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Updated: 1 hour 23 min ago

Focus point

Sat, 03/11/2017 - 15:43

NCWC to review women quota for elected posts

Sat, 03/11/2017 - 15:42

… following Cabinet’s rejection of proposal that included introducing a quota

The National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) will review part A of the National Plan of Action of Promotion of Gender Equality in Elected Offices following the Cabinet’s rejection to introduce a quota, it was pointed out at the conclusion of the 2nd national conference on women in governance, leadership and politics in Thimphu, yesterday.

NCWC’s director Kunzang Lhamu said they formulated two parts of the national plan through various consultations with stakeholders and it was formally submitted to the Cabinet for approval in 2015, a year after NCWC held several rounds of consultation with stakeholders.

She said that part A includes the introduction of a quota for women in all elected offices and nomination of candidates.

NCWC’s senior programme officer, Sonam Penjor, said that part A identifies and suggests possible entry points in the current electoral system that will ensure representation of women at the nomination level, thereby increasing the scope of women to be elected.

He said that as for the consultation, the best way forward for part A is to ensure the nomination of a minimum 33 percent female candidature by each political party for both primary and general elections of the National Assembly.

It was pointed out that 33 percent is the internationally accepted representation of women required to ensure responsive discourses and resolutions.

“Our intention is not to reserve seats for women but to diversify the choice for voters by ensuring that there is a female and a male candidate,” Sonam Penjor said. “The political parties could actually do this voluntarily. But then, we might not meet the set target.”

The section also states that the government shall ensure all necessary support or services are provided for the contesting female candidates in the general elections. “However, it comes with a condition that the 33 percent criteria should be incorporated in the Election Act,” Sonam Penjor said.

As for the National Council (NC) elections, it states that each gewog is eligible to nominate two candidates, a male and a female, to contest at the dzongkhag level elections.

It also states that in the event of a nomination of two or more male candidates and one female candidate from a gewog, only one male shall be selected to contest. “The same shall apply in the event of nomination of two or more female candidates and one male candidate,” the senior program officer said.

The proposal also includes ensuring that each village and chiwog will nominate only two candidates to contest in the elections for the post of gups and mangmis.

However, some of the participants say that doing this would restrict male candidates.

A participant, Tsheten Zangmo, raised her concern over how the authority concerned would select the two candidates, a male and a female, if a chiwog or a gewog has more than two male and female aspiring candidates.

Kunzang Lhamu said that the commission will re-consult with stakeholders and review the proposals in part A.

Meanwhile, NCWC officials said that the cabinet approved part B of the plan that was endorsed by NCWC in its sixth commission meeting.

Part B includes activities to respond to women’s needs, creating an enabling legislative and policy environment to enhance women’s participation, introducing support systems and services, conducting continuous awareness and advocacy programmes on gender equality and capacity building, among others.

During the conference, other pertinent women issues were also discussed. It included under representation of women in political parties.

A Danish-Swedish professor of political science at the Stockholm University, Professor Drude Dahlerup, said that a country without universal suffrage will not be labeled a democracy today. “Today, an all male or a strong male dominated political assembly has lost its democratic legitimacy.”

She said it is the responsibility of the political parties to be more inclusive in terms of gender and also minorities and youth. “Because it is the political parties who are the gatekeepers to the nominations of the candidates for the election.”

She also said that theories of the connection between socio-economic development and women’s political representation are challenged by actual developments, especially by the use of quotas.

Some of the panelists discussed if more education and more development would lead to more women representation in political parties.

The professor said that there is no historical evidence of this kind of connection. She said that the theory that the richer a country is, the higher the representation of women is no longer applicable.

The professor gave an example of Thailand, where she stated women are well educated but women representation at political sphere is only 4.9 percent.

She said there are so many qualified women in the civil society of Bhutan and there are enough to fill the whole parliament.

The professor added that the question of qualification has to be reconsidered when it comes to women representation as the post is about representing people. “If you look at India, there are people who are uneducated but a good representative of people. Therefore, we have to think out of the box,” she said.

The professor said that Bhutan is a new democracy and it has an opportunity to start from scratch to be all-inclusive in terms of gender and minorities unlike in old democracies where the political institutions were established before women had the right to participate.

She said that only eight percent of Bhutanese women were elected to the National Assembly in 2013 and many blamed women voters not voting for women for the low female representation.

She pointed out that there is no data to back this theory and that in many constituencies there were no female candidates.

Of 47 constituencies in the country, three-fourth had only male candidates, which means only nine constituencies had both female and male candidates.

She said that data available from the Election Commission of Bhutan for 2013 election state that number of votes casted for female and male candidates were almost same and it was an indication that when women are there, the voters support them as much as they support men. “Women voters should not be blamed but political parties are to be blamed for not having women in three fourth of the constituencies.”

Dechen Tshomo

Court seeks NCWC and RENEW intervention

Sat, 03/11/2017 - 15:41

Almost seven months after Thimphu police charged a 24-year-old woman from Wangduephodrang on eight counts of brawling and battery offences, court officials are still waiting for a response from agencies that look into women issues.

After psychiatrists from the national referral hospital diagnosed her with having an anti-social personality disorder, Thimphu dzongkhag court officials had written to the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) and NGO Respect, Educate, Nurture, Empower Women (RENEW) earlier this month to intervene and either provide shelter or rehabilitate the woman.

It was learnt that the woman, who police charged for a second degree felony, had repeatedly come into conflict with the law and in an earlier case, she was acquitted after medical reports stated that she was suffering from chronic psychotic and borderline personality disorders.

Court officials said they had sent the accused for a thorough medical review since psychiatrists had diagnosed the suspect with mental disorder. “Both Dr Chencho and Dr Nirola have issued a joint report this time stating her medical condition,” a court official said. “The doctors also stated that there is no psychiatric treatment within the country and abroad for such patients.”

RENEW’s counselling department head, Karma Choden, said RENEW has consulted NCWC and that they will provide counselling and other social support if the accused’s mental health is stable.

She said that the accused has been RENEW’s beneficiary and she even stayed in the RENEW shelter for more than three months. “But because she has this disorder that she cannot cope with others, keeping her in the shelter poses a risk and threat to others using the shelter and also to the staff.”

Karma Choden said that while it is disheartening that no agency in the country  has the professional capacity to handle such cases, the accused definitely needs psychiatric intervention.

NCWC director, Kunzang Lhamu, said that they are exploring means to support the accused but it is difficult since there is no service available in the country to handle such cases.

The woman is currently being held at the Thimphu detention centre.

Tashi Dema

India hands over Nu 526.8M to Bhutan

Sat, 03/11/2017 - 15:38

India handed over Nu 526.8 million to the Royal Government yesterday, according to a press release issued by the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC).

The Indian embassy’s deputy chief of mission, Esha Srivastava handed over cheques amounting to Nu 526.82 million (Nu 101.82 million for Government of India (GoI) Project Tied Assistance projects and Nu 425 million for the Programme Grant) to GNHC secretary Thinley Namgyal on March 8.

The money will be used to fund development of infrastructure and teaching at the College of Natural Resources and College of Language  and Cultural Studies in  Taktse. It will also be used as an installment of the Programme Grant for the period October-December 2016.

The GoI has committed Nu 45 billion in the 11th Five Year Plan to the Royal Government.

The detailed break-up of the commitment is: Nu 28 billion for Project Tied Assistance (PTA), Nu 8.5 billion for Programme Grant, and Nu 8.5 billion for Small Development Projects (SDP). As of now, GoI has released Nu 16.7 billion for GoI PTA projects, Nu 5.9 billion for Programme Grant and Nu 5.8 billion for SDP to the Royal Government.

In total, GoI has released Nu 28.4 billion to the Royal Government which is 63.1 percent of the total  GoI commitment for the 11th Five Year Plan Period.
Staff reporter

Addressing modern health challenges

Sat, 03/11/2017 - 15:36

The biggest health challenge we are faced with today is the rising instances of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Going by available health reports, almost 60 percent of death in the country is attributed to NCDs. And the threat continues to grow. As we develop, diseases of affluence will be the major killers.

Of the NCDs that are increasingly threatening the health of our people, kidney health is of major concern. Between 2015 and 2016, 21 patients with kidney problems had to be referred to India for treatment. What this means is that governments spends millions every year as referral cost.

Chronic kidney disease damages our kidneys and decreases their ability to keep us healthy. The two leading causes of CKD are diabetes and high blood pressure, which are responsible for up to two-thirds of the cases.

What we need to understand is that NCDs are preventable. A little change in the way we live will make a lot of difference. It is also vitally important that we make prudent food choices and walk a little bit more. Facilities to keep our body fit should be made widely available to the people. We could think of equipping our workplaces with sports and other recreational services.  We need to maintain our body mass. Obesity, which is a major factor that gives rise to CKD, is increasingly affecting the Bhutanese people, particularly the urbanites.

Alcohol is another major contributor to the rise of NCDs. Consumption of alcohol is deeply embedded in our culture, which is why tackling the problem of excessive abuse of alcohol has been challenging. But efforts are being made to address these growing health problems. The Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA) on Thursday awarded International Certified Addictions Professional (ICAP) Level I certificates to 25 counsellors from various schools, colleges, government agencies, Royal Bhutan Army and NGOs.

What we must ensure is that counsellors should be willing to work in places where the vulnerability of problem is high. Enhancing our intervention against increasing drug and alcohol abuse is critical if we are to address the problem growing instances of NCDs. At the same time, our primary focus should be on employing some sensible health economics.

Movie director urges ACC to investigate recent film awards

Sat, 03/11/2017 - 15:35

Karma Lhatrul Rinpoche, director of the feature film, Tshorwa – The Inner Call, has written to the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) to investigate Bhutan Film Association’s (BFA) executives and board directors for probable corruption associated with the recently concluded 16th Bhutan National Film Awards.

Karma Lhatrul Rinpoche alleged that the BFA board had secretly changed the criteria for the awards in favour of a selected few with the introduction of the new Prime Minister’s Awards this year.

In a complaint letter to the ACC, the director said that films, which were directed and produced by some of the board members of the association, were recognised as the best films on the night of the awards.

Serga Mathang and Hum Chewi Zamling, films that bagged the best and first runners up in the best film category were the films produced and directed by BAF board directors.

The director said that the vice president of BAF and the winner of best director award was the one who proposed and initiated the change in the criteria according to the minutes of the board meeting held on January 21.

After winning six awards, which included four major awards from seven, Tshorwa- The Inner Call was not even nominated for the best director award.

The changed criteria adversely affected the chances of Tshorwa-The Inner Call for the best film, said Karma Lhatrul Rinpoche. “If BAF had not changed the criteria, the film was an automatic winner of either best director or best film, or both by the way of it winning major categories in the awards and by the way of the existing BAF guidelines, which says that whichever film wins at least four major categories is sure in for the best film.”

BAF in a press release stated that the association proposed to the government to institute Best Film – Film of Excellence Awards to recognise the films of excellence.

On the January 13 the BAF board re-evaluated the guidelines for the Best Film – Film of Excellence Awards and set the selection criteria. BFA then conducted a meeting on January 16 where 20 producers of the films participated in an award function that endorsed the selection criteria for the new best film, states the press release.

However, Karma Lhatrul Rinpoche said that there was no formal signing and endorsement of any kind of agreement during the meeting on January 16. “For what I know, I had just signed for my attendance during the meeting and it wasn’t any sort of agreement,” he said.

Another director, Rigzang, who was involved in the cinematography of three films competing in the 16th Bhutan National Film Awards, said that since they have already signed a guideline with the association previously, the board’s decision to implement a new criteria without prior consultation with the members was irrelevant.

“We never knew about this new criteria set by the board members. We were never called for any meetings to discuss such changes to the guidelines,” he said. “With all my contributions to the industry till date, I feel that all members are important and must be informed of any changes to the system by the board members.”

During a meeting with the board directors yesterday, Rigzang said that the response from some of the board directors came as a surprise to him and others gathered. “When I asked why were we not informed of such decisions, they said they are not obliged to share everything with us all,” he said. “When the people we trusted to lead us gives us such response, our confidence in them totally dies out.”

Meanwhile, BFA in the press release stated that the producers of the films were given due time and notification to submit their movies and all rules were made clear to the producers.

“If anyone has doubts over the conduct of the awards, BFA would like to welcome them to our office. We also have a system whereby movie producers can even check how the jury members graded the movies. As a respectable association, the BFA would like to reiterate that we stand for the professional development of the film Industry,” states the press release.

Younten Tshedup

Emergence of more parties could hurt chances of BKP, DCT and DNT

Sat, 03/11/2017 - 15:34

The people of Bhutan are likely to have more political parties to choose from in the upcoming parliamentary elections in 2018. However, entry of new parties could hurt the chances of the three existing parties that are outside Parliament.

Druk Gaki Tshogpa, a party in the making, is in the final stages of drafting its charter. It says it will soon apply for registration with the Election Commission of Bhutan.

For the two established parties – Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – it will be a case of more the merrier. A political observer said entry of more new parties will only spilt the share of undecided and independent voters while it would be difficult to sway the people who have traditionally voted for PDP and DPT.

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s general secretary Tenzin Lekphel said: “I think they must have been inspired and motivated by the way the existing political parties have performed,” he said. “I think the new party will benefit. Therefore, we would like to welcome the party.”

He said that one good thing about the Bhutanese democracy is that a party cannot be formed easily. “There are election laws and rules that require and demand certain criteria to be fulfilled for them to get registered with the ECB,” he said.

A member of Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT) who did not want to be named said it is difficult to form a “credible political party” and that emergence of more parties could weaken the position of the existing parties outside parliament. “We have a small population and not many are interested to join politics,” he said.

However, one of the founders of Druk Gaki Tshogpa, Chheku Dukpa, is hopeful that he will be able to form a strong party and he is “not worried” about the dearth of candidates. “We would like to register the party soon. We would like to identify a suitable party president,” he said.
He said new parties should emerge. “We are not concerned about getting good candidates,” he said.

He said the party is also not concerned about financial resources and thinks that in the past two elections the parties have overspent. “Our strength will be our unique ideas and determination. The notion of having to gather enormous financial resources is not bothering us at this moment,” he said.

In an earlier recent interview Lily Wangchuk,  DCT’s president, said a merger of the new parties would form a political force that will be strong enough to form the government next year. But the idea received lukewarm response due to ideological differences among the parties.

Failure to garner a minimum of 10 percent of the total valid votes cast in a primary will make the party ineligible for state funding in the next elections. In 2013, DCT and DNT fought the primary but only the latter met the 10 percent threshold.

Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) was disqualified just before the primaries. Observers say that it would have been difficult for either of the three new parties to meet the 10 percent threshold.

A political party can accept voluntary contributions, financial or in kind, made by any of its registered members provided the total value of such contributions does not exceed Nu 500,000. However, a member of political party said contributions from members are not adequate and only a few are willing to contribute.

The new party is confident that it will come up fairly strong to compete with any other parties.

Chheku Dukpa claims that there are already many people coming forward to associate with their party. “We would like to have a very good party president.”

MB Subba

Party on school campus involving alcohol and cigarettes?

Sat, 03/11/2017 - 15:28

Concerns raised on social media

The Tendu Tshechu Committee (TTC) in Samtse has submitted a clarification regarding a post that recently went viral on social media, questioning the ethics of Tendu Central School authorities for allowing a party to be organised on the school’s campus.

A Facebook post by an anonymous user had attracted several mixed comments on school authorities allowing the party in the school’s multi-purpose hall.

The Facebook post mentioned that there was a separate place identified for a bar and a smoking zone similar to nightclubs. The post alleged that some former students of the school had even struck the school warden with a bottle during the party.

Since this party was organised during the tsechu on March 5 and 6, Tendu gup Nima Dukpa, who is also the dzongkhag tshogdu (DT) chairperson, said that a karaoke session was organised by the committee.

In an emailed response to Kuensel, he said that the karaoke nights were organised in order to allow faculty and officials to meet and interact.

However, photos posted on Facebook shows that youth were also in attendance.

“The karaoke night was similar to normal activities in the school like promotion party, baby showers, welcome dinner or farewell dinner,” he said. “It was exclusively for school, officers and gewog officials.”

The gup further explained that the fight never happened in the school. “Those drunk former students were ushered away from the school compound,” he said. “Suddenly one boy threw a stone at the school’s gate and the other threw a bottle from the dark and hit our warden’s head resulting in a little swelling but no major injuries.”

The DT chairperson said that they handed over the boys to the police sensing potential complications.

Sipsu police said that the patrol team in Tendu had apprehended the boys and later released them after questioning.

Although the committee has clarified, there are also a few who shared that this party was organised despite some faculty members objecting.

A Tendu resident, requesting anonymity, said alcohol was distributed as prizes to dancers during the first day of the karaoke. “They should have discontinued the party after the warden was hit,” he said. “Availability of alcohol and cigarettes in the school area sets a bad example.”

The residents alleged that even the concerned authorities were involved.

Another resident said that the girls hostel is located near the multi-purpose hall where the party was organised and it was not safe for the girls. “There are many girls staying in rented apartments and such parties could be harmful,” he said.

Another Tendu resident, who also did not want to be named, shared his experience of attending the party and said he paid Nu 100 as entry fee and that there were separate areas for bar, juice, snacks, and smoking. “Along with the entry ticket, numbers were provided for lucky draw,” he said.

The TCS principal refused to comment.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Panbang locals lament delayed town plan

Sat, 03/11/2017 - 15:13

In the plains of Tugudemba in Panbang, an old hut, supported by multiple poles, stands perilously about a metre above the ground.

Through the holes in the old bamboo mats that make  up the hut’s wall, people can be seen within.

CGI sheets have also been used as walls to protect the hut’s residents from rain. But on one side of the hut the CGI sheet has moved out of place and the interior of the hut is exposed to the elements.

Leki Dorji, 69, and his wife live in the hut. He explained that strong winds destroyed his hut a few years back.

But since then he has not been able to either repair his hut or construct a new house.

This is because Tugudemba has been identified as the site for the new Panbang town.

As a result, the dungkhag has frozen all construction activities in the area.

“Otherwise I have all the materials at the site,” Leki Dorji said. He claimed that he had collected construction materials: three truckloads of stones and timber and a truckload of sand, three years ago.

The materials are still in place a few metres away from his house, now, covered in grass.

His neighbour, Pema, 45, runs a shop in a bamboo hut. She too has been waiting to be allowed to construct a new house.

There is timber stacked behind her house. “I bought this timber to build a house,” she said. “I could not use it since the dungkhag did not allow.”

The timber has rotted despite being covered by plastic sheets.

The mother of six said she would have constructed a small house by now if she had been allowed. “Rain seeps in through the roof during the monsoon,” she said.

It is not only the residents of Tugudemba that are affected by the delay in implementation of the town plan.

Shopkeepers in Panbang town, located a few kilometres away from Tugudemba, are also waiting as construction activities have been frozen here as well.

They run businesses in huts and single storeyed houses.

Nado, 60, who runs a shop in Panbang said no one is sure if they will have to move to Tugudemba once the town plan comes through.

He said he is also worried business might not be as good if they shift to Tugudemba since all the government offices, including the dungkhang office is located  near Panbang town.

Panbang dungpa, Mani Sangye, said the dungkhag wants to implement the town plan immediately as desired by the people. “But the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement is still planning,” he said. “It is expected to come through soon.”
Nima Wangdi | Panbang

Chief Justice cautions judicial officials on breaches of conduct

Sat, 03/11/2017 - 15:10

… says those found in violation will be penalised

Going by the Chief Justice’s opening address at the annual judicial conference that began yesterday there is cause for concern in the judiciary.

Chief Justice Tshering Wangchuk raised serious concerns on the lack of compliance to the judiciary’s code of conduct by judicial officials. He referred to recent examples when the judiciary came under fire with accusations being made against the Chief Justice himself and allegations of corruption in the judiciary.

Thrimchi Tshering Wangchuk blamed some of the judicial officials for some of the criticisms against the institution. “The judicial officials colluding and conspiring with clients has also promoted the fomenting of unnecessary criticism against the Chief Justice and the judiciary,” he said.

“Violation of the Judicial Code of Conduct and laws will jeopardise careers. Unbridled ambition and impatience will tarnish the image of the judiciary, stifle confidence and the lack of unity will pose grave danger to the independence of judiciary.”

“Internal strife and one-upmanship will negate the ability of the judiciary to uphold its constitutional mandate to function as the guardian of the Constitution.”

The Chief Justice said issues of non-maintenance of confidentiality and professional secrecy concerning matters related to the judiciary discussed within the four walls of the courts are becoming a cause for concern. Judges and judicial staff must abide by the code of conduct and oath taken, he said.

“The need for judicial officials to abide by the judicial code of conduct, and maintaining high levels of integrity and confidentiality is not a choice but an imperative,” he said.

Calling for responsibility and accountability, the Chief Justice said that any indiscretion henceforth will be dealt with penalties and actions based on the gravity of the breach in respective cases.

The five–day conference with the theme “Inspiring public trust and confidence” will endorse the Judicial Responsibility and Accountability Regulations.

Once the two other vacancies for justices in the Supreme Court are taken, the Chief Justice will be responsible for the High Court and the other four justices will be allotted five dzongkhags each. The justices will visit the dzongkhags annually to observe hearings, hold discussions with the officials.

The evaluation will also include reviewing the three best judgments selected by the drangpon and three judgments randomly picked by the Justice in-Charge.

The track record will be used in recommending judges to Constitutional posts. He said that such a process will enable the justices to gain first hand information regarding the ground realities and capability of the lower court judges.

Another possibility, the Chief Justice said, was that with the establishment of the Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law in Paro the judgments of the courts will be critiqued. This, he said, should keep the judges alert and improve the quality of drafting, reasoning, and application of laws.

“Legal professionals must serve the nation as servants of the law, patriots to the nation and with absolute and undivided loyalty to the Throne,” the Chief Justice said.

“Inspiring trust and confidence in the justice delivery system is easier said than done,” the chief Justice said.

He said that besides efficiency, fairness and clear conscience in deciding cases, what matters is perceptions.

The Supreme Court also issued the first writ directing the government to reconsider establishing thromdes in the remaining 16 dzongkhags. The judiciary also launched 12 services of its notary public office online.

Tshering Palden

National film awards: Filmmaker cries foul

Fri, 03/10/2017 - 17:08

The director and co-producer of film Tshorwa – The Inner Call has made several allegations against the National Film Association board of directors regarding the awards.

The debutant director alleged that the board had secretly changed the criteria of the film awards to suit the new Prime Minister’s Awards that were given to the three best films that booked Nu 1 million each in prizes.

The association issued a guideline a month before the award ceremony which spells out that the film that bags most of the major awards would automatically qualify as the best film.

Out of 31 award categories, debutant director Karma Lhatrul Rinpoche’s film won in six. It won three of the seven major awards: the best visual editor, cinematography, and background score, and another three minor awards which should have put it through as one of the best films.

“The film was not even nominated for the best director award,” the director said.

That was because the board in a meeting adopted another set of criteria for the best film awards, he said. “We never knew.”

The best film was judged on eight categories: best director which was worth 30 percent of the total score, screenplay (20 percent), culture and Dzongkha (25 percent), and five percent each for actors’ performance, cinematography, editor, sound designer, and background score.

The weightage on the various categories were different from the guidelines that the 20 film producers entering the awards competition had signed.

The director said that the weightage should have been the same for all categories in the new criteria, which should not have happened in the first place.

Moreover, two of the board members were involved in two films that won the best film awards and also received their share of the prize money. “That I think is conflict of interest,” the director said.

The vice president of the board was the director and script writer of the film Serga Mathang that won the best film award and took the Prime Minister’s Award.

“Going by the declaration we signed with legal stamps, Serga Mathang should have been disqualified because the film made a false nomination in the new comer female category. Their nominee had already acted in a few films before,” the director said.

While the film Thrung Thrung Karmo could not win any awards, it was declared the second runners up of the Prime Minister’s Award and grabbed Nu 1 million.

“Personally I have nothing against the board members. The issue is Tshorwa film against the authority on these issues,” the director said.

National Film Association president Mila Tobgay said that there is no corruption involved.

He said that the government had agreed to sponsor the prize money for the three best films to promote the industry. The association had submitted the criteria to the government on how it would be disbursed should it release the money. However, the funding was not released at the time the films were registered for the awards.

“So we went ahead with the usual guidelines for the nominations. Later when the prize money was confirmed we had to switch to the criteria that we’d submitted to the government and the change was accepted by the producers entering the competition in a meeting,” he said.

He said if the producers had concerns of conflict of interest on board members being part of films being nominated for awards, they should have raised it in the numerous meetings the executives had with them.

“We’ve been transparent and we’re ready to clarify on any of the issues,” Mila Tobgay said.

Tshering Palden

Sustainability of geo-synthetics reinforced walls questioned

Fri, 03/10/2017 - 17:06

The Ministry of Works and Human Settlement (MoWHS) will meet with DANTAK to discuss its use of Geo-synthetics Reinforced Walls (GRW) between the Paro and Chhuzom highway to contain landslides.

The ministry has also raised concerns pertaining to the aesthetic aspect of the new technology. GRW was introduced as a substitute to the conventional stone masonry breast wall.

GRW was first constructed along the Thimphu-Paro highway. The GRW has also been used on the road stretch between Paro and Drukgyal Dzong. GRW was adopted to reduce construction time and overcome scarcity of construction materials.

MoWHS minister Dorji Choden said that the project and the ministry are going to meet to discuss the new technology. Though the ministry wrote to the project to make a presentation on GRW, the moment the ministry saw its construction along the Paro highway, the two agencies could not meet unable to agree on a meeting date.

“We are awaiting to come to an agreement on a mutually agreed date for the meeting,” Lyonpo Dorji Choden said.

The letter dated September 14, 2016, from the ministry to the project, stated that while GRW must have its advantages the public are not convinced by the new technology. “Many commented that the walls do not look like a wall,” stated the letter.

Paro Dzongkhag Tshogdu’s chairperson, Tshering Dorji, said that though people have not submitted any written petition concerning GRW, sustainability is a concern. “Some of the walls can be seen sliding away from its original position towards the road,” Tshering Dorji said.

He also expects DANTAK to construct a permanent wall rather than a GRW to mitigate landslides and erosion on fragile slopes.

The ministry also wrote in its letter that the Department of Roads as the technical agency responsible for the construction of roads also found the GRW walls out of place and unappealing. As far as DoR is concerned, going by the physical outlook of GRW, it is neither sustainable nor aesthetic and eco-friendly. “If it’s giving in within a few months of its construction, how is it going to be sustainable,” DoR director Karma Galay said.

Other officials from the ministry felt that digging up the slopes to construct GRWs would further escalate sliding on the fragile slopes.

DoR design division chief engineer, Lungten Jamtsho, said that the department is unaware of the new technology. “We do not know if the new technology is structurally sound since the department has not studied it before,” Lungten Jamtsho said.

However, if GRW is found to be cost-effective and environment-friendly, DoR would also be keen to take up the new technology.

Project DANTAK refused to comment on the use of GRWs.

Tempa Wangdi

A more gender sensitive media

Fri, 03/10/2017 - 17:04

During a panel discussion held at the ongoing national conference on women in governance, leadership, and politics in Thimphu, a concern was raised that the mainstream media in Bhutan is not gender-sensitive.

There are limitations in the way mainstream media cover gender issues but it is not a deliberate policy. Newsrooms in Bhutan face human resource shortages and limitations, and therefore may not always be able to accord the sensitivity an issue such as gender deserves on a consistent basis.

But we do try. When journalists come across a story of a girl or woman who is attempting to succeed or might have achieved success in a traditionally male-dominated domain, we do attempt to provide the best possible coverage as a means to encourage other girls and women with examples.

It was an encouraging moment, undoubtedly for all media personnel present at the conference, when a woman who had stood as a candidate during the recent local government election thanked the media during the panel discussion for its coverage. While she did not win the post, she said that the media coverage had helped in getting her husband to encourage and support her.

But there were also examples of gender-insensitive reporting provided, for instance, the headline used for a Kuensel editorial on the government dropping its pledge to introduce a women’s quota that said: “Good riddance to the quota”.

While this newspaper stands by its stance that elected posts should be held by people based on their capabilities and qualities, and that awareness and education is the way forward towards achieving gender parity, we do acknowledge that we need more awareness on how we can report and write more gender sensitively. This goes for both men and women journalists.

Such panel discussions provide such opportunities to further raise the media’s awareness that such issues exist and need to be addressed. There is a need for more such meetings and it would be recommended that media houses meet among themselves, with other agencies, and with the public from time to time to further discuss the issue.

There is a need to reexamine the content of our news when it comes to gender reporting, not just for women but men as well. We need to constantly question ourselves if we are reinforcing stereotypes or getting the wrong ideas across.

It was also pointed out that there is a high attrition rate when it comes to women journalists. However, there is also a high attrition rate for men journalists and therefore the reasons for women leaving the profession may not entirely be gender based.

But to reduce the chances of women leaving journalism, and to encourage more representation, there is a need to have better support systems in place. For instance, newsrooms could be more flexible when it comes to timing with women journalists especially if they are mothers. Offices could also consider providing day care rooms so that journalists could bring their children to office.

Bhutan observes World Kidney Day

Fri, 03/10/2017 - 17:03

Bhutan yesterday observed World Kidney Day for the first time. Bhutan will now celebrate the day every year.

The day highlights the importance of kidney health.

The theme of this year’s kidney day is obesity, which is not a new health problem but is affecting an increasing number of people in Bhutan and around the world.

Speaking at the programme in Thimphu, health minister Tandin Wangchuk stressed the importance of maintaining an appropriate body mass to minimise the risks. He also said that it is important for people to engage in physical activities to keep their body healthy.

During the financial year 2015-16, 21 kidney patients were referred to India for treatment, according to him. He said about Nu 21.7 million was spent by the government on treatment.

There are 16 dialysis machines in the country. The health minister expressed his gratitude to His Majesty The King for the generous support being provided to the patients.

Dr Lotay Tshering of the Bhutan Kidney Foundation said it is important for people to remind themselves about the importance of kidney health. He said kidney diseases are preventable.

High blood pressure, diabetes, bad food habits, obesity and lack of physical activities, are causes of kidney diseases. “It’s important to spread awareness in our communities,” he said.

Nephrologist Dr Minjur Dorji said there are about 20,000 people suffering from obesity in the country. He said that people would see the impact of the disease on their body only when 80 percent of the organ has been destroyed.

“It’s a silent killer,” he said, adding that creating awareness was important. He said diabetes was one of the main causes of kidney diseases. “However, no proper research has been carried out in the country,” he added.

Dr Minjur Dorji said that minimising the intake of alcohol, salt and oil will reduce the risk of kidney diseases. “Kidney diseases are preventable. We should not smoke,” he said.

MB Subba

Combating addiction professionally

Fri, 03/10/2017 - 17:01

The Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA) awarded a group of 25 addiction professionals with International Certified Addictions Professional (ICAP) Level I certificates in Thimphu yesterday.

The 25 counsellors are from various schools, colleges, government agencies, the Royal Bhutan Army and NGOs. After undergoing a series of training sessions set by the Colombo Plan over a period of four years, the participants received their credentials that will be recognised in 60 different countries.

In doing so, Bhutan became the first country in the list of several Colombo Plan member countries to complete the in-country training and credentialing of addiction professionals.

BNCA director general, Phuntsho Wangdi, said that the achievement of the participants is a milestone in the authority’s effort towards combating the growing problems of addiction in the country. “We have now added 25 new addiction professionals on the existing stock of 10 that we have in the country,” he said. “What is more important is that these counsellors will serve in places where the vulnerability of problem remains high, that is, the schools and colleges.”

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk who presented the certificates said that the problem of substance abuse is complex and it needs trained professionals to deal with the issue. “We are in need of such professionals to enhance our intervention against the rising drug abuse,” he said.

The minister said that according to the World Drug Report 2016, there are 246 million drug users in the world, an increase of three million users from the previous year. He added that around 187,100 people die due to drug related causes every year.

“Almost all the countries have been affected by the menace of drug abuse.  Bhutan too, being geographically located at a vulnerable location that is, near the regions which produce the largest quantity of illegal drugs, has been affected by the problem too.”

Lyonpo said that although the statistics maintained by the Royal Bhutan Police does not show a significant rise in arrests related to drug use and illicit trafficking since 2010, the country should not be complacent.

“What is worrying is, it affects the people in their prime age. As per the records maintained by the BNCA since 2010, youth comprised of 55.95 to 82.95 percent among the people arrested for drug related offences,” said the minister. “Drug abuse still continues to pose a serious threat to the public health, safety and well-being of our people, especially among the youth.”

The minister congratulated the certificate recipients and said: “I have been told that it has been a long journey and hard work requiring you to attend a series of training which started four years back to complete eight curricula and finally to sit for the exam to receive this credential. It is a well-deserved certificate.”

There are a total of 35 addiction professionals in the country today.

Younten Tshedup

Building the capacities of track and field referees

Fri, 03/10/2017 - 17:01

In an attempt to professionalise the refereeing system in the country, a four-day track and field referee course concluded on Wednesday in Thimphu.

The Technical Officials Education Certification System (TOECS) Level-I training helped equip 22 School Sports Instructors (SSIs) with the technical know-how on conducting track and field events and competitions.

This is the second time the Bhutan Amateur Athletic Federation (BAAF) is conducting the TOECS to update and build the capacity of SSIs. The first Level-I TOECS was conducted in 2009 where 24 participants mostly school teachers were imparted with the know-how.

BAAF general secretary, Dorji Tenzin, said that since most of the teachers with Level-I experience have now moved to different places, the need to groom young aspiring SSIs is necessary. “This training will help the federation get better and qualified referees to conduct competitions and events in the country.”

Dorji Tenzin said that with the growing sporting culture in the country, the need for qualified referees has become crucial in order to conduct competitions professionally. “For potential athletes we require qualified coaches. But if there are no qualified referees to coordinate competitions, the risk of compromising the quality of any sport is very high.”

One of the participants, Tshetrim Yoezer, said with growing interest from students in game and sports, SSIs need to keep up with changing rules and regulations in various disciplines and also build their technical knowhow.

“In sports the rules are never constant. International bodies keep changing the regulations to keep up with the changing circumstances. It is very important for an SSI like us to be updated with the latest regulations so that our students are taught the right thing,” said Tshetrim Yoezer.

Tshetrim Yoezer is an SSI at the Tencholing Primary School in Wangdue and is an ardent sportsman. He said that the training was an enriching experience and that he will take it back to his school and use it for the development of his students. “This was my first time receiving such training. I learned so many things but I still have a lot to learn,” he said.

Of the 22 participants, Tshetrim Yoezer stood second scoring 79 percent during an examination that was conducted to measure the competency of the participants. He now has an opportunity to take part in the TOECS Level-II training.

The SSIs will now go back to their respective dzongkhags and conduct a dzongkhag-level track and field referee course and share the knowledge with their colleagues and other sports instructors.

Dorji Tenzin said that since almost 98 percent of Bhutanese athletes are currently in schools, it is important to build the capacities of the SSIs so that the students get the right foundation.

BAAF has also started the Coaches Education Certification System Level-I training at the synthetic track in Thimphu from today.

Younten Tshedup

Trade deficit widens to Nu 32B

Fri, 03/10/2017 - 17:00

Export of electricity contributed Nu 13.03B

The government’s export promotion drive and import substitution did not so much result in improving the country’s trade balance, which began deteriorating since 2013.

The recent trade statistics show a trade deficit of Nu 32.10 billion (B) last year against Nu 32.80B in 2015.  The slight improvement last year could be attributed to the increased earnings from electricity export.

Had it not been for the electricity export worth Nu 13.03B, the country could have experienced a deficit of Nu 44.9B last year. In 2015, trade deficit excluding electricity export was Nu 44.68B.

The country has imported goods valued at Nu 67.36B, of which around 82 percent (Nu 55.28B) was from India. Likewise, the country’s export earning was valued at Nu 35.25B, of which 90 percent came from India. This means the country’s balance of trade with India is Nu 23.23B in the red and Nu 8.89B in deficit with countries other than India.

A country experiences a trade deficit or negative trade balance if its import bill is more than its export earning.

While electricity is the largest export commodity the country produces, the hydropower loan repayment of close to Nu 3B annually has to be  also financed from its  earning.

Diesel is the top import item valued at Nu 5.77B. Petrol and diesel combined came to Nu 7.53B in fuel expenses last year alone.

  Increasing import of fuel can be attributed to the swelling import of vehicles and spare parts worth Nu 6.94B.

Bhutan imported Nu 3.84B worth of vegetable products classified under the BTC code. In return, the country earned Nu 2.87B from the export of the same commodity, leaving a deficit of about 963 million (M).

Dairy products and meat also resulted in an outflow of about Nu 1.48B and 998M respectively. As usual rice is one of the top 10 imported tems valued at Nu 1.53B. Motor vehicle for transport of goods, dumpers designed for off-highway use and machineries with a 360-degree revolving superstructure, among others, are in the top-ten import commodities.

However, apart from electricity, the country’s largest export earning in absolute terms is ferro-silicon. Last year, export of ferro-silicon resulted in an earning of Nu 6.83B. Cement and cardamom helped bring in Nu 1.6B and Nu 1.34B respectively.

Calcium carbide, dolomite, silicon carbide and potatoes are listed as the country’s top-ten export commodity.

After India, the top countries from where Bhutan imported most goods are Thailand, China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.

Electricity remains the nucleus of the country’s trade balance. At a time when commissioning of mega power projects is being deferred, correcting the trade deficit could remain an uphill task because many economic projections has already been made based on the earning from these projects.

Tshering Dorji

Supporting the widows of the 2014 boat accident

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 17:08

Almost three years after a boat mishap in Rendibi, Zhemgang, took the lives of nine men in the remote village of Langdurbi, depriving families of their main income earners, a social protection scheme of Nu 568,000 was spent to improve the livelihoods of the victims.

The agriculture ministry’s rural livelihood project (RLP)-III, which operates from Zhemgang, has provided CGI sheets to three households and Jersey cows to five households.

Bardo gewog mangmi, Tshering Tenzin, said two households, which opted for cardamom and a household that opted for mandarin will receive the saplings by May this year.

He said that the support benefitted the victims, as the three women who opted for CGI sheets could not roof their houses, after they lost their husbands.

One of the victims, who chose the CGI sheets, was using it to roof her incomplete house, as she could not add another storey after her husband died. “It will really help the victim during the monsoon,” a resident of the village said.

RLP’s project monitoring and evaluation officer, Dawa Dakpa, said the project focuses on improving the livelihoods of the rural poor in the country and they felt the need to uplift the living standards of those vulnerable families in Langdurbi.

Langdurbi is a day’s walk from the Bardo gewog centre and a day’s walk from the nearest road head in Rendibi.

The people living in the 72 households in the village are beneficiaries of Tarayana Foundation, a civil society organisation focused on uplifting and enhancing the lives of the vulnerable population in the country.

The people in the village depend on subsistence agriculture and families cultivate maize. As the most inaccessible village in the dzongkhag, people depend on horses and work as day labourers at construction sites for their main source of cash income.

After the boat mishap that occurred on May 2014, the widows struggled to make ends meet. In November 2015, the widow of one of the victim’s committed suicide, leaving her three children behind. Today, the children are looked after by their uncle, who works as a cook in a school in the gewog.

Dawa Dakpa said that two of the nine households have been categorised under the “very poor” category during the wealth ranking exercise conducted in 2015. “The families needed urgent external support and we decided to step in.”

He said that most families chose dairy farming, as they could sell dairy products in the village and use the income to educate their children.

A beneficiary, Dorji Dema, who chose mandarin, said she decided to plant mandarin so that her three children could benefit in the future. “As they grow older, they need money for their education and I hope to earn some income from the mandarin.”

Of the three acres of land she owns, she decided to use about an acre and a half for mandarin plantation.

Dorji Dema was left with her three children, the youngest only five months old when her husband died. She also has a visually impaired mother and an uncle to look after.

“Life became difficult for my family after my husband died but it has to go on,” she said. “It must have been our fate.”

Tashi Dema

Jomotsangkha residents call for immediate flood protection measures

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 17:07

Monsoon is not far away and like previous years, the residents of Jomotsangkha dungkhag are concerned about the Jomo ri (river) and Karpo ri.

Residents said measures should be in place to prevent the river from entering the town if it swells.

While the rivers completely dry up during the winters, come monsoon and residents spend sleepless nights worrying if the rivers will burst their banks. The town is surrounded by the Karpo ri on its west and the Jomo ri on its east.

The town has experienced several minor flash floods in the past. Many residents said that they fear for their lives with the monsoons getting more unpredictable.

Many said there is a need for flood protection walls to be built immediately. The issue was raised in different forums but nothing has happened, residents said.

Langchenphu gup, Gumu Singh Gaylal, raised the issue during the Dzongkhag Tshogdu held last month.

Gup Gumu Singh Gaylal said that despite the threat there is no separate budget available to construct the flood protection walls. He added that the Gewog Development Grant would not be enough.

The gup informed the tshogdu’s members that if the issue is not addressed at the earliest, a flood could cause extensive damage which would mean more costly repairs and mitigation measures.

“Even if there is no budget to build a permanent protection wall, we should at least come up with temporary measures,” he said.
Dungpa Lamdra Wangdi also shared the same concern. He said that the mitigation work could cost millions unless it is taken up as a separate project. He added that at present, building the walls looks impossible.

“There is a need for temporary measures soon,” he said. He added that the Department of Disaster Management has approved Nu 15 million for the Karpo Ri, and another Nu 20 million for another river, the Jangsa, for the construction of protection walls, however, the budget is yet to be released to the dzongkhag.

Owing to lack of budget and given the urgency of the situation, a proposal was prepared for the works and human settlement ministry for a flood protection wall. Dzongdag Tharchen Lhendup said given the geographical area of both the rivers, construction of the protection wall would not be simple, and that the proposal will be submitted to the ministry soon.

He added that the dzongkhag would closely work with the gewog and dungkhag to carry out immediate measures as soon as possible.

Yangchen C Rinzin | Samdrupjongkhar

794kgs of green chillies seized in Bajo

Thu, 03/09/2017 - 17:06

The Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) office in Wangdue  seized 794kgs of imported green chillies from Bajo town yesterday.

At least nine vegetable vendors were found to have been involved in illegally importing green chillies, which were hidden in boxes containing cabbages, officials said.

Each vendor was fined ten times the market rate of Nu 50/kg. A total of Nu 397,000 in fines were levied on the nine vendors. The highest fine levied was Nu 100,000 for 200kgs of green chillies and the lowest was Nu 7,500 levied on a vendor who smuggled in 15kgs.

This is the largest quantity of imported chillies seized by BAFRA officials in Wangdue. BAFRA officials have been seizing 5-10kgs of chillies almost every week.

BAFRA officials said they found the chillies while inspecting a truck from which imported vegetables were being offloaded in Bajo yesterday.

BAFRA officials said the vendors will have to pay the fines by March 25.

Staff reporter

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