Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party chooses former ACC chairperson Dasho Neten Zangmo as the party President
Relics on the way to the Lingkana Palace: Traditionally, His Majesty The King receives the Central Monk Body at the Lingkana Palace when the entourage returns to Tashichhodzong from their winter residence
The High Court’s (HC) bench I overruled a Thimphu district court verdict involving a man from Tongzhang in Trashiyangtse, who was convicted by the lower court for possessing controlled substances in custody.
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) appealed to the HC after the Thimphu district court’s bench five passed a concurrent five years in prison judgment for Jigme, who was found guilty of possessing 72 capsules of Spasmoproxyvon (SP) in the prison.
Thimphu district court’s bench three issued concurrent judgement after Jigme was convicted to five years and six months in prison.
The OAG appealed to the HC seeking clarification whether the sentence should be imposed concurrently or consecutively although the verdict states that it is concurrent sentencing.
OAG officials explained that they appealed because they were not sure how the sentence would be served because one verdict was for five years and six months and the other was for five years.
Police forwarded Jigme’s case to the OAG, claiming that on September 12 last year, Jigme was taken to Thimphu district court for a hearing on SP+ case.
Police, in their charges, claimed that police constables on duty found 72 pieces of Spasmoprovon (SP) and a packet of chewing tobacco from Jigme’s jacket and trousers on September 12 after he was brought back to custody from the court.
OAG then charged Jigme for illicit transaction of controlled substances.
The HC reasoned that the verdict was reversed because Jigme was in custody when he was charged for possessing 72 capsules of SP and he was already being prosecuted for the illicit transaction of 72 capsules of SP+ when the alleged crime was committed.
“There was no possibility Jigme could possess 72 capsules of SP when he was in custody unless he colluded with police,” the verdict stated. “He was under police supervision day and night.”
The verdict also stated that if Jigme possessed the controlled substance with the help of police, there was no investigation report and charges drawn. It also stated that although Jigme met his wife in the court premises that day, the wife gave a verbal statement that she did not give the controlled substance to him. “The police on duty, who escorted Jigme to court, also gave a verbal statement that although Jigme met his wife because she was waiting in the court premises that day, they only met for a short duration in front of him.”
The HC stated that since the prosecutor could not prove how the 72 capsules of SP and a packet of chewing tobacco was in Jigme’s jacket and trousers, the court could not uphold the lower court’s judgment. “There is the possibility of entrapment and miscarriage of justice if he is convicted.”
It was learnt that Jigme submitted before the lower court that he found the 72 capsules of SP and the packet of chewing tobacco from the police van and that he had intended to report it to police.
That Jigme had concealed the controlled substances in his undergarment and jacket clearly shows that he intended to illicitly transact the substances, the lower court judgment stated.
The HC stated that for a fair trial of the defendant, the evidence must corroborate with each other and the court should be convinced beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. “The court gives the benefit of doubt to Jigme,” the verdict stated.
While the acquittal or the concurrent judgment does not make any difference to Jigme since he will have to serve his five years and six months imprisonment irrespective of the acquittal or concurrent judgment, it raises questions as to how a person in custody could possess the controlled substance.
Sources who are following the case closely say it establishes the word that has been going around about controlled substances being available in prisons. “This is probably one of the ways the controlled substances are supplied inside the prisons,” an official said.
The former chairperson of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Dasho Neten Zangmo officially registered as a member of the Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) yesterday at Dewathang, Samdrupjongkhar.
She will contest from Dewathang-Gomdar constituency. In a press conference held after the registration ceremony, BKP president, Sonam Tobgay said he has been requesting Dasho Neten Zangmo to join BKP for the last seven years because the party believes she could be a potential leader in the country.
“Dasho may have joined any other political parties but she believes the values, commitments and convictions of BKP,” Sonam Tobgay said. “We are lucky to have a humble and potential person as a member and we welcome Dasho to BKP.”
A press release from the party stated that with democracy as a pressing concern, Dasho Neten Zangmo makes Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party her choice united by common reason to further the cause of every Bhutanese citizen and offer to serve the Bhutanese people as their elected representative without fear or favor, and in the long-term interest of the country, culture, dharma, economy, institutions and the people.
Dasho Neten Zangmo said it is fortunate to have held her registration ceremony under the mango tree her late father had planted. She said she has worked in villages for about one and half years after her retirement from public service and realised that if one wants to make a difference, one has to be somewhere.
“But more importantly, the reason why I have joined politics is to change people’s mindset. Right now, politicians are looked as thugs, as somebody who cannot be trusted,” she said. “A small country like ours, if we don’t trust our own people, who do we trust? I think that has to change.”
She also said that people today are fearful and becoming disunited and distrustful of each other. This is another reason for her to join politics, she said. “With that kind of attitude and mentality, somehow, we cannot work as a united nation and we need to build trust among the people on politicians so that there is space for them to voice their feelings without fear,” she said.
BKP is not about five years, but about long-term values and thinking. “I am one person who never compromises on principles and I saw BKP’s principles match mine,” Dasho Neten Zangmo said. “Now is the time to see whether politics really pitches or can be conducted without compromising your principles. With that, I have decided to join BKP and I hope I made a right decision.”
In an earlier interview with Kuensel, Dasho Neten Zangmo had said that she had doubts about joining politics, but just in case she does, she says she will join the right group that has a conviction for people’s needs. “I won’t mind even if I lose the election but I want to set certain standards and tell people and politicians that politics can be good,” she says. “If wining is the motive, a politician may stoop to all sorts of strategies … You see, even if I win by fair means, I am sure people would still say, so joining SJI was a strategy to join politics and win votes.”
BKP’s in a press release stated that inspired by His Majesty’s emphasis on democracy as an important national objective, Dasho Neten Zangmo has taken on herself to champion broad-based and regionally balanced economic development and growth, reinforcing social development through equal opportunities to avoid exclusion and overcome socially divisive disparities while respecting diversity as part of the enabling environment for socio-economic development.
“We champion equitable and sustainable socio-economic development to ensure the physical and mental well being, and are fully committed to eradicating poverty and minimising material deprivation within the next ten years and job creation as an important task that sits high on our priority list, especially for the youth,” the press release stated.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay welcomed Dasho Neten Zangmo for joining the politics. Her decision represents the commitment to the public service.
Dasho was an educationist during her days in Royal Bhutan Polytechnic and Royal Technical Institute in Kharbandi. She last served as the Chairperson to the Anti-Corruption Commission and was recently with the Samdrupjongkhar Initiative (SJI), a civil society organisation.
Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
It’s been more than two weeks since the last stock of rice and other essential items was delivered to the Sanam Tshongkhang, the Food Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (FCBL) outlet in Sakteng, Trashigang. As of yesterday, only three bags of rice (25kg each) remained.
This was the stock that was brought in some two days before the Prime Minister visited the gewog on May 6. Of the 75 bags of rice brought in, 27 bags were sold to the community after they drew lots.
The shortage of goods at Sanam Tshongkhang is because of the on-going excavation works at the road that leads to the gewog. A horse trail that lies just below the road remains closed because of falling boulders and loose soil in the area. The trail has remained blocked since May
It is only during Sundays when the machines are idle that people travel with their animals clearing their own ways. This however, was expected when officials from the Department of Roads (DoR) cautioned the community before the excavation works began.
Executive engineer with DoR’s Rangjung Subdivision, Karma Tshewang, said that initially there was another area for alignment they had identified for excavation works, which may not have caused severe blocks along the horse trail. “But it was the decision of the community to start the excavation works in the area that runs parallel to the trail.”
This was done because an alternative route existed where both men and animals (horses and cattle) could trek to reach Thrakthi, the nearest road point to the gewog.
Sakteng mangmi, Lhendup said that because the alternative route took almost double of what people take from the horse trail, most opt not to use the route. “There shouldn’t be much problem with the current blocks because we have an alternative route. But people don’t use it because it takes more time.” It takes about four hours from Thrakthi to reach Sakteng along with animals. The alternative route takes at least eight to nine hours.
Meanwhile, as the stock at Sanam Tshongkhang runs out, prices of commodities at the nearby shops escalate. The price of rice bag increases by more than Nu 50.
Community centre operator at Sakteng, Chogyal Norbu, said that since the opening of Sanam Tshongkhang on February 5, most people have stopped stocking up rations especially rice at homes. Following the recent limited stock at Sanam Tshongkhang, residents are seen buying essentials from nearby shops.
FCBL officials in Samdrupjongkhar said that because of the roadblock, there is a shortage of stock at their outlet in Sakteng. One of the officials said they will be supplying the stock as and when they receive requisition from the sales executives of Sanam Tshongkhang.
Since the opening of the outlet, a total of 23,275kgs of rice (931 bags of 25kg each) has been delivered to Sakteng according to FCBL.
Younten Tshedup | Trashigang
DGPC and BT reported a record high profit in 2016
Taxes and dividends from Druk Holding and Investments (DHI) and its subsidiaries contributed more than 30 percent to the total domestic revenue of in the last fiscal year.
In addition to the Nu 5.97B paid in income tax, DHI and its group has remitted a dividend of Nu 3.78B to the finance ministry in 2016. A growth of 14 percent was realised in income tax payment compared to 2015.
At the DHI annual press conference yesterday, chief executive officer, Dasho Karma Yezer Raydi said that due to the solid financial performance of the companies, the net worth of the DHI and DHI owned companies combined has grown from Nu 76B to Nu 79B between 2015 and 2016. DHI and its companies earned a consolidated profit after tax of Nu 6.66B.
While consolidated income of the DHI group increased to Nu 43.38B, up by more than Nu 4B, expenditure also rose by Nu 2B. Dasho Karma Yezer Raydi attributed the increased income to realisation of more revenue from the energy sectors.
He also said that DHI and finance ministry agreed on a revised dividend payment modality last year, moving away from the earlier deal on a fixed sum to percentage of consolidated profit (63 percent). As a result, DHI will settle Nu 4.038B as dividend for the fiscal year 2017 in June this year.
“DHI does not create any revenue by itself, so its revenue is the dividend it receives from DHI linked, controlled and owned companies,” Dasho Karma Yezer Raydi said.
Financial statement of standalone DHI reveals a profit after tax of Nu 5.08B. This is attributed to the increased dividend from the Bhutan Power Corporation.
The Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC), with a net worth of more than Nu 55B has recorded the highest generation of power and revenue in the history of hydropower. It earned a profit before tax of Nu 7.9B and paid Nu 2.399B in tax last year.
CEO Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said the late rainfall last autumn contributed to an additional three percent to power generation. It has remitted 90 percent of its profit after tax to DHI.
He said that heavy investment is being pumped into maintaining the old plants that have crossed 30 years and in solving teething problems.
The Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) made a post tax profit of Nu 1.54B. While the company’s revenue from electricity grew by 4.6 percent to Nu 4.79B last year, it could not match the revenue growth of 14 percent it had made the previous year.
CEO Gem Tshering said the constant tariff during the period resulted in the decreased growth of revenue from electricity.
Having achieved electricity coverage of 99.5 percent, inaccessible worksites and difficulty in transportation has left out Lunana in Gasa Lingzhi in Thimphu and Jigmecholing in Sarpang from the on-grid electricity. Lunana comprise 0.13 percent of the un-electrified consumers.
Gem Tshering said that Korea initially agreed to finance grid connectivity to Lunana. However due to some internal glitch in Korea, it had to suspend all external fundings. He said that BPC is also exploring solar battery system to electrify Lunana.
With reduction in operation expenditure by 10 percent and 13 percent increase in revenue, Bhutan Telecom declared a record high profit after tax of Nu 868M last year.
Officiating CEO Karma Tshewang said that since mobile networks generate the most revenue, a lot of efforts and resources were put in improving mobile network. “Major expansion activities were carried out in 2016,” he said.
For instance the capacity of mobile network components such as core network and radio network were enhanced to decongest cellular traffic. Despite the many upgrades, he said that BT acknowledges that congestion in 3G services could not be eliminated completely. “But it was reduced by a large extent.”
He said 4G services would further reduce the congestion as it results in increased data handling capacity from 21mbps per tower to 200mbps. But BT, he said has also been bearing huge losses for delivering public service. For example, monthly revenue from Lunana is about Nu 40,000 while the cost of hiring chopper for maintenance and transportation is more than Nu 200M.
Drukair came out of the red after two years, making a profit of Nu 99M. This was possible because the airline was able to control its expenditure while increasing the flight frequency. It was able to retain 69 percent of the market share.
In preparation for hydropower works that required huge capital, the Construction Development Corporation Ltd (CDCL) suffered a loss of Nu 28M.
Despite a 31 percent increase in revenue and around Nu 3.38B in earnings, it is yet another year of loss for Dungsam Cement. The expenditure shot from Nu 3.6B in 2015 to Nu 4.14B last year. However, the company reduced its loss from Nu 737M to Nu 537M.
CEO Dorji Norbu said that price of raw materials rose and that there has been lot of breakdowns at the factory. The spare parts, he said are not easily available while strikes and issues raised by the truckers disrupted supply.
However, he said the market is increasing. Sales increased by 29 percent and production of both cement and clinker increased. About 30-40 percent of the supplies are made to hydropower projects. The company also earns 50 percent of the revenue in INR. State Mining Corporation also suffered a loss of almost Nu 4M.
There are 20 companies under DHI umbrella, which are either partially or fully owned.
The High Court’s (HC) bench one upheld four lower court judgments involving five people and increased sentences for two others for the illicit transaction of Spasmoproxyvon Plus (SP+).
A few months ago, when the courts were not able to decide and asked for intervention from the Supreme Court, we asked how hard is it really to determine that SP+ is among the controlled substances?
OAG officials have been prosecuting those in illegal possession of SP+ since 2015. We have wasted more than enough time trying to establish where SP+ must belong. In 2016 alone, the office has prosecuted more than 390 cases involving controlled drugs. Now that the judgement has been passed, it should give teeth to our laws. Often, we face problems with implementation.
The main content of Spasmo Proxyvon (SP) is dextropropoxyphene and tramadol of SP+. But both contents have the same effect on users. SP is listed among controlled substances. We argued, therefore, that SP+ has to be among the controlled substances.
DRA and BNCA have made it clear that SP+ has narcotic contents, one of them being opium, which is addictive. SP+ is a psychotropic drug. Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substances Abuse Act of Bhutan 2015 may not have included SP+ as controlled substance, but that doesn’t give us reason enough to not consider it less harmful.
What we must understand is that manufacturers have just given a different name to bypass the law. SP is SP+. Our laws require updating if we cannot have mechanisms to control such fabrications from entering our society.
What this issue brought to the fore is that our very agencies mandated with dealing with issues of controlled substance are weak. We need to bolster their power. It is upon the government of the day to make it happen. Do we have a clear plan? It is high time we had one.
Drug abuse cases are rising in the country. What leads our young people to such habits is not very difficult to understand. We have the most sensible visions; but visions on their own can do little. We need to help ourselves.
Drug abuse is a problem today because of problems we have in other sectors. How holistically are we looking at our development? This societal illness needs to be dealt with carefully, systematically, and urgently.
The courts have treated SP+ no different from SP. This is important to curb illegal use of the drug. We need such courage from public offices.
The Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) will be able to send supplies to their outlet in Sakteng, Sanam Tshongkhang only when the farm road opens to traffic.
The ongoing works on the road has stalled FCBL from being able to deliver rice to their outlet in Sakteng.
Earlier, the FCBL managed to send supplies through mule tracks but this time, even this route is inaccessible, FCBL chief executive officer (CEO) Karma Nidup said.
“The road connecting Sakteng is completely cut-off,” the CEO said. “We will restock as soon as possible when the road opens.”
The CEO also explained that their office was doing whatever it took to reach supplies to the shop at the earliest. However, the recent shortage at Sakteng, he explained was also partly a result of people panicking when the road was blocked.
With the roadblock, people started rushing to the farm shop to buy their stock. The huge rush made the shop sell rice on a first-come-first basis. However, a brawl broke out among the residents when the stock at the shop decreased.
“Our farm manager had to involve police, following which the lucky draw system was initiated,” Karma Nidup said. “Sakteng villagers were asked to draw lots.”
Those who won the lucky draws were allowed to buy a bag of rice, each weighing 25 kgs. Those who lost had to buy rice in kilograms.
Although people may not be facing shortage in their homes, they would have wanted to stock fearing the block, the CEO said. Another reason is that rice is cheaper at the FCB shop compared to other local shops.
Meanwhile, prior to the Prime Minister’s recent visit to Sakteng, FCBL had dispensed a stock of 75 bags (1,875kg) of rice, which has now exhausted to three bags. That was the last stock the corporation was able to drop.
Sakteng farm shop was opened in February this year. FCB has supplied a total of 23,275kg rice to date.
Under the government’s initiative, FCBL has opened 119 farm shops across the country. Each farm shop would have a stock worth Nu 300,000 at any point in time given the accessibility, FCBL CEO Karma Nidup said.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Responding to the question from the representative from South Thimphu, Works and Human Settlement minister Dorji Choden said that the establishment of thromde in remaining dzongkhags depends on elections.
“I have gone around and met people in dzongkhags as well as in the gewogs and talked with them, and they are not confused,” Lyonpo said. “Maybe it’s the law makers who are confusing people with different interpretation on the Supreme Court’s writ.”
MP Yeshey Zimba said that writ of mandamus was issued, which mentioned that establishment of the twenty dzongkhag and yenlag thromdes were unconstitutional.
He said that this has confused and worried the people if they would be deprived of the facilities and if the promised thromde would ever be established in the dzongkhags.
“It’s almost a year after the writ was issued. So, we do not know if the dzongkhag and yenlag thromde will come through.
Yeshey Zimba asked if the minister could inform what are the plans, alternatives and solutions that are being put in place to establish thromdes lawfully.
The ECB was issued the writ after coming across several legal and administrative and related issues. The writ was issued just when the remaining dzongkhags were preparing to hold thromde elections.
Lyonpo Dorji Choden said that while government agrees that there were several discussions on the issue, if people are worried, this means they are concerned and indicates how important the thromde is for them. She added that the government’s responsibility is to finalise and declare the boundary of each thromde.
“All the works done by the government were lawfully implemented before the Parliament declared the thromdes,” Lyonpo said, adding that the writ had only asked to revisit the relevant laws that conflicted with the provisions of the constitution.
Lyonpo said the Article 22 (2) of the Constitution states that “Bhutan shall have local governments in each of the twenty dzongkhags comprising the dzongkhag thsogdu, gewog tshogde and thromde tshogde,” which is why the government had put up to parliament for the need of thromdes establishment.
“Everybody in the house supported the discussion then and the thromdes were declared, which is why it is not unconstitutional,” Lyonpo said. “The writ mentioned that to fulfill the Constitutional mandate, the election should be held through mass participation and required size of population in the constituencies.”
Lyonpo added that to institute a thromde tshogde as per the Local Government (LG) Act, the thromde shall consist of not less than seven and not more than 10 elected members.
The delimitation should consider the number of registered voters and size of demkhong.
“These were some of the issues that was mentioned in the writ, which conflicted with the LG Act. The establishment of thromdes would be deferred until a legal expert is formed,” said Lyonpo Dorji Choden.
Yangchen C Rinzin
Two men, aged 27, died and another 27-year-old man was injured when a Maruti 800 they were travelling in veered off the road yesterday at Pekharzhing in Phuentsholing.
The three men were working in Pasakha industrial estate.
Although the accident occurred between 1am to 2am, it was discovered only around 7am yesterday when the lone survivor had crawled to the roadside. The car veered off about 40ms below the road.
Some employees heading towards office at the industrial estate noticed the survivor and informed the police.
Police sources said both the deceased sustained severe cut injuries on their head. Bodies of deceased were pulled out from bushes below the road.
Police said that over speeding and drink drive must have caused the accident.
Although in stable condition, the survivor has sustained injuries with a broken spinal cord.
While micro-financial institutions are key in catering to the financial needs of low-income populace, in Bhutan’s context the cost of fund could lead to issues that could result in even higher interest rates.
From the experience of other countries shared during the second day of international summit on financial inclusion yesterday, the cost of financing increased with sparseness of the population density.
Micro-financial institutions usually borrow from the bigger commercial banks and finance the needs of the unreached populace to help income generation. In the process, to cover the financial and operational cost, the interest rate is often high. Subsidies, and incentives help keep the interest low. The cost is generally low if the population density is high.
While the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) has recently come up with rules and regulations on deposit-taking micro-finance institutions and regulations on microloan institutions, the country has other non-government organistions (NGO) functioning as micro-finance institutions.
But, with the new rules and regulations, NGOs functioning as micro-finance institutions must be registered with the central bank and comply by the rules.
The story of Bandhan Bank in India is an example of how an NGO evolved from non-banking financial institution to deposit-taking micro financial institution and it now became a commercial bank that caters to low-income populace.
The chief executive officer of Bandhan Bank, Chandra Shekar Ghosh, said that people in the low-income group bear their emergency financial needs from the business capital financed by the institutions.
For instance, education of their child and health expenditure become an issue later when the borrowers cannot pay back the loan. But since the Bank introduced education and health loan with no interest, social needs are taken care of and the non-performing loans declined by manifolds.
Given the population density in Bhutan, Chandra Shekar Ghosh said that the cost would be on a higher side and comparison should not be made with other countries as long as the commercial banks support the micro financial institutions with viable model.
He added that a good supervision and monitoring framework would support the sustainability of micro financial institutions. “For a micro-financial institution, it is advisable to have one or two simple products covering maximum clients, because multiple products not only confuse the clients but also the employees.”
The chairperson of Sanasa Development Bank of Sri Lanka, Muditha Samadanie Kiriwandeniya, said: “The proliferation of micro-financial institutions has created a myth that micro-financing alone can eradicate poverty.”
She said that it is nice to make people happy but it will not make a community grow and compete in the global market when everyone wants to be an entrepreneur.
She added that it is imperative to get the package right from the beginning and that before looking at the external model it is important to look at the country’s own model. She indicated that the country should be mindful of which industries to promote and to think comprehensively rather than looking at the segmented piece and making people happy.
Sharing Nepal’s perspective, Prakash Raj Sharma, the CEO of Laxmi Laghubitta Bittiya Sanstha Ltd, said that Bhutan should learn from Nepal’s micro-financial institutions because the geography and population density is comparable. Micro-financial institutions, he said, are more concerned about their sustainability even before the operation, and land up charging higher interest rates.
To keep the cost low, he said that digitisation provides alternative delivery channel.
RENEW, started micro-financing in 2011 in partnership with Savings Banks Foundation for International Cooperation, Germany. The project director of RENEW-Microfinance, Bernd Baehr, said their services started where the Bhutan Development Bank’s services stopped.
He said that micro-finance in Bhutan cannot be profitable unless the infrastructure and technology keep up with the pace of development. The field officers, for instance, have to drive six hours on difficult road to reach the clients, resulting in loss of productive time and increased cost.
Bhutan Association of Women Entrepreneurs (BAOWE), another newly registered micro-financial institute, is also aiming to keep its cost low. The organisation already has a scheme to provide financing to street vendors and farmers catering to unbanked citizens.
Although a registered micro-finance institution, BAOWE is still not operational as it is awaiting its proposal to be approved by the largest bank in the country. Damchae Dem, the founder of BAOWE, said that most of the ground works are done by the government.
Panellists from abroad said that many people not included in the formal financial system are construed as not creditworthy. But experiences of successful micro-finance institutions reveal that these sections of the society have the least instance of loan default.
Trust and mentoring, some panellists said, is crucial because no businessman will start a business with the intention to make loss.
Thousands of devotees paid ther last respect to the late Khenpo Karpo, whose purjang (cremation) ceremony was conducted by His Eminance Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche at Takila, Lhuentse, in front of the tallest Guru Statue yesterday. Khenpo Karpo, 82, who passed away on January 18 in Thailand built the giant bronze statue of Guru Nangsey Zilneon in Tangmachu.
Pay revision for LG leaders and fiscal incentives will also be endorsed
The National Assembly will endorse the annual budget 2017-18 today with deliberations on it concluding yesterday.
Along with it, Fiscal Incentives 2016 and the proposed pay hike for local government members will also be endorsed. They will be forwarded to the National Council for deliberation.
The third pay commission has proposed a 40 percent increase in the basic salaries of local leaders. A hike in their daily substance allowance and siting fees has also been proposed.
However, after the finance committee raised the issue, the Assembly decided that thrompons would lose their house rent allowance from the new financial year.
Thrompons, whose basic salary starts from Nu 45,785, today enjoy 20 percent of their basic salary as house rent allowance.
The finance committee found that local leaders including thrompons are not entitled to a house rent allowance as per the Local Government Members’ Entitlement Act, 2015.
Some MPs said it was also important to revise the civil servants’ salaries if local leaders’ salaries are to be increased. Finance Minister Namgay Dorji, however, said that the country did not have enough revenue to give civil servants a salary hike.
“The decision to increase local leaders’ salaries was made after a careful study of the country’s economic situation,” the finance minister said.
The house also deliberated on the proposed stabilisation fund of Nu100 million to maintain stability of the economy. Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD), however, said there was no legal basis to set up a stabalisation fund and that doing so could set a wrong precedent.
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay responded saying that establishment of the fund would help a developing economy like Bhutan address its challenges. “The Health Trust Fund has benefited the country and the stabalisation fund will help Bhutan in the same way,” he said.
The house also deliberated on the country’s external debt situation. Opposition MPs argued that the country’s external debt has grown since the government took office in 2013.
According to International Monetary Fund, the country’s debt increased from 93.64 percent of GDP in 2013 to 112.87 percent of GDP in 2017. In absolute terms, the total outstanding debt as of June 2016 was Nu160.562 billion (B). Of this total debt, Nu 155.9B was external debt.
Education Minister Norbu Wangchuk said non-hydro debt has actually decreased for the first time in Bhutan’s history and that it was important to treat hydro and non-hydro debts differently. Non-hydro debt, according to the budget report is only 23 percent of GDP.
The house resolved that the Fiscal Incentives 2016 would come into effect from May 8 2017. Fiscal incentives include tax holidays, income tax exemptions, exemptions on tax deducted at source and tax rebates.
The total proposed budget for the financial year is Nu 60.77B.
The Members of the European Parliament (MEP) delegation launched a Euro 2.5 million (M) European Union Programme to support civil society in Bhutan yesterday in Thimphu.
To be implemented by Helvetas, the project aims at improving the environment and operational capacity for civil society engagement in sustainable development and good governance by promoting an inclusive approach to strengthen civil society actors.
This project, according to Ambassador of European Union (EU) to Bhutan, Tomasz Kozlowski, who was also a part of the European Parliament delegation, is one of the first components under the three major agreements that the EU and Bhutan signed this year to honour the implementation of the Multi-annual Indicative Programme (MIP) 2014-2020.
Through the MIP, the EU assists Bhutan in its goal of achieving self-reliance and inclusive socio-economic development as identified in its 11th Five-Year Plan.
“We are supporting civil society and community based organisations because we think it is an important element of any democratic society,” Ambassador Kozlowski said. The project, which will cover all 20 dzongkhags is expected to benefit about 15,000 people, including poor and vulnerable group at the grassroots.
The other component is capacity development for local governments and fiscal decentralisation. “One of the objectives of your government is decentralisation of financial management and the empowerment of local governments,” the EU Ambassador told Kuensel. “That’s why we provided some financial resources to the government to promote fiscal decentralisation, capacity building for civil society and public finance management.”
The EU is also supporting sustainable agriculture and forestry. The ambassador said they provide resources for food security, employment capacities and climate related issues. “We provide some support for trade related issues to help Bhutan increase or boost its export capacities and help Bhutan in marketing its products abroad,” he said.
Including the new planned trade project for Euro 4M, the EU’s total support to Bhutan stands at Euro 48M.
Until 2014, the EU provided some assistance to Bhutan through specific projects in agriculture and education. “But we came into conclusion that the Bhutanese government has developed its own capacities, its own plans for social and economic development, we changed our approach and now we provide assistance directly to the government budget,” ambassador Tomasz Kozlowski said.
He said they are convinced that Bhutan has capacities and a strong political will to utilise their assistance in a proper way. “Our intentions concerning development cooperation and Bhutanese government’s plans coincide,” he said.
Ambassador Tomasz Kozlowski however said that their relationship with Bhutan is not limited to development cooperation. He said that Bhutan is a respected country with its own foreign policy and have a lot of similarities between the EU and Bhutan in certain fields like promotion of human rights and climate related issues.
Bhutan signed the Paris Agreement, which the Parliament recently ratified. At the end of 2015, the ambassador said that an agreement between EU and Bhutan for cooperation on issues related to climate change was signed. “Bhutan is successful in developing its policy of climate change and preservation of environment. That’s why Bhutan is a very good partner for us in such fields,” he said.
In 2014, Bhutan decided to contribute military officers to the UN peacekeeping operations. “This is again an issue on which we can cooperate, are cooperating and will continue to cooperate,” the ambassador said. “It means that in the international organisations and in the international arena, EU and Bhutan have very similar views on certain issues, that’s why we are cooperating. I would say we respect Bhutan’s support.”
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said the EU and Bhutan have enjoyed friendly relations since its establishment of diplomatic relations some 37 years ago. “Our relations have only grown from strength to strength because of the EU support. We have been able to establish democracy and that too at the grassroots level. Our local government is as vibrant as ever and effective,” Lyonchhen said during the reception hosted to celebrate “Europe Day” on May 24.
“But all other important trappings of democracy are growing in Bhutan. Be it with decentralisation or checks and balances between the three arms of the government or check and balances offered by the Constitutional bodies or indeed the vibrant media,” he said. “In all these, EU has played a part and I would like thank you for it.”
While in Bhutan from May 23 to 26, the delegation for relations with the countries of South Asia participated in the 6th inter-parliamentary dialogue with the National Assembly. Delegation leader Jean Lambert said the visit has helped deepen the MEPs’ knowledge of the country, including political and social developments, assess and exchange views on cooperation between Bhutan and the EU and the impact of EU support to Bhutan.
Gongpong is a quiet plateau. It is small. Not many people live here.
Gongpong is about eight kilometres from Zhemgang town towards Tingtibi.
Houses here are all single-storeyed. But the houses are used only during the rituals at the Duetul Namgaygang choeten. Otherwise, the houses remain locked. In a hut behind these houses, deep in the forest, lives a couple. It is perfectly silent.
Sonam Tenzin, 75, from Zurphai and Pema Tshedon, 70, from Panbang, sit in front of their hut, thrashing paddy in a metal mortar and pestle that was meant to make offerings. Their walking sticks lie nearby as they sit down to do something.
Sonam Tenzin served as monk with Zhemgang Dratshang for nine years. He keeps reciting prayers today with his wife.
Pema Tshedon wears glasses. Sonam Tenzin has a problem with his leg.
The old couple does not have children and it was the reason why they resorted to come and live here. They recite mani and circumambulate the choeten.
The couple said they owned cattle and land but they had to give up since they could not attend to them. They also could not work in the field. One of their relatives helped them settle here in the small hut.
Sonam Tenzin said they were living in a small hut until dzongkhag administration, along with other offices in the dzongkhag, constructed the hut for them recently.
“We are thankful for the help,” Sonam Tenzin said. The couple can cook using electric appliances.
Sonam Tenzin goes to his pocket book to check the date. The couple has been living here since 2008.
“My wife has some relatives, but they can’t help us since they have to make their on living,” said Sonam Tenzin.
Pema Tshedon said that they have enough vegetables at this time of the year. The couple has a small vegetable garden right in front of the hut.
The hut has three small rooms.
The couple survives on the Nu 1,500 that the Choethuen Tshogpa gives Pema Tshedon every month.
Nima Wangdi | Zhemgang
Residents in Dumtey, Samtse are not happy with the gewog connectivity (GC) road condition, which because of poor maintenance has now turned muddy due to rain, making it difficult for vehicles to drive through.
A resident, Kush Bahadur Subba, who frequently travels between Samtse and Dumtey in his Bolero pickup, said the road is not in good condition.
“For the last two years, there has been minimal maintenance,” he said.
He also said that four-wheel drive vehicles could ply the Dumtey GC road. Department of Roads (DoR) workers were at the site last winter but they have left, he said.
Another resident who owns a bolero in Dumtey, Chitraman Rai said that some portions of roads have worsened due to soil eroding. It is muddy and difficult to drive, he said.
Dumtey gup Damber Singh Rai said people are travelling with difficulty.
“There is no management system for this GC road,” he said, adding that having a drain in some areas would be helpful to drain the rainwater that runs over the road.
The DoR maintains the GC road. Dumtey gewog office has also written to the department asking for their support in improving the road’s condition.
DoR, the gup said has informed them of not having the budget. “But roads should be maintained at least in those areas where the conditions are worse,” the gup said.
DoR’s executive engineer for Phuentsholing region EN Chhetri said that the roads department had taken over GC roads in 2015. Prior to this—GC roads were constructed and monitored by dzongkhag offices.
“Drain works and base course works for two kilometers (km) of stretch is ready,” EN Chhetri said.
However, he also said that the alignment of the road was not properly done. Due to this, the DoR had proposed about four km road stretch for realignment.
Dumtey GC road is 27.4km from Dorokha. It takes more than three hours to drive to Dumtey.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
The national football team is practicing everyday for the upcoming AFC Asian Cup 2019 play-off qualifiers with the Maldives, which will be played next month at the Changlingmithang stadium.
Bhutan will play the Maldives on June 13 in its second match of the qualifiers.
Bhutan lost to the Maldives in all past matches. In December 2015, the Maldivians defeated the national team by 3-1 in the second game of the SAFF Suzuki Cup at the Trivandrum International stadium in Kerala, India. On March 30, 2016, the Dragon boys were 10 minutes short of registering its first win in the second round of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Maldives at the national stadium in Male.
However, with the new coach from Germany, Torsten Spittler leading the national team into the second game, Bhutan expects a win because of the advantage of home ground, the number of spectators turning up to cheer the team, and the adapted climate condition.
“It is a must-win match for Bhutan for we have lost all matches earlier against the Maldives,” Bhutan Football Federation’s spokesperson, Phuntsho Wangdi, said. “Seeing the early matches score and up gradation in training and skills for national team, I expect Bhutan to win.”
Head coach Torsten Spittler said, “We want to make it much better than the last match against Oman and we hope that we have a good result.”
He also said that Bhutan has a young team and that some setbacks are expected. “But the team is developing,” he said. The coach said trainings are going well and players are fit.
“We will try to give pressure to the Maldives team from the beginning and we hope that we can somehow perform better than we did in our earlier matches,” he said.
The trainings and coaching are held every day from 5-7pm.
Bhutan belongs to Group D along with Oman, Palestine and the Maldives. Bhutan lost the first game of AFC cup to Oman with a humiliating score of 0-14 in Muscat on March 28.
That some of our age-old local festivals are no longer performed and many are at risk of being forgotten should worry us all. We cannot just let such important festivals fade away.
Findings of the National Council’s social and cultural affairs committee must receive attention from all authorities concerned. We must find ways and means to preserve and promote our cultural heritage.
Promotion and preservation of our cultural heritage received clear guidance from our Fourth Druk Gyalpo in 1985: “If we are to remain sovereign for all times to come, it is important for us to serve our country with loyalty and dedication. Our government and public should think as one and protect our identity, culture and etiquette.”
Difficulty in finding dancers and masked dancers are cited as reasons for the discontinuation of local festivals in Lhuntse, Zhemgang, Trongsa and Trashiyangtse. The government has been addressing the issue by granting leave to the employees (dancers) of the locality working in government and corporations during the respective festivals. The RCSC has retained traditional posts like bangadungmi, tintidungmi, jaliphumi, etc. in the Dzongkhags. It appears a more aggressive measure and policy interventions are required.
Perhaps the answer lies in a more rural-focused integrated development to community vitality, which is one of the nine domains of the Gross National Happiness. This means addressing the prevailing rural issues like shortage of water (drinking and irrigation), gungtong, fallowing of land and increasing human-wildlife conflicts, among others. These are the telling signs of changing cultural landscape calling our attention.
The roots of our culture and tradition lie in our rural communities. How do we keep them alive?
His Majesty The Druk Gyalpo in 2009 urged policymakers and the people to keep in mind “that our culture, traditions and heritage are the foundations of our Nation.”
We have a clear vision and guidance. It is our sacred responsibility to protect our identity. Our unique culture and tradition make us Bhutanese.
Health minister Tandin Wangchuk addressed the plenary of the 70th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland on May 24.
In his statement, Lyonpo highlighted the critical strengths and challenges of the health system in Bhutan. In line with the theme of the 70th session of the assembly ‘Building Better Systems for Health in the Age of Sustainable Development,’ lyonpo stated challenges related to multi-sectoral responses, health workforce and vulnerability of medical supplies.
Lyonpo also expressed solidarity with the people of the United Kingdom as they grapple with the terrorist act that took place in Manchester on May 22.
On May 24, at the sidelines of the Assembly, lyonpo had a bilateral meeting with the executive team of the Global Fund (GFATM). Among others, the Transition Funding of GFATM and the Bhutan Health Trust Fund (BHTF) were extensively discussed.
Lyonpo met the Executive Director for Global Malaria Programme yesterday to discuss issues and strategies related to malaria elimination in Bhutan.