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Bhutan's Daily Newspaper
Updated: 2 hours 57 min ago

Of the year gone by

Sat, 02/22/2020 - 17:25

Jigme Wangchuk

Looking back, the pig was good-tempered, kind-hearted, positive, and loyal. At times we faltered but, overall, it was a fruitful year.

Bhutan and India concluded a year-long Golden Jubilee last year. It was a year of reflection.

The Year of the Hog also brought some challenges. The nation witnessed some serious unavoidable natural incidences such as the wildfire in Bjimena, Thimphu. There was a devastating windstorm in central and western Bhutan.

There was a major reform in the education sector in the year gone by. The education ministry issued an official notification to do away with instructional classes on Saturdays. Then there were hundreds of people visiting the fifth Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition in Samdrupjongkhar. One of the important gateways to Bhutan, Samdrupjongkhar is today fast turning into a model town.

The problem of youth unemployment is rising. So there was learn and earn programme that became a national problem. Japan, Malaysia, Iraq. Creating jobs in the country is still a major challenge for the government.

Bhutan’s focus on advancing development along the lines of Gross National Happiness was recognised by UNDP with a special award to His Majesty The King.

His Majesty The King granted citizenship kidu to 359 people at the Kuenrey of the Tashichhodzong and reminded the recipients of the kidu of the profound responsibilities to nurture the Bhutanese identity, promote trust and unity among the people, and participate wholeheartedly in nation-building process. More than 10,000 Bhutanese have received citizenship kidu under the reign of His Majesty The King.

The year gone by also taught us some awkward lessons. 

Twenty years after Bhutan first banned the use and sale of plastic carry bags, doma wrappers and ice cream pouches, the ban was reinforced nationwide again. We are still struggling with it. Customers and shopkeepers have not found sensible alternatives yet.

Natural disasters visited the nation in their full force. Hailstorm damaged crops in the eastern dzongkhags, particularly in Trashiyangtse. Consistent rise in temperature in the months of April, May and June led to the melting of ice in Thorthormi, which caused a glacial surge. A lake breached its dam and threatened a serious GLOF. A windstorm damaged more than 45 acres of crops belonging to 85 households in Yabrang, Phimshog and Thongrong chiwogs of Phongmey gewog in Trashigang.

And then the nation experienced perhaps the worst dengue case, particularly in the south of the country. Months later, the nation would have to face the threat of coronavirus.

Diplomatically, the country moved slowly. One of the highlights of the year has been Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering’s visit to Bangladesh. Bhutan and Bangladesh agreed on allowing duty-free access to a additional 16 items. Bhutan agreed to expedite the process of granting duty-free access to 10 items proposed by Bangladesh.

The nation’s approach was regional integration. Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering met Narendra Modi in New Delhi, India as a guest at the swearing-in-ceremony of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of India for a second term.

Economically, Bhutan’s revenue generation capacity increased with the commissioning of the Mangdechhu Hydro Project. Bhutan’s  power generation capacity stands at 2,326MW today.

Sunkosh, which has the potential to generate over 2,500MW of power, is a priority for the government. Discussions during PM Narendra Modi’s visit revolved around the modality of implementation and financing. But then, more important, both Bhutan and India are working on exploring development cooperation beyond hydropower because energy demands are changing in the region.

The year also saw a major gold smuggling case in the history of the nation. The Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) in Paro and Thimphu implicated and arrested more than 40 men. The RBP recovered 170kg gold and the hearings of the cases continue.

In the Year of the Hog, Bhutan saw improvement in dealing with corruption issues in the country. In an effort to make the country corruption-free and further reinforce DAMTSI (developing accountable, moral and transparent systems and individuals), Prime Minster Dr Lotay Tshering launched the National Integrity and Anti-Corruption Strategy (NIACS) 2019-2023.

The government began implementing the ICT flagship programme, Digital Drukyul, which will transform public service delivery and digitally empower citizens. The programme is in line with His Majesty The King’s vision to use technology in addressing issues in healthcare, education and agriculture to improve governance and democracy, create jobs, enhance well-being, make the cities safer and cleaner, and bring overall benefit to the citizens of Bhutan. The programme is expected to create a digital ecosystem for citizens and allow quick and equal access to all services.

The year’s best and the most important milestone was His Majesty The King’s announcement of Gyalsung or National Service Programme. Bhutanese youth who turn 18 by 2022 will have the opportunity to undergo a year-long training programme so that they are provided direction and are encouraged to be strong, independent thinkers, capable of serving the country.

“Gyalsung will bring the youth of Bhutan together in a shared experience and act as a rite of passage irrespective of their economic or regional backgrounds,” His Majesty said. “With this initiative, we are placing an immense responsibility on the shoulders of our children, and assuming an even greater responsibility ourselves, to nurture them and ensure their success.”

The one-year training will include a three-month military-style training, and a nine-month programme in areas like agriculture sciences, entrepreneurship, computers and coding, health and sciences, among others.

All in all, the good-tempered and kind-hearted hog brought good developments to the nation and the people.

PM commits projects for yearlong celebrations

Sat, 02/22/2020 - 17:24

Tashi Dema

Joining the people as the chief guest at the Changlimithang to celebrate the auspicious 40th birth anniversary of His Majesty The King, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said 2020 is a historic year for the country.

“His Majesty turns 40. It is a new step into a new decade. We rejoice the day a visionary King came into our lives, four decades ago,” said the prime minister.

Lyonchhen said that the country would celebrate the 40th birth anniversary of His Majesty The King for a year with various government initiated projects and programmes.

Re-dedicating to work towards His Majesty’s aspirations for the country and calling for unity in serving the King, Lyonchhen said the government formed a committee, comprising of representatives from all age groups to discuss the way forward to serve the country.

He said it is a historic year for Bhutanese, as it is a preparation year for the Gyalsung programme. “It will also be a year when Gyalsey will have a Royal sibling.”

Announcing government’s plans live from Changlimithang, he said a national committee is drafting the 21st economic road map. “To develop the economy, motorable road is important, particularly roads that link the north to south.”

The Prime Minister said that while most parts of the country are connected with roads, work would soon begin to construct a road from Sherichu to Kurigongri confluence to complete the north-south link. 

On the need to relook at urban planning, Lyonchhen sad that the government will review Thimphu city master plan and study into the possibility of a new town planning covering areas from Dodena in Thimphu to Drugyel dzong in Paro along the Pachhu and Wangchhu. “We will have experts to study the feasibility.”

The prime minister announced that the Lungtenzampa will be renovated and footpaths along Norzin lam will be redeveloped. “A tech park will be constructed in Bongdengma in Mongar like the tech park in Thimphu this year.”

According to the Prime Minister, a third internet gateway would be connected this year. “We will start a vocational institute, Bhutan Institute of Technology, to reform technical and vocational education training and provide necessary skills to youth. We have already identified the person who will spearhead the project.”

The prime minister also said that an electric train link, part I, from Thimphu to Paro will start this year.

It was learnt that the feasibility study for the electric train service was conducted since 2010 and the actual works would be initiated this year with funds mobilised after drawing estimates.

The prime minister also announced the launch of patient Referral by Air where all patients referred to Indian will avail the air service and not travel by road from Phuentsholing.

“We will ensure treatment to all patients within the country by constructing a hospital with all specialists. Starting today, all patients referred to India will be provided air travel service. All these are kurims to His Majesty from the government and people,” he said.

Lyonchen also announced that the kidney transplant services will be provided in the country from this year.

The prime minister urged all Bhutanese to promise to do three simple things to serve the King and the country. He urged all Bhutanese to plant a tree each, adopt a stray dog and take care of own waste in the next 12 months. “This is the best gift to His Majesty,” he said.

What the Rat Year has in store

Sat, 02/22/2020 - 17:22

While the Male Iron Rat Year is expected to bring peace and harmony to the people in general, there could be problems for children and elderly citizens, according to predictions from College of Astrology in Pangrizampa, Thimphu.

It also predicted possible calamities from rain.

According to astrologer Kuenzang Chophel, there would be disproportionate rainfall in the country with some parts of the country experiencing heavy rainfall while some face scarcity of rain. “To prevent it, recitation of scriptures and prayers are recommended.”

The rat, however, is a good year for agriculture and environment, as cereals, trees and flowers would grow in abundance.

According to Kuenzang Chophel, those born in the Rat Year, as it is their lo-ka would face some obstacles and shouldn’t travel long distances, avoid visiting construction or excavation sites, patients, births, deaths and marriage. They should also avoid witnessing fights.

“It’s a good year to give birth to boys, as they would have good behavior,” he said.

It’s a bad year for those born in Horse year, as it is duenzur and they shouldn’t initiate any important works. They should save animals and recite long-life prayers.

The year is also not good for those born in Dragon and Monkey year, as it is their thuensum and would face challenges in fulfilling their wishes. They would also be susceptible to rumours. They should also avoid visiting construction sites and marriage ceremonies.

Kinzang Chophel said they should appease local deities, hoist prayer flags and perform rituals.

The Rat is a good year for women born in Earth Tiger year, who are 23 years old and male born in Water Ox year, who are 48 years old and they should lead or initiate any works related to soil tilling and excavation and inaugurations.

“The sixth Bhutanese month is considered Dha-Na (inauspicious month) and initiating any important works in the month should be done after conducting rituals. The ninth month is the most auspicious month of the year and any work initiated in the month would be good.”

National CSI Development Bank launched

Sat, 02/22/2020 - 17:21

Staff Reporter 

The government announced the establishment of the National CSI Development Bank Limited, a wholly-owned state-owned enterprise, yesterday.

In keeping with the government’s priority to diversify economic activities through financial inclusion and improving access to financing to rural agriculture and CSI sector, the government decided to upgrade Rural Enterprise Development Corporation Limited from a micro-financing institution to a full-fledged, non-deposit taking CSI Bank.

The bank is established as a specialised bank to promote the growth of rural, cottage and small industries in the country. The core mandates of the bank will be to provide affordable and easy access to finance and diversify economic activities through the promotion of cottage and small industries.

The CSI Bank will cater to the financial needs of the rural people involved in agriculture and livestock activities and provide credit facilities to small businesses and potential entrepreneurs who are engaged in manufacturing and export of domestically produced goods.

The CSI Bank has a paid-up capital of Nu 1.258 billion. Further, to boost the CSI lending and export financing, the government injected equity of Nu 250 million during the launch.

Through the promotion of easy access to credit for the rural people and enthusiastic entrepreneurs at an affordable rate, the Bank is expected to benefit the people, thereby, achieving the government’s vision of ‘Narrowing the Gap’.

In the move towards decongesting Thimphu, the corporate head office of the bank is relocated to Bondey, Paro.

A Birthday Pledge

Sat, 02/22/2020 - 17:20

So here we are, the Bhutanese family, many of us who do not know our own birthdays, coming together to celebrate the birth anniversary of our King. What does such a phenomenon mean? If we think about it with the mindfulness that is required, what is most meaningful about the event is that our “coming together” is more significant that what we understand as “celebrating”.

Such a unification of a nation’s population is not as much a physical gathering as it should be a merging of minds. In essence, we are talking about strengthening and refining the solidarity of our shared consciousness.

Such a collective consciousness, which is the spirit of a national identity, is best understood in the words of His Majesty The King himself – “nation building”. And we are beginning to see that such a process is already being initiated from the Throne – the reformation of governance and the transformation of society.

Changing times brings changing needs and today’s generation of Bhutanese is becoming aware of our growing responsibility in this process. But, if we are to be honest with ourselves, it is a thought process that is just beginning. 

Let us face facts. Some trends are worrying, if not frightening.

Bhutan of the old days was built by our forefathers on cultural values drawn from nature, that are largely intact, and a spiritual heritage that has been preserved. In anticipation of the times that their generation could not predict, they prepared us – meaning they sent us to school -for the task of moving with the times. 

If we allow ourselves some candid reflection, we are not quite ready to deal with the restructuring of posterity. Traditional values as we hear them, terms like driglam-chhoe-sum, sampa semke, jawa-choed-lam, le-judre – are austere, not fully understood, terminology to many Bhutanese.

As our traditional learning curriculum, which was limited to monastic education, gave way to an “international” (read western) school system that we adopted, we saw two trends. We did not have the texts nor the teachers to learn traditional values that were largely intuitively drawn from life and we rejected the values that came from a foreign culture.

If we look at a basic priority like education, we saw three elected governments overturn the education system three times. We heard our citizens express deep concern about the decline of quality tourism and then saw our parliament make decisions that would exacerbate the problem. We saw political pressures influence government decisions.

Our notion of tradition is still limited to clothing and etiquette and that is being overwhelmed by powerful media representing both the positive and negative aspects of globalisation. Meanwhile we have even started inviting foreign “experts” to teach us human values. And we have honed the ability to engage rhetoric – adopting Gross National Happiness as a vision and being carbon negative are commendable, even venerable in this age – but are they real achievements or just talking points? 

Why are more Bhutanese citizens moving from the village to the city and then to New York and Australia? Why are we seeing the growing gaps – between the haves and have not’s, between the rural and urban populations, between the mentality of the young and old, gaps between organisations and institutions of governance, and between national vision and implementation?

What we do know is that Bhutan is changing at a pace that is not easy to comprehend and impossible to control. What we also know is that we require long-term vision, not short term goals. And we know that such tasks are too large and too vitally central for Bhutan’s future to be left to any section of the population including the government.

Fortunately we have reason to hope. We have what we call the Bhutanese system – the system that has dared to be different – the system that has always made the right decisions at the right time – the system that we must preserve.

The Bhutanese system is the Throne, the three arms of a democratic governance structure (judiciary, executive, and legislature), a dedicated security force, a private sector (albeit a lopsided one), and a growing civil society that includes an educated youth population and the free media.

The wisdom emanating from His Majesty The King is that impulsive and reactive behavior must be replaced by clear thinking and professional implementation. In the Royal concept of a 21st century roadmap is the adoption of appropriate technology as the tool and strategy to achieve our aspirations.

We see some ideas emerging and being nurtured – a diversified GNH economy, agriculture which includes niche Bhutanese food products, creativity in culture and handicraft products, education and training in technology prioritised, rural Bhutan stimulated, upgraded health services, traditional values revitalized.

We are also recognising mistakes that need to be reversed – like poorly planned urbanisation, neglect of pro-youth policies, poor coordination among government institutions, the malaise affecting public servants, absence of intellectual discourse, the ability to deal with unwanted trends like corruption.

On this auspicious day – the 40th birth anniversary of His Majesty The King – let us reflect the inspiring and invigorating long-term vision that is emerging with increasingly coherence. We are seeing reform in national governance with the democratization process, and we are anticipating the transformation of Bhutanese society with the introduction of a well-thought national service.

Let us pledge that we will be a generation of Bhutanese who will achieve the Bhutanese dream.  

That would be a meaningful birthday gift for our King.

Economy slugs in the year of the Pig

Sat, 02/22/2020 - 17:18

Economy:

Govt. positive of a six percent growth in the rat year

MB Subba & Ugyen Penjor

If the economy of a country is judged by what is happening in the private sector, the Year of the Pig was the laziest in terms of economic activity.

Representatives of the sector accused the government of not injecting enough investment in the economy to keep it buzzing and therefore, forced the sector to tighten its belt, some even resorting to downsizing and retrenchment.

The government began its first year in office in the backdrop of the slowest economic growth. The economic growth had slumped to a four-year low of 3 percent in 2018 from 4.7 percent in 2017.

Official reports blamed a decline in hydropower activity and public investment and subsequent impact on domestic savings and investments for the economic slow down in the country.

Soon after taking office, the government rolled out a Nu 43.560 billion (B) interim budget for the first half of the year 2019 with the aim of reviving the economy.

Only 25 percent of that budget was earmarked as capital budget. About 67 percent of the budget was earmarked as current budget.

Although the year did not see big capital investments in the public sector, the inauguration of the Mangdechhu hydropower project was the biggest achievement during the year.

The hydropower production capacity crossed 2,000MW when the 720MW hydropower plant was inaugurated in August last year.

Hydropower is the single largest source of income for the country and the centerpiece of cooperation between Bhutan and India. Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi inaugurated the Mangdechhu Hydropower Plant in the Kuenrey of the Semtokha Dzong.

The RMA has projected that the commissioning of the Mangdechhu plant is expected to accelerate the economic growth by more than 6 percent. The revision of salaries and allowances of civil public servants and corporate employees is also expected to enhance the economic growth through consumption.

Since the launch of RemitBhutan in September 2016, inward remittances had been increasing until last year. Remittances in Bhutan constitutes only about 1.5 percent of the GDP.

However, according to records with the RMA, the country’s inward remittances as of August last year was Nu 1.5 billion (B). This was a decrease by half the amount the country received in 2018. Remittances in the form of Australian dollar (AUD) declined to 15 million (M) in 2019 compared with 31M in 2018.

Critics, including the Opposition, blamed wasteful expenditures in the form of current budget for the economic slowdown. The decreasing trend in capital investment, they said, worsened the unemployment problem.

During the year, construction activities decreased by 8.0 percent due to slash in government capital budget allocation in the interim budget of FY 2018-19, falling by more than two thirds, followed by slowing hydropower construction activities, according to official reports.

A slash in government capital expenditure and slowdown in hydropower investment resulted in a 5.6 percent drop in overall investment expenditure in 2018.

However, the government argued that the trajectory must be looked at in the right context. It said that it was more important to improve the existing facilities and infrastructure than to rush on building new ones.

However, one of the problems the economy is facing is the inability to fully utilise the allocated budget.

A capital budget of Nu 2.5B was allocated for this fiscal year 2019-20. But 60 percent of the budget remained unutilised due to various reasons such as formality incurrence, delays in issuance of clearance and incomplete activity designs.

One of the biggest highlights of the year gone by was the Flagship Programmes. There are a total of nine flagship programmes.

Faced with the economic slowdown, the government stated that economic diversification was a solution to accelerate the economic growth. The government acknowledged that dependency on hydropower alone could no longer sustain the economy.

In the past year, in what the government called diversification of investment, it prioritized investment in human capital in the form of health and education, agriculture and tourism.

The government is also hoping to improve the economy through various tax measures that are being discussed in the ongoing parliament. The government wants to recoup additional Nu 10B as tax, including Nu 3B annually with the implementation of Goods and Services Tax.

 

Outlook

Economic affairs minister Loknath Sharma said that the government is hoping to achieve an economic growth of 6 percent in the year of the Rat.

The growth rate is dependent on the Mangdechhu and Kholongchhu project, which the government expects to pick up. The government expects more economic activity with improved capital budget in the next fiscal year. The government expects the industrial estates to come into the construction phase.  “Government expenditure and capital budget will increase significantly and it will fuel the economy,” says economic affairs minister Loknath Sharma.

However, with the recent outbreak of Coronavirus, the government is apprehensive.

“The global economy is affected and we will feel the repercussions,’ says the economic affairs minister. “If the coronavirus subsides, probably we could expect more than a six percent growth rate.”

Plastic waste hogged the Pig year

Sat, 02/22/2020 - 17:16

Environment:

Choki Wangmo

Globally, young climate activists took to streets to protest on the lack of climate action. COP 25 saw failed negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

At home, although nobody resorted to activism, the populace did not take positively to the plastic ban, especially its implementation. It was an unpopular move. 

To address mounting plastic waste in the country, National Environment Commission (NEC) announced the reinforced ban on plastic carry bags and doma wrappers in April, but lack of alternatives left people confused.  NEC even distributed 3,000 eco-friendly bags to customers and vendors at the Centenary Farmer’s Market as an alternative. 

In few dzongkhags such as Tsirang and Phuentsholing, the rule backfired with public criticising, even creating tension between dzongkhags and people. Even after months of implementing the ban, shops were flooded with banned plastic.

Meanwhile, landfills overflowed with waste before its lifetime ended, even the remotest areas of the country like Sakteng, Soe and Singye Dzong grappled with increasing problems of waste. Research studies reported that if Bhutan is to maintain her “only carbon neutral country”status, she must do more in terms of waste management. 

Managing medical waste, menstrual waste and meat waste among others continued to inflict the country. Waste entrepreneurs, on the other hand, struggled to collect enough plastic waste to sustain their innovation. Greener Way started making poles from plastic ways- a strategy to help address plastic waste.

In what was a bold decision, the department of forest banned people from dumping waste from Bishwa Karma Puja ceremonies. Although the implementation was questioned for not giving alternatives, most refrained from dumping hundreds of statues and other religious waste in the river. The Dratshang banned offering packaged tshogs at religious ceremonies it organised. Fruits and homemade tshogs were encouraged.

International organisations in the country initiated programmes and plans to tackle waste. The Prime Minister encouraged people to use decomposable cups and plates and youth did their share through #trashtag challenge to reduce waste. 

The country is currently taking solace in waste flagship programme but then, during the programme update, the Prime Minister told NEC that despite plans and policies, waste management was poorly implemented. Although there was hyped response to the zero waste hour, it is no longer visibly implemented by organisations and agencies as deemed by NEC in the beginning.  Locals barely participated. 

Disasters such as windstorm in the eastern dzongkhags, rainstorm, hailstorm, outburst of subsidiary lake II of Thorthormi, flashfloods, and torrential rain caused few deaths and damage to livelihood. Local leaders in vulnerable areas were trained on how to mitigate the impact of climate-induced risks. There were 63 forest fire incidents recorded as April 31.

Thimphu didn’t see snow last year although there were three consecutive snowfalls in the northern, central and western regions of the country. Observations by National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology recorded rising temperature from 1996 to 2017. Emissions from the transport sector are only expected to triple by 2030 if there are no policy  interventions. 

Shortage of water both in rural and urban areas became severe throughout the year. Few villages had to resort to relocation, even. Samdrupjongkhar and Gelephu continued to be heavily affected. Some Thimphu businesses resorted to buying water whereas others journeyed hours to fetch water from nearby streams. 

Water Flagship Programme comes as a hope to water-deprived areas, which will ensure availability of adequate water for drinking and irrigation. 

 Joining the global movement to mitigate climate change, the Parliament adopted the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. During COP25, the Prime Minister called on all countries to submit enhanced climate pledge. 

Although UN biodiversity report warned that one million plant and animal species were on the verge of extinction, Bhutan is home to 11,248 species. 

The avian family saw a good year in 2019. Several new bird species were recorded taking the number to almost 750 although Himalayan Monal was reported to be harmed by poachers. 

Bhutan became the first country to record Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory life cycle. The butterfly had its life cycle recorded for the first time in its endemic area in Trashiyangtse. 

However, Bhutan lost about 3,460 acres of forest cover due to construction of three hydropower projects – Punatsangchhu-I, Punatsangchhu-II, and Mangdechhu. 

The juniper species in Hongtsho were found to be falling fast due to overuse for religious purposes. Human-wildlife conflict in the south continued to cause damage to livelihood.

A year of metamorphosis for the tourism cash cow

Sat, 02/22/2020 - 17:14

Tourism:

Tshering Palden 

The tourism sector hogged much of the headlines in the year of the Hog. 

A regional tourist Indian atop a choeten at Dochula, mandatory drug tests for tour guides, the COVID-19 impact on tourism, Zhemgang dropping off the priority list, and sustainable development fee for regional tourists grabbed a lot of headlines. 

The sector underwent many bittersweet moments as the Tourism Board and the Council carried out consultations to draft its first written policy and the rules and regulations for regional tourists and numerous other forums of major import. 

The sector was wandering aimlessly without a proper policy and needed to do some soul searching.  Criticisms and concerns heaped on the need to manage regional tourists. Many critics including those within the industry called for policy and an Act to set the country’s cash cow on to the right path.  

One of the impediments for the TCB’s was that it could not meet and decide on issues as its Chairperson, the Prime Minister was unavailable for meetings. One time it met only two times in a year and most times the important meetings were deferred. This meant many important decisions were simply delayed and in some cases never taken. 

The foreign minister taking over the chairmanship of the Tourism Council was an important welcome reform for the sector as it brought down one of the most hurdles. 

The sector also underwent some testing times as numerous major issues including the prolonged debate on regional tourism management saw prime stakeholders on different sides of the fence. There was entrenched fear that a prominent group might hold the much-needed policy to ransom to the extent that the foreign minister was asked in one of the public forums if the government was bending under pressure from one industry. 

The Regional Tourism Levy Bill that would levy SDF on tourists from Bangladesh, India, and the Maldives was finally tabled but not without drama and confusion. The National Assembly granted sustainable development fee exemption to 11 dzongkhags and then the National Council recommended to add four more dzongkhags to the exemption list. 

When the NA redeliberated the Bill with the recommendations from the NC, the TCB chairperson and the Prime Minister landed on different poles. The former besieging the floor to stick with its decision on the 11 dzongkhags and the latter proposing to do away with it altogether. The Opposition Leader backed the Prime Minister and the majority of the members sided with the two leaders. The House finally overturned its decision. 

The tourism policy is also submitted to the Cabinet, which is soon to be approved. 

The Hog year saw the sector undergo a lot of metamorphoses but only the year of the Male Iron Rat year will show how the sector comes through as a colourful butterfly or a dead caterpillar. 

The TCB also held the first mega-conference themed Taking Tourism to the Top spearheaded by its new Director-General Dorji Dhradhul. The stakeholders laid bared many of the mounting issues looming under the surface impeding the development of the sector. 

The conference also proposed new ideas such as posting guides at hotspots, need to use more platforms to promote the country as an exclusive destination and engaging the communities in the development of tourism. 

The sector is still mired in undercutting, lack of infrastructure, proper monitoring, and tourism management at many of the popular hotspots. Much is to be done. 

The Hog year ended with poor business with all industries getting adversely affected by the COVID-19. The Lonely Planet declared the country as the top country to visit in 2020, a major recognition. But will it suffice to see through the downturn in the business from the virus? Only time will tell.

Labour ministry labours in the year of the Pig

Sat, 02/22/2020 - 17:13

Labour:

Yangchen C Rinzin 

If the Dog year was full of trouble for the labour and human resources ministry, The Dog passed on the baton to the Hog, as the ministry was bogged down with major issues related to its overseas programme.

The overseas programme, learn and earn programme (LEP) that was under Anti-Corruption Commission’s radar continued to make headlines. The ministry, more than focusing on creating employment as mandated, had to juggle between solving overseas employment issues and dealing with criticism on social media for the failed programme. 

More than 200 of the 700 youth who went to Japan under LEP returned to Bhutan alleging the agent, Bhutan Employment Overseas (BEO) of corruption practices and requesting the ministry to solve the issue. 

The youth are still struggling to repay the loan they had availed to go to Japan through the agent. Focusing to solve the issue, the ministry came up with ‘best measure’ to defer the loan repayment instead of waiving off. 

However, not many were in favour of this. Each youth had availed Nu 700,000. A team led by the minister also visited Japan to study the issue deeper. 

The issue did not end here.

Marching to Royal Bhutan Police headquarter, about 100 parents and youth appealed to Chief of Police to register their complaint against BEO based on five criminal charges after they did not find any hope when ACC dropped the case as administrative lapses. 

Police arrested the two owners. Police forwarded the case to Office of Attorney General (OAG) and after another month, the case has finally reached Thimphu dzongkhag court where the proprietors of BEO are charged for 2,887 counts of forgery. 

The ministry’s director general (DG) was dragged in the case. Many on social media criticised and demanded both labour ministry and RCSC to sack DG that handled the programme alleging corruption. The DG was implicated in different overseas employment programmes in Japan and India. 

Just as the issue on overseas employment was subsiding, more than 100 Bhutanese women in Iraq are now desperately asking for government intervention to come home. The government is still working on to rescue the women who were sent by a Bhutanese agent by allegedly luring them. 

Despite problems, the labour sector also launched two programmes that the minister claimed would contribute to job creation. To gain employment in agriculture and construction, youth engagement livelihood programme was launched. It was initiated to engage unemployed job seekers who completed Class X and above.

Claiming it would not face the fate of LEP, labour ministry launched another programme Technical Intern Training Programme (TITP) to send Bhutanese youth to Japan. TITP will allow Bhutanese youth to pursue a three-year internship with Japanese employers to gain skills and acknowledge augmenting their employability. 

The ministry also took a bold decision to discontinue direct employment scheme after learning a lesson from the LEP issue. Employment responsibility system was also instituted across nine sectors to address the unemployment problem.

While the Pig year called for efficiency in the labour ministry, the New Year, under the government appears promising for now. The government in the 12th Plan targets to bring the youth unemployment rate down to 9 percent. 

The Rat year could be a hopeful year with the government looking into revamping TVET that would focus on creating skilled vocational graduates. The ministry has already started the work on increasing national minimum wage rate.

As of December 31 2019, about 48,274 jobseekers between the age of 25 and 29 are registered with ministry’s job portal system. 

A year to forget

Sat, 02/22/2020 - 17:12

Crime:

Tashi Dema

If we look back at crimes committed in the year of the Pig, the unsolved murder cases of two minor girls, one raped and the other suspected of rape, would remain etched in Bhutanese minds for the heinous crimes against girls.

We enter the new Male Rat year as curious as the rat, wondering who committed the crimes against the minors in Paro and Dechencholing.

In Paro, the eight-year-old girl was raped and murdered on her way back from school in September. The gruesome details of the case were not reported in mainstream media but have gripped Paro residents with fear and shock.

While police nabbed suspects and collected more than 980 DNA samples, the case couldn’t lead to any conclusion. People are yet to know who is responsible for the gruesome and brutal rape and murder.

There were also many reported rapes and sexual molestation cases of minors, but finding the body of a 10-year-old girl in Dechencholing, Thimphu, who went missing in broad daylight alarmed people. 

Forest officials said wild animals to be the probable cause of the girl’s death. Police also ruled out sexual assault. Forensic medicine and toxicology report, however, ruled otherwise.

Police’s inability to solve the case caused more panic and grief to the people, with many fearing that the perpetrators are freely roaming.

In Dagana, a five-year-old was raped when her mother, who is a caretaker in a school, went for duty and left her with the stepfather.

Perpetrators of sexual assault against minors included local leaders, including a gup and a tshogpa, teachers and guardians. All the victims of sexual assaults were from economically disadvantaged families.

Police recorded 302 cases of violence against women until October last year. This means almost everyday a woman was abused either physically or mentally. Wife battery is the most common violence cases reported across the police stations in the country.

The Office of the Attorney General, the state’s prosecuting agency, had to seek the highest sentencing and damaging compensation in child abuse cases.

Among the usual crimes of assault, battery, burglary, forgery and smuggling, smuggling of gold cases in Paro and smuggling of controlled substances were the highlights of crimes. Murder incident in Phuentsholing, where an Indian contractor dismembered his wife’s head and disposed it off in Toorsa, grabbed headlines.  

Gold smuggling also dominated crime news in the year of the Pig. The chase for gold smugglers, who bring in gold from the northern borders, has led to numerous seizures of gold biscuits, as high as 52kgs at a go. The smugglers robbed each other and a member of a patrol team was also implicated in a 31kgs gold case.

While many people, including minors, were sentenced for smuggling controlled substances, it was not known whether anyone was held accountable after police investigated a drug bust of more than 1,000 capsules of spasmo proxyvon plus (SP+) in Chamgang central jail, Thimphu.

While sources told Kuensel that more than 2,000 capsules of SP+ were found inside the jail, a police source said they seized more than 1,000 capsules based on information, which was about to be smuggled inside the jail.

It was learnt that eight inmates were brought to headquarters for investigation but it was not known if anyone was charged to court for the crime. SP+ is graded a schedule III controlled substances, possessing or trafficking more than the permissible limit would mean a prison term of more than five to nine years.

Even a tshogpa was implicated for marijuana smuggling in remote Serthi gewog, Samdrupjongkhar.

Towards the end of the year, police discovered a new method of ferrying controlled substances. Huge quantities of controlled substances were seized from Bhutan Post while police also recovered Khat, a plant species, being routed from Bhutan with its origin in Ethiopia.

Meanwhile, many people lauded the sentencing of a driver in Samdrupjonkhar, who transmitted HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). Samdrupjongkhar police arrested the 38-year-old driver from Trashiyangtse in April last year after a victim lodged a complaint against him.

An enterprising year in CSI field

Sat, 02/22/2020 - 17:11

Entrepreneurs:

Phub Dem

The Hog had been busy exploring opportunities and venturing into new fields in the year just gone by.

The year witnessed major changes in policy and reforms to drive the growth of the Cottage and Small Industry (CSI). It began with the second Bhutan Economic Forum of Innovative Transformation (BEFIT), with the theme catalysing CSI to drive economic diversification.  

The conference saw the launch of national e-commerce portal, the revised Cottage, Small and Medium Industry (CSMI) and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policies and a guideline on e-commerce.

The much awaited CSI bank was inaugurated yesterday.

Prioritising the new trend—CSI for economic diversification, the government rolled out Startup and CSI flagship programme.   Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering signed the Annual Performance Agreement (APA) with economic affairs minister to generate 25 new CSIs and 500 jobs.

Going by the Plan, CSIs are mandated with a huge responsibility to carry. The industry has greater socioeconomic roles—driving innovation and investment, diversifying economic base, creating employment opportunities, curbing rural-urban migration, reducing poverty, and potential to contribute towards economic self-reliance.

The government allotted a total of Nu 1.2 Billion for the flagship.

The past year saw some startups starting up with initiative such as Jabchor, Bhutan Crowdfunding, and endless startup events—startup weekend, entrepreneurship congress, idea competition, Druk Tshongrig Gatoen among others.

Jabchor gave birth to startup businesses like Chechay Sanitary Pad, Bhutan’s first manufactured sanitary pad, Sadone Design, Himalayan Foods and Kingdom Essence.  

The Bhutan Crowdfunding platform has spurred the growth of three startups in seven months—Himalayan Food, Bhutan Alternatives and ‘One Click Shop.’ The budding startups became chief executive officers of some million Ngultrum companies.  

Amid major CSI highlights, the Pig year, for the first time saw Bhutanese textiles hit the European market with Jangphutse’s Kharza-Kop bag reaching the shores of Europe.

The 14th Round Table Meeting underlined that the CSIs and the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) must take center stage to ensure a sustainable LDC graduation for Bhutan.

In addition, Priority Sector Lending (PSL) supplemented the entrepreneur with additional capital. As of December last year, PSL injected a total of 0.48 (B) capital for cottage and small industries (CSI), primary agriculture, and livestock productions.  

The Hog year noted many aspiring entrepreneurs venture into small business such as Tshazo (bamboo craft), Thazao (weaving), paper business, florist, orongbhazib (backpack), lakchu, chungchu (basket), bechab (winnow) and pari (mats) among others.

However, despite a successful year, challenges remain in the sector. Access to finance, sustainable supply chain, certification, viable export markets, competition from State-Owned Enterprises and local competitors are some of the challenges the Hog passed on to the Rat to gnaw on.

Boulders’ heavy fall: Will it rise to its former glory again?

Sat, 02/22/2020 - 17:10

Chukha:

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

When the Pig Year 2019 began, export of boulders was touching the sky. It had topped the list of export at one point.

But there was an unmatched challenge coming its way.

Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) investigation and suspending of an ongoing dredging work at the Toorsa embankment triggered the downfall. The export game changed and the ripple effect hit the transport sector and the banks.

First it was the load capacity that hit the boulder export. Business had stopped abruptly after ACC asked the traffic and road authorities to restrict trucks carrying stones beyond the carrying capacity.

The load weight was restricted to 25MT from 40Mt trucks carried. Hundreds of trucks were stranded when the ceiling was put to effect. Many exporters claimed that business was more of transport and not just the boulder export.  The government increased the Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) to 28MT but it did not go well with the people involved.

By this time last year, there were more than 1,500 dumper trucks in Phuentsholing, Samtse and Gelephu, a huge investment in transport targeting the boulders business.

The 2018 Bhutan Trade Statistics (BTS) revealed that dumper trucks worth Nu 1.9 billion (B) was imported. It was the fifth highest imported commodity. Although the figures were inclusive of other dumping equipment, exporters and transporters said the figures increased largely due to import of dumper trucks.

Load restriction alone was not the hurdle on the boulder business highway. Soon after the export resumed, issues from the Indian highway started to arise. On September 23, a mob in Fulbari attacked and damaged more than 30 Bhutanese trucks that were ferrying boulders to Bangladesh.

Fulbari locals and those in the boulder business stopped Bhutanese trucks citing load capacity as the reason. Many were fined.

Meanwhile, truck owners started to default in paying their instalments to the truck companies and banks.

One bank had lent Nu 1.24B in transport loan for heavy vehicles in 2018 alone. Heavy vehicles include dumper trucks and excavation machineries. However, this figure dropped to Nu 427M by December 2019.

As per the Royal Monetary Authority’s report on ‘credit exposure in financial sector’ until June 2019, the transport sector comprised of five percent of the overall loan composition, which is Nu 6.74B.

Out of this, a total of Nu 1.35B was as transport Non Performing Loan (NPL) outstanding, which is six percent of the total NPL composition.

 

Dredging issues

Issues of dredging of boulders along the Toorsa were also under scrutiny in the Pig year.

In September, despite controversies, the government announced three feasible dredging sites at Toorsa. More than 100 applicants rushed to secure the sites.

However, ongoing Amochhu Township Development Project (PTDP) in Zone A, opposed to the decision. On October 25, the government stopped “the dredging of boulders and riverbed materials” from Toorsa river basin.

The decision was taken after reviewing the PTDP and concerns shared by the project’s executing company, Construction Development Corporation Limited.

The government also decided to cease the export of surface collection and riverbed dredging materials originating in and around Toorsa basin.

A mixed report for the Health sector

Sat, 02/22/2020 - 17:09

Health:

Chimi Dema

It was a healthy year for the health ministry with lots of development in the health sector.

The government, which prioritised health in its election campaigns, fulfilled its commitment of ensuring  access to specialist services by deploying medical specialists in the district hospitals. Notwithstanding the criticism on hiring specialists, the government brought in 20 medical specialists from Bangladesh.

This comes as an outcome of Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering’s state visit to the country last April.

The health sector is grappling with a shortage of 2,201 medical professionals at various categories. This is made worse by number of workers leaving the profession and a few specialists attaining their retirement age. In this light, the government’s effort to bring in specialists comes as a huge relief.

One of the overarching goals the health sector achieved in the Pig year was getting the country’s first eye hospital. The Gyalyum Kesang Choeden Wangchuck National Eye Centre as the first standalone hospital for eye was opened in October.

In an effort to eliminate cervical cancer in the country, the first phase of comprehensive package of cervical cancer screening camp is underway in three dzongkhags -Punakha, Bumthang and Mongar.

The package including non-communicable diseases (NCD) screening, cervical cancer screening, clinical breast examination, screening for Pelvic organ prolapse, STI (sexually transmitted infections) screening and information on gender-based violence prevention so far covered more than 10,000 women.

The health sector saw the upgradation of grade II Basic Health Units to grade I, revision of allowances and better incentives for health workers and increasing additional five slots for Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) considering the need of health professionals in the country.

The year gone by will also be remembered for the tragic deaths of eight babies at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at national referral hospital in Thimphu between March and April.

Parents blamed negligence and attributed hospital-acquired infection (HIA), hospital officials claimed otherwise.

The incident got the hospital to assemble several sets of medical equipment to ensure that each baby had a dedicated set.  It was a measure taken by the hospital to prevent the transfer of infection from one baby to another.

The ministry also came under severe criticism when an ambulance without fuel couldn’t attend to an emergency in Dagana and resulted in the tragic death of a six-week-old baby.

Another black mark in the sector was the newly inaugurated Gelephu hospital making headlines for the wrong reasons. Less than a year after its inauguration, noticeable damage to the physical structures has emerged at the hospital.

Following the discovery of multiple cracks on the walls, the ceiling in various parts of the hospital has started to fall off. The CT scan machine remained non-functional for months. 

Several BHUs operated without doctors. The BHU I in Gasa and Dorokha did not have doctor for four months and Panbang BHU I was without a doctor for seven months.

While the country still has a significant burden of infectious communicable diseases, a disease pattern of an underdeveloped country, the year saw a rise in NCDs like diabetes, hypertension and other lifestyle-related diseases.

The health sector was also shaken by the outbreak of dengue fever in the south, especially Phuentsholing.

The first case of dengue fever was reported in May 2019 in Pasakha, Phuentsholing. By August 20, the town that shares a porous border with Indian town of Jaigaon had registered 1,239 dengue fever positive cases. The number increased to 1,468 towards the end of month.

Control measures like mass cleaning, thermal fogging, spraying, and awareness did not sort the problem. Numbers kept increasing.

By mid September 2019, although the number of positive cases had declined, the Phuentsholing General Hospital (PGH) had seen a record 2,451 dengue positive cases. This was without including the positive cases detected in the private clinics.

Dengue fever was also reported in November even after four months from the time of outbreak. By November 18, 2019, a total of 4,300 positive cases were reported across the country. About 77 percent of the total cases were reported from Phuentsholing.

Since the July 5 outbreak in Phuentsholing, more than 4,000 dengue positive cases were reported in the hospital. This included two maternal and other six deaths.

Except for Lhuentse, all dzongkhags reported dengue cases.

Although it took the ministry almost a month to react to the outbreak of the disease, it comes up with some kind of a plan to tackle the fever in the future.

Even as we were nearing the end of the Pig year, the coronavirus outbreak in China, posed a threat to the ministry. However, the ministry focused on prevention and put in place stringent measures starting from managing formal and informal entries into the country and taking precautionary steps and to avoid all possible risks. The ministry also assured all system in place to tackle the Covid-19.

At Thimphu referral hospital, patient isolation rooms and critical units have been identified. The old Mother and Child Health unit with the hospital has been converted into the isolation unit.

Since January 15, infrared fever scanning and respiratory symptom screenings were initiated at the points of entry, the primary one being Paro International Airport.

The Prime Minister also informed that in the event of an outbreak, the government has identified Gidagom hospital in Thimphu to function as an interim hospital to treat all those who are infected.

Teams consisting of management staff, and health personnel were formed to ensure quick response in case of an outbreak.

The year of the Pig ended on a positive note with the health minister launching the patient Referral by Air. The Prime minister announced the change from Changlimethang coinciding with the 40th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty The King, yesterday.

This could benefit to an average 12000 patients and attendants annually.

In an effort to initiate mass specialisation beginning this June, the government is sending 56 individuals this year to undergo specialisation in general surgery including 12 persons to be sub-specialised in Oncology, Nephrology and Cardiology, among others.

This could ease the acute shortage of specialists that the country is facing today.

Bhutan leads climate action in mountainous regions

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 13:25

Through Snowman Race and Bhutan Climate Action Summit

Choki Wangmo

Mountain ecosystems are sensitive to the impacts of climate change and are being affected at a faster rate than other terrestrial habitats.

But this vulnerable system is not at the centre of climate change debates. However, Bhutan is setting a precedent, often going it alone.

Envisioned by His Majesty The King, the Snowman Race (SMR) seeks to bring the world’s attention to climate change and its impacts on the lives of people living in fragile mountain ecosystems.

Themed “Honoring Eco-preneurs and Climate Champions”, Snowman Race Secretariat yesterday announced Bhutan Climate Action Summit, which will be held after the five-day Snowman Race in October this year.

The one-and-a-half-day summit will circle around carbon neutrality and the urgency of the climate crisis.

It is expected to bring together business leaders, governments, civil societies and academia to garner commitments and pledges of concrete actions to tackle the global climate crisis towards ensuring a sustainable world.

The summit will focus on engaging the private sector in the region and beyond, with an aim to make them an integral part of climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts to galvanise global climate action.

During the summit, Bhutan would award business communities of the Asia region for their commitment to carbon neutrality. It would facilitate pledges from business leaders and multinational companies towards reducing their carbon emissions and contributing to positive climate actions.

It would also encourage sustainable business practices as a means to support the Nationally Determined Contributions and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through partnership and networking to share information, technologies and experience.

Chairperson of the SMR Secretariat, Kesang Wangdi, said that the SMR and the summit would bring the climate action at the forefront to address climate change impact faced by people living in the mountains.

“It will bring people together and work on how best the government organisations, non-governmental organisations and other agencies can identify climate actions in the national and global levels,” Kesang Wangdi said.

“It is not Bhutan-centric and will involve people from different regions for collective and coherent action,” he added.

The summit is expected to raise an innovative climate action fund to increase resilience and climate adaptation in Bhutan’s highlands and secure commitments from business leaders, partner countries and institutions.

Resident Representative for UNDP Bhutan, Azusa Kubota, said that Snowman Race in itself was symbolic and representative of climate race which translated climate change message and awareness into reality. “When a tiny carbon neutral mountain Kingdom takes action, it will inspire global movement on climate change.”

Twenty renowned international athletes and Bhutan’s five top athletes will run the 300km SMR through some of the toughest and dangerous trekking routes in the world.

This year is considered a super policy year globally for the planet and the people; 2020 marks the start of a ‘Decade of Action’ to meet the SDGs and drive climate action.

It also marks the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

This year is also a Super Year for biodiversity.

Kesang Wangdi said that for Bhutan it was a super-super year because the whole SMR and the climate action summit was an offering to His Majesty The King’s 40th birth anniversary.

Representatives from local and international partner agencies, including WWF Bhutan and UN in Bhutan were present during the announcement.

Tarayana launches micro loans for rural development

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 13:24

Thinley Namgay 

To meet the financial needs of rural communities, the Tarayaya Foundation has launched the Tarayana Micro Finance (TMF) for rural development programme in Thimphu yesterday.

Patron of Tarayana Foundation, Her Majesty the Gyalyum Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck launched the programme to commemorate the 40th birth anniversary of His Majesty The King.                                       

Her Majesty said, “Through the launch of this particular initiative, we strive to contribute towards fulfilling His Majesty’s vision of financial inclusion for growth and development so that all citizens live productively, and with dignity.” 

Tarayana Micro Finance was licensed under the Royal Monetary Authority as a microfinance institute. The loans for the clients will be given at an interest rate of 15 percent. 

Tarayana Foundation’s Micro Finance Officer, Kuenley Gyeltshen said that microloans will be provided in two categories- classic microfinance, and development microfinance. 

Classic microfinance is for the beneficiaries who already operate a micro-business or farming business.  Under development microfinance, TMF will provide larger loans to start an income-generating activity such as vegetable or dairy farming. 

As a partner of TMF, Bhutan Telecom had developed the B-Ngultrum financial solution to enable electronic payments even for those who do not have a bank account and smartphone. TMF customers can use the B-Ngultrum financial solution to repay loans. 

The pilot phase of the programme starts from this year in three dzongkhags-Samtse, Tsirang, and Zhemgang for 18 months. Officials said that based on the need, they had selected these dzongkhags for the pilot phase.   After the pilot phase, TMF would reach out to the rest of the dzongkhags. 

Her Majesty the Gyalyum said that the Tarayana board members decided to start an initiative on condition that thorough groundwork was undertaken first and done professionally. 

“Special attention was also to be taken to ensure that this was a development financing mechanism. Skills training and handholding services are to be provided to our clients so that together, we can ensure their prosperity in the long run. Special focus on consumer protection and adequate financial literacy training will be provided to all potential clients in the communities,” said Her Majesty the Gyalyum. 

Tarayana microfinance team had received professional advice and skills from Oliver Wyman, a global consulting firm, with its headquarter in Singapore. 

Practice of school ranking unfair: GG Committee

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 13:23

Yangchen C Rinzin 

The National Council’s Good Governance Committee reported that the criteria used for rating schools in school ranking system was unfair and has demotivated principles and teachers of low ranked schools.

Presenting the review report of programme initiatives towards improving the quality of education, Dagana NC and committee member, Surjaman Thapa said the school ranking system was introduced to serve as a support system to improve ranking of low performing schools.

“The ranking criteria, which is based on academic learning score, enabling practices at schools and GNH has come under criticism from teachers and school principles,” Surjaman Thapa said. “It has also shown that the practice of ranking school using academic performance was unfair.”

The report also stated that class assessments were manipulated so that both the school and teachers would receive better performance ratings.

“Manipulation and demotivated teachers would lead to poor learning outcomes of students that would affect the quality of education in the long run,” Surjaman Thapa said.

The committee recommended the government to revisit the current practice of school ranking system to ensure that its implementation would not deviate from its intended purpose.

The committee also reported that there was inadequate budgetary support for primary education services to procure teaching learning materials and to implement other school-based initiatives. The report stated that there were several instances where budget meant for one purpose was utilised for other activities.

It also recommended the government to ensure adequate provision of facilities and tools for effective implementation of any new or revised curriculum to have timely orientation for teachers on curriculum and other support services.

The committee’s report also recommended exploring possibilities of reviving the Centenary Institute of Education that was discontinued in 2016, or strengthen the existing Royal Education Council to assume the responsibility of designing and delivery of professional development programmes of teachers.

Although the education minister emphasised on Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) and create access to quality ECCD, the committee observed that there were gaps in ensuring 74 percent of children aged 3-5 years having access to ECCD.

Committee member and eminent member, Tashi Wangmo, said the government should expedite the expansion of access to ECCD centres to attain 100 percent before 2030 and enhance Bhutan Education Blueprint’s target on ECCD coverage from 50 percent by 2024.

Today, there are 379 existing ECCD centres (319 public and 60 private) in the country with a total enrolment of 8,743 children.

Some members said that the committee should have also considered looking into the impact of starting central schools, government’s decision on doing away with Class X cut-off point, issues raised by the private schools, and doing away examination for Classes PP-III.

Committee member and Bumthang NC, Nima, said that the ministry has already worked out on the issue pertaining to central school and since it has been just a year since the cut-off policy was implemented, the committee decided that it would not give accurate report on the impact of such decisions.

The committee decided to conduct a study on doing away with examination from classes PP to III at a later date.

The House will continue the deliberation on the report on February 26.

Tribute to King and the nation

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 13:22

The nation’s come together this day for a very special celebration. It is His Majesty’s 40th Birth Anniversary.

And, it is just the beginning. The celebration will continue until the end of 2020 because this year is also a very auspicious year.

 Schools are planning special programmes and, likewise, government offices and private business too are busy gearing up for this year-long celebration.

 This national celebration is special because we are rising yet again as a nation—we are witnessing the maturity of national vision.

 So this is a year of tribute. What do we offer our King and the nation?

 It’s a change of era we are witnessing this day. Bhutan has begun taking on its small shoulders the weight of the world. And, so, it is upon us to rise to the occasion. We are already a leader on many fronts but we also know we can do better.

 But then, a serious pratfall is never too distant a chance. How must we enter this new era in Bhutanese history?

 There ought to be songs and dances, of course. And there will be many dedication programmes. But we will not have lived up to the vision of the nation if we did not work hard enough to make them meaningful.

 So let us look and delved deep into the wise words of His Majesty The King: “As a developing country, we have limited resources. We must manage our available resources wisely, minimise waste, and ensure that all our resources are directed at improving the well-being of the people, and in fulfilling our national vision.”

 This is the real challenge facing the nation today. We are increasingly becoming a careless and wasteful society. We are a small nation and that is our strength but we are undermining it with unnecessary complications.  Public service, for example, is becoming a serious impediment to national development and progress. As His Majesty The King said, our greatest danger will come from their complacency and indifference.

Complacency and indifference is already the biggest implement to national progress today. Corruption is rising and this chain reaction is eating into the health of the nation. There are other pressing national problems to address, also born of these root causes—rising poverty and youth unemployment.

 It would not be right to say that the governments are failing the nation. The people too are equal partners in this grand failure.

The citizen’s true prayer this day should be to serve the nation each individually in their capacity. And that will take a leap of faith.

If we can do anything for the nation, it is this day. And so, as a true tribute, there is nothing better than beginning with following the advice of His Majesty The King.

Lumang residents wait for a bridge over Demri

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 13:22

Neten Dorji | Trashigang

With every rainfall and the impending monsoon, villagers in three chiwogs of  Lumang in Trashigang are worried about crossing Demri and Shoskomre streams. 

Every summer they swell and disconnect the gewog from rest of Trashigang. Villagers said that a bridge is crucial for the gewog. The alternative road also needs a bridge over the same stream. 

The stream is about four kilometres from gewog centre and about six kilometres from Reserbu hospital towards Lumang gewog. 

“It is difficult for us to seek services from the gewog centre,” said Reserbu-Tshangphu Tshogpa Tashi Dorji.

More than 300 households from three chiwogs are separated from the gewog centre by the streams.

Local residents said that during monsoon, the stream swells unpredictably and remained a menace to people disturbing travel and causing a threat to lives. “Construction of a bridge over the stream would only end the perennial plight,” said villager Ngawang Dema. 

She said that without a proper bridge over the stream, several vehicles remained stranded on either side of the stream every time it rained. “It is an inconvenience for people who need to avail services on time.”

“It has been many monsoons we are cut off from the rest of the dzongkhag when the flood comes,” said a resident Sumchu Dema. “People trans-shift every time. It is inconvenient for students.”  

She said that heavy vehicles on the narrow road also posed a problem for other travellers. “Recently, one of the trucks nearly went off the road.”

A parent, Ugyen Lhaden said, “We worry, as unpredictable Demri stream swells making it difficult for young children to cross.” 

Villagers said another problem has been evacuating patients during monsoon.  “We don’t understand whether the government has not allocated budget or planners failed to include the bridge in the Plan.” 

A 50-year-old resident, Chardor Dema said that it was obvious officials understood that they need the bridge. “Everybody knows we are in dire need but nothing has happened.”

Meanwhile, Lumang gup, Wandi said that as gewog centre road was handed over to dzongkhag the gewog administration is hoping for dzongkhag to solve the problem for the people. 

“We are well aware of the problem but gewog administration doesn’t have authority to allocate the budget,” he said. 

The gup said more than Nu 80 million would be needed to construct a bridge over Demri stream.

Bhutanese refraining from gatherings hurts Dadgari businesses

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 13:21

Younten Tshedup | Gelephu

As much as people in Gelephu and nearby gewogs depend on Dadgari village in Assam, India for trade, the small Indian settlement’s main customers for business is it’s neighbours this side of the border.

Over the years, the tiny settlement known as Hatisar among the locals has grown. Many small businesses have also mushroomed along the highway connecting Bhutan and India.

One of the star-attractions here is the weekly bazaar every Thursday. Besides those from Gelephu, this rapidly growing market attracts shoppers from Sarpang, Zhemgang, Tsirang, Nganglam, Wangdue and Punakha, among others.

Records from the border checkpoint show that more than 8,000 Bhutanese visit the market during Thursdays. All manner of goods – vegetables, garments, utensils, meat, and construction materials are sold here.

However, business at the bazaar has comparatively dropped in the past two weeks. Indian traders blame the global COVID-19 outbreak for poor sales.

One of the businessmen, Sanjib Chakraborty, said that the fear that they might contract the virus, many people have stopped visiting the market. “No one is infected in the area and people should not worry. We know about the outbreak and are equally concerned.”

He said that in the absence of Bhutanese customers, there is hardly any business. “We mostly depend on the Thursday market and Bhutanese customers for our survival. Otherwise, the local people do not buy much of our goods.”

He added that on a regular Thursday, his earning hovered between Nu 20,000 to Nu 30,000. “Business is better when the schools reopen. We earn more than Nu 50,000 over the week,” he said. “However, in the last two weeks, we could barely make Nu 4,000.”

There are more than 400 stalls at the bazaar.

Security officials at the border gate also said that the number of people visiting the weekly market has drastically dropped with intensive awareness programmes and screening measures put at the checkpoint.

The number of people who entered the border gate yesterday was less than 3,000.

Health officials said that the drop in the number of people visiting Dadgari market is a positive sign. “It shows that people are concerned. While there are no suspected cases detected in the locality so far, it is wise to avoid such large gatherings,” said an official.

The business community in Gelephu are also equally pleased with the current development. “So it’s going to take a virus to stop our people from going outside,” said a hotelier.

He said that the Thursday bazaar remains one of the biggest challenges for local vendors in Gelephu. “We have tried on several occasions to inform the public to refrain from spending outside when all the goods were available inside. Nothing worked so far.”

Meanwhile, those who had come to the bazaar said that most of the commodities were comparatively cheaper in Dadgari than in Gelephu town.

“There is no point coming all the way here if the items inside were charged the same,” said a customer. “Prices in Gelephu are almost double of what is charged here.”

However, many business operators argue that the public fails to take into consideration the transportation and time factor when they compare the prices. “They are basically paying the same, if not more by going all the way to Dadgari.”

Luejong: Dancing for a healthy life

Fri, 02/21/2020 - 13:20

Ugyen Penjor

Koko ri ko, koko ri ko

bjapay ngari zetog…

 

This rooster song is an evergreen song among many Bhutanese. The lyrics are simple, the dance steps fun and it is a sing-along song.

If many grew up singing or dancing to the rooster song, there is a new dimension added to it. Koko ri ko has become a Bhutanese version of Zumba, an exercise fitness programme.

Called Luejong, the fitness programme is a part of the health ministry’s  “Health in and health for all” approach with the concept developed by the health minister, Dechen Wangmo. It is a dance-based fitness program that encompasses around achieving cardio, strength, balance, flexibility and improving concentration.

Koko ri ko is the first song of the 10-minute long dance- based fitness programme. Then comes Druk zhung di na gawa lu, another popular song that is on every lips, especially after the 112th National Day, where it was the theme song.

Choreographer Deepika Adhakari (right) and dance partner in the Luejong video

With more dancing beats added and sung by an octogenarian, Ap Teyh Teyh, Druk Zhung di na has traditional steps to keep the tradition alive and Zumba steps like squats, turns and shakes to tone the muscles.

Lumba Chungchu, the third song is another lively song that everybody likes to jump, turn as we clap hands to the song. It is the favourite song at all gatherings, especially when those gathered are not so good at dancing.

The Luejong ends with a remix of M Studio’s Losar Tashi Delek song, which is full of messages on the importance of a healthy life.

Choreographer Deepika Adhikari calls the Luejong a mix of traditional moves and Zumba steps to generate interest among all age groups.

Luejong is not typical Zumba fitness programme. It is more than that. “Through fitness, we are trying to promote culture and revive popular Dzongkha songs and dance steps that has a fitness steps engrained in it,” said Deepika who is a certified Zumba trainer.

The longer version, 30 minutes, of the Luejong released today has 10 songs including the Wang Zhay, some steps from mask dances and other popular songs like Kesangla and Zumbuling la.

Wang Zhay involves large arm and foot works and high jumps, moves while mask dance steps involve a lot of jumps and back and forth movements in combination with aerobics moves and mixed martial arts. “The steps are good for calves and thighs,” said the trainer.

The idea of the Luejong started in a small hall at the health ministry where Deepika initiated an after-office fitness programme. “The health minister saw the groups and suggested making it a national programme,” she said.

With support from the World Health Organisation, a complete 30-minute programme is readied with a new approach.

The “Health in all” is an approach to reflect on health impact in all aspects of development and policy considerations. “It is considering the impact on health from our development activates,” said Deepika.

The “Health for all” approach is supposed to make health accessible to all in achieving Universal Health Coverage and inculcate healthy lifestyle through promotion of healthy activities and routines into day-to-day lives of everyone.

500 students from 11 schools of Thimphu Thromde, teachers and 100 government officials performing the Luejong at the Changlimithang stadium today is the official launch of Luejong.

The plan is to introduce the progamme to all schools and then to other formal and informal communities and ultimately to the whole population of Bhutan.

“It is simple, easy and short. Anybody can do it at their convenience and stay healthy,” said Deepika Adhikari.

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