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Updated: 9 min 13 sec ago

Focus point

2 hours 59 min ago

FM writes to RMA’s board to reassess NPL cooling period 

2 hours 59 min ago

Thukten Zangpo 

Finance Minister Namgay Tshering wrote to the Royal Monetary Authority’s (RMA) board to reassess the cooling period on loan accounts categorised as non-performing loans (NPL).

As per the RMA, loan accounts that have once been categorised under NPL, even after the repayments have to undergo a six-month cooling period with no bank guarantee and letter of credit.

With no bank guarantee and letter of credit, the contractors were not able to carry out the on-construction works.

The minister wrote on January 25, that the Board and management of the RMA could reassess the issue and possibly develop a differentiated approach to observe the cooling period depending on the severity and duration of default by the borrowers.

“Else there is a huge risk of dragging performing businesses into the watch and loss category of NPL,” the minister said.



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NPL are loans with payments that are overdue by 90 days or more. Four categories of NPL are watch exposure (31 to 90 days), sub-standard exposure (91 to 180 days), doubtful exposure (181 to 365 days), and loss exposure (366 days and above).   

Acknowledging and appreciating the reform initiatives undertaken by the RMA to streamline financial services in the country, Lyonpo stated that he is also equally concerned about the applications of prudential regulations particularly the observation period for loan defaulters irrespective of severity and duration of result.

Lyonpo asked the Board to reassess the ground situation stemming out of the prudential norm and come up with solutions that are more practical since the economy is healing after the downturn from the pandemic.



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He also shared his concerns on the negative impact of the regulation on business entities especially in the construction sector although there has to build better credit culture and inculcate a sense of discipline among the borrowers.

“I am hopeful that thorough assessment of the ground situation has been undertaken in close consultation with the business chamber and allied private sectors,” Lyonpo said.

The letter also asked the RMA to come up with possible solutions to balance the reform initiatives with the continuity of businesses during this time of economic uncertainties.

The President of the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Tandy Dorji said that the businesses would abide by the RMA’s six months’ cooling period, however, he requested if the cooling period could be enforced progressively, as and when the economy improves.

Water metre installation in Thimphu to be completed by March

3 hours 1 min ago

Jigmi Wangdi

The Thimphu Thromde plans to complete the water metre installation in South Thimphu by March.

Many households in thromde have been drawing water from the streams.

In North Thimphu, the installation will be completed by February.

Water metres in more than 200 households in Pamtsho and for around 160 households in Upper Taba have been installed

However, the installation is taking some time for the south of Thimphu as the new water treatment plant in Chamgang is yet to be completed.



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An official from thromde said that the public has been notified about the situation.

“The costs of the water metre depend on domestic and commercial areas. We will charge Nu 4.35 per 1000 litres for domestic areas and Nu 11.6 per 1000 litres for commercial areas,” said the official.

The cost will also depend on the number of users.

The World Bank and WHO standards state that a unit will consume 20 cubic metres or 20,000 litres of water.



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“We multiply the 20 cubic metres by the number of households in the area. This is then multiplied by the rates we have in place for the domestic and commercial units. The total will be the monthly cost,” the official said.

Commercial units are buildings or apartments that have shops, restaurants and other businesses while domestic units are households.

Water metre installations in core Thimphu have been completed.

Easier commute between Wangdue and Dagana

3 hours 1 min ago

Choki Wangmo | Dagana

The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Lyonpo Dorji Tshering, inaugurated the 69km Peling-Kamichhu bypass road yesterday.

The 21-km bypass construction that connects Laptsakarchu in Tseza (12km), Dagana and Wogayna village in Dakar (8.29km), Wangdue was jointly carried out by Dagana and Wangdue dzongkhags.

This means that Dagaps from Tseza, Khebisa, and Kana gewogs can now travel via this bypass and reach Kamichu in Wangdue without having to travel through Dagana-Sunkosh road.



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Today, the distance from Daga Dzong to Kamichu in Wangdue is about 130km via Sunkosh. It is a reduction in travel time of two hours (63km) for the residents in these gewogs.

The new bypass brings in new hope for the residents. Once the blacktopping and GSB works are complete, they say that the future prospects in the area are expected to improve with better economic activities. Currently, the road is only usable for 4WD vehicles.

According to Peling Chiwog residents, outsiders have already started purchasing land in the chiwog. “This indicates that our land, which had been abandoned, would be revived,” said a resident, Gyeltshen.



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“Without road connectivity, I left the village seeking better opportunities in towns at 36. Many left too,” said the 71-year-old. Out of about 30 households in the chiwog, only 13 are occupied today.

He said that with the provision of such basic infrastructure, people would be drawn back to their villages. The area, he said, is feasible for the cultivation of any type of crop.

“We don’t leave because we don’t like our villages. We had to leave due to the challenges of making a living,” another Peling resident said.

The road will also benefit people in Kamina, one of the remotest villages in Daga gewog, Wangdue.



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An official from Wangdue dzongkhag administration said that the administration was worried that without a road connection, three households in Kamina could be moved to other places.

Tseza Gup Samten Jamtsho said that bypass would help farmers market their produce easily. “The gewog has commercial vegetable producers but face difficulties due to lack of access to the market.”

“Tzesa Gewog has several pilgrimage sites and most of the traditional houses are preserved. If the road condition is better, this would help boost domestic tourism,” he added.

Lyonpo said that he would look into the upgradation works.

The bypass construction, started in 2016, was built at the cost of Nu 40.2 million.

Flash floods and landslides, Bhutan’s common weather extreme events 

3 hours 3 min ago

Chhimi Dema  

In the past seven years, the country experienced 32 extreme weather events including flash floods, landslides, snowfall, and pre and post-monsoon disturbances claiming lives and destroying crops and properties.

Three individuals were killed in Pemagatshel during a landslide in 2021. The swollen Amochhu washed away 26 cattle in Samtse in the same year.

Extreme events are occurrences of unusually severe weather or climate conditions that can cause devastating impacts on communities and agricultural and natural ecosystems.



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Weather-related extreme events are often short-lived and include heat waves, freezes, heavy downpours, and floods.

The National Hydrology and Metrology Centre (NCHM)’s report on extreme meteorological events include events from 2016 to July 2022.

The extreme weather events were retrieved from mainstream media supported with data collected from their weather stations.

From 2016 to July 2022, the highest number of extreme weather events were flash floods and landslides caused by incessant rainfall.

Pre and post-monsoon events were recorded seven times last year making it the highest extreme weather experienced.



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Various international reports mention that “climate change has exacerbated the intensity of extreme weather events, as global warming increases the evaporation of surface waters into the atmosphere, drying areas with little rain and increasing rainfall in others.”

According to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), a disaster related to a weather, climate or water hazard occurred every day on average over the past 50 years killing 115 people and causing USD 202 million in losses daily.

Asian Development Bank’s report published in 2014 stated that Bhutan could lose over six percent of its Gross Domestic Product annually by the year 2100 due to melting glaciers and climate change-induced extremes.



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No recent data on the economic loss caused by climate change are available.

WMO recommends countries review hazard exposure and vulnerability considering a changing climate; strengthen disaster risk financing mechanisms at national and international levels, especially for least-developed countries and small island developing states and territories.

No snow is poor winter

3 hours 4 min ago

In three of the past six years, Thimphu and surrounding dzongkhags at similar altitudes experienced at least one snowfall by now. In 2018, it snowed as early as December 19. In 2020, it was on January 6 and on January 20 in 2016.

The weather forecast has three “mostly sunny” days in a row across the country starting today. While it will be a warmer weekend, not snowing is a concern, especially for farmers who depend on snowfall for their winter crops like wheat. Snow is important not only for farmers but for the river system and our glaciers up in the mountains.



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Not snowing in winter is a global concern as it is seen as evidence of climate change and global warming. Many cities around the world that see heavy snowfall have not experienced snowfall while in the US, unusual snowfall from a cold wave killed as many as 68 people in some parts. In Europe, ski resorts are forced to shut down as the continent experiences some of the highest January temperatures on record.  

Closer to home, a climate modelling project, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) conducted, states that the average snow cover in the northern hemisphere has decreased by 1.5 percent since the 1970s. Climate change is blamed as one of the many factors. ICIMOD studies state that glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, which includes Bhutan, are retreating at an average rate of 0.3 to one metre per year. 



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While lack of snow could affect hydrology, water for drinking and irrigation, it is the threat to our glaciers that is more worrying. Without snow the moraine dams between the glacial lakes are exposed letting it absorb more heat than when covered with snow. Our efforts to remain carbon negative is not enough in a fast heating world. Impact of human-induced climate change and global warming, it is said, is felt in the mountains first. As a mountainous country with a fragile ecosystem, it is bad news for us.

Past records show that it could still snow in February and even in March. Last year we experienced the heaviest snowfall in recent years when on February 5 even low lying areas like Punakha and Trongsa experienced snowfall.  In 2017, it snowed heavily on March 11 when fruit trees in places like Thimphu, Ha and Paro were flowering.

Snowfall patterns could differ from year to year, but what is certain is that winter in general is becoming drier if not warmer.  A one-time heavy snowfall like last winter could bring back snow to the mountains, but warming winter temperatures and decreasing snow is likely to continue, according to studies.

Home is not a commodity, but a right

3 hours 5 min ago

Homeownership “is the basis of stability and security for an individual or family. At the center of our social, emotional, and sometimes economic lives, a home should be a sanctuary—a place to live in peace, security, and dignity.”

Therefore, home is not a commodity but a right.

Section 1 of Article 7 of the Constitution guarantees the right to life and liberty as one of the first fundamental rights. Our monarchs have worked hard to ensure these rights, beginning with the reduction and elimination of numerous taxes; and continuing with the grant of land to landless citizens for land rehabilitation. However, besides His Majesty’s initiative, successive governments have given the least priority to any form of homeownership. With the exodus of Bhutanese leaving the country for Australia, mainly for economic reasons, homeownership should become a greater priority than ever.



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 Many countries have made homeownership a priority, considering its impact on everyone’s lives. For example, Singapore introduced homeownership and later the “down payment and mortgage payments for homes through Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings in 1968.” An Asian Development Bank Institute working paper revealed in 2016 that the “homeownership rate for the resident population has been above 90% since the early 1990s” in Singapore. Similarly, Japan has a homeownership rate of over 60% as of 2018.

In Thailand, the government initiated the Housing Welfare Program through the development of abandoned state lands nationwide. The government made this possible by allowing civil servants to pay 30-year installments at a 3 percent annual interest rate, with monthly payments not exceeding 3000 Baht. The average salary in Thailand is around 20,000 baht per month for civil servants. In Australia, the Home Guarantee Scheme helps homeownership through the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation. The buyers have to pay as little as 5 percent of the total amount payable, and in the case of family-first buyers, only 2 percent of the total price initially.



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 Here, Business Bhutan reported: “a 3-bedroom flat was available for Nu. 3.5 million in March 2022 and would cost around Nu. 6 million” by August 2022. At this price, adding inflation and income taxes, even the Prime Minister’s salary won’t be enough to buy a three-bedroom flat, if he saves his entire salary without spending a penny for a five-year term. Further, the current housing loans are exorbitant with a floating interest rate that probably will only increase, inviting more non-performing loans. The housing loans are available only for those who have landed in urban towns or have enormous wealth as a mortgage and are not available to most of the population, including senior public servants.

Thus, if the government does not come up with a homeownership scheme any time soon, the most affected will be those who live on a monthly salary, including most senior public servants who are staying back without going to Australia or elsewhere. They will be the ones homeless after serving the country for decades as savings from salary remains a dream considering the living expenses in the country. Affordable homeownership will also be one of the key factors in reversing the Australia rush, as it will establish the certainty that one can own a home without going abroad or being wealthy at home.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.

Sustainable land management critical to better agricultural production 

3 hours 5 min ago

Chhimi Dema 

The country in the past 16 years developed around 26,886 acres of land to enable farmers to enhance farm productivity without degrading land resources.

The Sustainable Land Management (SLM) also called the Agriculture Land Development Programme began in the 1960s under the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MoAL).

It was then called the Soil Conservation Programme and the government provided farming tools and financial aid to develop the land.

The National Soil Services Centre under the then MOAF coordinated soil or land management research of the renewable natural resource sector in the country.

Bhutan has 2.93 percent of the land as cultivated agricultural land from a total land cover of 38,394 sq km.



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Head of the land management unit at the Soil Centre, Haka Drukpa, said that agricultural land management is important to ensure food security and sustainable farming in the country’s rugged terrain.

He said that during rainfall, farming on a steep slope causes surface erosion washing away the nutrient soil for plants’ growth. “Our research showed that depending on the slope, farmers are losing 12 to 21 metric tonnes of soil per acre. This impacts agricultural production.”

Under the land management programme, there are interventions such as dryland terracing, terrace consolidation, contour hedgerow, contour stone bund, orchard basin-making, orchard-terracing, surface stone removal, landslide stabilisation, water source protection, and fallow land reversion.

The land management programme gained momentum in 2003 after the eastern dzongkhags experienced major landslides and flash floods.



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Records with the soil centre show that the programme received support from the Global Environment Facility for seven years (2006 to 2013) in three dzongkhags (Zhemgang, Trashigang, and Chukha) covering nine gewogs.

Haka Drukpa said that the agriculture land management interventions were tested in these gewogs and it was found relevant to the Bhutanese context and some modifications were made to suit the country’s context.

In 2013, the programme received support from the Bhutan Trust for Environment Protection and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

The programme is also carried out through UNDP’s GEF small grants programme.

Currently, the Green Climate Fund and GEF Least Developed Countries Fund are supporting the land management programme in ten dzongkhags (Mongar, Haa, Dagana, Tsirang, Wangdue, Punakha, Sarpang, Samtse, Trongsa, and Zhemgang).



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Haka Drukpa said that SLM is a long-term investment with benefits seen after 10 or 15 years which often discourages people to invest. “Farmers expect an instant output of their work whereas SLM’s impact takes time.”

He said that if SLM interventions are made then the soil nutrients are retained which makes the land feasible for mechanisation.

For example, terracing the land allows the farmers to use machines to work on the farm and it reduces labour costs.

Haka Drukpa said that implementing the land management intervention is challenging with budget constraints.

Each gewog has a different development priority and most of the interventions are project-based, he said. “If land management activities are not carried out then ensuring food security is questionable.”



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The soil centre through the various funding sources provides technical and financial assistance to the farmers.

“Land management is important to allow the future generations to live off the land we have today,” Haka Drukpa said.

Bhutan Store in Perth facing difficulties

3 hours 6 min ago

YK Poudel

Bhutan Store, ‘Grown & Made in Bhutan’ retail store in Perth, Australia is facing financial, certification and shipping challenges.

According to the CEO of Bhutan Store, Sonam Chophel, Bhutan Store by Druksell Australia was in collaboration with the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (MoENR) for a large number of Bhutanese diaspora living abroad.

Inaugurated in December last year, the store is slowly picking up and is yet to send its second consignment. However, the absence of logistics and shipping assistance from the government is a major challenge.



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According to Sonam Chophel, the cost of logistics and certification on 125 products is a major problem in shipping goods from Bhutan to Australia. “The government should address such challenges that the entrepreneurs are facing and make export from the country convenient compared to the imports.”

He said that improving marketing strategies could encourage entrepreneurs. “The government could provide short-term financial support to the entrepreneurs to make good use of the existing resources rather than investing in hundreds of failed projects.”

The Promoter of the Bhutan Store in Australia, Kunzang Wangdi, said that it was difficult for Bhutanese goods to compete in the global market due to the lack of robust investment in the packaging industry. “Investment in the creative industry on proper marketing and branding would help in strengthening the supply chain from farm to the market.”



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“The response and support from Bhutanese in Perth is optimistic. We hope that such a store will not only be a platform for the CSI market but also help in promoting the local products in Australia and other countries,” he said.

The initiative is a public-private partnership that engages CSI aggregators with 500 suppliers from all over Bhutan.

A total of 125 products that includes food items, crafts and textile items from Bhutan are sold in the store.

The initial shipping of the commodities was supported by the Department of Industry, MoENR.

Our Cinema and its Future 

3 hours 7 min ago

At the heart of cinema, as in any art form, is the story of human consciousness. It’s an exploration of what the German philosopher Martin Heidegger calls “Da-sein” which in simple terms means “being-in-the-world”. It’s about what it means to be human and our place in the cosmos.

Cinema can be transcendental and beyond and at the same time it can be within the phenomenology of human condition and experience. It can be as humane as a cry of our existential agony and as mystical as the “language of human spirit”. It can be as cold as reality and as enthralling as discovering an unknown world. It can be a violent spectacle and it can be deeply meditative. The camera can be used as a narrow “male gaze” or as a “transcendental gaze”: the lens can offer a nuanced and introspective interpretation of the gnawing inner turmoil of a dying man, or it can perceive the “emptiness” of a free independent spirit. From the sublime to the absurd, cinema takes in the whole range of human experience. However, at the bottom of it all, a great film is weighed by its timelessness, and by its potential to endure deep analysis and for its aesthetic and cognitive richness.

Cinema, today, has become one of the most dominant art forms in the world. A film can mean different things to different people. A film can offer escape and entertainment, and it can be about money and consumerism, or glamour and fame. But those things are not the legacy or heritage of great cinema, and nor should they be the objectives of human accomplishment. A film is about seeking understanding of our deep, fundamental values, is a form of wisdom as a critique, and represents the search for beauty and true nature of being. It should be about the filmmakers finding their own voice and expressing it in the form that cannot be detached from the content, the art from the craft, and that is not a tool of propaganda.



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If our film industry is suffering from an identity crisis, it’s a crisis of meaning, the crisis of “art”. The crisis, which has existed on a practical level for a long time, has arisen because of the absence of diversity of thoughts and ideas, which is fundamentally a problem of a lack of good screenplay writers. However, a film is also an expression created by a multitude of technicians and artists, and to complicate things further, making any film, let alone a good one, takes a lot of money. As Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the Mexican director of the film The Revenant (2015) said, “to make a film is easy; to make a good film is war. To make a very good film is a miracle.”

The first cinema theatre in Bhutan was built in 1960 in Samdrup Jongkhar, and then came MIG in Phuentsholing in 1964, Losel in Gelephu and Lugar in Thimphu in 1972 showing mostly Bollywood films. The first Bhutanese feature film came out in 1989. So, we have been associated with the idea of cinema for quite a long time now. Yet, our films have not been able to think out of the box office and break free from the shackles of banality and conformity. Today, there is a stereotypical type of film commonly made in Bhutan: a musical melodrama with a bittersweet nostalgic quality from the perspective of a “male gaze” and generally confined to the theme of the rift between the rich and poor, rural and urban, tradition and modernity, in which the apolitical characters, like found objects, meekly obey the plot rather than developing into complex subjects with paradoxes, inner wounds, dreams, desires and memories. Most of these films do not strive to dive deep to discover the “inner face” and take control of the inner ownership of the story. The narrative of such films seems to be in a hurry to reach the moral of the story without exploring morality. In other words, it’s a bureaucratized narrative. The “moral of the story” seems to have become some sort of an artifice, like a clickbait. It’s like rewarding the audience with the symbols of catharsis, but not the catharsis itself. There is an important distinction between moral art and moralising art: as Bernardo Bertolucci, the director of the Little Buddha (1993) suggested, moralising is best left to the audience: “I don’t film messages. I let the post office take care of those.”



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The future of our cinema will fundamentally depend on how deeply we are willing to explore and ponder the three elemental forces of the nature of being, and which are arguably the foundations of living a meaningful life, and therefore of meaningful cinema: beauty, freedom and philosophy.

Beauty

Beauty, as an aesthetic value, is that transcendental flow of feeling from outward awareness to inward awareness, when the external existence and the internal existence meet in that moment of time and space in recognition, dignity and harmony to expand the human consciousness. It’s a frisson of intrinsic vastness. Beauty is about the now, the present, because the time is of the essence in its experience. The meaning is in the presence of life.

The Japanese art of Kintsugi finds beauty in “brokenness” and “acceptance,” and also in the “imperfection and impermanence”, the transitory nature of life, as postulated by the philosophical concept of aesthetics called Wabi-Sabi. In another Japanese art form, the practice of flower arrangement called Ikebana, the beauty lies in the arrangement of the “negative space” around or in between the flowers, and that is the key to bringing out the “inner qualities” of the flowers. This space, called “Ma” in Japanese, is extensively used by the great Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki and was also explored in the recent Japanese film Drive My Car (2021) by Ryusuke Hamaguchi.

But beauty can also be an aggregate of many qualities and elements. Here is how a screenplay analyst (YouTube @LessonsfromtheScreenplay) explains a beautiful scene from a French romantic drama, Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) written and directed by Celine Sciamma, where form and content come together to show the dynamics of two women, the painter and her subject, who fall in love with each other: “It’s not about seizing power in order to dominate. It’s about deconstructing the power dynamics between the observer and the observed to unlock the equality. It’s only after Marianne and Heloise achieved equality, their desire can be blossomed into love.” The camera is placed exactly where it needs to be, and shot by shot the scene builds towards making both a psychological and a thematic point, all executed with exquisite clarity and precision.

In this age of consumerism and instrumental rationality, beauty has become an indispensible virtue to help us to cultivate a sense of self, which attaches us to our humanity. Sir Roger Scruton, the English philosopher of aesthetics warns us, ”We are in danger of losing beauty and therefore the meaning of life.”



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Freedom

All art is an expression of freedom, and is an artefact of the freedom of thought. It’s a manifestation of a struggle for freedom, or of the sweet taste of being free. Freedom allows us to dream, to imagine.

The word “freedom” has become slippery and ambiguous. The concept of being free is romanticised. It’s easy to argue that there is no such thing as true freedom and that with freedom comes responsibility. The notion of freedom depends on how far away each individual perceives the iron bars as being from themself. The meaning of freedom lies not, therefore, in asking what it means, but in defining it for oneself.

Censorship is a form of cultural vandalism. It is an insecure political judgement based on negation. It destroys the seed of creativity and innovation. Censorship essentially herds everyone in into thinking alike. However, as Benjamin Franklin argues, “if everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.” We should, therefore, learn to illuminate, not eliminate. To eliminate is to instil fear. To illuminate is to set free.

Freedom comes in diverse forms; it can be seen and experienced in the films of magical chaos of the inimitable Emir Kusturica, in the “the most achingly beautiful, richly humane movies” of Satyajit Ray, in the surreal films of Luis Bunuel and in the profoundness and simplicity of Yasujiro Ozu, one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.

The 17th century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza said that, “the highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding because to understand is to be free.” Our universe expands only as much as our intellectual horizon expands, as much as our curiosity, wonder and inquiry expands. Freedom gives us the power to dream. To dream is to hope.  A film must be dreamt in freedom.



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Philosophy

Philosophy can be considered not only as a love of wisdom but also as having a humanistic function, representing a broad approach to living. Philosophy provides a kind of a moral map. It makes us live better lives through seeking and finding meaning through locating authenticity, and through living in one’s essence.

Philosophy helps us to ask meaningful questions, and to get under the “bonnet of reality.” It’s about getting those fundamental questions right in order to subject our values to critical reflection. It’s natural that one’s philosophy of life flows into one’s philosophy of art.

The types of fundamental questions that cinema can ask include: Why do you want to tell the story that you want to tell? Why do the characters behave the way they behave? A film does not necessarily have to have an answer; it’s more important that the question is asked. The why is more important than the how. If you get the “why” right, the “how” will follow, sooner or later. Without knowing the “why”, the philosophical truth behind the story will remain elusive.



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The films of the great Swedish director and writer Ingmar Bergman questions the silence of God and The Criterion Collection of his films states, “drawing on (his) own upbringing and ongoing spiritual crises, the films examine the necessity of religion and question the promise of faith.”

To create is to open up a world of possibilities. The great Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa, who was also an artist in his own right, was once asked if it’s possible to put the entire meaning of life in a single brushstroke. He replied, “Yes”.

Of  Death, Life and a Story

When a life begins, a story begins, for we live in a story. Telling stories is a culture’s way of seeing where we are, of trying to understand our place in the family, in the society, and placing our insignificant selves on the infinite timeline of the universe. Different stories are just a different ways of being. When we don’t have stories, we are lost. 

We don’t know where we are. But life is more than a story. Perhaps, a story is more than a life. Who knows?



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As the bright yellow sun leans on the sill

the pale moon falls off the blue curtain.

As the cloud crumbles and a cicada weeps

the drunken mists rise up under a rain of willow leaves.

As 6:50 am floats by, Bob Dylan sings,

“I sleep with life and death in the same bed.” 

Without death and life, without death as a question and life as an answer, there would be no art, no cinema. To live—with love, passion and prayers—is the only answer. That’s what cinema is all about. 

Contributed by, Tashi Gyeltshen

Filmmaker

How Can We Make Our Internal Transportation Network Better and More Efficient?

3 hours 8 min ago

Last year, I had to travel around Bhutan twice, once in June and once in August – both within the rainy season. For my second travel in August, I first tried taking the domestic flight. We took off happily, but we had to return after hovering over Trashigang for more than two hours due to the all too common bad weather in Yonphula airport. Then I decided to travel by road as I could not risk another flight cancellation the next day. These experiences made me realize how badly our internal transportation network need to improve if our aspirations to become a high income nation were to be realized within the stipulated timeframe. 

Transportation network and economic growth

The transportation network is the economic lifeblood of any nation. “The transport system may be likened to the blood circulation system in a living organism. Without it the organism dies”, said Bogdan Mieczkowski in his 1978 book. This still holds true. Despite the scientific advances and the emergence of such new technologies as machine learning, AI, blockchain and the metaverse, the need for the physical movement of people and goods will always remain. 

Transport is and has been a basic and essential part of daily human life throughout history. And its importance in the economic development was realized early on by the developed nations, be it the Great Britain, Japan, Korea, the USA or China. One of the most common features of high income developed nations is efficient transport infrastructure, be it roads, rail, water or air. 



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Bhutan’s transportation network and issues

The primary mode of transport in Bhutan is roads given the mountainous terrain. The construction of roads in Bhutan begin in 1961 with the start of the First Five Year economic development plan. According to sources, we have around 12,000 km of roads composed of about 2,000 km of primary national highways, 650 km of secondary national highways, 350 km of Thromde roads and remaining as farm, feeder and access roads.

While this achievement is laudable, we should not remain complacent if we are to advance further and achieve our vision to become a high income nation. In this light, some of the current issues that we need to review and improve are as follows:

1. Highways should follow the most efficient and geologically stable route

Building and maintaining roads in our terrain is a difficult task. Every effort should be made to build and maintain them in the most cost-effective manner. On top of that, it should connect the two destinations using the fastest and the most geologically stable route.  But if we look at some of the highways built in the past, they do not conform to these principles. Instead, they were built to connect villages on the way. While that made sense in the past, connecting villages are now taken care of by the farm roads or Gewog roads. In this light, all critical highways should be re-alinged and bypasses built to make them shorter or avoid geologically unstable areas and very high passes prone to snow and ice in winter. This would make much more economic sense than maintaining the same old meandering landslide prone roads.



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2. Balance our environmental zeal with the need for more efficient transportation network

Our country is a champion of environment and we have many Bhutanese who would rather protect the forests than build a road through them. But I think there are ways to strike a middle ground. We can have the roads and also protect the environment using available technologies and ideas such as building tunnels for wildlife crossings. We should choose this middle course rather than foregoing our own economic needs for the sake of the environment. In any case, building roads is not one of those things that severely destroy the environment. If we are so afraid that roads might destroy the environment, what about the roads that have already been built? 12,000 km of them? Should we undo them too and go back to our old ways?



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A proposal to re-align east-west national highway from Ura to Lingmethang

The east-west national highway is one of the longest and the most important highways in Bhutan. But it is also one of the most dreaded. People would avoid travelling it unless it is absolutely necessary. In winter, we have to cross passes covered with snow and ice. In summer, we have to pass through many treacherous landslide prone areas. Accidents are all too common on this highway. It is especially very bad from Ura to Yongkala. I had a very scary experience on this stretch in August 2022. 

Preliminary Google Earth survey shows that it should be possible to build a bypass from below Ura in Bumthang to Lingmethang in Mongar avoiding both the Thrumsingla Pass and Namling cliff. From below Ura, the bypass can follow the Chamkharchu until a certain point and then make the crossing towards Lingmethang. There is a small plateu of about 3100 m where the crossing can happen as compared to the current Thrumsingla pass crossing which is 3780 m (See Figure). The current Thrumsingla pass crossing is not only too risky in winter due to ice and snow, but it is also mostly made of loose unstable sandy soil on one side. In addition, the much feared Namling cliff and the landslide prone areas around it can be totally avoided.

This bypass will also help connect the upper Kheng region of Shingkhar and Wamling directly to Ura rather than the tedious journey all the way to Zhemgang.



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Conclusion

Research confirms that an efficient transportation network helps increase production, reduce travel times, increase employment, improve accessibility, reduce regional disparities and improve the competitiveness of regions by facilitating trade, the movement of labour, and economies of scale. We should review our road sector master plan vis-à-vis our new economic aspirations, and aim to connect all the district headquarters of the country by the most efficient and geologically stable route.  The master plan should take it as a challenge to make it possible to travel from Thimphu to any district within one day (12 hours) safely and comfortably.

In addition, as air travel is becoming more affordable for the masses and is only going to pick up more in the future, it would be crucial to have an alternative domestic airport in the east. The number of flights that need to be cancelled for Yonphula airport seems to pose too high an economic and opportunity cost for the government as well as the passengers.

Contributed by,

Tshering Cigay

The author is the former CEO of Thimphu TechPark. Views expressed are his own and do not represent that of any organisation he is associated with.

Journey from Phuentsholing to Samdrupjongkhar through India

3 hours 10 min ago

Nima Wangdi

It was on January 15. I set out on my journey to Samdrupjongkhar from Thimphu via Phuentsholing, driving a small car.

I reached Phuentsholing around 8:30am and looked for other cars bound to Samdrupjongkhar through Indian highway, NH 31, as I was not familiar with the route.

While waiting, I saw a passenger bus plying directly from Thimphu to Samdrupjongkhar had got in to the line of cars entering India.

I could not use Google map since I did not have an Indian SIM. That the Google Map works offline, I did not know then.

I came across many toll-fee counters on the highway. The cautionary signage by the road read as “Toll Plaza”. I was asked to pay Indian currency (IC) 95. I did.



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I followed the bus till the lunch point, stopped and went for a lunch along with the passengers in the bus.

It was a very good lunch, indeed, but the bus has disappeared. I panicked.

I crossed two other toll-fee counters came on my way, had to pay heavily.

One asked me to pay IC 600. I was reluctant, as I had already paid so much before.

I asked if I could get away paying the normal toll-fee amount at the counter. No, I could not. I got a card with a bar code. What do I do with it as it was the last toll fee counter?

The receipt did not even show the amount I paid. It showed Rs 170.

“The fee I paid at the counters earlier just disappeared,” one officer said, very nonchalantly.



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I continued with my journey. To make the matter worse I had taken the wrong way and was nearing Nganglam. I turned from there and followed the Indian road again, back to NH 31.

It was already dark by then.

Some kilometres past the junction to Nganglam at Patshala, I stopped to ask the police on duty for help. I wanted to ask if I was driving on the right way to Samdrupjongkhar but he was rude and started accusing. He said my son, was not wearing seatbelt.

I was asked to pay Rs 1,000 and threatened to take me to Thaney (police station) if I do not pay the fine.

“Pay 500 and go, pay the fine fast,” rubbing his hairy hand through my nose. I was not even given a money receipt. It was around 7pm then.

An Indian I talked to before reaching Samdrupjongkhar said that it would be a bad idea to stop the car even if the police along the road stop you at night.



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Thank heavens, I got to Samdrupjongkhar after all these hassles!

The next day, I met a Bhutanese Bolero driver who shared a similar story. He said he was also asked to pay Rs 600 for a card, which was claimed to help him pay toll fee by scanning the bar code on it. But the card could not be scanned the very next day while returning to Samdrupjongkhar.

It is logical that people using the road should be charged a reasonable amount of toll fee but such corruption should not happen.

There was a helpline number on the receipt but that was only for those carrying Indian SIM cards.

It is a tough journey along the Phuentsholing-Samdrupjongkhar highway.

Q&A: We need to focus on the quality of education

3 hours 11 min ago

… says the UNICEF Bhutan’s outgoing Representative Dr Will Parks

Your term in Bhutan has come to an end. What do you take with you and what do you leave behind?

My wife Ranjana and I have felt incredibly blessed to have been in Bhutan despite the complexities of the pandemic limiting what our experiences might have been had Covid-19 not struck. 

We take with us a multitude of cherished friendships that evolved at work and outside of work. Personally, I take with me admiration and respect for the enormously talented UNICEF Bhutan team, who go above and beyond their call of duty. And I also take with me further lessons in wise, compassionate leadership through observing His Majesty The King, a leader the world should learn from.

And what do we leave behind in Bhutan? I hope I leave behind a more ennobled, engaged, and empowered UNICEF team as well as closer collaboration with partners including within the UN Country Team. And some important team-inspired achievements to build upon. We have been brave – for example, in bringing 1000s of Covid vaccines and cold chain equipment from across Europe and Asia at a crucial point in Bhutan’s response to the pandemic, all against overwhelming odds. We remained adamant that, after they were shut in early 2020, schools needed to be safely re-opened and must remain open. And again in 2021, we were part of a movement to make mental health a new national priority, contributing to a whole-of-government, whole-of-society initiative spearheaded by Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen.

Lastly, perhaps I leave behind a better understanding that commanding and controlling leadership, where a leader’s ego and pride dictate what is to be done and how it should be done, often harming and discouraging colleagues along the way, is much less effective than coaching and caring leadership through which results are determined and delivered by the talent and wisdom of the team itself. 



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How has the situation for children and young people changed in the past three years? 

With the leadership of Their Majesties and the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB) and an enabling environment, Bhutan has made significant progress in ensuring the well-being of children, adolescents, young people, and women particularly in the area of education, health, WASH, and nutrition.

However, Bhutan was no exception to the Covid-19 pandemic and like in other countries, the pandemic also impacted children and young people here. The school-going children and adolescents faced the biggest impact due to the closure of schools, disrupting in-person learning for many and we know the impacts it had on the mental health of children, parents and families. More children and young people were online, which means online safety became more prominent. With children learning outside the classroom, we saw an opportunity to digitise learning and UNICEF commits to support building this learning system and help expose children to as much learning stimulus as possible.

Getting meaningful employment for youth has become a complex issue and mental health among young people has become more visible. There is still much to do to make young people more resilient.



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The past few years were challenging times for Bhutan. What challenges did the pandemic pose to UNICEF in its efforts to improve the lives  of children and  young people? 

Covid-19 was a complete disrupter of the plans we had in 2019 with the RGoB. What happened in 2020 was a cocreation of responding to Covid-19 and continuing the work. The biggest disrupter for me was the fact that schools were closed, and we might have lost for that cohort of children, a few years of learning that they need to catch up on. We have bounced back as a country, caught up, and leveraged digital platforms to accelerate learning. Despite the pandemic, the country has managed to achieve 100 per cent improved sanitation across the country. So, Covid-19 may have slowed us down, but it didn’t stop us.

Challenges to women and children continue in terms of violence. We have been working with partners to address this situation, which became more visible during the pandemic just like we saw with mental health situation. We have convened more than 20 partners for the End Violence Against Children campaign and as we address these challenges, we see the need to get more information, data and a more detailed situation analysis of women and children in the country. 

These challenges, especially during humanitarian situations, risk undoing decades of progress achieved in the wellbeing of children and young people. However, UNICEF and partners continue to work closely to mitigate these challenges and sustain the progress made thus far so that every child is included without discrimination, and has agency, opportunity and their rights fulfilled.

What are some of the emerging issues  affecting children  and young people  in Bhutan? 



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Bhutan is already working on several emerging issues affecting children and young people. 

Some of these are mental health, gender-based violence and violence against children, digital safety and climate and environmental change. Nutrition remains a major challenge particularly micro-nutrient deficiencies, but young children are being reached with micronutrient supplement nationwide. I am pleased to see how the country has expanded the Early Childhood Care and Development programme to reach many more preschoolers, but we still need to reach 100% of young children. Support to children with disabilities has expanded and efforts are ongoing to make the education system more inclusive. UNICEF is humbled to work with the Central Monastic Body in improving the lives of our child monks and nuns. Youth unemployment still remains perhaps the largest challenge and addressing it is becoming more complex. Initiatives to skill young people are underway but we still have a long way to go.



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What would Bhutan need to focus on to  address these  emerging issues? 

Bhutan has the leadership and an enabling environment to address any kind of issue affecting children and young people’s wellbeing. UNICEF is confident that the interests of children and young people will always be at the core of any new policies and plans. 

A lot of work is already underway and an inclusive and a whole of society approach that engages all stakeholders including children and young people would be critical to address these emerging issues. 

Addressing the lack of data is important to ensure that strategies and plans adopted are evidence-based and we can measure their cost-effectiveness.

If there is any area that we need to focus on further, it is the quality of education that children are receiving. We need to train more teachers and skill children and young people with transferable skills they need for the future. We must also build their resilience to prepare, adapt and respond to the changes around them. 

We need to expand the social work force to tackle some of the existing and emerging social issues. The one big challenge I see that we, as a community, are struggling with is youth unemployment and underemployment. We need to have an entrepreneurial mindset embedded into the youngest of children, all the way through education to take on new forms of employment.



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What would be some significant changes, both good and bad, you saw in the lives of  children and young people during your time in Bhutan?

Bhutan invests a huge proportion of its national budget in health and education sectors, and we see significant improvement in saving lives in the first few weeks of life, enhancing access to early learning opportunities and sanitation, among others. The second decade of young people’s lives – adolescence – needs as much investment.

Children and young people in Bhutan, like in other countries are growing up in a transforming, complex world. To keep up, they must be able to seize opportunities and confront challenges. So, we are seeing children and young people in Bhutan learning new skills, innovating, participating and engaging more in policy dialogues. For instance, young people were active participants during the revision of the National Youth Policy. While it is encouraging that more children and young people have access to the internet and technological devices, there are still many who do not have access, especially in rural Bhutan.

I am also struck by the talent here. If we can invest in tapping into this talent, turn our attention less to criticism and more to cohesion, less to complaints and more to cocreation, and replicate the leadership of Their Majesties at every level of society, Bhutan would have everything it needs to fast-track its transformation and remain a beacon of hope to the region and the world.

The fear of turning 20

3 hours 16 min ago

… mid-career employees resign to avoid entering into the pension system

Rinzin Wangchuk 

A forty-three-year-old woman tendered her resignation this month after serving more than 19 years in one of the corporations in Thimphu. Another two corporate employees, both men in their early 40s, are waiting to complete their 19th year in services.

Unlike other civil servants, they are not resigning to go to Australia or Canada to study or work.

For instance, the 43-year-old woman has decided not to join the pension scheme because she cannot wait till her minimum service retirement age of 56.

“Given the stressful work environment, heavy workload, and job insecurity, I don’t think I can work more than five years even if I join the pension scheme,” she said. “It is better to take my retirement benefits in lumpsum payment of accumulated contributions than to regret later.”



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According to officials from National Pension and Provident Fund (NPPF), a total of 238 members who were in the service between 15 years and 20 years resigned last year to take lump sum payments. This is the highest number since 2017.

“However, employees resigning below 20 years were negligible compared to overall members exiting from the system,” the Pension and Provident Fund (PF) Chief, Tshering Dorji said.

Of the 3,637 members who resigned in the past year, only seven percent retired before 20 years in service. The record number of people who were in the service for less than five years was 62 percent or 2,239 including 1,321 local government leaders.

The total number of members who resigned in the last five years also indicated that the employees below 20 years in service were between seven and 10 percent only.



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The NPPF saw 9,031 members leave the pension system in the last five years from 2017 to 2022, of which 865 or 9.6 percent members were between 15 years and 20 years in service. About 47 percent or 4,261members were below five years followed by 2,058 or 23 percent were 20 years and above. There were 1,981 members between five to 10 years and 1,187 members who served more than 10 years and less than 15 years.

According to the new chief executive officer (CEO) of NPPF, Dorji Penjor, the number of NPPF members who resigned from their services had increased from 29 percent in pre-pandemic to 49.5 percent in post-pandemic.

Some observers also pointed out that the number of employees who resigned from civil service and corporate agencies during the post-pandemic attributed to the Australia factor for which they needed lump sum amount to pay tuition fees.

“I am sure more than 85 percent of the employees must have gone abroad looking for a greener pasture,” a corporate employee said.



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Of the 4,026 employees who resigned in 2021 and 2022, only 920 people served more than 20 years.

Sharing his personal experience and opinion, CEO Dorji Penjor said that there could be two categories for people opting for the pension system and others to take a lump sum amount. Some employees from civil service or corporate entities prefer to resign early to start businesses with the lump sum amount they are entitled to.

“Some prefer to join the pension scheme because their future is secured once they have resigned or superannuated,” he said.

Pension and Provident Fund (PF)

The pension schemes were introduced in 2002 as a mandatory retirement saving scheme for civil servants, employees of public corporations and enterprises and members of the Armed Forces to provide income security after retirement.

Both employees and employers make contributions to the pension and provident fund schemes. In the case of civil servants, an employee contributes 11 percent with the employer contributing 15 percent coming to a total of 26 percent. The custodian of the pension and PF takes 16 percent into the pension and 10 percent goes to the PF.



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Both employers and employees of corporate and some SOEs contribute 15 percent each from which 14 percent goes to the PF. The pensionable age for an early pension is 51 years and 56 years for a normal pension.

Pension benefits are paid monthly to members whereas provident fund benefits are paid in lumpsum, with accrued interest, on retirement.

There are two tiers of the National Pension and Provident Fund Plan (NPPFP).

The Pension Plan, Tier 1, is a partially funded, pay-as-you-go plan, under which monthly pension benefits are provided upon the retirement of a member of Tier 1 or upon his/her permanent disability prior to his/her retirement. Upon the death of a member prior to or after retirement, monthly benefits are given to the surviving spouse and surviving children.



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The PFP, or Tier 2, is a defined contribution, fully funded plan under which a lump sum benefit equivalent to all the contributions to a member’s Tier 2 account, together with returns thereon, is  paid on the date of his/her retirement or death while in service.

If a member has made more than 120 but less than 240 monthly contributions and in the event member leaves service by retirement, retrenchment and or under any condition except in case of the member’s death, such a member can exercise the option to receive an early pension or wait till minimum civil service retirement age for normal pension or withdraw lump-sum payment of accumulated contribution from Tier 1 account with interest.

The maximum retirement pension is 40 percent of the maximum ceiling of the salary scale of EX1 position level of the civil service. One pensioner receives a monthly pension benefit of Nu 37,042 which is the maximum and the minimum amount received by pensioners is Nu 5,510.



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Currently, NPPF has 68,940 active members from civil service, corporations, state-owned enterprises, Armed Forces, and private entities. “Of this, we have 53,641 simultaneous memberships of tier 1 and tier 2 and another 15,299 tier 2 members today,” NFPF’s actuarial analyst Lekzin Dema said adding that there are 2,739 members (beneficiaries of PF) from the private sector.

The NPPF receives more than Nu 300M a month in pension and PF from its members while a monthly payment of Nu 80.428M is made to 9,320 pensioners today. Pensioners include their surviving spouses and children, orphans, permanent disability, and dependent parent benefits.

“With the economic slowdown, finding investment opportunities and building a diversified investment portfolio in the market is a major challenge the NPPF is facing today,” CEO Dorji Penjor said.

As of December 2022, NPPF has around Nu 52B in funds. The total loan portfolio including corporate and member loans stood around Nu 20B.

Picture story

Fri, 01/27/2023 - 12:12

On behalf of His Majesty The King, Gyalpoi Zimpon Ugyen K Namgyel, presents a khadar to Ambassador of India to Bhutan, Sudhakar Dalela, on the occasion of India’s 74th Republic Day, yesterday. The Indian community in Bhutan attended the event at the Indian embassy in Thimphu. The Royal Government was represented by the Cabinet Secretary Kesang Deki, who was accompanied by Foreign Secretary Pem Choden and other officials. (Photo: Indian Embassy in Thimphu FB)

KGUMSB proposes Nu 533.68M to begin MBBS course

Fri, 01/27/2023 - 12:11

Lhakpa Quendren

Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan (KGUMSB) has proposed to the government Nu 533.681 million to start the undergraduate medical course (MBBS) by July this year.

The Prime Minister, for immediate implementation of the MBBS programme, directed the finance ministry to review the proposal and support it with the required fund.

The start of the MBBS programme was approved during the 133rd session of the Lhengye Zhungtshog held on December 14 last year.

Following the instruction from the government, KGUMSB also formed six different management teams along with the members to meet the deadline for starting the MBBS course and facilitate a smooth implementation of the preparatory works.

To coordinate and monitor the progress of work, a doctor has been appointed to lead the MBBS project secretariat and dedicate his full time to MBBS-related works, according to the project secretariat.

KGUMSB’s President, Dr Kinzang P Tshering in an earlier interview said, the project secretariat drafted the curriculum and efforts are underway to introduce the programme by this year.



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While Thimphu is identified as a more cost-effective and feasible location for the immediate implementation of the course, KGUMSB is exploring options for a permanent structure outside Thimphu and Paro.

KGUMSB would take over the facility that the government bought at Taba last year to start the MBBS course, Kuensel learnt.

The president said that the course will be started as an interim programme at the KGUMSB and the works will continue for a permanent structure.

KGUMSB will host this six-year course, including a year-long internship, with 25 seats for local students in the initial three years following which it will be extended to 25 international students.

Doing this is expected to help the university prepare for the international campus and handle international students in a more graded manner.

The president said that experienced international faculty from partner institutes will be hired to teach MBBS students and cadavers can be procured for the hands-on clinical science training.



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The course, once completed, is expected to boost the doctors’ number and address the shortage of health workers including specialists in certain specialities.

Considering all the required departments including bed-capacity and availability of specialists and residents for tutoring and teaching support, the national referral hospital (JDWNRH) will be used as a dedicated teaching hospital.

Introducing the in-country MBBS degree programme is one of the principal activities outlined in the 12th Plan for the KGUMSB, which was approved with an estimated budget outlay of Nu 100 million through multi-stakeholder consultations.

In 2017, following the strike in medical colleges in Sri Lanka and India, leading to the disruption of classes of 127 Bhutanese medical students, the government instituted a task force to introduce an in-country MBBS course.

Man charged for alleged chicken theft

Fri, 01/27/2023 - 12:10

… the stolen chickens were sold to labourers

Chencho Dema | Punakha 

Punakha police on January 24 charged a 65-year-old man for stealing three chickens from a poultry farm in Lobesa, Punakha.

According to the farm owner’s complaint, on December 12 night an unidentified person broke into the farm in Manigang under Barp Gewog, Punakha, and took three chickens.

The owner noticed that the planks and metal net from the rear side of the farm were damaged.

The owner, who is from Sangacholing village in Samtse, is a businessman who lives in Lobesa about a kilometre away from the poultry farm. He said in a statement to the police that he had lost chicken several times.

The accused is from Manigang village. The owner named him as a suspect and he was detained.

Police found feathers at a labour camp close to the suspect’s home.

The six labourers admitted to the police that the suspect had visited their camp with three hens and asked them to buy. They paid Nu 1,200 for the three hens.

The labourers were unaware that the hens were stolen and that no charges had been brought against them. The labourers had chicken dinner.

But when questioned, the suspect maintained he had purchased the hens from another source and denied committing any crime.

When questioning the suspect’s wife, she stated that they have no chicken at their home.

The suspect was charged in court with larceny under section 240 of the Penal Code.

Government to continue supporting enterprises: MoENR

Fri, 01/27/2023 - 12:10

YK Poudel

The Minister for Energy and Natural Resources (MoENR), Loknath Sharma said that the government will continue and expand investment in start-up businesses aimed towards youth skilling and employment.

He said that the ideas from entrepreneurs could be brought into businesses through the government’s assistance. “Support from the government would inspire the entrepreneurs and help in enterprising Bhutan in the long run.”

Lyonpo said that over the years, the government has supported building incubation centres in Thimphu and Samtse, the opening of Cottage and Small Industry Market in Thimphu and soon in Paro are examples of support from the government.

Supporting the entrepreneurs, according to Lyonpo, make things easier for them in “enhancing the skills among the youth.”

“The government will continue to provide industrial development grants as well as support with machinery for the entrepreneurs,” he said. “The production fares and CSI fares that are made easier and wholesome for the Bhutanese entrepreneurs will help in enterprising Bhutan.”



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The Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment (MoICE) registered 12,682 job-seekers in the fiscal year 2021-2022.

The Cottage and Small Industry accounts for about 95 percent of the total industries in the country. The CSI department licensed 26,945 CSIs in the country as of 15 June 2022.

According to Labour Force Survey Report, 2021, the unemployment rate is highest in Thimphu at 10.1 percent followed by Paro with 7.7 percent and lowest at 1.5 percent in Bumthang, Dagana, Gasa, and Zhemgang.

The youth unemployment rate is 20.9 percent of which 38.6 percent are male while 61.4 are female.

BTP declares three more candidates 

Fri, 01/27/2023 - 12:09

Dechen Dolkar  

Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP) declared three more candidates, one from Sarpang and two from Samtse on January 25.

The party declared Karma Rinchen, 54, as its candidate from the Gelephu constituency. He has a Master of Education from Edith Cowan University in Australia and a Bachelor of Education from the Samtse College of Education.

With more than 30 years of experience in the civil service, Karma Rinchen served as a teacher, lecturer, dzongrab and drungpa in Mongar, Samtse, Gasa, and Phuentsholing.

The father of two kids is from Tshojan village in Chhuzanggang gewog.

The party also declared Pushpa Raj Humagai, 63, from Ugyentse-Yoeseltse constituency in Samtse. The 63-year-old is a veteran and served in the government for 17 years after which he started a successful business venture.

Soon after his graduation from St. Joseph’s College, North Point in 1984, Pushpa Raj joined the service as a young trainee officer in Haa dzongkhag.

He studied Economics in college and later did his Masters in Development Planning from Centre for Development Studies and Activities (CDSA), Pune, India.



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Before joining BTP, Pushpa Raj Humagai was running a successful business establishment as a Chief Executive Officer dealing in export, import, mines and minerals, high-end equipment and vehicle tyres.

BTP declared Pasang Dorji, 53, from Phuentshogpelri-Samtse constituency. He has a Masters degree in Education Leadership from the University of Canberra, Australia and Bachelors of Education from the erstwhile National Institute of Education, Samtse.

Pasang Dorji has 27 years of experience as an administrator and educationist. He began his teaching career in 1995 in Samtse and later served as the first headmaster for Dorokha Lower Secondary School.

Pasang Dorji was also appointed as the first drungpa for Sombaykha Drungkhag, Haa.

Before joining politics, he served as Pemagatshel and Samtse Dzongrab for the last five years.

The party has declared 17 candidates so far.

The party president has also completed familiarisation tours in 14 dzongkhags. The party plans to travel to other dzongkhags and cover 205 gewogs, after the National Council elections.

BTP announced its first general assembly to be held at Semtokha, Thimphu on January 30.

Handicraft shops struggling to stay afloat

Fri, 01/27/2023 - 12:09

Chencho Dema | Punakha

The Chimi Lhakhang in Lobesa, Punakha is a popular tourist destination. The Lhakhang is also very popular among Bhutanese.

As tourists have begun to arrive, the surrounding village has become an ideal centre for local business.

Over time, the number of handicraft shops has grown visibly. There is a total of 18 handicraft shops and galleries in the two villages—11 in Chimipang and seven in Youwakha.

However, due to the increase in Sustainable Development Fee from USD 65 to USD 250 per international tourist, the business is not as lucrative as it was before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sonam, an owner of a handicraft shop, said that in 2010, there was only one handcraft store—High Quality Thangkha. “Now we have many. Competition is stiff. We are now not able to sell as much as we could in the past.”

Most of the business owners are from places outside the community, she added.

Before the pandemic, when there were fewer handicraft shops, Sonam’s shop could make a minimum of Nu 1,000 a day. Now, the daily income from the shop is barely Nu 100.

“I hope the business will pick up in the future,” said Sonam.

Sonam Pelmo, a salesgirl of High Quality Thangkha, said that sales have dropped because it is off-season and there aren’t tourists. “Sales have dropped also because of too many shops.”

Tashi Dolma from Trashigang opened a handicraft shop in Chimipang five years ago. To support the ailing business, she has now opened a small grocery store.

“We have not had a single tourist come in so far,” said Tashi Dolma.

The owner of Doejung Yangkhil Handicraft, Dorji Palden, said sales barely cover the rent. “In the past, I used to make at least Nu 5000 a day. Not anymore. I hope the government will find a solution for the affected businesses like ours.”

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