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Updated: 59 min 29 sec ago

Former ACC Chairperson Dasho Neten Zangmo joins BKP

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 12:10

Breaking: Former chairperson of the Anti-Corruption Commisison, Dasho Neten Zangmo joined Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) today at Dewathang, Samdrupjongkhar.

Dasho will contest from Deothang-Gomdar constituency.

BKP in a press release stated, “united by common beliefs and values, Dasho Neten Zangmo joins Bhutan Kuenyam Party by declaring her intent to contest for national elections in 2018 from Dewathang-Gomdhar constituency.”

Inspired by His Majesty’s emphasis on democracy as an important national objective, the press release stated that Dasho Neten 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 socioeconomic development.

“With democracy as a pressing concern, Dasho Neten Zangmo makes Bhutan Kuenyam Party her choice united by common reason to further the cause of each and 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 she has worked in the villages 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. “ I think that has to change.”

The other reason she stated was the need to build trust among the people on politicians so that there is space for them to voice their feelings without fear.

High Court convicts eight for illicit transaction of SP+

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 17:06

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+).

The court increased the sentence for Jigme Dorji, 32, from Kanglung in Trashigang to nine years from lower court’s sentence of five years and six months.

Jigme Dorji was arrested on December 25 last year in Thimphu when police raided a house and found a bag containing 8,640 pieces of SP+ after a person arrested with controlled substances told them that he bought the substances from him.

The defendant appealed to the HC saying that although the bag containing the controlled substance was found in a friend’s house, he was charged for the crime.

Jigme Dorji also submitted that the lower court accepted the witness statement of his friend’s wife and niece.

The HC stated that the court was not only convinced that the 8,640 pieces of SP+ belongsed to Jigme Dorji, but it was also found that he had been selling the controlled substance.

The court said that although the ingredients of SP+, dicyclomine, tramadol, hydrochloride and acetaminophen are not listed as banned substance in the Narcotics Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substances Abuse Act of Bhutan (NDPSSA) 2015, pharmacists have confirmed that it contains opiate when Bhutan Narcotic Control Authority (BNCA) consulted them.

The HC justified that the sentence was increased to uphold the principle of proportionality in sentencing based on the degree of the crime committed.

“The present Parliament members, in the second National Assembly session, called for stricter penal provisions as the increasing incidences of drug use and abuse is causing problem in the society,” the verdict stated.

The court also increased the sentence for Ngawang Thinley from Khaling in Trashigang, who was convicted to five years in prison by Chukha district court.

The verdict stated that his sentence was increased to seven years since he was found in possession of 1,451 pieces of SP+.

The HC upheld Chukha district court’s sentencing of five years imprisonment for Rinchen Tshering from Thimphu.

The police, while patrolling the highway, found Rinchen Tshering in possession of 146 pieces of SP+ and 47 pieces of N10.

Rinchen Tshering appealed to the HC that tramadol is not listed as banned in NDPSSA 2015 and cited the example of ketamine case, where Office of Attorney General (OAG) did not prosecute the woman, who was caught in Bangkok, Thailand.

The court ruled that all opiate substances are opioid and that methadone and oxycodone are included as an opiate, which is included in NDPSSA 2015.

The court also ruled that in the case of ketamine, OAG justified that the incident took place in Bangkok and the woman was sentenced in Bangkok. “It cannot be used as a precedent.”

The court also upheld the Thimphu district court’s five years and six months imprisonment term for Jigme, 29, from Tongzhang in Trashiyangtse.

Jigme was charged for being in possession of 72 pieces of SP+. He was arrested on June 9, 2016.

The HC also upheld the verdict for Kinley Dorji, 26, from Thimphu. Chukha court sentenced him to five years in prison.

Police found him with 68 pieces of SP+ in Tsimasham while he was returning from Phuentsholing.

The HC also upheld the Chukha district court verdict for Tashi Tobgay, 26, from Kanglung in Trashigang and Lekden Dorji, 24, from Khoma in Lhuntse. Chukha court sentenced them to five years in prison.

Police in Tsimasham found Tashi Tobgay in possession of 271 pieces of SP+ and Lekden Dorji with 47 pieces concealed in their underwear on October 19 last year. They were travelling from Phuentsholing to Thimphu.

The HC also upheld the Chukha district court’s verdict for Kinley Dorji, 33, from Paro. He was sentenced to five years in prison. He was arrested on September 6, 2016, from Tsimasham for possessing 192 pieces of SP+.

Tashi Dema

Finance committee calls for better coordination

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 17:05

Deliberations on the finance committee’s report on the annual budget 2017-18 continued yesterday in the National Assembly with a focus on the sector-wise budget allocation.

According to the budget report, the government has allocated the “economic and public services” sector about 34 percent of the total budget of Nu 60.77 billion (B).  About Nu 20.7B has been allocated for the sector.

The energy sector receives only about one percent of the total budget. During the financial year, the energy sector aims to accelerate hydropower development and enhance energy security, diversify and promote alternate renewable energy.

To achieve these objectives Nu 455 million (M) has been allocated.

Presenting the committee’s report on May 23, Wamrong MP Karma Tenzin said the budget is adequate to complete all the on-going activities within the 11th Plan period that ends in June next year.

“Allocations have been made keeping in mind the country’s economic situation and the developmental needs of the country,” he said.

Opposition Leader (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said that it was important to keep in mind the national goal – economic self-reliance among other objectives – while allocating budgets for various sectors. He said that if these aspects were not considered, the purpose of tabling the budget would be lost.

According to the report, there is a need for better coordination between agencies like the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC), the departments of Public Accounts and National Budget and other budgetary agencies on the budget allocation process.

The report states that with donor countries phasing out their support, it is important for Bhutan to be prepared to increase its domestic revenue to fund its development activities.

MP Karma Tenzin said the government should opt for pre-financing for important activities that are funded by donor countries. The report also states that the government should altogether strengthen the public expenditure management system.

The committee recommended that the government should not treat the savings acquired from projects that are completed as “underutilised”. The committee found that savings from a project that is completed are reflected as “underutilised”.

The committee also reported that there were differences in the approved budget estimates and contract amounts because contractors quote below the approved budget.

It was also reported that lack of bidders and international consultants led to delay in implementation of activities. There are also cases where advances are not reflected in expenditure details, the committee found.

According to the committee, implementation of works in dzongkhags is delayed due to non-availability of “relevant people”. “The stringent procurement rules discourage suppliers to take part in the tendering process in some dzongkhags.”

The delay in funds causes delay in implementation of projects. The process involved in obtaining the required clearances is “too lengthy”.

The committee informed the House that budgetary support for constitutional offices like the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Royal Audit Authority of Bhutan, the Royal Civil Service Commission has declined by 7.9 percent to 17.2 percent from the previous financial year.

“Given the significant mandates of the constitutional offices, there is a need to allocate sufficient budget to enable them to discharge responsibilities,” said Karma Tenzin.

According to the committee, there is no financial flexibility for constitutional and autonomous agencies.

Another issue the committee highlighted was the failure of donor countries to release the money on time.

MB Subba

Police arrest 14 for alleged gambling

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 17:04

Thimphu police detained three men for alleged gambling, playing cards in Hongkong Market in Thimphu on May 23.

On the previous day, police arrested five men from Changzamtok for alleged gambling. On May 9, six people arrested from Dechencholing for the same. All 11 have been released on bail.

A tip-off led to the arrest of the 14, aged between 32 and 54. They were businessmen, civil servants and unemployed. Police seized the cards and cash as evidence.

Officer-in-command (OC) of Thimphu city said that the police have started receiving more complaints about people gambling.

“Often when we arrive at the site, we find that there is no gambling happening,” the OC said.

The police forwarded the cases involving 11 men and four women, aged 28 to 51, for alleged gambling in April and early this month to the dzongkhag court after investigation.

Gambling is graded as a petty misdemeanour in the Penal Code.

Section 393 of the Penal Code of Bhutan 2004 states that a defendant shall be guilty of the offence of gambling, if the person stakes or wagers something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance, or a future contingent event not under the defendant’s control or influence upon an agreement or understanding that the defendant will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome.

Section 395 of the Penal Code, however, states that an authorised lottery is not considered to be gambling.

“The prison term for a petty misdemeanour ranges from a month to one year,” the OC said. “If a person is arrested for the second time for the same offence, the court would fortify his or her right to bail and enhance their punishment.”

Dechen Tshomo

SJ truckers facing parking problem

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 17:03

Truck drivers in Samdrupjongkhar have been facing parking problem since last year after the parking space was given to set up the labour camp for the on-going bridge construction over the Dungsamchhu.

Thukten Tashi, 31, said it took three hours looking for a parking space. “I didn’t get the space and had to pay Nu 3,000 for parking my truck on a private space.”

Thinley Penjore, 21, from Bangtar, said that the number of trucks is increasing in Samdrupjongkhar, creating congestion. “We park our trucks along the roadsides and it is not safe.”

He added that parking trucks along the roadsides creates traffic congestion. “We were allowed to park our trucks in the archery gallery near industrial area but because Bhutan Olympic Committee has started the ground levelling works, we are left without parking,”

Thromde officials said that the thromde has issued an interim order stating that the drivers can park their trucks along the highway.

“We have also identified a new parking space at industrial area,” said a thromde official. “There will be at least 25 parking slots.”

The officials, however, said the drivers cannot park their trucks in the space at the junction near bus booking because the space is designated for the roundabout.

Officials with the thromde’s engineering  section said that the thromde has proposed budget to the finance ministry.

Kelzang Wangchuk |  Samdrupjongkhar

Phuentsholing drains unclogged after 20 years

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 17:02

Phuentsholing residents could expect an efficient drainage system this summer. For the last one-month about 40 workers have been cleaning the drains round-the-clock.

Thromde officials said that about 90 percent of the work has been completed. As of yesterday, Phuentsholing Thromde has dug out about 92 tractor-loads of wastes that include debris, mud, and pet bottles.

In the last 20 years, the eight kilometer long drainage was never cleaned. The system was clogged with wastes resulting in the town getting flooded every time it rained.

Although some stretches of drains are new, most were constructed more than two decades ago, Phuentsholing thrompon Uttar Kumar Rai said.

“But they were never cleaned and that is why the drains never served its purpose,” he said.

The thrompon said the remaining portion of the work would be completed within a week’s time. The thromde has to date spent Nu 380,000 in the work.

Solid-waste management in-charge, Jamtsho Drukpa, who is closely monitoring and supervising the work, said the drains’ outlets were completely blocked. “A major chunk of the waste was pet bottles,” he said.

The municipality said water flow in the drain has now normalised. Earlier, the clogged drains overflowed every time it rained. After completion of the task, the drains will also be cleaned with bleaching powder to prevent mosquito breeding. The thromde is anticipating dengue cases, which affected hundreds of people last year to decline drastically this year.

With proper drainage, about 17.54km of city road that was blacktopped recently will not be eroded. Over flowing water from drains have damaged several stretches of road in summer.

Phuentsholing thromde has spent about Nu 118.75 million to blacktop these roads.

A resident, Bijoy Chhetri, who has been in Phuentsholing for more than 15 years said this cleaning was the most awaited project.

“It is for the first time that such a massive cleaning has been done,” he said. “It shows that thromde is concerned about the city’s cleanliness.”

The thromde will, however, be unable to clean a few network of drains due to ongoing constructions.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

College in Yonphula to start by first week of August

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 17:01

A total of 143 teachers from across the country sat aptitude test in order to qualify for the Masters in English programme at the new college in Yonphula in Trashigang today.

Of the total, 60 of them sat the test at Sherubtse College. The tests for the rest were conducted at Paro College of Education, Samtse College of Education and College of Language and Cultural Studies in Trongsa.

Only 30 of them will make it to the new college in Yonphula, which is currently being supported by Sherubtse College.

The president of Sherubtse, Tshering Wangdi, said that Sherubtse would help establish the MA programme at Yonphula. Once the college is established, it will be handed over to a separate management.

According to an executive order from the education ministry dated July 13, 2016, a project implementation unit will be established to prepare the masterplan of the new three new colleges in the east. The unit will oversee the implementation of the project, including the construction projects and development of programmes for July 2017.

Education minister Norbu Wangchuk told the senior journalist at the Journalists’ Association of Bhutan’s monthly dialogue that the college in Yonphula is not part of Sherubtse College.

The executive order also mentions that Sherubtse College will carry out the role of project implementation unit for the establishment of a college at Yonphula. The unit will propose plans to take over Yonphula campus to carry out remodelling strategies and building of new infrastructure for establishing the college at Yonphula.

Spread over some 72.9 acres of government land, the campus at Yonphula, which was underutilised after the army was phased out in 2011 and 2012, is divided into three – 52.6 acres will be under the college, and the remaining 12.3 acres and eight acres will be for the school there and a new RENEW centre respectively.

Several old structures will remain for the time being.

Tshering Wangdi said that the college, in collaboration with the Royal University of Bhutan and the Tertiary Education Board, is working on a masterplan to work on the facility enhancement of the campus for which the budget will be proposed in the 12th Plan.

Younten Tshedup |  Trashigang

Realising the organic vision

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 17:00

Much has been written and talked about our endeavour to become organic by 2020. The discussion that was held to assess where Bhutan is in becoming one was timely and revealing. As the Parliament deliberates on the budget, the meeting on organic farming revealed that there was not enough budget allocated to implement the framework that was drafted to guide the country into becoming organic.

With farmers largely using forest litter and farmyard manure to cultivate crops, which are sustainable and environmentally friendly, the intention to make Bhutan organic was made in 2003. Studies estimate that less than 10 percent of the country practice organic agriculture and suggest that Bhutan has the potential to become organic. However, this process to become organic is not only challenged by budget constraints; we are increasingly becoming dependent on imported vegetables. Efforts are made to encourage farmers to take up commercial farming when farmers in some communities are not even practicing subsistence agriculture anymore.

Confronted with such challenges, the vision to make Bhutan the first country to become organic by 2020 remains uncertain. We may not even be able to grow enough to feed ourselves by 2020 if the state of the agriculture sector today is any indicator. It is hoped that our policymakers will intervene to make farming not just attractive, but also productive.

But where challenges are myriad, opportunities are also aplenty. We now know where we stand and what needs to be done to realise the vision of becoming organic. It is a process and a gradual one, just as the country’s development journey has been. Increased awareness and continued political will could help stakeholders implement the framework because the vision to make Bhutan organic is as much about making the country self-sufficient and food secure.

Bhutan’s food security hinges on the agriculture sector, which is prone to climate change. But we still depend on agriculture because we believe that it has the potential to make us self – sufficient and food secure. Agriculture for food security is now taught in schools.

When we teach children about our agriculture practices and policies, we must also give the sector priority.

Europe Day

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 17:00

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, Speaker Jigme Zangpo, foreign minister Damcho Dorji and members of the Parliament attended the reception that was held to celebrate “Europe Day”  yesterday in Thimphu. Ambassador of European Union to Bhutan, Tomasz Kozlowski and the leader of the European Parliament delegation, Jean Lambert, hosted the reception for the day, which is held to celebrate peace and unity in Europe . The European Parliament Delegation for Relations with the Countries of South Asia participated in the 6th inter-parliamentary dialogue with the National Assembly yesterday.

Central Bank calls for enhanced financial inclusion

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 17:00

Access to credit was found to be disproportionate among dzongkhags

The formal financial system may have penetrated every nook and corner of the country, but figures from the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) reveal that 54 percent of financial service networks are concentrated in five dzongkhags while 53 percent of credit allocation is concentrated in four dzongkhags.

At the first international financial inclusion summit, Bhutan Economic Forum for Innovative Transformation (BEFIT) held in the capital yesterday, the Central Bank’s governor, Dasho Penjore said that this fact calls for financial inclusion.

Thimphu and Chhukha topped on both the parameters of credit allocation and penetration rate. “But this is debatable because politicians and members of the financial sector might claim that financial penetration in the country is very high,” Dasho Penjore said.

He said the fastest mode of spreading financial services followed by inclusion is digitisation.

The current status of credit allocation, he said is also contradictory. For instance, small and cottage industries have the highest potential to generate jobs and boost productivity but received the lowest credit.

On the flipside, non-enterprising loan, which gives businesses but no employment and productivity, is the highest. This, the governor said can be attributed to housing loan. “We have unemployment problem because of this phenomena of credit allocation,” he said. “This reflects that our concentration of credit is ignored in potential areas where we can excel.”

While it is important to provide roof over every citizen, the governor agreed that the credit in this sector has been abused creating an asset-liability mismatch in the financial institutions.

For example, banks relied on short-term corporate deposits to finance long-term housing loans. “All Financial Institutions are deep and thick into housing loan and they almost reach the full exposure limit of 25 percent,” he said.

Despite this, the governor said the country has not succeeded in putting a roof over even five percent of urban households. To address this, the governor said that a new housing scheme is being studied with support from Asian Development Bank.

For the agriculture sector, he said efforts are being made to move from subsistence farming to enterprise farming. A policy for lending towards priority sector would be endorsed by the end of June, largely targeting the agriculture sector.

To support this effort, he said few micro-financial institutions are registered. NGO’s like Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women (RENEW) and Bhutan Association of Women Entrepreneurs (BAOWE) are now registered as micro-financing institution to make access to finance easier to the unreached sections of the society. The Rural Enterprise Development Corporation (REDCL) is also such an institution rolled out under the economic stimulus package of the government.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, in his keynote address stated that financial inclusion is critical to materialize GNH.

Citing the 2013 survey finding on financial inclusion, he said only 48 percent of Bhutanese adults engaged in formal financial system while 78 percent engaged in informal financial system.

“This meant that they were borrowing money from loan sharks at exorbitant interest rates,” Lyonchhen said. He said this also indicated that many have been stuffing their money under their pillows and mattresses. “Some of them would be the one lending money,” he said.

To encourage more farmers, youth and children to save money, Lyonchhen said that the society needs banks and this is why the government has established banks in 198 gewogs.

Two years since the gewog banks were rolled out through the community centres of the Bhutan Development Bank, 12,000 accounts have been created bringing about a saving of Nu 75 M in one and a half years. The total amount of transaction realised since the establishment of gewog banks is Nu 272M.

“I think it is empowering our villagers,” Lyonchhen said. “But this is not enough; we need to allow our citizens to engage electronically in the financial sector.”

Lyonchhen also cited the examples of e-payment of G2C services and the success of Remit Bhutan.

He also said that Bhutan has about 620,000 bank accounts but most are representative of urban dwellers with multiple accounts in different banks.

“Barely 10 percent of the account represent our farmers because of the 198 gewog banks only 12,000 have accounts,” he said.

The REDCL, Lyonchhen said is one of the beneficiaries of new regulatory framework of micro-finance institution. The government, he said is supporting the endeavor to promote cottage and small industries (CSI) as the new fiscal incentive policy grants 10-year tax holiday to them in addition to tax waiver to the banks for the income earned from such lendings.

To propagate the saving culture, Lyonchhen said that income from fixed deposit is no more subjected to taxation.

“What you decide, discuss and recommend today will go a long way in improving the wellbeing, prosperity and operationalising the high ideals of GNH in the country.”

Meanwhile the summit has brought together 30 international participants to share their experiences and invited dzongdags, thrizins and business representatives from all across the country.

The conference organised by RMA, Royal Institute of Governance and Strategic Studies (RIGSS) with support from IFC, also had representatives and governors from the five SAARC nations share their perspectives on regulatory aspects of financial inclusion.

Tshering Dorji

Hydro revenue can’t assure self-reliance

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 17:10

Tax exemptions, huge capital inflow from hydropower and growing public expenditure is a concern

The outlook that fiscal self-reliance would be achieved with increased hydropower generation is an illusion, says a 2016 World Bank paper on public finance.

While higher export revenue, manageable external debt service, faster economic growth, sustained poverty reduction are some positive impacts of hydropower, investments made in this sector is not captured in the official fiscal balance of the government budget.

To elucidate these findings, the World Bank’s chief economist of South Asia region, Martin Rama (Phd) gave a public lecture on Bhutan’s public finance reforms yesterday in Thimphu. The lecture was organised by the Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH.

He said the country’s fiscal deficit, which is between two and three precent is quite reasonable but if hydropower financing is included, the fiscal balance could hit more than eight percent of GDP.

The combined effect of massive capital inflows from the power sector and an expanding fiscal balance is a large current account deficit, which led to the rupee crisis.

As the deficit stabilised during the last few year, the rupee shortage eased too, but he said that the relief could be temporary only, given that over the next four years the deficit could increase by another 10 percent of GDP.

The fact that once hydropower projects shift to the generation phase, it results into significant export earnings is also true. However, in 2014, about 18 percent of the hydropower export earning was spent on debt servicing and this is projected to reach a maximum of 38 percent over the next 30 years.

Martin Rama (Phd) said this led to a wider gap in achieving fiscal self-reliance because when more than a quarter of revenue generated from hydropower is spent on debt servicing, the country may not meet its expenditure.

In such situations, tax revenue, he said, plays a crucial role.

The World Bank report also highlighted that tax revenue is declining relative to the country’s GDP and that recurrent expenditures could surge in the medium term while actual capital expenditures do not always match government plans.

“In the absence of a clear long-term plan and determined action, Bhutan could be forced to scale down its public investment program,” the report stated.

Martin Rama (Phd) said tax revenue in Bhutan is not enormous. “Lots of revenue are lost in supporting the private sector,” he said.

He said the decline in tax revenue in relation to GDP is not due to a change in tax instruments or in tax rates, but because of policy decisions of tax holidays and exemptions.

Sales Tax exemptions result in 50 percent of foregone revenue. Further around 63 percent of all imported commodities are exempted from Custom Duties.

On the contrary, the pressures on expenditure will mainly come from the social sectors.

For instance, Martin Rama (Phd) said that when the revenue base from hydropower exports increases, there is pressure on the government to expand the civil servant’s payroll.

Providing education to children and youth, while coping with the growing importance of non-communicable diseases among adults will also require more public spending on education and on health.

“The introduction of central school system will add significantly to future public expenditures, as the target is to have 50 percent of students in boarding schools by 2024 and this increases the cost per student by 30 percent,” the World Bank report stated.

Through the reduction of communicable and childhood diseases, Bhutan has increased life expectancy at birth from 59 years in 1990 to 69.5 years in 2010. But longer lives are associated with more years of ill health and a higher prevalence of chronic and non-communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart diseases. The cost of treating these diseases is comparatively high.

The World Bank projected that total expenditures for treating cancer patients will double in this decade (2010-2020). “Bhutan can thus expect to see its public expenditure on health ballooning in the coming years,” he said.

A separate challenge to fiscal self-reliance, in addition to declining tax revenue and rapidly raising public expenditures, is the growing disconnect between planned and actual spending.

Among the recommendations in the report, the chief economist highlighted on the need to have a stabilisation fund to park additional hydropower revenue instead of giving a pay hike. “These rules are difficult to implement when there is weak governance, but Bhutan has a strong governance,” he said.

Instead of losing the tax revenue to exemptions that are not rational, he said efficient management of taxation could also play a vital role in attaining fiscal self-sufficiency.

Tshering Dorji

No immediate plans to approve private TV channel

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 17:09

There are no immediate plans yet to approve a private television channel, information and communications minister DN Dhungyel said yesterday at the National Assembly.

“The government hasn’t thought of allowing a private TV channel as of today,” he said in response to a question from Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi, who asked about the government’s stand on the issue.

Dorji Wangdi cautioned the house about the risks associated with licensing of a private channel. That said, he also added that he was not against having a private TV channel.

The state, he said, has invested billions of Ngultrums into BBS and that if Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) becomes a public service broadcaster (PSB), there were fears that state resources would be drained from BBS to the private channel. He added that such a move could stifle and slowly kill the state broadcaster.

Another risk, he said was about ‘politically vested licensing.’ “There is a huge stake on reporting freely and fairly impacting the credibility of the media. We should first put in place a new Bhutan information, communications and media Act (BICMA),” he said.

The ongoing session of the National Assembly is expected to pass a new BICMA Bill that seeks to repeal the BICMA Act 2006. The Bill was introduced by the information and communications minister last year but was withdrawn to be re-introduced this year with some changes.

Lyonpo DN Dhungyel, however, informed the house that a PSB bill was being finalised by BBS. The bill will be submitted to the information and communications ministry and subsequently the Cabinet for review and approval.

“BBS have asked for a PSB status. The mandate of BBS will be clear if it becomes a PSB,” he said, adding that the state-owned broadcaster today does not have a clear status. However, he said the government was not involved in the drafting of the bill, which started in 2012.

The prime minister said the government would look into the merits and demerits of the PSB bill and introduce in the Parliament if the government feels that making BBS a PSB would be in the country’s interest. “The state has been providing BBS enough funds,” he said.

Transformation of BBS into a public service broadcaster will pave way for a private TV channel in the country, according to a draft national broadcasting policy.

Once the government allows a private TV channel, BBS as a public service broadcaster is expected to receive only public announcements that are not commercial in nature. BBS as a PSB will have clear limits on the overall amount of funding that it may obtain from commercial sources. A PSB get its funds via public sources.

The company currently meets about 50 percent of its recurring expenses from advertisements. Also, the draft National Broadcasting Policy that seeks to transform BBS into ‘a true public service broadcaster’ is under the review of Gross National Happiness Commission.

Being a state-owned media house, questions are often raised on its independence in terms of management and content. BBS employees however believe that the main mandate of the organisation should be to inform the nation.

The government during the Parliament session in December 2014 announced that BBS would be a public service broadcaster.

According to the draft National Broadcasting Policy, BBS will be required to carry a certain amount of public service announcements for free, for example three to five percent of airtime.

If approved, the national broadcasting policy will allow the licensing of one private, commercial television channel. “In due course, and once commercial viability issues have been assessed, consideration will be given to introducing a second channel,” it states.

BBS was delinked from the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) in 1992. Its employees said the company does not have a clear identity either as a public broadcasting corporation or a state owned enterprise.

Becoming a public service broadcaster would help BBS become a neutral broadcasting channel, as they will be independent of government agencies and business houses.

MB Subba

 

60 job seekers and 361 students attend job fair

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 17:07

Mon Maya Tamang, 18, from Bangtar was seen walking from one stall to another at the job fair conducted by Samdrupjongkhar regional labour office on May 21.

The class 10 dropout said she was looking for a managerial position in hotels.  She said she could not continue her studies because of financial constraints and decided to look for a job instead.

“I applied in technical training institutes in Chumey, Bumthang and Sarpang because there is demand for technical graduates,” Mon Maya said.

She said the job fair was informative, as she knows about the available vacancies.

Another job seeker, Sangay Dema Tamang, 19, from Jomotshagkha said she completed class 12 from Orong Higher Secondary School last year.

She said she applied for a housekeeping and receptionist post at Hotel Bhutan Mountain.

Officials from the regional labour office said 18 companies, 60 job seekers and 361 class 10 and 12 students from Garpung Middle Secondary School, Samdrupjongkhar Middle Secondary School and Dungsam Academy attended the fair.

Officials said front desk, site engineer, sales executive, sales manager, sales personnel, waiters, housekeeping, receptionist, baker, salesperson, dishwasher, accounts assistant, farm attendant and production supervisors were the vacancies available at the fair.

They said the fair was expected to bring together genuine job seekers and potential employers.

Officials also said that of the confirmed 28 agencies, only 18 turned up for the event. “It was difficult to bring in agencies and job seekers together,” an official said. “Some had no idea about participating in it but others assumed it was useless.”

Officials said there are 673 registered job seekers in their office.

Kelzang Wangchuk |  Samdrupjongkhar

Talking about promoting our culture

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 17:06

As the custodians of our culture, it is incumbent on us to make every effort to protect and preserve the Bhutanese culture in their many forms. As foreign cultures come stomping about, we risk losing the tangible and intangible elements that inform our culture and shape our identity.

National Council’s social and cultural affairs committee recommended that the government finalise and endorse Bhutan’s culture policy document that encompasses all aspects of cultural heritage. Twenty-four recommendations in all were made for the preservation of cultural heritage. The house of review has also asked the government to revisit the Cultural Heritage Bill and make it a comprehensive legal proposal. Such interventions are critically important as modern developments bring in myriad challenges.

We have arrived at a time in our development journey when we are compelled to look at our traditional architecture, performing arts, languages and driglam namzha, among others. When our children today do badly in speaking and writing in Dzongkha but can speak fluent Hangul or Korean, we need to look at what damage foreign influences are doing to our language and culture.

Our Constitution mandates us, every single Bhutanese, to safeguard our culture. Promotion and preservation of our cultures should mean more than constructing and renovating our dzongs, lhakhangs and other religious and historical sites. Our intangible cultures are equally important.

While the national dress is an important part of our culture, the debate among the legislative members veered off the road. We have some nature of profession where wearing gho and kira is inconvenient. Rather than going into small details like this, our focus should be on promoting and preserving our intangible cultures.

Our architecture, arts, languages and code of etiquettes define our society by giving us a special uniqueness. Losing our unique identity could have implications on sovereignty and security. Economic development must be pursued, but we cannot let our cultures and traditions recede into distant memory. Cultures from outside are bound to come in this age of globalisation, but we need to be able to promote and preserve ours.

Trashigang’s geography makes it prone to forest fires

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 17:05

The dzongkhag has already recorded 14 forest fire cases this year

With over 30,124 acres of forest cover lost to fire in the last five years, Trashigang dzongkhag is one of the most forest fire-prone areas in the country today.

Given the frequency of forest fires in the dzongkhag, residents say that it has become more of a visual spectacle for people in the region than an issue of concern.

“Forest fires happen almost everyday. There is nothing much we can do,” a resident who didn’t want to be named said. “There is no one to take the blame and authorities can never find out who was involved in it. We have never heard of a person being caught for causing forest fires.”

The largest area destroyed in a forest fire was in Bartsham in 2014 where it razed 5,449 acres of Chirpine and broad-leaved forest. The year saw 20 forest fires where around 16,997 acres of Chirpine and broad-leaved forest were lost.

Chief forestry officer Dendup Tshering said the frequency of forest fires in the dzongkhag could be attributed to its geographical location.

He said fire prone areas like Bartsam, Yangnyer, Bidung, Chaskhar in Mongar (shares border with Trashigang), Udzorong and Kanglung makes a ring that lies in a perfect leeward side and remains dry most of the time.

“During summer, when there is heavy rain outside these places, these areas remain mostly dry,” he said. “Also because it is Chirpine forest, which generally signifies dryness, forest fires are prominent here.”

Of the 54 forest fire cases recorded by the department in the dzongkhag in the last five years, causes were identified for only 11. Those fire incidents were caused due to road activities, burning of debris, lightening and transmission lines.

While a majority of the forest fire causes still remain unknown, Dendup Tshering said that most of the unknown fires are assumed to be started intentionally by people.

He said that since Chirpine forests have lemongrass undergrowth, people intentionally start a fire to burn lemongrass for increase oil production. It is believed that once the lemongrass is burnt, oil production increases the following year.

“It could also occur when settlements close to the forests start a fire to ward off wild animals like wild boars,” Dendup Tshering said. “Apart from these two, we don’t see any other reasons for people to start a forest fire.”

Baypam Genkhar tshogpa, Sonam Tenzin however said people from his chiwog have denied their involvement in any of the forest fire mishap in recent years. On February 4 this year, a major forest fire destroyed 1,200 acres of Chirpine forest in Baypam.

With the growing number of forest fire incidents, the department of forest and park services has conducted a series of awareness campaigns including door-to-door advocacy in six gewogs.

“We have done everything possible,” Dendup Tshering said. “But I’ve not seen any permanent solution so far.” Despite all the precautionary measures and trainings along with awareness campaigns, he said, forest fires continue to threaten both flora and fauna in the region.

However, he said that in order to minimise the extent of damages, he suggested burning the forest annually under prescribed burning, which will be controlled. “The damages will be less. Even seedlings will not be affected.”

Dendup Tshering said the vegetation of Chirpine forests, which are dry with lemongrass as undergrowth is an indication of forest fires. “Once the debris gets accumulated over the years, the chances of a bigger forest fire are evident. Areas where there has not been a forest fire for three to four years has a higher potential to cause larger damages.”

The 2014 forest fire in Bidung Barsam destroyed some16 houses and killed several cattle. The fire destroyed 10,444 acres of Chirpine forest. “To reduce collateral damages, we should practise prescribed burning,” he said.

Meanwhile, 14 forest fire cases have been reported to the department this year, which Dendup Tshering said is one of the highest cases reported so far in the dzongkhag.

Younten Tshedup | Trashigang

Chudzom farmers interested in commercial vegetable farming

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 17:04

The residents have so far depended on cardamom cultivation

It took farmers of Chudzom in Tsirang, who have largely depended on cardamom cultivation so far, a visit to other parts of the country to get interested in growing vegetables.

A two-week farmers’ study tour last week took them to the fields of other successful farmers growing commercial vegetables in five dzongkhags of Paro, Thimphu, Tsirang, Wangdue and Samtse.

Chudzom (Dovan) today is dominated by cardamom cultivation that residents don’t grow vegetables and instead buy imported vegetables. Most have converted their land into cardamom orchards.

One of the study tour’s participants, farmer Tek Bahadur Rai, said that although he grows vegetables, it is barely enough for family consumption. Most families, he said, rely on imported vegetables.

He said he tried growing vegetables but gave up due to pest infestation. “But improved farming technologies can address this problem,” he said. Tek Bahadur has decided to not only expand his vegetable garden but also to compost manure, which he learnt to do from the tour.

Chudzom gewog has suitable climate to grow all kinds of vegetables. The soil is fertile and water supply, adequate. After returning from the tour, Monika Acharya has decided to take up commercial vegetable farming. She discussed the plan with her family and explained them the potential and possible success of large-scale farming.

“I have just learnt and it will take sometime before I decide to go into vegetable farming,” she said.  She added that the women vegetable group in Tsirang, who grow vegetables in abundance and has become financially independent, inspired her.

Agriculture extension officer, LB Chhetri, said that in terms of vegetables farming, farmers in the gewog were behind compared to other dzongkhags. “It was mainly because of lack of market earlier when the gewog did not have a farm road connectivity,” he said. “But more farmers are interested now to take up vegetables besides cardamom cultivation.”

Chudzom is also one of the last gewogs in the dzongkhag to form farmer’s vegetable group. About nine groups were recently formed with each group having at least two members who participated in the study tour. “The gewog could lead in commercial vegetable farming in the near future given the interest farmers have shown,” the extension officer said.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang

91 gups attending mediation training

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 17:03

Just as democracy empowers people, mediation gives judicial power to the people, the president of Bhutan National Legal Institute (BNLI), Her Royal Highness Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck said during the inauguration of the mediation training for the gups at Lamaigonpa in Bumthang on May 22.

HRH said mediation is aimed at maintaining peace and harmony in the society and all have the responsibility to achieve the goal.

“Local leaders should work hard to fulfill people’s expectations as people have faith in the local government,” she said.

HRH said that with this phase, all the local leaders would be trained in mediation. A total of 91 gups from 10 dzongkhags along with those who missed the first phase of training are participating in the on-going mediation training.

The gups are from Bumthang, Trashiyangtse, Zhemgang, Trongsa, Gasa, Dagana, Mongar, Wangduephodrang, Lhuntse and Trashigang.

BNLI’s Director General, Drangpon Pema Wangchuk said dzongkhag thrizins and thrizin wogmas were trained in Thimphu early this month while gups of other nine gewogs were also trained in Samtse. “We have now covered all local leaders including gups, mangmis and Tshogpas,” he said.

Department of Local Government’s (DLG) director general Lungten Dorji said that under the HRH’s visionary and dynamic leadership, BNLI trained the first batch of local government leaders since 2012. “About 130 female local leaders, 144 tshogpas, 205 mangmis with women gewog administrative officers of the first local government were trained,” he said.

He said, the impact of mediation training, which is highlighted in the mediation training impact assessment report, 2016, is that of the 36,250 cases, local leaders have mediated 15,316 cases. The remaining 20,934 cases were litigated.

He said with 4,238 cases, Mongar dzongkhag had the maximum number of cases followed by Thimphu at 3,922 and Paro at 3,623 cases.

“Monetary disputes topped the nature of cases at 11,791 followed by 5,512 matrimonial and 1,514 land boundary disputes,” he said.

The mediation training ends on May 27.

Nima Wangdi | Bumthang

Dorji Lopon in Australia

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 17:01

Dorji Lopon Kinley of Zhung Dratshang, who is in Australia on a 17-day visit, administered oral transmission (lung) of the ngoendro, chabdro, bazaguru and mani to over six hundred devotees, mostly the Bhutanese community living and studying in Canberra.

Dorji Lopon also administered the Mithrugpai wang. The Australia-Bhutan Association of Canberra (ABAC) submitted a proposal to the Zhung Dratshang through Dorji Lopon for the construction of a Buddhist temple in Canberra. During his visit, Dorji Lopon will visit Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth before returning to Bhutan on June 5.

Gradual promotion of organic sector recommended

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 17:00

Recognising the need to achieve food self-sufficiency, food security and the goal of attaining import substitution, promoting the role of the organic sector will be done in a phased manner.

A consultant, Sunder Subramanian, while presenting the recommendations and way forward after the two-day deliberation on roadmap for organic agriculture policy in Bhutan, said that this could be done by setting short, medium and long-term goals.

The stakeholders from relevant agencies also recommend revisiting the master plan for organic agriculture in the country developed by the agriculture ministry.

“Although the master plan is comprehensive, there is a need to revisit the master plan in light of the current situation and update, keeping it realistic and with attainable targets,” Sunder Subramanian said.

He added that there is also a need to escalate organic agriculture to a higher agenda as part of the roadmap by promoting organic agriculture as a flagship programme under the 12th Five Year Plan.

In terms of institutional arrangements, there is consensus among the participants that the National Organic Programme (NOP) has to be strengthened both financially and in human recourses.

“Also empower the NOP and give it a necessary coordinating power to coordinate between the relevant departments and with agencies when necessary,” Sunder Subramanian said. “Not just NOP, but other relevant agencies should also set organic agriculture targets as part of their programmes.”

Besides incorporation between the relevant departments within the ministry and with relevant agencies, the participants also felt that an apex coordinating body at a national level should be established if it is found necessary after the assessment to promote organic in general and more private sector engagements to promote organic agriculture.

Incentivising organic agriculture is another key recommendations of the workshop.

Sunder Subramanian said that this could be done by setting some kind of a mechanism for minimum support price for organic producers, particularly in favour of supporting smallholders and marginal farmers going organic.

Undertaking focused market development in terms of supply and demand, and marketing mechanisms; supporting awareness building, product promotion and labeling are some of the suggested ways to incentivise organic agriculture.

The NOP organised the workshop that ended yesterday with support from ICIMOD and the European Union.

Dechen Tshomo

No separate budget to preserve intangible culture

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 17:00

There were times when monks from Chizhi goenpa in Thimphu travelled all the way to Dekiling in Dagana to perform tsechu every year. The monks, carrying dung (trumpet), also went to perform local tsechus in Dawakha and Matalongchu in Punakha and Hebisa in Wangduephodrang.

Punakha’s National Council (NC) member, Rinzin Dorji, said that people in Punakha believe that the blowing of the dung by lay monks of Chizhi goenpa bring peace and prosperity to their area.

But the culture, he said, has stopped for the last 13 years in Dagana and for few years in Punakha and Wangduephodrang. Rinzin Dorji said civil servants from Dawakha and Matalongchu have contributed money and revived the tradition.

He recommended the government to allocate some budget to preserve the culture.

The NC’s social and cultural affairs committee reported that there are 397 local festivals in the country but with the decline in rural population, younger generations showing less interest into such arts and lack of financial support, some local festivals are no longer performed. “Others are at risk of being discontinued,” the report stated.

The committee reported that dzongkhags are facing difficulty in finding dancers and mask dancers during annual tsechus.

It was mentioned that dzongkhags like Lhuntse, Zhemgang, Trongsa and Trashiyangtse have discontinued local festivals because of lack of dancers.

The committee also pointed out that although the government has allocated budget for the preservation of culture, most of the budget was allocated for construction and renovation of dzongs, lhakhangs and other religious and historical sites. “There is no separate budget allocated for the preservation of intangible cultural heritage,” the report stated.

Thimphu NC member Nima Gyeltshen and Trongsa NC member Tharchen raised the need for Bhutan Broadcasting Service Corporation (BBSC) and local television operators to broadcast local tsechus instead of school variety shows.

Paro NC member Kaka Tshering said it is important to empower Department of Culture (DoC) to improve performing arts by collaborating with schools and tourism council.

While the committee recommended appointment of trained artists from institutions like Royal Academy of Performing Arts (RAPA), who are certified by labour ministry as performing arts instructors in schools and educational institutions, Gasa NC member Sangay Khandu pointed out that local people should also be recruited as performing arts instructors.

He also suggested that urban dwellers, who already formed tshogpas to help each other in times of need, should initiate some of their village’s arts in Thimphu so that people can come together.

NC chairperson, Sonam Kinga (PhD), said instead of relying on the government to allocate budget to promote local tsechus, it is important to look for alternative funding mechanism by the local government officials. “When a tshechu is nearing in a locality, local government officials should inform all the people from those areas and ask for funding.”

The committee recommended that the government should prioritise maintenance of an inventory of different festivals and performing arts in different communities and support documentation and archival efforts of agencies like BBSC, College of Language and Cultural Studies in Taktse, Trongsa and other government and private entities.

NC members also deliberated on the concerns raised on dilution of performing arts in drayangs and luyangs.

Sonam Wangchuk said that while Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) issues license to drayangs and luyangs, it is important to find out who monitors whether  they are promoting culture.

“While we understand drayangs and luyangs are commercial, it is important that it is in line with our culture,” the Mongar NC said.

He said that while Drametse ngacham, a mask dance, which originated in Drametse, Mongar, is performed by 16 men, some luyangs are now performing the dance with just eight men.

Chukha NC member Pema Tenzin said police claim that most crimes occur in drayangs.

He said it is important to revisit whether drayangs are really needed. “If it is deemed necessary, it should be monitored and relocated to places away from town. “There are 10 dzongkhags where there is no drayang. We shouldn’t encourage it.”

Trongsa NC member Tharchen said he conducted a study on drayangs in Phuentsholing and questioned whether drayang is providing the intended job opportunities. “We questioned the criteria for the employees and the criteria is disheartening.”

He said that while drayang owners are making money and young girls get employment, it affects families of people who visit the drayangs.

Wangduephodrang NC member Tashi Dorji, who is a committee member, said the committee members looked into drayang issue and its effect on culture and not the social aspect.

Chairperson Sonam Kinga (PhD) said it is important to make drayang and luyang employees feel proud of their work.

The house, while deliberating on vernacular languages, mentioned that except for Dzongkha, the national language, Tsangla, which is commonly referred as Sharchopkha and Lhotsamkha, 16 languages are endangered.

Zhemgang NC member Pema Dakpa said people in Kheng Bjoka speak a different language and it is important to note that people in the locality should preserve their language.

People of Bjoka speak a language that is a mix of Sharchop and Khengkha.

Tsirang NC member Kamal Gurung said Doyaps, Tamang, Sherpa and Lepcha speak different dialects.

Sonam Wangchuk said schools encourage students to speak in English and punish students who talk in their local dialects. “Students should be encouraged to speak in their own language.”

The house, while deliberating on driglam namzha, informed that there are about 30 government and corporate organisations that procure and issue western attires to their employees.

The committee reported that the government must review the proliferation of western attire as standard institutional uniforms so that appropriate remedial measure and advisory directives could be provided.

Sonam Wangchuk said that law has to be uniform and it should be studied why the offices use western attires. “I don’t see why people feel inconvenient wearing the national dress. I feel comfortable in gho.”

He said field and technical employees should take their trousers and shirts, change into it when they work and again wear national dress.

Sangay Khandu said it is important to understand why offices use the uniforms and cited examples of how it is necessary for field staff to wear it.

Meanwhile, the committee will discuss the recommendations made during the deliberation before forwarding it to the government and DoC.

Tashi Dema

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