necessary for all the plots to be distributed.
“I wasn’t lucky enough. But the more disappointing thing was that most of us didn’t even have a chance because we were competing with people who were not even here,” said one of the participants.
Another participant, Tenzin Wangda said that thromde in their notification had stated that any participant who would not be present personally during the event would not be allowed to contest.
“This should mean that their chits must also be removed from the list,” he said.
Thrompon Tikaram Kafley said that the thromde would also require plots for other developmental works such as setting up new parking space, waste collection centres, placing new water tanks for the town and developing children’s park and gardens to add to the aesthetics of the thromde.
“While we understand their disappointment, we have given them equal opportunity for getting the plots,” he said. “Should there be similar opportunities in the future, based on the proposals that is submitted to us, we’ll give them the priority.”
It was also learnt that those people who had initially acquired plots at the ISC have started sub-leasing. The thrompon reminded the participants that it was against the lease agreement to sub-lease the ISC plots.
Tenzin Wangda said that it is a rampant practice among the plot holders of ISC to sub-lease the plots at a higher price. “These people are making profits at the cost of people like us who genuinely require the plots,” he said. “I only have a year before I vacate my current godown from where I distribute cement.”
It was learnt that some of the plot holders charge Nu 130,000 per month for a plot at the ISC. The existing rate per plot is Nu 4 per sq.ft annually. The minimum size of a plot at the ISC is about 30 decimal. On an average, each plot holder pays a sum of about Nu 13,000 to the thromde annually.
Thromde officials confirmed that they have also received information on sub-leasing practices at the ISC. “We know this is happening but we need evidences to prove this. Once we have the proof, serious actions will be taken against the defaulters.”
Meanwhile, the thromde had issued a final deadline to all the plot holders to relocate and start operating from the ISC by the end of the month. “We have given them enough time and extension. Unless the reasons are genuine, those plots without any developments will be cancelled and re-distributed,” the thrompons said.
The ISC located under the Tashiling demkhong spreads across 111.5 acres of land. A total of 110 plots (46.4 acres) were leased out since January 2017 for a period of 30 years.
Younten Tshedup | Gelephu
At the waste recovery centre in Ngabiphu, Thimphu, high and low-density polyethylene plastic is being segregated from among the heaps of waste.
A few months ago, the waste recycling plant, Greener Way, ventured beyond conventional ways of recycling. The plant explored opportunities to expand new methods to curb plastic waste challenges in the town areas. Modifying the plastic waste through better recycling strategies, the firm produced plastic poles for socioeconomic and environmental reasons.
The founder of Greener Way, Karma Yonten, said that the increasing volumes of plastic waste generated in Thimphu encouraged him to create value out of waste. “We cannot control plastic waste. Even if the ban on single-use carry bags is enforced, people still use different types of plastic for packaging.”
Plastic poles would replace the wooden poles used for electric fencing and reduce pressure on forest resources, Karma Yonten said.
According to him, the current practice of electric fencing did not succeed because the wooden poles got damaged. “Plastic poles can last for about 15 years. It need not be changed and can withstand mesh and barbed wires.”
Recently, the plant also produced reflective poles that can be used as road markers along highways.
Depending on the shape and size of the poles, 3-12 kg of plastic waste is used for producing a single pole.
Once the high and low-density polyethylene plastic waste is segregated and washed, they are heated and solidified in an agglomerator. The solidified plastic is then mixed, extruded and is made to cool.
Greener Way plans to import plastic waste from the neighbouring districts.
Karma Yonten said that machines in the plant were used for making plastic granules, which was unsuitable for manufacturing poles. “Modifying inputs in our machines and considering the experience we have in waste recovery, we can recover all types of plastic waste.”
Greener Way has plans to also produce plastic furniture to reduce the challenges of plastic waste in the country.
Till date, the firm has 76 employees.
Last year, United Nations Environment Programme found that since 1950s, only 9 percent of waste is recycled.
Primary school students will be educated on waste management as a part of their formal education.
Educational material for promoting waste management education is being developed and will be ready within three months. The material is expected to encourage students understand the importance of lifestyle based on the concept of circular economy and 4R principles- reduce, reuse, recycle and responsibility.
To develop the materials, a consultative meeting was held on September 12 where policy makers, stakeholders, teachers, members of monastic institutions and civil society organisations participated.
The consultative workshop was part of a joint project between the National Environment Commission (NEC) and Institute for Global Environmental Strategic (IGES), Centre collaborating with UNEP on Environmental Technologies (CCET).
The initial concept of the project was developed based on the existing Youth Action for 4Rs by the waste management division with NEC in last May.
However, it was later expanded to target primary school students across the nation.
The Director of IGES Centre, Kazunoba Onogawa said, “We want to motivate school children to understand environmental issues and take proper actions for the protection of environment.”
“While we understand that changing others’ mindset is not so easy, but promoting behavioural change in children would make great impact and gradually parents would accept too.”
Kazunoba Onogawa said that they have also discovered the importance of parents’ role in inducing behavioural change among children towards waste management. “We are targeting to educate school children first and then approach parents on the subject if time and situation allows.”
He said they would reach out to local government, civil society organisations and private sectors to share and expand knowledge about sustainable waste management.
The Youth Action for 4Rs was launched in 2015 to build sustainable waste management partnership with the schools and to instill civic responsibility in waste management in the society by making youth ambassadors.
Today, 15 schools and a college in the country actively take part in the initiative.
According to policy researcher with IGES, Ran Yagasa, the project would also target expanding environmental education material to monastic institutions. Gradually, it would be implemented nation-wide, complementing environmental science subject that was integrated in the curriculum for class 9 and 10.
He said that in order to induce behavioural change among students, active-learning approach and experiential learning through participatory waste management activities and classroom lecture should be explored.
“Teachers should also be guided on waste audit, solid waste management and ecology.”
Meanwhile, General Secretary with Zhung Dratshang, Passang called for a need of strategic plan and curriculum on waste management for monastic institutions.
Passang said that the monastic institutions are actively taking part in waste management initiatives from conducting regular cleaning campaigns to discouraging devotees from offering packaged products.
NEC’s director, Phento Tshering said educating children early and building awareness on the importance of managing waste properly at an individual and family level, will contribute to creating responsible citizens.
“Therefore, education on waste management and minimisation has to be continuous throughout the entire period of education,” he said.
On enriching the context, visibility and usability of ecology note to meet with the local context of Bhutan, participants recommended integrating thought provoking questions, deeper exploration, and change of mindset and knowledge construction in the curriculum.
Participants also suggested developing a material focusing on behavioural change than academic content.
“Presenting facts in the curriculum beyond mere campaigning for prohibiting littering can be strong and effective message,” one said. Some suggested developing short animated videos to disseminate important messages among primary school students.
The project is funded by Environment Ministry of Japan under waste management component.
The Anti-Corruption Commission and Bhutan Transparency Initiative yesterday renewed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to strengthen cooperation to prevent corruption.
The MoU signifies the commitment of two institutions to foster strategic partnership in promoting integrity, transparency and accountability and constructive citizen engagement to fight corruption collectively.
The MoU is expected to facilitate realisation of the 12th Plan and ensure successful implementation of the National Integrity and Anti-Corruption Strategy 2019-2023.
Located at about 4,300 meters above the sea level, the ruins of the Lingzhi dzong still stand majestically on a hilltop in Lingzhi, Thimphu.
Also known as Lingzhi Yugyal dzong, the dzong was built by the third Desi Chogyal Minjur Tenpa to commemorate a victory over a Tibetan invasion in 1668.
It used to house the drungkhag’s administration and monastic body until it was further damaged in an earthquake in September 2011. The dzong was first destroyed in an earthquake in 1867, rebuilt in the 1950s, and partly renovated in 2005.
About Nu 13 million has been spent to date since the preparatory works for the Lingzhi dzong construction began 15 months ago. The preparatory works include transporting construction materials like stones and timber, and building camps for workers.
Thimphu Dzongdag Dorji Tshering said that the dismantling of the utse (central tower) of the dzong is underway. Utse has a three-storied structure, of which two storeys have been dismantled.
“Once the ground floor is dismantled, we will start building the utse first and then other structures,” dzongdag Dorji Tshering said.
He said that while it is hoped that the construction would be completed within the 12thPlan, nothing could be said as of now because there are challenges in transporting construction materials.
“Even if we have a shortage of a single timber, it takes about five days to have it transported to the site from a place called Dzhodhu,” he said.
Lingzhi Drungpa Mani Sangye said that Lingzhi dzong conservation project has a budget outlay of about Nu 400 million in the 12thPlan. It is a Government of India funded project.
Working period is limited in Lingzhi because after November it is difficult to work at the site because of extreme cold. Work restarts only in April.
With about 50 men joining the workforce last week, about 100 men will be working on the reconstruction of the dzong now.
In the last one month, the dzongdag said workers have been able to dismantle two storeys of the utse. Previously they were collecting stones, timbers and other materials from Dzhodhu, which is about a two-day walk from Lingzhi.
After the dzong was badly damaged in the last earthquake, he said the whole structure has to be reconstructed.
After the construction is complete, the dzong will house the drungkhag office and the monk body that has been moved to Barshong in Naro gewog after the dzong was damaged. The monk body consists of about 30 monks and a lam.
Drungpa Mani Singye said in the northern frontier, the dzong plays an important role in terms of sovereignty and security while for the people of Lingzhi, it houses the dratshang and drungkhag office.
Dechen Tshomo | Lingzhi
With numerous development activities happening in the eastern region, the demand for stone and sand has increased over the last five years.
The highest demand is for stone aggregates, according to officials from the regional Natural Resources Development Corporation (NHDC) in Mongar.
The total aggregates sold this year until this month stands at 450,000 cft, which is an increase from 290,000 cft last year. NRDCL officials expect the demand to touch 500,000 cft by the end of this year.
The NRDCL regional manager, Tandin Wangchuck attributes the demand to the increasing developmental activities in the eastern region like widening of road, blacktopping of gewog centre roads, Gyalpozhing town and Bondeyma industrial site development and an Agro-based industry construction at Lingmethang.
Although the demand for sand has not increased, the regional office had supplied about 60,000 m3, which is an increase from 50,000 m3 in 2015. “The demand for aggregates increased because two private stone crushing units at Gyalpoizhing and Mongar closed recently,” said the regional manager.
Officials said the demand for boulders has stagnated with people buying boulder at cheaper rates from the road widening sites.
With the construction of Kholongchhu hydropower project not gathering pace, demand for sand has stagnated. NRDCL officials said the project is expected to lift huge volumes of sand. The local demand is met by a private business that supplies sand in Trashigang.
After a sand depot at Chagzam in Trashigang started, demand for sand from NRDCL decreased. “The depot supplies about 3,000 to 4,000 truckloads of sand in a year and 25 percent of our business is affected,” Tandin Wangchuk said.
The regional manager said the revised forest act 2017 permits individual to use sand only for self-consumption, but the private individual keeps continuing the commercial work.
“I don’t know how the private individual managed to get the clearance. He got it in 2017 and even got it renewed,” he said.
Tandin Wangchuk said NRDCL wrote to department of forest and park services and the dzongkhag forest division. The corporation is yet to receive a reply.
Private individuals supplying sand from Samdrupjongkhar is also affecting NRDCL.
Meanwhile, Tandin Wangchuk said the regional office is well equipped with sand in the 39 sand depots in the six eastern districts. In addition, he said nine more depots were explored to supplement should the demand rise in future.
Tshering Namgyel | Mongar
To address and battle the problem of anemia and stunting in Bhutanese children, the Ministry of Health (MoH), with the support of UNICEF launched the “sprinkles programme” in Samtse yesterday.
It is an evidence-based and cost-effective intervention that will improve the quality of complementary food for children aged six months to two years. Health centres will distribute the sprinkles when mothers and caregivers bring their child for routine growth monitoring.
Under this programme, all health facilities in Samtse will now have “sprinkles,” a micronutrient powder that has 15 different vitamins and minerals. It is a one-gram powder pack that can be easily mixed with the child’s food and fed.
Sprinkles was launched following the national nutrition survey, 2015, which revealed that two in five children were anemic, while one in five were stunted in Bhutan, a serious public health issue according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Prior to yesterday’s launch, the sprinkles programme was piloted in nine health centres, three each in Samtse, Dagana and Mongar. An assessment of the programme in these dzongkhags found high user acceptability and compliance. The interventions were successful in improving the infant and young child feeding practices and nutrition status of children aged six to 23 months.
The health ministry is targeting to scale up the sprinkles programme across the entire nation by June 2020. The programme will continue in the six health facilities in Dagana and Mongar.
The health minister Dechen Wangmo, who graced the launch said it was “a great milestone for Bhutan.”
“We are securing and investing in the future generation of our country,” she said, adding that anemia and stunting was intergenerational issue.
“If we have a mother with micro-nutrient deficiency, her child will carry the same challenge and burden. We are on a task to finally break the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition.”
Unless this “vicious cycle” is broken, Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said Bhutan will not achieve enabling environment for children.
“We want to invest in every child born in Bhutan,” she said, explaining further that Bhutan, a small nation, cannot compromise on physical and cognitive competencies of its population.
Meanwhile, the objectives of the sprinkles programme are also to help improve nutritional status of under-five children, particularly of those with childhood Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA) and stunted, to increase knowledge and awareness among parents and health service providers about the importance of micronutrient containing food and adequate dietary intake, and to promote exclusive breastfeeding and proper complementary feeding of nutritious foods.
The programme is also a part of the “accelerating maternal and child health policy,” which is working on accelerating the health outcomes of all mothers and children in Bhutan.
A mother, Sonam Youden, who has been feeding the complementary sprinkles to her son, shared her story during the launch yesterday.
Sonam’s son, Rigpa Yeshey, who is yet to turn two, frequently moved around the event hall. The child even went up at the stage to the health minister’s seat and fiddled with a sprinkle packet.
Participants at the launch said his confidence and liveliness was a great example of sprinkles.
“Sprinkles is very beneficial,” Sonam Youden said. “My son is healthier. His growth in height and weight is excellent.”
Sonam said mothers should not waste the opportunity of sprinkles.
UNICEF Representative Dr Will Parks, who was at the launch said they are happy to be part of this important effort that secures the wellbeing of children at a critical age.
“We are here for our children, our hope, our future,” he said, adding the introduction of sprinkles will bring immediate impact on child growth and development by improving the quality of complementary foods.
Dr Will Parks said sprinkles would ensure that the first 1,000 days of a child a “golden 1,000 days.”
The sprinkles programme was launched at Samtse College of Education (SME). Officials from the dzongkhag, local government, WHO, SME, and various government and private sectors also attended the programme launch.
Rajesh Rai | Samtse
In 1994, during the mid-term review of the 7th Plan, a kaja (command) was issued stating that all correspondents, register/muster roll, vehicle registration plates, phone directory, house address and house number, and sign boards should be in Dzongkha, the national language.
After 25 years, the Dzongkha Development Commission is trying to do the same. This time, it will reflect on their performance if it is not implemented.
The Commission has included making it compulsory to issue all government office orders, which includes appointment order, transfer order, relieving order, promotion order and officer orders in Dzongkha from this financial year.
DDC Secretary Tshewang Norbu said that it has become important to promote Dzongkha, as Dzongkha usage has decreased over the years and this is a cause of concern. Once the APA is signed with the Prime Minister, it will become compulsory.
The Secretary said that in 2017, DDC conducted a study focusing on the usage of Dzongkha through correspondents, office orders, notifications and circulars, which revealed that 90 percent of these were written in English and only 10 percent on an average were exchanged in Dzongkha.
Some of the offices did not have single letter written in Dzongkha.
“Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution clearly states that Dzongkha is the national language of Bhutan and after 1971 department of education then had clearly made sure that Dzongkha language should be promoted both in writing and speaking,” the Secretary said. “However, we’re in 2019 today and yet, Dzongkha language usage is still very poor including the implementation.”
Tshewang Norbu said that there are several Kashos (Royal decree) and Kajas issued since 1993 mandating all meetings or official gatherings with the public and correspondences to be conducted in Dzongkha.
“Despite series of Kashos and Kajas issued to speak and write in Dzongkha, not many have followed,” he said. “Many are still comfortable using English to write office orders or other official letters although there are officials that can read and write in Dzongkha.”
Tshewang Norbu said that there is no definite answer on why it had failed to implement or it was never followed and no study was ever conducted.
He said these were some of the reasons why they included that in the indicator, as the DDC cannot enforce or has an Act to force them to write in Dzongkha. All the ministries and agencies’ APA must include one of the success indicators to write office orders in Dzongkha from this year.
“Although we had proposed in the APA to also have circular and notification in Dzongkha, the Government Performance Management Division (GPMD) had removed during the APA presentation,” the Secretary said. “This is just a start, we will slowly extend to other official correspondences.”
The DDC in its 12th Plan has also proposed a plan to survey the status of Dzongkha usage, competency rate and to see how much of the Dzongkha tools that DDC has developed are being used.
“This might help us capture why it was never followed. It is those at executive level, policy makers and decision makers that do not follow most of the time.”
Yangchen C Rinzin
Lack of an independent property valuation authority and limited investment avenues, a huge demand for real estate has been created in the economy, leading to skyrocketing prices of land and buildings, especially in urban centres.
This demand has drawn majority of investment from the public since investors see real estate as a long-term investment, hereditary of a sort. This is an innate Bhutanese trait that places inheritance, as rights.
However, in the banking sector, this special interest in the real estate has put pressure on the trade balance and INR reserve. Some even anticipate a housing bubble.
This concern was raised during the 20th session of Bhutan Dialogues hosted by the United Nations office in Bhutan.
The Deputy Governor of Royal Monetary Authority (RMA), Yangchen Tshogyel, however, said she was not sure whether there is a bubble at all or when it will burst. She said that limited alternatives for investors and the nature of real estate in Bhutan could have fuelled this trend.
“There should be policies to address this issue. Initiatives such as Jabchor and crowd-funding are aimed at providing alternative investment avenues and to diversify investment,” she said.
In the absence of a property valuation authority in the country, she said, banks become the de facto valuation authority, which in turn have their own estimations.
The Deputy Governor also said, there are regulations mandating the loan to equity ratio. For instance, an individual constructing a building should finance 40 percent of the cost as their equity and the bank will finance the remaining 60 percent. However, she said some clients have availed 100 percent of cost as loan and banks have also provided it. “This is happening because of lack of specialised property valuation authority,” she said.
The risk becomes higher when there are short supplies of tenants and owners are not able to generate the required income to repay the loan.
“The central bank has to address the issues by enhancing the capacity expertise and standardising valuation,” Yangchen Tshogyel said.
She also highlighted the economic vulnerability of an import-driven country like Bhutan. The central Bank experienced a difficult time last year because of the election transition period, which created a lapse in implementation of the new Plan. The country, she added witnessed hardly any cash inflow while there was an outflow of INR 300 to INR 500M every day. This trend continued for six to nine months.
“Entrepreneurship and Cottage and Small Industry should serve as a tool for diversification. The focus is on the young population. What we need is not a reform from the government but revolution,” she said.
The Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (BCCI) has formed committees to resolve the legal status of the chamber as the apex body of the private sector.
The BCCI’s legal mandate and legitimacy for operation have come into question after a performance audit report of the chamber published last year stated that BCCI was not recognised under any law.
“We have formed about two to three committees that will work on how to position BCCI as the apex body of the private sector,” the chamber’s Secretary-General Sangay Dorji told Kuensel.
The chamber sees enactment of a law that will define and outline clear legal mandate and legitimacy for its operation as the most appropriate solution to the legality issue. The secretary-general said that discussions were being held on drafting of a Bill.
The BCCI had drafted a Bill for the chamber in 2006 and submitted to the parliament but it could not be turned into a law as the then Speaker did not accept the Bill. The chamber’s effort to push for a BCCI Act failed again in 2012 due to lack of support from the government.
The concept note prepared by the secretary-general in 2012 for BCCI Bill states that the proposed Bill would not only provide a legal basis for the existence of the chamber, but also enhance the participation of the chamber in the country’s economic development.
Sangay Dorji said that the government has agreed to render its support on all the issues, including the one on the chamber’s legal status. However, he said that there should not be issues on the chamber’s legal status, as far as he was concerned.
Labour and Human Resources Minister Ugyen Dorji said the government would support the BCCI on resolving the chamber’s legal status issue as part of its support for the private sector. The government, he said, was working closely with the chamber.
In absence of a proper legal status, the legality of the MoUs signed by BCCI with international and local bodies has been questioned. The BCCI have signed 12 MoUs with international and local partners including SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industries and project agreements.
Suggestions to register BCCI as a civil society organisation (CSO) were also made. But BCCI says that the chamber’s role as an interest-group representing the business sector is different from that of CSOs, whose mandate is social.
The secretary-general said that the chamber works for the interest of the private sector by making policy recommendations to the government since the government cannot take up every issue of the business sector. The BCCI, he said, also needed to be proactive in helping the private sector grow.
The RAA in the performance report stated that it was vital for the apex body of private sector development and representation to have a legal basis. “Legally, BCCI is in a state of quandary and existence of BCCI is not recognised under any law,” stated the audit report, which covered the period from January 2013 to December 2017.
The chamber in 1996 ratified the BCCI Charter and currently its operations are governed by it.
The BCCI in its 26th Annual General Meeting (AGM) held on October 31, 2011 had also discussed the need for a legal basis. Uncertainty over its legal status has become an issue at the following AGMs since.
BCCI members at the 32nd AGM held last week in Thimphu also expressed concerns on the questions being raised on its legal status. Officials from the chamber assured them that the issue would be resolved.
BCCI was supposedly formed in 1980 and remained without operation until 1988.
As part of the ‘study in Canada scholarships’ programme, the government of Canada has announced new scholarships for students from Bhutan and 17 other countries, according to a press release from Canadian embassy.
Through the programme starting in the 2020/2021 academic year, scholarship recipients will receive Nu 3,256,029 a year to study post-secondary programmes of up to two years.
The press release stated that scholarship recipients will be able to pursue fully funded studies leading to a diploma, post-secondary or post-graduate certificate, or Master’s degree at a college, technical or vocational institute, or university in Canada.
Canada’s Ambassador to Bhutan Nadir Patel said Canada is proud to welcome students from Bhutan at institutions of higher learning across the country. “We value the people-to-people ties, institutional linkages and bilateral cooperation developed through student mobility. I encourage students from Bhutan to apply for these scholarships to pursue the educational program of their choice in Canada.”
According to the press release, scholarship recipients will have an opportunity to access high-quality programmes across Canada, including hands-on, competency-based learning.
“Scholarship recipients will also experience numerous other benefits Canada has to offer including outstanding quality of life, safe and vibrant multicultural communities, beautiful outdoor spaces and nature, and access to first-class healthcare,” it stated.
Canada and Bhutan’s history of co-operation in the education sector dates back to 1963, when Canadian priest Father William Mackey travelled to Bhutan at the request of the Bhutanese government to establish a secondary school system for the country.
“Since then, the two countries have worked together on many successful education initiatives including partnerships between Canadian and Bhutanese universities, student exchanges, training and conferences,” the press release stated.
Students can access information on study and research in Canada at EduCanada or EduCanada official Facebook page, which also offers a three step search tool for postsecondary programmes, visa and study permit information, and study cost estimations.
Students can also consult the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials which maintains a Directory of Universities, Colleges and Schools in the Provinces and Territories of Canada.
Of the many new challenges facing our rapidly changing society today, unemployment is perhaps the biggest.
And while we continue to make a poor hand at addressing the problem, the situation is fast descending into the darkest depths.
Because we are a country with one of the youngest populations—going by some well-placed reports, over 60 percent of Bhutan’s population is below the age of 25—there could be a sustained increase in unemployment among youth.
Currently, Bhutan’s youth unemployment rate stands at staggering 15.7 percent, or close to 5,000 persons between the ages of 15 to 24 years. And in the 12th Plan period, more than 60,000 jobseekers are expected to enter the labour market.
Putting ourselves merely on our guard, as we seem to have been doing all along, is now obviously not enough. The situation, which is aggravating by the day, demands that we find it in our heart to take some urgent actions.
The sooner we bring ourselves to it, the better.
But where must we look to for solutions? The civil service, which used to be the biggest employer in the country, has begun shrinking rapidly. Its focus today has shifted from numbers to efficiency. With good reason.
On the other hand, the private sector, often mooted as the engine of growth, has not seen the kind of growth to equal to the rising demand for employment opportunities. Without pragmatic solutions and right interventions, calling on the private sector to create more jobs makes little sense.
Startups are growing and must be encouraged, but that will take more than merely giving them occasional platforms. Incentivisation with subsidies will be required and should be provided. These happening, employment creation will grow and expand; although slowly in the beginning, the growth will pick pace.
Agriculture is the sector with the greatest potential to generate employment opportunities. However, the sector is today the smallest contributor to the economy because investment in the sector has been decreasing over the years. Even as agriculture is one of the biggest sectors, it is the smallest employer in the country today.
That the private sector must drive the economic growth of the country cannot be denied. For the economic growth to happen, however, the private sector growth must first find a firm footing.
A turn-around is possible but we must bring it to bear; misplaced priorities can be costly.
Focusing on prevention, a team of health officials carried out health awareness and screening camp for the hard-to-reach population in Soe and Lingzhi in Thimphu starting last week.
Since the first day of the screening at Soe on September 6, a total of 266 people including students were screened in Soe and Lingzhi. About 79 people, a majority of the population availed the health services in Chebisa in Lingzhi on the last day of the screening on September 10.
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