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Updated: 1 hour 24 min ago

Minor detained for death of student

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 17:04

The principal of a school in Trashigang, said that the school’s management is still in shock following the death of a student.

A 15-year-old student died following a fight with another student.

The alleged suspect, a 14-year-old boy from Khaling in Trashigang was detained for involuntary manslaughter of the 15-year-old student.

The principal said that the incident happened in the school’s boys hostel at around 9:50pm, after the lights were switched-off.
According to the suspect’s statement to police, the boys, both class seven students started fighting after an argument. The suspect confessed that he kicked the deceased in the stomach and then punched him after which he fell to the floor.

Other students in the hostel reported the incident to their hostel warden.

“We immediately took the unconscious boy to the BHU. He was declared dead when he was brought to the BHU,” the principal said.

According to medical reports, the boy is suspected to have died of a head injury.

Meanwhile, the school’s management helped the parents of the deceased to conduct the cremation in Kangpara, Trashigang on March 13.

The principal said that the students were given counseling and the situation in school is back to normal. “We didn’t expect such a misfortune to happen in our school,” he said. “Hereon, we will sensitise and educate the students on life skills.”

A police official said that the charges for any crime are same for both adults and minor. However, the duration of a sentence is halved for a minor convict.

“After conviction, the alleged suspect will be shifted to the juvenile prison, Youth Development and Rehabilitation Centre in Tsimasham,” the official said. “He can continue his studies there.”

Of the two siblings, the deceased from Kangpara is the eldest. Parents of both the  suspect and the deceased are farmers.

Dechen Tshomo

Youth entrepreneurs plan to produce avocado tea and flour

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 17:03

Tea lovers in the country will soon have an additional option to choose from with a new avocado tea all set to hit the market in early 2019.

The avocado might not be a popular fruit in the country today but a group of three students from the Royal Thimphu College (RTC) have explored the benefits and growing demand for the exotic fruit.

The trio with a business idea to manufacture and sell value-added avocado products bagged the silver medal at the annual Mekong Business Challenge final round held in Myanmar on March 11.

Under the name – Gladden Guli – the team will produce tea using avocado seeds and flour from avocado pulp, which can be used in cakes, cookies, salad dressings, and noodles, among others.

While a handful of avocado plantations exist in central Bhutan, commercial farming of the fruit started in 2012. For many, a fruit that comes for around Nu 400 per kilogramme might not be a priority on their shopping list. But an increasing number of people have developed a taste for the fruit.

Generally, the fruit is consumed for its buttery, subtle yet complex pulp. However, the Gladden Guli team is also exploring the seed for  commercial purposes.

The team claimed that their produce – avocado flour (green and red) and avocado seed tea – will be produced naturally without the use of any kinds of preservatives.

To maintain the moisture content and nutrients of the fruit, the team will be using state of the art technology to dry and ground the fruit. For this the team will use a freeze drying machine.

The idea to explore the fruit was generated during a marketing class in RTC some months ago. One of the participants, Mon Maya Chhetri, who grew up in the neighbourhood where the fruit was grown in plentiful saw a business opportunity there.

Mon Maya’s late father who was into avocado cultivation encouraged her to carry on her father’s interest. “It is a dream come true for me. The fruit that I grew up with has taken me places,” said the 23-year-old. “The experience has taught me a lot about teamwork and entrepreneurship.”

Given the expensive cost of the fruit, the team did face several financial challenges during their entrepreneurial venture. More than half of the seed money that was given to the team to start their business proposal was invested in buying the fruits.

Lack of adequate technology and specialists also hindered the group in their initial journey. However, with support from agencies like the National Post Harvest Centre in Paro and the faculty members from the college helped the team enter the final round of the Mekong competition.

RTC lecturer, Madhav Verma, who was one of the advisors for the team said that with all the challenges and pressure the team was confident with their business proposal. “It’s been a learning experience for all of us in the team and the struggles that we went through, was worth it at the end.”

He said that the talent Bhutanese students have in the field of entrepreneurship is commendable. “Our students won in a competition where international participants with much more experience competed.”

The Gladden Guli team also surveyed over 100 potential consumers in the country and received positive responses on their products. Some 15 farmers who grow the fruit commercially have also committed to the team to supply them with avocados.

Another advisor for the team, Kabita Chhetri, said that once the students graduate, they will be involved in the cultivation of the fruits themselves to ensure a continuous supply. “It was the fruit that convinced me to be a part of the project,” she said. “I’m still positive that the project will become successful commercially.”

The Galdden Guli enterprise is scheduled to start their business by the end of next year, and they plan to expand their product line by using avocado leaves and other herbal plants.

With the market focussing more on tourists and individuals who have a taste for avocado, a box of avocado tea with 20 sachets will come at a cost of Nu 200, while 100g of the flour will cost around Nu 400.

Younten Tshedup

Lunaps want helicopter service fare reduced

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 17:01

The Gasa dzongkhag tshogdu, during the recent meeting, decided to write to the Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services to seek clarification on its fares and to request an increase in the subsidy provided to the people of Lunana.

The decision was made after Lunana gup, Kaka, raised concerns on fluctuating rates, specifically, an increase in rates despite an increase in demand for trips to Lunana.

Gup Kaka said a group of five people have to pay Nu 76,000 per trip from Paro to Lunana and Nu 109,000 while flying from Punakha to Lunana. “People are requesting for the possibility of reducing the hiring charges to Nu 50,000 per trip for a group of five people while travelling from Punakha to Lunana,” the gup said.

He said when the helicopter service was introduced, people were told that the hiring charges would gradually decrease if the number of trips made to the same place increase. “But there were no changes in hiring charges despite high demand.”

The gup said people were also concerned thatthe number of passengers per trip was reduced from six to five, resulting in an increase in fare for each individual.

He said the helicopter service has eased the lives of the Lunaps, especially the elderly, patients and children. “But since everyone in Lunana does not have money, people decided to request a reduction in the charges.”

Records with the Royal Bhutan Helicopter Service show that more than 40 trips have been made to Lunana, making it the gewog with the highest demand for helicopter services in the country.

Gup Kaka said at least seven medical evacuations have been carried out using the helicopter service.

He said people mostly hire helicopters during the winter when they move down to Punakha for three months and also while returning to Lunana. “The passes along the Gasa-Lunana route are always blocked by snow in winter, making it difficult for people to travel and transport commodities.”

However, since the helicopter service is expensive, people mostly hire it for their elderly parents and children.

As per information available on the Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services website, the charges levied on the people of Lunana and similar remote areas is already subsidise. “For local and government chartered flights, it costs more than 181,000 for an hour. For tourists, the rate is Nu 350,000 per hour,” the website states.

Dawa Gyelmo

Bhutan deserves continued support: UN

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 17:00

Going by the deliberations at the 13th Round Table Meeting that ended yesterday, formulating and implementing the 12th Plan should be a piece of cake.

Donors including long time development partners like India and Japan committed to support Bhutan in making a smooth transition to a lower middle income country.

Donor countries and agencies praised Bhutan for the progress achieved so far and expressed the need to continue their support in the 12th Plan and completing the last mile in graduating from the least development country (LDC) category.

UN assistant secretary general and UNDP regional director for the Asia and the Pacific, Haoliang Xu said that the government is serious about development and that the linkage between the SDGs and GNH is encouraging.

“There are a few more hard years to go. This is not the time to withdraw donor support, and Bhutan deserves the support,” he said.

He cautioned Bhutan to avoid duplication of efforts and ensure coordination among the agencies as resources are scarce.

He said that the technical and financial support is critical in realising the last mile.

Despite much progress with the development plans, including huge investments in the social sectors, donor countries and agencies acknowledged more needs to be done.

Representing more than 20 UN agencies, the resident coordinator in Bhutan Gerald Daly said the UN will support Bhutan in exploring and accessing alternate sources of financing and in so doing,  will support the building of an evidence-based investment case to attract investors to partake in Bhutan’s unique conservation journey, with special emphasis on the achievement of, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1 on poverty eradication, SDG 13 on Climate Action, SDG 15 on Life on Land, and their essential linkages to the other SDGs.

Australia, Japan, the European Union, World Bank and other donors also committed to support the country in realising the 12th Plan.

Austria committed to strengthen the Royal Audit Authority and the Royal Civil Service Commission, renewal energy and the judiciary.

The UNDP resident coordinator quoted a Bhutanese adage: “Kha dang lap thuen go” meaning that the donors should deliver on their commitments.

The resident coordinator did not specifically mention the work of any individual UN agency or entity in his statement. The reason was that like the government, the UN agencies are currently developing the UN strategic framework known as UNDAF-One Programme (2019-23) with UN counterparts within the government, civil society and the private sector.

“We will adopt an inclusive planning process – a whole of society approach – guided by the government’s model. We will be guided by the 12th Plan with special consideration for co-ordination, collaboration and consolidation,” he said.

The UNDAF-One programme is where the UN agencies and entities will come together with specific and detailed contributions which are focused on delivering results. This accountability framework will help ensure that what is said and done is in harmony.

The EU committed Euro 42 million (M) in the 12th Plan, from 40M in the 11th Plan, focusing on Civil Society Organisations and rural development.

Thailand’s foreign vice minister said that Thailand will continue support in strengthening the health sector with expertise and promoting entrepreneurship besides the one gewog one product project. The International Finance Corporation’s representative said that it will support financial inclusion and private sector diversification for job creation.  The IFC will provide sovereignty free investments of USD 35M in private companies over the next five years. Among others, it committed to supporting ICT-enabled trade practices. CSOs, entrepreneurship and helping fill gaps in data are some areas of support from Helvetes.

The Global Fund will spend about USD 3.6M as aid in the next three years, and help in disease control mainly in eliminating malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS.

India’s representative said that hydropower is the true example of mutually beneficial projects and that the small development projects have direct impact on the lives of communities. The Indian government commended the government’s effectiveness in implementing the projects and ensured continued support.

Thanking the donors for their support, foreign minister Damcho Dorji said that the transition from an LDC must be sustainable and irreversible. “If we can’t graduate it’ll be a disservice to the donors and if our graduation is not sustainable then it is disservice to our future generations,” he said.

Lyonchoen addressing the closing session of the RTM said that when the development partners feel it’s time to go, it’s time to celebrate, not because they are leaving but because in phasing out it reflects that certain jobs have been done and done well.

“On the other hand we have development partners who want to continue and who want expand. I mention the Government of India, the EU—we welcome them with humility. This is important as an innovative practice.

“We are at the crossroad. We can continue to be an aid dependent country or we can graduate. We can also be forced or compelled to graduate or we can graduate with dignity and stability. The choice is very clear,” he said.

Tshering Palden

12th Plan to maximise GNH

Thu, 03/16/2017 - 17:06

The last mile of the country’s journey towards LDC graduation which is the 12th Five Year Plan, must prove that economic growth is possible without destroying the country’s environment and culture while ensuring a good governance system.

The country will then reveal to the world that a balanced, sustainable, holistic and inclusive development is achievable with the concerted efforts of leaders, agencies, developing partners and individuals working towards a common goal.

The emphasis, therefore, according to the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) secretary Thinley Namgyel is on the triple Cs- coordination, consolidation and collaboration.

He said that the 12th Plan draws its inspiration from Royal Addresses, constitutional obligations, GNH survey findings, issues and challenges, and Bhutan’s commitment to internationally agreed development goals.

Coordination, he said, is one of the main challenges today emerging across various levels. Lack of coordination, synergies in efforts, overlapping provisions in some of the policies and duplications are creating difficulties in implementation.

The guideline for preparation of the 12th Plan, which was launched yesterday states that the Plan provides an opportunity to address these issues with a focus on strengthening institutions, systems, capacity building and enhancing the quality of goods and services.

The strategic framework of the Nu 300 billion 12th Plan, is to ensure that what is planned is delivered in a manner that maximises GNH principles.

“This is being done to ensure that some of the important elements of GNH such as psychological well-being, community vitality and time use, get the desired focus,” the guideline states.

The triple Cs 

The guideline mandates that coordination, collaboration and consolidation are ensured at all levels.

One of the main challenges today is the lack of policy coordination and coordination at the implementation level. Consequently, conflicting laws and policies, duplication of efforts and resources continue to trouble the country.

The GNHC secretary said that the formulation process of the 12th Plan ensures engagement of all stakeholders including the local government. “This will strengthen the working relations and thus allow for better coordination,” he said.

The 12th Plan will also focus more on the effective and efficient operation and maintenance of infrastructures already in place, instead of expansion.

As the country begins to shed its LDC tag, there will be an eventual decline in official development assistance and therefore the role of the private sector, civil society organisations and developing partners will increase.

As a result, strengthening cooperation in the areas of mutually beneficial projects will be inevitable. Regional cooperation in trade, transit and energy is expected to give rise to new technologies and opportunities.

Key result areas and flagship programmes

The national key results areas (NKRAs) have been formulated based on national aspirations, priorities and international and regional commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

There are 16 NKRAs that contribute to a just, harmonious and sustainable society through decentralisation. These NKRAs are also aligned with all the domains and indicators of GNH in addition to the SDGs.

For instance, for a just society, the priorities are to eradicate poverty, reduce inequalities, provide employment, ensure better access to health and education, strengthening of democracy and reducing corruption, among others.

However, 80 percent of the outlay prepared by the relevant agencies will be “tied” meaning the plan for these projects will have to be ready by the beginning of the 12th Plan. The remaining 20 percent of the outlay will be “untied” to provide flexibility to the agencies to accommodate ad-hoc or unplanned activities on an annual basis.

Integrated water security, economic diversification, quality of education and improving highland livelihood programmes are outlined as tentative flagship programmes of the 12th Plan.

Flagship programmes are accorded high priority as they would impact the majority of the NKRAs.

This programme will however mandate a blueprint, rigorous monitoring and will receive an earmarked fund.

While domestic revenues in the 12th Plan are expected to increase by almost 100 percent due to the commissioning of three hydropower projects, current expenditure is also expected to increase significantly by about 75 percent.

The main challenge of the 12th Plan is to rationalise and manage the expenditure because until the new hydropower projects are commissioned the revenue will remain constant while the  current expenditure will keep increasing.

Of the Nu 115 billion (B) capital budget outlay, Nu 15B is earmarked for flagship programmes and Nu 50B for central agencies.

Another Nu 50B is allocated for the local government. Of this budget, around Nu 10B has been allocated to the four thromdes, Nu 25B for the dzongkhags, Nu 10B for the gewogs and Nu 5B for 16 municipalities.

While the government will frame the 12th Plan, it will be up to the next government whether to follow the planned activities, modify the Plan or completely replace it.

Tshering Dorji

Samdrupcholing seeks better security

Thu, 03/16/2017 - 17:05

Villagers and local leaders of Pemathang and Samrang gewogs in Samdrupcholing dungkhag are calling for stronger security measures following an increase in the number of people entering the two gewogs from across the border.

Local leaders say that although the security issue is not alarming and that no major incidences have occurred, it is time the issue is raised as the number of people crossing the border is increasing.

According to villagers, people are now entering beyond Samrang gewog which shares a porous border with an Indian town, also called Samrang.

Pemathang gup, Madhukar Subba, said that in the past people from across the border would enter only until the river Neoli, which is located between Samrang and Pemathang gewog and then return. But now people even enter Pemathang gewog.

He said people from across the border usually come on motor bikes or vehicles till the river Neoli for picnics during the weekends and for other works but now they come and loiter around Pemathang because there are no restrictions in place.

Some of the villagers claimed that most people from across the border come because of the availability of alcohol and bars in Samrang. “We do tell them to return but it would be different from how the authority would handle such cases,” the gup said. “The route is not even official.”

The gup clarified that people are not saying movement of people from across the border should be stopped because even they travel across the border for business purposes but it should be through the official route.

The issue was raised several times in dzongkhag tshogdus and it was even discussed in the dzongkhag tshogdu held in February. Both the police and immigration department were requested to look into the matter, to install a proper gate and conduct patrols to control  movement.

But local leaders said nothing concrete has emerged and it is not even known if the area is feasible for a separate check post or outpost.

Sources said the concern was also raised with the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) during a visit to the border town by officials whereby SSB officials said they do control the movement but most of the people reasoned they would travel only till Samrang.

The gup said it is important to raise the issue before the situation worsens as more workers are being recruited for the establishment of the integrated livestock farm in Samrang.

Samrang gup, Tara Bir Bista, also said it is a concern and that with only three tshogpas, a gup and mangmi, it is difficult to control the movement because the number of visitors are increasing.

“We even tried to patrol two or three times in a month by ourselves on a shift system but it is difficult,” he said. “We look forward to having the issue resolved because security is important for a small gewog like Samrang.”

Samdrupjongkhar dzongdag, Tharchen Lhendup, during the last dzongkhag tshogdu, informed that the dzongkhag is studying the situation and looking to resolve it.

Meanwhile, an immigration official said that as an immediate and temporary measure, they advised the gewog administrative to install a temporary gate near the junction that leads to the gewog and the border, to stop vehicles from entering.

“The gewog administrative can lock the gate and keep the key and open the gate whenever necessary,” the official said. “But it will not control the movement of pedestrians.”

The official explained that they could not resolve the issue because the entry point is not an official route but a traditional one. “That is why we could not depute immigration officials.”

Yangchen C Rinzin |  Samdrupjongkhar

BCSEA penalises officials responsible for assessment error

Thu, 03/16/2017 - 17:04

The Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment (BCSEA) will bar from future marking camps those officials responsible for miscalculating this year’s arts topper, Tashi Norbu’s Dzongkha II marks.

The officials have also been issued memos recording their lapses.

The investigation found that the officials had erred when recording the marks on a computer.

BCSEA secretary Tenzin Dorji said that an investigation found that Tashi Norbu’s Dzongkha II marks was recorded as 52.5 instead of 89.5. The real marks came to light following a reevaluation of the Jigme Sherubling Central School student’s Dzongkha papers.

The topper claimed on Bhutan Broadcasting Service that his friends had applied for the reevaluation on his behalf.

The council checked both Tashi Norbu’s Dzongkha papers. Following the reevaluation, he was found to have secured 88.75 in Dzongkha I and 89.5 in Dzongkha II. The error had occurred when the marks were transferred to a computer. “Dzongkha II marks was wrongly entered as 52.5,” Tenzin Dorji said.

Following the change in Tashi Norbu’s marks, Ugyen Phuntsho of Kelki Higher Secondary School who was initially declared the topper dropped to second position. Wangchuk Lhamo of Jakar Higher Secondary School and Dorji Wangchuk of Jigme Sherubling Central School who were initially in the second position slipped to third.

With the new marks, the education ministry declared Tashi Norbu as the new arts topper for 2016.

The investigation was ordered by education minister Norbu Wangchuk on March 1. “Sherig Lyonpo has called for an investigation to hold responsible (the) people accountable for the errors,” stated a post on the ministry’s Facebook page.

Following the investigation, BCSEA took action against those responsible for the error. “As per the policy, these officials will not be invited to take part in the marking camp and were further issued memos in their names informing them of their lapses as data tabulators and managers,” Tenzin Dorji said.

The council has also warned the controller and School Examination Division members, and directed them to review their assessment process and to initiate new practices so that can ensure error free results.

Save for Tashi Norbu’s marks in Dzongkha II, there were no changes in the marks for 278 students who applied for rechecks.

When BCSEA receives an application for a reevaluation, the subject coordinators review the applicants’ answer scripts to find errors in marking or in addition of the marks. “Indiscriminate of whether there are changes or not, the subject coordinators have to submit a report to the management with the applicant’s answer scripts with new marks or no change for approval and endorsement,” Tenzin Dorji said.

Tempa Wangdi

Son stabs mother to death

Thu, 03/16/2017 - 17:02

Samtse police detained a 24-year-old man for stabbing his mother who succumbed to her wounds on the morning of March 14 in Dorokha, Samtse.

According to a source, the suspect sleeps in a temporary hut near their house. The incident happened at around 8am that day when the deceased went to cook for her son.

A police official said that the alleged suspect confessed to police that he stabbed his mother in the back with a kitchen knife that he had bought a few days ago. He confessed that his mother, the deceased scolded him for not waking up early and that got him angry.

The alleged suspect then threw the knife outside the house and fled the scene.

The suspect’s father reported the case to the police after he saw his wife, the deceased lying on their kitchen floor.

The father and neighbors took the deceased to the Dorokha Basic Health Unit immediately. “The mother was declared dead when she was brought to the BHU,” a source said.

Samtse police launched a manhunt in the area after they received information that the suspect was seen walking along the Samtse highway.

The official said that police arrested the suspect at around 8pm on the same day.

Dechen Tshomo

Panbang’s human ATM to be replaced by a machine

Thu, 03/16/2017 - 17:01

Without any automatic teller machines (ATM) in Panbang, a businessman, Nado, has been providing banking services in the locality.

Civil servants from the far-flung areas of Bjoka and Ngangla usually transfer their money using mobile services like B-Wallet and M-BoB to Nado’s account, who then hands out cash.

But Nado might soon be replaced as financial institutions are now installing ATMs in Panbang.

Bank of Bhutan (BoB) has already allotted a room attached to their office in Panbang town to install an ATM. They are waiting for the machine, which is expected to arrive soon.

Bhutan Development Bank Ltd (BDBL) has installed their ATM at Sonamthang, which is about 3km from Panbang town towards Nganglam, but it is not operational at the moment.

Panbang residents said BoB’s ATM in Panbang is expected to benefit the residents of the town and those coming from remote areas while BDBL’s ATM in Sonamthang would benefit school authorities and people travelling the Nanglam-Panbang highway.

Bjoka Gup Tshering Wangchuk said that installing ATMs in Panbang would benefit the people working in the remote areas. “Our gewog office is some 35kms from Panbang and I take things on credit when I don’t reach in time for the bank,” he said.

A health worker in Panbang said having ATMs in the locality could benefit the residents, as people could only withdraw their cash during office hours. “It is difficult for people from far-flung areas.”

He said people had to rely on business people like Nado. “Once the ATMs are operational, it will benefit everyone.”

Nima Wangdi | Panbang

The last mile towards LDC graduation

Thu, 03/16/2017 - 17:00

While Bhutan is poised to graduate from a least developed to a lower middle income country next year, it still faces a multitude of challenges.

Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay, speaking at the first day of the 13th Round Table meeting yesterday, said that while the country may make a leap and graduate, its economy and entire GDP is just USD 2 billion (B).

As the country’s small population is spread thinly across the country, the per capita cost for building infrastructure and the per capita cost for delivering services is much higher than it is in most other countries. This, for an economy of only USD 2B, is going to be a huge challenge, he said.

The cost of financing the planned development that is integrated with the Sustainable Development Goals in the next three Plans would cost the country an estimated USD 0.5B annually.

“To make matters worse, our economy is dominated by hydropower and subsistence agriculture. 27 percent of our GDP is trade deficit; and most of what we export is hydropower. Our current account deficit is 31 percent and, quite alarmingly, our debt to GDP ratio is at 116 percent,” he said.

Bhutan’s overall unemployment stands at 2.1 percent of the workforce. The latest unemployment results for youth indicate that 13.2 percent of young people are unemployed. “Because of the social progress that we’ve achieved and because our economy is still very shallow, we’ve not been able to create jobs that are required for our youths,” said Lyonchoen.

Fifty-eight percent of the country’s population depends on agriculture but only 2.93 percent of land is cultivable, which is barely 278,000 acres, making poverty a reality in rural Bhutan.

Today, 12.7 percent of the population is below the threshold for education, health and living standards defined by the multidimensional poverty index.

“So, we are vulnerable,” said Lyonchoen.

The assistant secretary general, assistant administrator of UNDP, director of the Asia Pacific region, Haoliang Xu, shared similar concerns. Haoliang Xu co-chaired the three-day Round Table Meeting with foreign minister Damcho Dorji.

He said that five mega trends that are likely to have  a profound impact on the Asia-Pacific region will impact Bhutan too.

A new world order with changes in the global balance of power and the roles that the USA will play in the world, the positions it will take on world affairs such as trade, the rise of China as with the operationalisation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the potential for heightened regional tensions in different hot spots, the inevitable emergence of other major developing economies, are set to impact the course of development in the region.

The second is in the urbanisation and sustainable development sectors: With less than 50 percent of people living in cities, the Asia-Pacific region is just beginning to urbanise. But it is proceeding at a pace unprecedented in human history, adding some 44 million new urban residents each year. Efficient economic growth, greater economies of scale and better educational opportunities are suddenly possible, but inequity spikes and a nation is at risk of falling into an urban middle-income trap, locked in unsustainable patterns of consumption and production.

Third is climate change; the Asia-Pacific region is the most vulnerable in the world. Extreme weather events damage infrastructure and food production will hinder or reverse efforts to preserve ecosystems and to tackle poverty. While there are efforts to invest in renewable energy, urbanisation leads to greater, not less, pollution.

Fourth is rising inequality in the Asia-Pacific region, both in terms of income and opportunity, reflecting institutional weaknesses and social exclusion. Technological change, globalisation and market-oriented reform drive both rapid economic and rising inequalities. The rich will get richer fast. Poor access to education and health care will amplify inequalities faced by children. Migration from rural to urban areas will increase. Migration will come with greater inequality in urban areas.

The last is the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Whereas the Asia-Pacific region’s past economic booms have been driven by manufacturing, it will increasingly rely on robotics. This leads to temporary unemployment issues, especially due to automation in the work place. The increasing penetration of mobile internet access will open up new opportunities, but it is not clear whether or not these lines of access will translate into improved livelihoods for marginalised ethnic groups or the very poor.

Economic vulnerability is a major concern given Bhutan’s heavy dependence on hydropower.  Bhutan has a very high level of public debt. A financing gap will continue for the foreseeable future.

Bhutan’s geography is another source of vulnerability, as it cannot capitalise on economies of scale.  High trading costs lead to difficulties in diversifying the narrow economic base.

Bhutan sits in a seismically active zone, suffers from Glacial Lake Outburst Flood, and struggles to deal with climatic impacts from flooding to drought.

Bhutan is witnessing a youth bulge, youth unemployment, rapid urbanisation, continued issues of gender-based violence, and increasing pressure on the environment as development progresses.

As democracy in the country will be only 10 years old next year, more needs to be done in relation to Bhutan’s work around access to justice for all, which is a critical component of ‘leaving no-one behind’, Haoliang Xu said.

However, Lyonchoen said that the country is confident to overcome these challenges.

“I believe that we are on this last mile to overcoming our status as a Least Developed Country. To overcome our challenges, we need to continue to work hard; but we also need the generous support and guidance of our development partners,” said Lyonchoen.

He added that the last mile in development is represented by the 12th Five Year Plan, which begins in July next year.

The idea is, in five years, Bhutan will be able to achieve all her national aspirations. The first and foremost, Gross National Happiness.

“We need to prove to ourselves that economic growth is possible without undermining social progress, without compromising our culture and without destroying our environment. We need to prove to ourselves that development can be holistic, balanced, sustainable and inclusive… that we can achieve the targets that we have agreed to in the 2030 Global Agenda,” said Lyonchoen. “This last mile is not a sprint; it is a walk but a walk that will be conducted deliberately. In the mountains of Bhutan we know that sprints are of very limited use. We need to walk; we need to walk slowly; but we need to walk deliberately.”

Lyonchoen thanked the donor countries and agencies for increasing their contributions to Nu 68 billion from the initially committed amount of Nu 54 billion. He said Bhutan also benefitted from the assistance of UN agencies, the European Union, World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank.

“To help Bhutan’s young democracy to continue to flourish and deal with these challenges, Bhutan’s development partners need to stay engaged to support the government, which is fully committed to Bhutan’s development and wellbeing of its people,” Haoliang Xu said. “For the UN, we will continue to be Bhutan’s strong and reliable development partner.”

The country’s graduation from a LDC to Middle Income Country has come after drastic growth, the two leaders said. Planned modern development is new to Bhutan with the first Plan starting in 1961.

“In our case, guided by the wisdom of our beloved Monarchs and benefitting from the generosity and support and cooperation of our development partners, we have managed to scale our mountains rather successfully,” said Lyonchoen.

In the area of social development the country has achieved remarkable progress with free education and health care. In the past 10 years, the GDP in Bhutan has more than trebled. Per capita income has increased to USD 2,719.

Bhutan stands as a model to the world in the area of environment. While the Constitution requires 60 percent of land under forest cover, the recent Forestry Inventory shows forest cover is at 71 percent. More than 52 percent of the country is protected as natural reserves, national forest and wildlife sanctuaries are interconnected by biological corridors. Bhutan is a bio-diversity hotspot and the rich environment means that it’s also a carbon sink.

Some of the country’s biggest achievements have been made in the area of governance. The institutions of democracy – an independent judiciary, free and independent media, Anti-Corruption Commission, an independent Election Commission and CSOs are all in place.

The country has conducted two rounds of Local Government Elections and two rounds of Parliamentary Elections.

Despite all the socio-economic progress, Lyonchoen said that improving the GNH level is more important for the country.  GNH surveys of 2010 and 2015 show a slight but statistically important improvement of the GNH index from 0.743 in 2010 to 0.756 in 2015.

Representatives from the donor countries and agencies commended the country’s progress, especially on the integration of the Sustainable Development Goals in to the national development plans.

The Round Table Meeting, initiated in the early 1980s, is a forum for policy dialogue and aid coordination. The meeting allows donors and Bhutan to discuss common interests and issues, and to strengthen cooperation.

Tshering Palden 

Fire guts hotel in Bumthang

Thu, 03/16/2017 - 17:00

A fire gutted 16 rooms, a dinning hall, a conference hall, a kitchen and an altar of a hotel in Bumthang on the night of March 14.

The hotel owner’s residence and another one-storey house with 10 rooms in front of the gutted hotel was saved.

Known as Hotel Home, it is located above the Bhutan Oil Distributor (BOD) fuel depot, which is 200 metres from Chamkhar towards Trongsa.

The owner could not save anything, as the flames were out of control when firefighters reached the hotel. A police patrolling team first detected the fire.

Eyewitnesses said they saw flames burning on the roof.

Police, desuups including the dzongdag, foresters and neighbours were able to contain the fire before it spread to other nearby structures.

The hotel was empty and locked when the incident took place. The hotel owner’s father, who usually lived there had gone to his village in Domkhar on the morning of March 14.

The hotel’s owner Pema Khando, who was living in his other hotel in Chamkhar town, said one of his neighbours called him while he was sleeping saying that there was a fire near his hotel. “I immediately woke up and rushed to find my hotel in flames.”

He said fire engines saved his residence and the remaining rooms, as the fire engines worked efficiently. There was one fire engine from the RBP and one from Bathpalathang airport.

People continued mopping up the fire till yesterday evening.

The cause of the fire is unknown and police officials said they are investigating.

Nima Wangdi | Chamkhar

Where there’s smoke

Thu, 03/16/2017 - 17:00

An investigation has dismissed allegations that a bar and smoking zone were in place during a karaoke party in Tendu Central School recently.

However, going by the images and comments this newspaper has received, the possibility that the bar and smoking zone were in place for the party cannot be ruled out.

If the drinking of alcohol and smoking of cigarettes were occurring on a school’s campus, especially when students are still on campus as the central school offers boarding facilities, it is alarming.

That an official investigation found absolutely no evidence or did not come across information of such activities is even more alarming. Either the objectivity of the team has to be questioned or the thoroughness of their investigation.

A school’s campus is sacred ground where adults, or at most, members of a school’s administration set examples by practising what is preached and respect for the law is in full display at all times because this is where future leaders and citizens are groomed.

If a student were to be caught in possession or is found to be abusing harmful substances, which includes alcohol and cigarettes, disciplinary action would follow. Repeated violations could even result in expulsion.

To allow a party on school campus with these very activities occurring, even though access is limited only to adults, could send the message that deterrence efforts are empty and temporary.

School administrations must also be empowered, if they are not already, to reject any activity that they disapprove of from being held on school grounds. There is a standing rule that bars cannot be set up near educational institutions and that there must be a 100m alcohol-free zone around educational institutions. To permit a bar, even if it’s only temporary and serving only adults, in the centre of such a zone is incredulous.

A smoking zone cannot be demarcated on a school’s campus. By law, it is illegal to smoke in any educational institution or in its vicinity.

Parents entrust the safety, wellbeing and upbringing of their children to a school’s administration, and it is the school’s administration that must ensure this trust is maintained. A school’s administration must have cognizance of what activities it can and cannot allow on its campus.

While it is yet to be fully determined if the Tendu Central School’s administration did in fact allow for a smoking zone and bar to be set up, many online have been quick to make strong and hurtful comments against the school’s faculty. We would encourage posters to remain civil and not to generalise.

The education system has made significant strides in the past year and using one single case as a spring board to launch generalisations is not called for and must stop.

But if the allegations are confirmed, the education ministry must take action and prevent reoccurrences of such activities in not only Tendu Central School, but any educational institution in the country.

Judiciary must strive for people’s trust

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 17:05

Addressing the closing session of the 22nd annual judicial conference yesterday, Her Royal Highness Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck emphasised the need for the judiciary to work collaboratively with other institutions.

“To fulfill the objectives of justice, the judiciary must work in coherence with other institutions such as Office of the Attorney General, National Assembly, National Council, Jigme Singye Wangchuck Law School, and the Jabmi Tshogde,” Her Royal Highness The Princess said.

“Despite being confronted with challenges, working with these institutions professionally will naturally build people’s trust in judiciary as an institution.”

Her Royal Highness The Princess is the President of the Bhutan National Legal Institute and Jigme Singye Wangchuck School Of Law.

The judiciary should make concerted efforts to maintain the trust and confidence of the people and be able to change their perceptions, Her Royal Highness The Princess pointed out, adding that building on human resource capacity is imperative in delivering on the judiciary’s goals.

“I have always said that to make a difference in the judiciary, strengthening its human resource is critical,” Her Royal Highness The Princess said.

Building the capacity of the judiciary personnel is one of the main mandates of the Bhutan National Legal Institute. The judiciary has so far supported the continuing education programmes of the institute.

The institute is also planning to cater specialised training programmes besides supporting programmes for Nangkha Nangdrig (traditional mutual case resolution) and legal research.

The conference is the right opportunity to reflect on how to strengthen judicial processes and the judiciary, Her Royal Highness The Princess said.

Her Royal Highness The Princess commended the establishment of the special benches at the Thimphu dzongkhag court. Her Royal Highness The Princess said that such timely institutional reforms are necessary to meet the demands of the country’s development and the expectations of the people.

The three-day judicial conference attended by all the drangpons resolved numerous issues including stricter terms in issuing marriage certificate, following judicial precedence, and summoning orders and arrest warrants, among others.

Tshering Palden

Yonphula airport to be ready by next month

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 17:04

The domestic airport at Yonphula in Kanglung, Trashigang, will be completed by next month according to the Department of Air Transport (DAT).

The airport is expected to be operational from May provided the national airline Drukair choses to operate to the airport, said DAT director, Karma Wangchuk.

The airport was supposed to be completed by this month and operational by April. However, Karma Wangchuk said that the completion of the airport is not delayed and work is ongoing.

He said that the runway marking and the certification of the airport is expected to be completed midway through April. The severe weather conditions at Yonphula and electricity outages in Trashigang last week added to the delay. “Without electricity we couldn’t continue with the blacktopping of the runway.”

Once the airport is completed, Drukair is expected to resume its domestic flights to the east with three flights a week. Drukair CEO, Tandi Wangchuk, said that if all the works at the airport are completed, the airline can operate to Yonphula.

“However, Drukair is required to submit a proposal to the board on the commercial viability and any subsidy needed to operate the flights to Yonphula and Gelephu,” said Tandi Wangchuk. “The board then will decide and inform DHI (Druk Holdings and Investment) accordingly which will take up the issue with the government. Depending on understanding between DHI and government, Drukair will follow the directive.”

Tandi Wangchuk said if Yonphula becomes operational the airline will be able to extend operations to one more domestic airport and contribute to the economic development of the eastern part of the country.

Tandi Wangchuk also clarified that Drukair has not restarted flights to the Gelephu domestic airport as reflected in its advertisement published in Kuensel on February 16.

“There was a miscommunication,” he said. “Drukair was asked to work out operations and submit subsidy requirement to the board and the DHI for further discussion with the government and I had marked the same to commercial division who understood the work out operations as start operations.”

Tandi Wangchuk said that the operations can only start after understanding between DHI and the government.

Yonphula airport, which was supposed to be completed by October last year, was delayed because of harsh weather conditions. However, no additional cost was incurred during the delay according to Karma Wangchuk.

Yonphula airport was closed in 2013 for renovation, improvement of safety and compliance with international standards. One of the major changes being carried out is the realignment of one half of the runway.

Another major change is flattening and resurfacing the runway. The slope of the runway, which was 3.8 percent, has been brought down to below two percent, which is acceptable by international standards.

The changes to Yonphula airport is being funded by ADB under the Air Transport Connectivity Enhancement project. A total of USD 6.9 million has been provided to improve all three domestic airports.

Meanwhile, DAT is also planning to construct a new terminal at the Bumthang domestic airport. Karma Wangchuk said that since the current terminal doesn’t meet the required standard, a new terminal will be established.

The tender for the new terminal will soon be floated.

Younten Tshedup 

13th Round Table Meeting begins today

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 17:03

The 13th Round Table Meeting (RTM) between the Royal Government and its development partners is scheduled to begin today in Thimphu, according to a foreign affairs press release.

RTMs were initiated in the early 1980s as an important forum for policy dialogue and aid coordination. Typically held twice over the course of a Five Year Plan (FYP) period, such meetings allow Bhutan and development partners to discuss common interests and issues, and to strengthen cooperation.

The RTM falls at the midpoint in the implementation of Bhutan’s 11th FYP, and at the preparatory phase for the upcoming 12th FYP. This provides the Royal Government an opportunity to take stock of development progress to date, review challenges, and work on strategies with development partners to ensure the full alignment of development assistance for the achievement of national priorities and Global Goals.

Having adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015, the theme of the 13th RTM is “Gross National Happiness for the Global Goals”.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay will inaugurate the RTM which is jointly organised by the Royal Government and the United Nations Systems in Bhutan. The meeting will be co-chaired by foreign minister Damcho Dorji and the UN assistant secretary-general, UNDP assistant administrator and regional director for the Asia and the Pacific, Haoliang Xu.

During the RTM, the guidelines for the preparation of the 12th FYP will be launched.

Presentations will be made on Bhutan’s GNH Index and results of the 2015 GNH survey; the integration of GNH and the SDGs; an update on Bhutan’s state of the environment; an update on Bhutan’s macroeconomic scenario; 11th FYP midterm review and area focus in the 12th FYP, and statements by the development partners.

Over the course of the two-day event, several side events will also take place. Local products and innovative ideas of interest to development partners will be showcased.

Representatives from Bhutan’s development partners, both bilateral and multilateral, will be in attendance. The forum will also see participation of government officials, local Civil Society Organisations, and private sector associations.

Staff reporter

Altitude allowance for civil servants in Gasa sought

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 17:02

The Gasa dzongkhag tshogdu will propose obtaining an altitude allowance for civil servants working in Gasa.

After the two-day session, members decided to raise the issue with the home ministry yesterday.

Local leaders of all four gewogs of Gasa also supported the proposal.

As per the government rule, an altitude allowance of Nu 3,000 is given to civil servants working in places above 3,000 metres. While civil servants working in Laya and Lunana receive an altitude allowance, in Gasa, which is 2,900 metres above sea level, they do not.

Local leaders claimed that most civil servants reside at a place near Phu-Lhakhag that is almost 3,000 metres above sea level. Gasa is one of the dzongkhags that remains wet throughout the year owing to extreme weather conditions, local leaders said.

The dzongkhag’s human resource officer, Sangay Phurba, said he raised the issue considering all the difficulties civil servants serving in Gasa face. Due to the extreme weather conditions and lack of basic facilities, often civil servants are reluctant to work in Gasa. It also takes significant time in getting replacements for those who were transferred, said Sangay Phurba.

The dzongkhag has no legal officer, dzongkhag tshogdu secretary and doctor.

Local leaders said the dzongkhag does not have basic facilities such as paved roads and a town. The dzongkhag also faces frequent power blackouts and constant road blocks.

They also said that in 2012, Gasa remained totally cutoff for six months following a major roadblock.

Khatoed gewog mangmi, Sangay Tashi, said they supported the issue assuming that with additional benefits civil servants would be encouraged to serve in the dzongkhag. “Due to extreme weather conditions and frequent power blackouts, civil servants are compelled to depend on bukhari or kerosene heaters, which costs them a lot,” he said.

He added that most of the civil servants choosing to work in Gasa are new recruits and experienced ones do not opt to work in the dzongkhag.

Dawa Gyelmo

Govt. to encourage more community radios

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 17:01

The government is set to allow local commercial radio stations outside of Thimphu. Such radio stations will be allowed to broadcast in local languages.

There is no proper broadcast policy in the country at the moment. But a national broadcast policy that is under consideration states that the government would hold tenders for licencing of such radio stations.

In the first phase, a maximum of four such licenses will be issued, according to the draft policy, which has been drafted by the Department of Information and Media.

The commercial viability of such stations will be monitored closely and, depending on the results, consideration will be given to issuing additional licences.

“The local commercial stations may broadcast in local languages, provided that they shall provide at least 30 percent of their programming in Dzongkha,” the policy states.

At present, there are a small number of existing campus radios, based in university campuses, and licences have been issued to two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to develop local community-based stations. This has been done in a largely ad hoc fashion and in the absence of clear rules.

The draft policy allows campus and community radios to carry local news and current affairs content without meeting the stringent requirements for carrying news that apply to other media outlets. However, they shall be strictly prohibited from promoting any particular political party or interest, or from carrying material that denigrates ethnic groups.

The objective of community radios will be to serve a particular community. The primary objective of campus radios is to serve a particular university or college campus.

However, in appropriate cases, the interests of campus radios in also serving the local community surrounding the relevant university or college may be recognised.

Such radios may be able to access different sources of funding, including advertising, albeit subject to the overall restriction of 20 percent of the programme time or 12 minutes per hour. Advertisements will be limited to advertising regarding local matters, according to the draft policy.

Currently, there are a large number of cable operators across Bhutan, mostly operating in the capital and dzongkhag centres. They provide a bouquet of different international channels, as well as BBS.

The government, in its role as the representative of the public, retains policy-making and support roles in relation to the media in democracies. The Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) shall refrain from engaging in direct regulation of broadcasters while retaining a policy role.

The MoIC will continue to play various support roles in relation to the media such as supporting training for media workers, supporting studies relevant to the media, promoting infrastructure sharing and providing direct support to media outlets to develop local content.

MB Subba 

No wetland left behind

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 17:00

An important initiative that will help Bhutan realise the goal of food self-sufficiency kicked off this week.

More than 200 volunteers planted paddy on around 13 acres of more than 200 acres of wetland that had either been left fallow or partially fallow. The land has been leased by the Farm Machinery Corporation Ltd and landowners will get 20 percent of the harvest.

The plan will be replicated nationwide and the government plans to leave no wetland fallow. It’s an ambitious goal but one that can and must be achieved.

Besides rice, for which only around 50 percent of demand is met locally, the government will also focus on other crops including cereals and vegetables, among others.

The recent ban on the import of chillies because of high levels of pesticide residue being detected, and subsequent import of chillies by air, was a revelation and another reminder of how dependent we are on food imports.

According to the latest figures, Bhutan imported Nu 3.84 billion worth of vegetable products and Nu 1.53 billion of rice in the last year.

Our food security status has to improve and the goal of leaving no wetland fallow will enable this goal.

According to agriculture ministry statistics, more than 6,300 acres of wetland in Bhutan is fallow. But it is estimated that the amount of land left fallow is much higher.

Having the government intervene and lease the land, provide the seeds, the labour, mechanisation services, marketing assistance, and then provide 20 percent of the harvest back to the landowners is a generous solution, and one best suited for the current context. But how long can the government intervene?

The top three causes of land being left fallow are labour shortage, wild animals destroying crops, and inadequate irrigation. However, of the three, if the labour shortage is solved, perhaps then, we will have a longterm strategy.

Rural-urban migration is occurring as a result of many factors. A life and a job in the city or town is easier and more glamourous. Agriculture is expensive and living a rural life is demanding.

The government is attempting to reverse this trend by bringing more services to rural communities and by increasing marketability of agricultural products. If agriculture can provide good money, then many would see it as a viable employment option.

What must now be cultivated is changing the perception that agriculture is not an employment option. The youth must see that there can be money in farming and that there is pride in farming. Our farmers must prosper and set examples.

If more of us return to the land, our food security situation would be much improved.

Seven lives, one city

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 17:00

Thimphu, the new film by Chand RC, is a drama following the stories of seven different residents of the eponymous city. The film defies easy description.

It is a movie about the tensions between modern, urban life and tradition. It is a movie about family, as both a burden and a support. It is a movie about the links between people that often go unnoticed in the city. It is a movie about our own bad faith and hypocrisy and shortcomings. It is a movie about finding oneself.  One could even do a Buddhist reading of the film, arguing that it is a contemporary exploration of the first noble truth.

Ultimately the film is about how the messiness of life unites us all. Thimphu beautifully shows this through both its stories and its cinematography. There is a scene in the movie just outside the alley of vegetable shops in Hong Kong market where several characters pass by each other. The camera swivels fluidly between characters as a shopkeeper scolds a vegetable seller, movingly played by Aum Zam, for selling in front of his shop. The characters are tantalisingly close to each other, but ultimately distant. Their lives more closely related than they realise.

The film has both room and compassion for everyone—from the Bangladeshi laborers who make a small cameo to the rich but lonely woman who seems to live a life of comfort to the charismatic transgender beautician.

Characters make mistakes and in some cases mistreat each other. They fight too, but there are no villains in this Thimphu. Which means that for a drama it has a surprisingly light, loving touch. It also means that when it touches on social issues it encourages you to identify with the actors on screen, to feel with them and for them as you watch. It never feels preachy.

At the heart of all this are convincing performances by the actors. It is difficult to describe the acting without giving too much away, but the actors have made each character feel authentic. Frequently the actors have done this without any dialogue at all. In particular this happens at the climax of the love triangle that forms one of the film’s main stories. In that scene the viewer really feel the anger, sorrow, and shame of the characters.

Like its characters the film can at times be a bit messy. Though many of the stories interweave seamlessly, at other times the film jumps abruptly for one story to another. There are also a few unexplained linguistic shifts. Notably the hair salon owner Maya’s mother shifts from using Nepali at home to Dzongkha without any explanation.

But these are small quibbles with a film that is genuinely lovely, one that contains several shots of Thimphu that will become almost instantly iconic, to be flattered by imitation in many Bhutanese films to come.

In the end you will leave Thimphu feeling like you know or have met these characters. It is the type of film that has at least one scene that everyone can point to and say, “That’s what!”

Thimphu, which was partly supported by RENEW, Lhak-Sam, and the Chithuen Phendey Association, is currently screening at the Ninda Bioscope in Olakha.

Ten percent of the ticket proceeds will be provided to community-based support systems and multi-sectoral task forces in all dzongkhags.

Contributed by 

Jason Hopper

RTC lecturer

SDF and UNDP to collaborate

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 17:00

United Nations assistant secretary general and UNDP regional director for South Asia and Pacific Haoliang Xu visited the SAARC Development Fund (SDF) Secretariat and assured to work together for strategic growth of SAARC member states and to achieve the UN SDGs, according to a SDF press release.

An MoU between SDF and UNDP was earlier signed in 2015, during the annual management committee meeting of UNDP at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The key goal for the MoU is to collaborate for the advancement of the 2030 Agenda in the South Asian countries especially SAARC member states.

According to SDF CEO Dr Sunil Motiwal, SDF has already started their cooperation by co-financing two UNDP projects in the SAARC region approved by the SDF board which are the Economic Empowerment of Women through Energy Access in Mountain Countries of South Asia and the Support to Value Chain development, Entrepreneurship and Skill Development and Improved Connectivity which primarily focuses on improving the economic livelihoods of marginalised communities and promote creative industries.

SDF and UNDP are in the process of signing the project financing agreements for the projects and it is expected that implementation of these two projects will commence soon.

Staff reporter

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