The National Council (NC) yesterday unanimously adopted the annual budget for the fiscal year 2021-22 recommending budget allocation for crop and livestock compensation to farmers.
Chairman of the economic affairs committee, Anand Rai, said that the Endowment Fund for Crop and Livestock Conservation was yet to mature and that the government should allocate funds in the annual budget specifically for compensation of livestock and crop damage.
Established in 2017, the endowment fund to compensate farmers for crop and livestock damage caused by natural calamities stood at Nu 90.865 million (M) as of March 31, 2021.
However, the fund, which has been parked in the current deposit account maintained with Bank of Bhutan (BOB) is yet to be operationalised.
The recommendations also include allocating adequate budget for the ongoing construction of the secondary national highway from Jyenkhana to Sombayka in Haa. The committee chairperson stated that the annual budget had no money allocated for the highway.
The house also wants allocation of adequate budget for addressing social issues.
Anand Rai said that social issues, including suicides, drug addiction and underage sex, were increasing by the year and that it was important for the government to make budget allocations to address the issues.
The NC also recommended ensuring the legal framework for the mining sector in line with the Constitution.
Anand Rai said that the revenue from the mining sector had increased after the transfer of mines from the private sector to the State Mining Corporation Ltd. (SMCL). “The SMCL is doing a great job now,” he said, hinting that the legal framework suggested by the House included formalising the transfer of mines to the state-owned enterprise.
The transfer of some of the mines to SMCL was temporary, according to officials from the economic affairs ministry.
The House also unanimously adopted the Supplementary Budget Appropriation Bill for the FY 2020-21 along with the recommendation to the government to set a clear and specific non-performing loan (NPL) target ratio. The current target is to maintain NPL below 24 percent, which the NC said was high.
The recommendations will be forwarded to the National Assembly, which has the prerogative of accepting them as Money Bills.
By MB Subba
Edited by Jigme Wangchuk
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) appealed to the High Court after Haa dzongkhag court sentenced a man to 26 years and six months in prison for murdering his mother-in-law.
OAG appealed to the High Court, stating that the defendant should be sentenced to life.
Kinley Gyeltshen, 33, from Goenshari in Punakha was sentenced to 25 years in prison for murdering his mother-in-law in October last year in Kipri,Uesu, Haa.
He was sentenced to another year and six months in prison for not being able to pay compensation to the victim’s family.
The judgement rendered on May 28 stated that the convict has to pay compensatory damage of Nu 492,875, which is a daily minimum national wage rate for a maximum of 10 years and the cost incurred in conducting rituals for forty-nine days by seven people to the victim’s family.
Kinley Gyeltshen was detained on October 24 last year after the deceased’s brother reported the case two days after suspecting foul play against him.
The case was earlier registered as an accident.
Kinley Gyeltshen was found guilty of hitting his mother-in-law on the head with a spade and letting her die in a pool of blood.
He was found guilty of violating violated section 138 (A) of the Penal Code of Bhutan, which states that the defendant shall be found guilty of the offence of murder if the defendant commits a homicide knowingly and deliberately with premeditated malice.
The crime was graded a first-degree felony with minimum sentencing of 15 years in prison and a maximum sentencing of life imprisonment.
The judgment stated that although the convict should be given life imprisonment, the practice in other countries is that such convicts remain in prison between 14 to 25 years and are later sent on parole. “Without such an option in the country, the court invokes a universal principle, the Doctrine of Lenity, and sentenced him to 25 years in prison so that when he turns 57, he could come out of the prison to benefit himself and the society.”
By Phub Dem | Paro
Edited by Tashi Dema
To strengthen the CSO authority and secretariat
With 21 National Council (NC) members voting YES, the House unanimously adopted the Civil Society Organisation (Amendment) Bill 2021 yesterday.
The Bill includes new provisions such as: Civil Society Organisation (CSO) should be provided with adequate human resources necessary to enable it to exercise its powers or function efficiently.
The amendment is expected to strengthen CSO authority and secretariat, to have enough human resources and to make constructive and productive decisions.
More than a decade after its enactment, the CSO Act of Bhutan 2007 was tabled for amendment at the NC during the fourth sitting of the House on June 2 due to troubled implementation and overall institutional capacity.
The legislative committee introduced the Bill for deliberation. Its chairperson, eminent NC member Phuntsho Rapten, said that the amended Act would strengthen the Act and the CSOs.
“The amendment is to ensure it boosts CSOs’ growth through the Act given their contributions to the communities,” he added.
The Bill also introduced a new section where the government shall make adequate financial provisions for the independent administration of the CSO authority as part of its annual budget.
The new section of the Bill also states that accounting records of CSOs must contain financial statement (revenue and expenses, assets and liabilities, cash flow statement).
A CSO shall be removed from the register if it has ceased, for a period of at least two years, to carry out the purposes and activities set forth in its Article of Association according to the Bill.
The Bill was reviewed based on principles such as safeguarding the country’s security, balanced and coordinated CSO, strengthening the capacity of CSO authority and secretariat, and harmonising the existing provisions.
There are 63 registered CSOs in the country; 25 are awaiting registration.
The Bill will be forwarded to the National Assembly for the re-deliberation.
By Yangchen C Rinzin
Edited by Jigme Wangchuk
Armyworm infestation in Mongar has destroyed acres of maize in several gewogs, according to farmers.
Farmers of lower Chali claims that about 50 households with the landholding of a langdo to an acre and half have been destroyed by the worm.
Maize is a major source of income for Chali farmers and they are worried that their income from selling grounded maize would be impacted.
A farmer, Pema Kinzang, who lost about an acre of maize to the worms, said it’s disheartening to see their hard toil go in vain. “We have no hope and farmers are upset but it’s a natural disaster. What can we do?”
Chali gewog’s senior agriculture extension supervisor, Lobzang Chophel, said days without rain after the sowing seeds led to the surfacing of armyworm and failures to put control measures by farmers in time led to the disaster.
He said chemicals were already supplied to the farmers, but they did not spray the pesticide when the pests began to attack their crop, due to religious sentiments, as the whole month was auspicious Saga Dawa. “We even went to distribute the pesticide door-to-door.”
Lobzang Chophel said about five households were severely affected and need resowing while crops in other fields are regrowing after the recent rainfall.
Similarly, the pest also damaged about six acres of maize fields belonging to 11 households in Kalapang village in Saling gewog. Kengkhar gewog and Gongdue gewog reported eight and four houses respectively with severe damages.
In Drametse, 15 households lost more than eight acres of the crop to the pest. The farmers sowed the seeds again.
In Mongar gewog, about 10 households in Ridaza and Hurungpam villages reported the damage. However, gewog agriculture extension supervisor,
Sangay Wangdi said timely spraying of chemical helped in bringing the situation under control.
The worm has also infested crops in Tsakaling gewog.
Dzongkhag agriculture officials said even farmers in Kalapang village did not spray the pest control measures due to religious sentiments.
They explained that the favourable weather condition for the worm is a mix of cloudy and sunny days without rain. “Continuous rain that lasts for two to three days after it starts infestation kills the worms.”
They also said lack of crop rotation practice is the other reason.
Meanwhile, in Thangrong gewog, a drought affected maize fields of 58 households recently.
Dzongkhag agriculture officials said the reports have been compiled and forwarded to the high-level disaster committee.
By Tshering Namgyal | Mongar
Edited by Tashi Dema
After much struggle, farmer Kuenzang Gyeltshen from Gangzor Maed in Tsendagang, Dagana, sold his turmeric recently.
He had sold about 1,400kg of turmeric at Nu 37 a kg to Daga Adding Masala Unit (DAMU), a local processing unit in Dagapela.
Without an assured market, the farmer stored and cured the produce for more than four months since he harvested it in February.
Kuenzang Gyeltshen said growing turmeric incurred him a loss of about Nu 50,000. “I’ve invested Nu 100,000 to grow turmeric in an acre of land.”
Another farmer who sold about 3,800kg invested around Nu 150,000 in turmeric cultivation.
Farmers said that the return from turmeric couldn’t even cover their investment.
Dagana agriculture sector, with support from the National Organic Flagship Programme (NOFP), initiated the programme to grow organic ginger and turmeric as focused crops in Tsendagang and Tsangkha gewogs last year.
The initiative was taken in an effort to encourage farmers to establish a productive organic farming system and cultivate in their fallow lands.
As part of 2019-2020 fiscal year activity, the sector focused to grow turmeric in nine and half-acre land in the two gewogs to produce about 28 metric tonnes (MT) of the spice.
Tsendagang gewog has sold more than 13MT of turmeric while Tsangkha has sold about 10MT so far.
Farmers said that although an exporter initially agreed to buy the produce at Nu 45 to Nu 50 a kg, they did not. “We were asked to harvest within a week but they did not come to buy,” a farmer said.
Meanwhile, DAMU manufactures turmeric powder for both domestic and international markets.
The owner of DAMU, Narath Koirala, said he initiated the powder processing to help farmers who were struggling to sell their produce without a market.
“I’m currently exploring markets, both domestic and international,” he said.
DAMU has so far bought about 15MT of turmeric and is planning to buy remaining produce in the dzongkhag.
By Chimi Dema | Dagana
Edited by Tashi Dema
With a group of cattle rescued by volunteers of tshethar tshogpa freely roaming in Sershong, Sarpang, for the past one month, farmers are disappointed after the cattle damaged farms and crops.
The cattle, mostly oxen, are left to graze along the highway and gewog centre road after being saved from the hands of dealers on the way to a slaughterhouse in Tsirang.
A farmer from Sershong, Pema Kinzang, said that it was challenging to report the problems. “The cattle were rescued for good but the lack of proper care after the rescue cause nuisance here.”
He said cattle rampaged his fenced orchard. “I planted areca nut, agarwood, and oranges for my family and children but it’s all damaged now. I wish to get a replacement for my saplings at least.”
Six households from the chiwog reported damages by the cattle in the past three weeks, according to Sershong tshogpa. Locals even found four cattle dead close to their source of drinking water in Sershong.
Farmers said cattle caused damages in all households, as there are more than 40 cattle left in the locality.
Another farmer, Pem Tshewang, said they respect the noble initiative but there should be proper management and care of the cattle. “The cattle are left on their own to die after the rescue.”
He said without anyone to take care of the animals, there was no person farmers could approach when the cattle caused problems. “We faced this problem for almost a month now. We don’t know whom to report our problems.”
Farmers suggested releasing the cattle to other places away from settlements.
The volunteers from tshethar tshogpa in the dzongkhag have rescued over 400 cattle in the past three months. And the number is on the rise, according to a volunteer, Tshering Penjor.
Tshethar tshogpa rescued more than 1,000 cattle from across the country. The cattle were mostly from Dagana, Tsirang, Sarpang, and Trongsa.
Tshering Penjor said that it was challenging to provide better care with the number increasing daily, as the association tried to stop even a single cattle from being taken to the slaughterhouse.
“There are problems and we are not able to provide any form of incentives to the farmers. We sustain our work through donations. There are more cattle and we have only few herders,” he said.
He, however, claimed that there were no major damages on crops so far.
He said more than 25 cattle were found dead after the rescue in the past three months. “It is because the cattle were tortured and horns tied hard while being carried in vehicles. Legs were broken when they reached us. The wounds couldn’t be treated.”
Tshering Penjor also works as the tshogpa’s regional coordinator, voluntarily.
Through donations sought from the public, tshethar tshogpa has rescued more than 1,000 cattle.
The association also spent Nu 900,000 for management and care that includes expenditure for buying feeds, building sheds, salary for three herders, and incentives for part-time herders.
While the rescue efforts received good support from the public, Tshering Penjor said that it could become an indirect way of robbing people.
“The beneficiaries are dealers and slaughterhouse owners in any way. The main loss was to people who contribute their last penny. This isn’t a good method,” said Tshering Penjor.
According to him, either the slaughterhouse should be closed or the tshogpa should discontinue the rescue works. “There are countless numbers of cattle taken to the slaughterhouse daily. They bring more cattle once they get money from us. We try to save all and while doing this, we seek support from people.”
Tshethar tshogpa paid dealers at least Nu 15,000 and the highest of Nu 64,000 per cattle while saving them.
Tshering Penjor agreed that there was a need to plan proper management so that it would be less pressing for the public. “Repeatedly seeking donations from the public might lead to people losing interest to support our works.”
He said there are opportunities and scope to make their works sustainable and secure the interest of the people. “We could explore ways to improve the efforts. We started membership registration.”
By Nima | Gelephu
Edited by Tashi Dema
The ten victims of Ri-Druzhi landslide in Laya, Gasa are to be cremated on Monday (June 20).
Bodies of the deceased were flown to Gasa by midday yesterday.
By 6:30pm on June 16, the rescue team from Thimphu extracted the bodies of 10 deceased, which were buried deep under the debris.
The team of 19 who left from Laya on June 16 reached the site in the morning yesterday.
According to Gasa Dzongrab Dorji Gyeltshen, all expenses for the funeral of the 10 victims would be borne by the dzongkhag administration.
Moenlam (prayers) for the deceased began yesterday in Gasa.
Most family members of the deceased have reached Gasa from Laya. Those away collecting cordyceps are also returning to attend the funeral.
Laya’s local leaders are helping the family members find transportation for them to leave for Gasa, said Laya Gup Lhakpa Tshering.
The victims will be cremated at Gasa’s Zabsel Duthrue.
Dorji Gyeltshen said that an 18-year-old female and a 50-year-old female were the youngest and the oldest among the deceased.
He added that in one case three members from a family (husband, wife and mother of the wife) had passed away.
He said that although minor incidents of falling boulders, animals skidding in the snow were common, it was the first time that such a casualty occurred. “The incident didn’t happen because of carelessness or because they were inexperienced. It is an unfortunate incident.”
Highlanders in Laya venture to various locations in groups to collect cordyceps every year between May and June.
Located a day’s walk away from Laya, Ri-Druzhi is considered to be one of the sites abounding in cordyceps.
According to Dorji Gyeltshen there were around 60 to 70 people at site collecting cordyceps. “They were located far from the accident area and some were lower in the base, where the debris of the slide couldn’t reach.”
There were 18 camps of which 12 were buried.
“Some raised questions that had help reached earlier more lives could be saved. That’s not true. It is an area without motorable road or mobile network connection.,” Dorji Gyeltshen said.
By Phurpa Lhamo | Gasa
Edited by Jigme Wangchuk
The National Assembly passed the motion to regularise consolidated contract employees (CCE) with 32 parliamentarians out of 37 supporting the motion yesterday.
Maenbi-Tshaenkhar Member of Parliament (MP), Choki Gyeltshen moved the motion to review the consolidated contract employees and make them regular contract employees, reasoning that consolidated contract employees did not enjoy increments, benefits, and lack of financial security among others.
Choki Gyeltshen said that although some consolidated contract employees were recruited to solve short-term employee shortages, they had been serving for more than five years. “Out of 31,278 civil servants, 4,622 employees are on consolidated contract.”
Most MPs agreed to the motion and reiterated the pledge of the government to regularise CCE but doubted if it was appropriate to consider the motion during the pandemic when funds are in short supply.
Draagteng Langthel MP, Gyem Dorji, said the discussion in the parliament should be about how to provide jobs to unemployed youth when many were jobless due to the pandemic. “I support the motion but am doubtful if is the right time.”
Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said that although it was necessary to regularise contract employees, considering the pandemic the time was not right. “The government will give priority to regularise CCE when the situation gets better.”
Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji shared that there were 933 consolidated contract employees in the education ministry. A teacher on CCE earns Nu 371,460 yearly and with regularisation they would earn Nu 458,737 which is an increase of Nu 87,277.
Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said if 3,700 CCE were regularised, about Nu 150 million would be spent on their salary. “We are at a stage where we are struggling to buy test kits for Covid-19 and regularising CCE would have a huge financial implication,” Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji who voted “no” said.
Many MPs voiced that the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) was the body to regularise matters regarding civil servants and questioned if the civil service commission would implement the decisions of the parliament.
Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said the parliament was not the place to discuss civil servants and it was like meddling into RCSC’s business.
He said the government planned to initiate reforms in the contract employee system after bringing contract employees under the labour ministry. “Due to financial implications, we could not support the contract employees.”
MP Choki Gyeltshen said he met with about 2,000 contract employees and found out that issues with contract employees had to be looked into.
By Yangyel Lhaden
Not long ago, a young, bright, and joyful student in Thimphu took his own life. Like in most suicide cases, this young person had shared suicidal thoughts with friends and browsed about it on the phone for more than a year. The school and the relatives were left in shock.
The above incident had all the indications of a probable suicide but none who witnessed the changes suspected the person to take his own life. The friends, teachers and relatives were simply unaware of symptoms.
Suicide is a major public health issue and the number of suicide attempts in the country is increasing, especially among the youth. But how many of us are really aware of the symptoms shown by a person with suicidal thoughts?
Some even say that Bhutanese have no reason whatsoever to take their own lives. Trivialising the issue by brushing aside the seriousness of this national malady is being facile and irresponsible.
The interim report of the National Council’s Social and Cultural Affairs Committee on suicide reveals that we had oblivious of the glaring fact and its seriousness.
Over the past five years, the budget allocation has remained under Nu 3.5 million despite the increasing number of people seeking treatment for mental health issues and a high rate of suicide cases.
Limited human resource and rehabilitation centres also impede the progress in addressing mental health issues and preventing suicides in the country, according to the report.
We acknowledge that suicide is a complex issue and there is no simple solution. Up to 90 percent of suicides cases are associated with mental disorders — depression, schizophrenia, drugs and alcoholism are highly related.
Suicide prevention depends on the individual’s resources to cope or deal with the problem, the environmental factors such as the type of help and support available.
Our culture is not friendly at all to people living with mental health issues. People are afraid to ask whether someone was suicidal for the fear that it could encourage the person to take his or her own life.
Experts say that the biggest warning of suicide is a person talking about it. What do we do then? Instead of instigating the person to take his or her life, community members should ask if he or she needs help.
If a person is suicidal, someone has to stay with him or her even if it is through remote means — on a phone conversation, for example. The person should be referred to a professional counsellor or mental health worker.
The Covid-19 pandemic will only worsen the situation. Many have been shut inside their homes for months now.
While investing in the essential facilities and training of more health workers and volunteers is necessary, every Bhutanese need to act. Families have to talk about it. Parents should have discussions with their children. Each of us must learn about it in order to be able to help our loved ones.
Despite several efforts put in
Despite losing close to 100 Bhutanese on average to suicide annually, the existing measures and policies have done little to address the social problem, according to the findings of the National Council’s Social and Cultural Affairs Committee.
The House deliberated on the committee’s interim review report on suicide and mental health issues in Bhutan yesterday.
The committee’s chairperson Ugyen Namgay said that the Covid-19 pandemic has further aggravated the number of mental health issues and increased the risk of suicides in the country.
He said that major risk factors triggering suicide cases in the country included mental disorders such as depression and neurological disorders including cancer and HIV infection.
A combination of other factors such as drug or alcohol dependence, social issues, poor emotional literacy, poor family and personal relationship, lack of social support, economic hardships, also triggered suicidal tendencies, he added.
He said that Bhutan was ranked 54th in the world in terms of the number of deaths by suicide in 2018. Between 2018 and 2020, a total of 283 Bhutanese committed suicide, with 95 suicide cases recorded in 2020 alone.
Members said that despite the measures put in place including a five-year action plan to prevent suicide incidences in the country, cases were on the rise annually.
Samtse recorded the highest number (39) of suicide cases consecutively for three years between 2018 and 2020, followed by Thimphu (39) and Sarpang (31).
Trashigang Member of Parliament (MP) Lhatu said that the fact that these dzongkhags were recording high incidences of suicide, there must be certain reasons behind the suicide being epidemic in these areas. “We need to find out reasons as to what is causing these incidents in these places.”
Tsirang MP, Dhan Kumar Sunwar, said that because most of the suicide cases were reported in the villages, it was critical to involve the local government in finding out the root cause of such behaviours among the villagers.
Some of the members suggested that if suicide incidences could be classified into a different age, gender, education level, occupation, and social background ground, it would help in narrowing down the cause of the suicidal tendencies.
The committee pointed out that except for alcoholism associated with mental disorders and support to mentally disabled groups, the national health policy did not cover mental health issues as a whole.
It was also found that without policy reference to mental health or suicide prevention, there was insufficient support to the programmes and recognising the importance of mental health and risks of suicide.
“The various action plans developed for the prevention of suicide and addressing mental health issues are not binding, therefore, no one is held accountable,” stated the report.
Mongar MP, Sonam Pelzom, who is one of the committee members said that only one percent of the health ministry’s budget was allocated for mental health programmes including suicide prevention annually.
She said that over the last five years, the budget allocation has remained under Nu 3.5 million (M) despite the increasing number of patients seeking treatment for mental health disorders and a high number of suicide cases reported.
Limited human resource and rehabilitation centres also impeded the progress in addressing mental health issues and preventing suicides in the country according to the report.
Sonam Pelzom said that with a handful of professional psychiatrists in the country, the country did not even meet the requirement of one psychiatrist for every 100,000 persons.
Easily available and affordable alcohol was reported to be one of the main causes of mental health and suicide issues according to the report. It was found that there were only two rehabilitation centres in the country that were operated by Civil Society Organisations.
Members said that more rehabilitation centres were needed to be established to address the growing concern and also train additional clinical counsellors to help those with mental issues and suicidal tendencies.
The report also found that high level of social stigmatization and discrimination were associated with mentally disturbed individuals. Public awareness on suicide prevention and mental health were some of the key measures in addressing these issues, said Paro MP Ugyen Tshering.
He said that MPs should take up the role of spreading awareness among the public during their constituency visits. “Awareness campaigns through social media platforms like WeChat are found very effective. Besides health, we must now involve the religious and public figures to disseminate correct information on mental health issues and suicide prevention.”
In the meantime, according to the Bhutan global school-based student health survey 2016, 10-13 percent of students considered committing suicide and 10-12 percent of students attempted suicide in the past year.
The interim report stated that youth continue to be vulnerable to suicidal tendencies and mental health problems as social issues such as growing unemployment, school closure, online schooling pressure, and school dropouts triggered by the pandemic, including increasing unwanted pregnancies, addiction and substance abuse amplified the stress level among the youth.
According to the suicide prevention action plan (2015-2018), the key risk factors for suicide in Bhutan were due to mental problems (84 percent), stressful events (68 percent), addiction (59 percent), and domestic violence (46 percent).
As per the data maintained by the health ministry between 2015 to 2019, the highest number of cases recorded were anxiety (7,500), followed by mental disorders due to alcohol use (5,748), depression (3,377), psychosis (1,634) and mental disorders due to substance use (1,342). More than 8,800 cases of other mental disorders were documented during the same period.
By Younten Tshedup
Edited by Tshering Palden
In the past five years, the current expenditure has been increasing faster than the domestic revenue.
The projected domestic revenue and recurrent expenditure in the fiscal year 2021-22 are Nu 35.6 billion (B) and 35.598B, respectively. This means that only Nu 1.3 million (M) will be available from the government’s revenue for disposal in the capital expenditure.
The situation will not only widen the fiscal deficit but also increase the debt burden on the country, as almost all the capital expenditure must be financed through borrowings and grants.
The surplus between the capital and recurrent expenditures in the fiscal year 2017-18 was Nu 9.376B, which means that the difference has narrowed drastically.
Commenting on the annual budget 2021-22, the National Council’s economic affairs committee (EAC) yesterday stated that the constitutional requirement of meeting all the recurrent expenditures from the domestic revenue could be breached if the trend continued.
“As current expenditures will continue to rise to keep up with the rising cost of wages, salaries, maintenance and inflation among other factors, it is important to rationalise expenditure and raise domestic revenues,” the EAC’s deputy chairperson, Ugyen Tshering, said.
Amid the slow increase in revenue, the fiscal deficit, which signifies the gap between the government’s total revenue and expenditure, has been increasing significantly over the years.
The deficit is estimated at Nu 17.153B in the fiscal year 2021-22.
The EAC also stated that the fiscal deficit for the new fiscal year had exceeded the projection made by the government in the current fiscal year’s budget, which was Nu 10.082B. The fiscal deficit has consistently exceeded the fiscal deficit threshold and shows a rising trend.
The government has set a fiscal policy target to contain fiscal deficit below 3-5 percent of GDP. But the deficit has increased from 1.96 percent of GDP in 2018-19 to 8.59 percent (estimated) of GDP in 2021-22.
The EAC deputy chairperson said that the situation was understandable as the Covid-19 had invariably impacted the overall economic performance and commended the government for taking various measures to contain expenditures. But the committee’s report added that the pandemic alone was not responsible for the reduction in revenues.
It highlighted that the government’s decision to reduce the corporate income tax (CIT) for private companies from 30 to 25 percent in 2020, increase the personal income tax (PIT) exemption ceiling and fiscal incentives among other measures.
The fiscal deficit situation has been aggravated by non-realisation of revenue sources due to delays in major sources of revenues such as Punatsangchhu I.
The committee reiterated that the failure to realise the full revenue potential of Mangdechhu Hydro Project had led to losses amounting to about Nu 1.37B from 2019 to the end of 2020. “With the restoration unlikely to be completed before the monsoon of 2021, the project is expected to accrue additional revenue loss of Nu 1.85B in 2021.”
The committee also expressed concerns about the repeated delays and cost escalation of Punatsangchhu I, the cost of which increased from Nu 35B to Nu 94B.
The committee stated that continued dependence on grants would undermine the country’s goal of economic self-reliance and reliance on loans would in debt the future generations. “The best option is to contain expenditure and raise domestic revenues.”
The EAC also expressed its concerns about the steady increase in total public debt. The government has been saying that the hydropower debts (70 percent of the total public debts) are self-liquidating. But the issue is that the non-hydro debt has increased from 30 percent of GDP in 2019 to 32.7 percent of GDP in 2021, it highlighted.
The government’s debt management policy states that the non-hydro debt should be maintained within 35 percent of GDP. The non-hydro debt has not breached the policy.
The total public debt has increased from Nu 182B in 2019 to more than Nu 224.9B in 2021, which is 120.5 percent of the GDP.
The main risks arising from non-hydro external debt include the rising debt burden due to the steady depreciation of the Ngultrum against the US dollar.
Highlighting the EAC’s concerns, Ugyen Tshering said that the overall national goal of achieving economic self-reliance, which is a vital pillar to uphold national security and sovereignty, should be upheld.
Members supported the committee’s observations on the economy and the annual budget. The House will vote on the committee’s report today.
By MB Subba
Edited by Tashi Dema
The SAARC Development Fund (SDF) handed over Nu 36.66 million (M) to the health ministry in Thimphu yesterday as a Covid-19 emergency grant.
The amount is 50 percent of the total grant amount SDF pledged to provide to the health ministry. SDF committed to provide USD 1M (Nu 73.31M) to the ministry.
SDF’s officer-in-charge, Anuj Goel, handed the cheque of Nu 36.66M to health secretary Dr Pandup Tshering.
Officials said the second tranche of the grant would be disbursed after 80 percent of the first allotment is utilised.
Dr Pandup Tshering said the fund would be used to set up an intensive care unit for Covid-19 centre at the eastern regional referral hospital in Mongar.
He also said that the grant would be mobilised to purchase personal protective equipment, ventilator machines, testing kits, strengthen surveillance and training of health workers.
Anuj Goel said the support would strengthen the pandemic response in Bhutan and augment the continuous efforts of all the member states towards protecting the people of the region. “We are glad that SDF is able to provide support to the member countries.”
According to officials, SDF and the health ministry executed the project financing agreement this week, marking the project’s implementation.
The USD 1M grant to Bhutan is a part of the USD 7.75M, which the SDF board had approved last year as a Covid-19 emergency grant to the SAARC member countries to combat the pandemic.
The project is funded under SDF’s social window.
SDF received project proposals from seven of the eight Member States – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka for the Covid-19 grant.
By Thinley Namgay
Edited by Tashi Dema
Nu 191B worth assets are still not restored to government
With many cases where assets have not been restituted to the government in accordance with court judgments, the National Assembly yesterday passed a recommendation asking the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to expedite the recovery of assets.
Almost Nu 191 billion worth of assets has not been restituted to the government since 2008. Only about Nu 45 million has been recovered so far.
This, according to the Drametse-Ngatshang Member of Parliament (MP) Ugyen Wangdi was because some of the convicts were either in prison, at large, have already served the imprisonment terms or have expired.
“These have posed challenges to recover the assets,” he said. “So, the Parliament must come up with a separate order to ensure how such cases could be dealt with and recover the assets.”
The Good Governance Committee of the House reviewed the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) report 2019 and tabled the recommendation. The members unanimously supported the recommendation.
Dewathang-Gomdar MP Ugyen Dorji, who is a chairperson of the Committee, said that there should be a separate clerk to deal with such cases to expedite the recovery process. Some members pointed out that such challenges were because of a lack of human resources.
However, the Committee learnt that OAG has an ombudsman unit but it has only three officials, which was not enough to deal with such an increasing number of cases.
Bji-Kartshog MP Ugen Tenzin said that during the review it was found that many were unable to restitute the asset because they were imprisoned and some have not even recovered for almost 10 years. “We need to look into such cases and find ways to expedite the resolution of such issues.”
The Committee also recommended ACC conduct corruption risk management for policy and electoral system hereafter.
MP Ugyen Dorji said that this was because the review revealed that most of the corruption was committed at the policy level and in the electoral system.
Many members shared that there was a need to deploy an ACC official during the election period to prevent any kind of corruption from taking place related to the election. A few members said that the Election Commission of Bhutan already deploys officials as observers during the election, so there was no need for a separate one.
Despite members arguing among themselves citing examples of how corruption would have taken place during the different elections, some members said that it was not important to focus on the issue that was already resolved but instead prevent corruption from happening.
All 37 members present in the House voted in favour of the recommendation. The recommendations will be now submitted to the government for further action.
The ACC received 396 complaints in 2019, which was an increase of 63 complaints as compared to 2018. A total of 138 complaints were from known sources and 258 complaints from anonymous sources.
As per the record with ACC, most complaints were in the area of resources followed by contract and personal, and abuse of function.
By Yangchen C Rinzin
Edited by Tshering Palden
As the third lockdown in Phuentsholing extends to more than 60 days, many small business owners are now worried the products in their shops would expire.
This comes amidst mounting pressure of paying rents for shops and houses without any income.
Phuentsholing went into the third lockdown on April 17 this year and was not fully lifted since then.
A shopkeeper, Tshering Dorji, said the burden is becoming heavier each day.
“Now I understand how people get depression.”
He said that he is worried about rents, expiry dates of the goods and rats feeding on the stocks.
Tshering Dorji owns four small shops and pays Nu 87,000 a month as rent, which is difficult without earnings from the shops.
He said waiving off some house rent would ease many people like him. “Although house owners receive loan kidu, not many waived off rents to benefit tenants.”
He said the government must issue a notification to the house owners receiving kidu benefits to waive off rents.
A Pasakha resident, Sunita Rai, who runs a dairy shop in the heart of Phuentsholing town, said goods at her shop would have been damaged now. “It would have been good if we were allowed to supply.”
She said some dairy suppliers were able to supply but she never got the opportunity to do that during all three lockdowns in Phuentsholing.
Sunita is also worried about Nu 20,000 monthly rent for the shop space.
Her husband is a taxi driver and doesn’t earn.
A cosmetic shop owner, Sujata, said she had spent a huge amount to restock and is now worried about the expiry date.
“The government officials will come for checking after the lockdown and dispose all our goods due to the expiry date,” she said, adding that’s how they will incur loss even if normalcy returns.
She said she would not ask anything from the government but two months into lockdown is changing the narrative. “Rents for the shop and house are other problems.”
A shopkeeper said there were many small shops that are allowed to sell vegetables.
“We should also be given chance,” she said. “It must be given turn-wise.”
Phuentsholing is currently divided into three mega zones and the third mass screening is ongoing since June 10. As of June 13, a total of 15,159 individuals were tested. The mass screening will conclude today and the outcome will decide the lockdown relaxations.
However, as the mass screening continues, positive cases are still emerging from the community. Just yesterday, Phuentsholing saw seven positive cases from the community.
On June 15, Phuentsholing saw six positive cases and three were detected from the flu clinic, which means from the community.
By Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Edited by Tashi Dema
The two candidates contesting for the upcoming bye-election in Nganglam constituency in Pemagatshel promised many things during the public debate held on June 15.
Both the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) candidates promised to construct a new hospital in Nganglam.
DPT’s candidate, Rinchen Pelzang, also pledged to establish a business centre in Nganglam, construct and connect the Nganglam-Dewathang highway, and construct a helipad at Yangbari.
DNT’s candidate, Karma Dorji, promised to promote Nganglam as a business and tourist centre, construct a 50-bedded hospital with X-ray and endoscopy facilities in Nganglam and fulfil his pledges of 2013 and 2018 elections if he wins the bye-election.
He claimed he understands that need of the people in the constituency, as he had contested in the elections since 2013.
He also claimed all his pledges would be fulfilled if he wins, because the pledges were finalised after consulting the party.
Rinchen Pelzang questioned DNT candidate how the ruling government would fulfil all the pledges when they are only left with little time.
Karma Dorji said since the pledges are important and have long-term benefit for the people in the demkhong, it would be fulfilled as the ruling party has the advantages to implement the developmental activities, which is not even included in the plan. “I would not have contested in the bye-election if I am from an opposition party.”
He said it is also the ruling party’s responsibility to mobilise fund and the government is prioritising the pledges.
Karma Dorji picked on the DPT candidate, asking him why DPT, which brought many developments in 2008 as a ruling party, could not connect the Nganglam-Dewathang highway. “Is it because the party is an opposition party?”
Rinchen Pelzang said the construction of Nganglam-Dewathang highway was awarded to project DANTAK and the first cutting also started but could not complete as the DANTAK had to deploy its labours at the Samrang-Jomotshangkha highway construction.
He said his priority is to promote agricultural farming, maintain and construct the irrigation canals and initiate activities that would benefit in the present and future.
Karma Dorji said he would construct farm roads to promote agricultural products, address market challenges in consultation with the concerned agencies and provide electric and solar fencing to the people in the demkhong.
Meanwhile, the candidates started their door-to-door campaigns in Dechenling gewog yesterday.
By Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
Edited by Tashi Dema
… Request escort facility to ease the situation
The wood-based industries in Sarpang are running out of timber stock and risk shutting down for the remaining part of the year. The proprietors said that they could not stock up the raw materials for the year before the onset of the monsoon.
There are more than eight wood-based industries in Gelephu employing over 30 people in the dzongkhag. Usually, the saw millers stock up raw materials, coniferous timbers from Bumthang, to last one year before the end of May.
This is required because the road conditions become worse during monsoon hampering transport of the timber causing shortage of raw materials, according to the sawmill operators.
The executive member of the Association of Wood-based Industry in Gelephu, Jambay Dorji, said that the existing protocol allows transhipment and switching of drivers at the border of high-risk areas in Darachhu and Tamala, which were not convenient for the wood-based industries.
“Timber load is different from any other loads. We’re not able to bring the raw materials here even after the payment,” he said.
He added that the trucks transporting raw materials carry heavy consignments and both transhipment and driver switching mode were difficult options.
“Not all truckers drive with such a heavy load. It’s difficult to get the drivers. Moreover, truck owners drive their own trucks and are unwilling to hand over the trucks to other drivers, fearing damage and misuse,” said Jambay Dorji.
One of the biggest wood-based industries in Gelephu, Gyaltshen Wood Industries need over 8000 cubic feet (cft) of raw materials – timbers in one month, which is around 10 trucks in a month.
The firm had been operating at 10 percent capacity for more than a year after the workers from India left home because of the pandemic. The quantity of the raw materials required is much less today, according to the officials.
However, the factory is still running short of raw materials.
The general manager of Gyaltshen wood industries, Jambay Dorji said that the firm barely meets the salary for its eight factory workers today. “If the factory shuts down, the workers here would apply for Kidu and that would add pressure on the State. We are struggling to stay afloat,” he said.
He added that the factory needs two types of timber woods: hardwood for peeling that is locally available in Sarpang and the logs for sawing, which has to be transported from Bumthang.
The demand for sawn timbers has declined in the face of the pandemic with several constructions in the dzongkhag currently on halt. And without an adequate stock of raw materials, they couldn’t meet the demand of customers that show up occasionally.
The owner of Kuenga Wood-based Industry, Kuenga Tenzin, said that his firm remained closed for two weeks without raw materials and couldn’t bring additional logs from Bumthang.
“Escort mode was convenient but the protocol is changed now. We have to switch drivers at Tamala. We could bring raw materials only after we find a trucker. I’m not sure how we would be able to manage hereafter,” he said.
He added that the transportation charges have increased since the first lockdown. Earlier the cost of transportation from Bumthang up to Sarpang was Nu 20,000 per truck; truckers charge over Nu 35,000 today.
Kuenga Tenzin said that the wood industries in Sarpang could not sell the sawn timbers and other wood products as per the approved rates because of the increased expenditures.
The approved selling rate for sawn timber in Sarpang as per Natural Resources Pricing Committee is Nu 392.5 per cft. However, the sawn timbers are sold at rates between Nu 418, 450 and 480 per cft, according to the sources.
“At last, customers have to pay extra charges. We have to recover the expense incurred from the product. The factory needs at least 10,000cft in a month but there are fewer workers today,” said Kuenga Tenzin.
Officials from the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Gelephu said that the current stock of raw materials would last for a month at the maximum and the firms might have to stop.
Shortage of labourers, declining domestic market, and the lack of adequate raw materials led to the wood-based factory owners closing furniture units and two firms stopped working, according to a wood-based association member.
The wood-based industry owners in Sarpang have their raw materials stocked in Bumthang.
“We couldn’t bring them. Allowing us to transport with an escort would ease the situation. The task force in Zhemgang has also discontinued the escort facility. This is the main hurdle for us,” said Kuenga Tenzin.
Adding that there are de-suups on both Sarpang and Zhemgang side who could facilitate the escort facilities.
Natural Resources Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL) office in Bumthang wrote to the incident commander of the dzongkhag regarding the transport escort after wood-based industries in Sarpang shared their difficulties in January.
The management has requested the dzongkhag task force to allow the movement of trucks carrying timbers with an escort from Bumthang to Sarpang, as transhipment was not viable with the trucks carrying timber.
According to the official, the dzongkhag task force has not yet given a response.
NRDCL’s Regional Manager in Bumthang, Kinley, said that the wood-based industries wanted to buy timbers but were hesitant without a convenient means of transportation.
Transporters are not opting for driver switching mode. The wood-based industries are not able to market the 50 percent share allotted to them monthly as per the timber extraction and distribution modality, according to the official.
“We have appraised the management to sell the stocks at a discounted rate as the market is flooded with the wood products from the community and private forests,” said Kinley.
Over 7,000cft of logs were sold to Sarpang every month and there are 640,000cft of timber products in stock including those in Trongsa and Zhemgang today. The stocked materials are from 2020 and 2021, according to the record with NRDCL Bumthang.
The dzongkhag taskforce implemented the transhipment and driver-switching mode of transportation in addition to the escort facilities from Tamala in November last year.
The escort facility is discontinued after the export of orange ended in March. However, escort facility for the routine travellers after the completion of quarantine is still in place.
By Nima | Gelephu
Edited by Tshering Palden
Residents of Tshaphel in Haa, who faced scarcity of drinking water welcomed the inauguration of De-suung National Water Service Project on June 15.
Sixty desuups will work on the project for three months to construct a water intake structure, two reservoirs, connect 3km transmission pipe, 2.5km distribution line and 11 water taps.
Once completed, the Nu 5 million project will benefit about 511 residents, according to project officials.
The water project is one of the activities under the water flagship programme and is implemented in partnership with the De-suung office.
Tshaphel chiwog residents have been grappling with insufficient and inconsistent drinking water for a long time.
Ap Changtu and family, who own three houses near Tshaphel Lower Secondary School in Haa faces difficulty in finding tenants because of drinking water shortage. The family members are hopeful the project would solve their water woes.
A resident, Kelzang Namgay, said there used to be sufficient water in the past, but as children moved out and constructed their own home, the limited water had to be shared.
He said residents stored water every night during monsoon, as supply became inconsistent.
Another resident, who constructed a new building to rent it to teachers, said many refused to stay due to water scarcity. “It is affecting the income after investing a huge amount in building the house.”
The project would also benefit Tshaphel Lower Secondary School after it is upgraded to middle school soon.
The vice principal of the school, Sonam Choden, said the existing water source was sufficient only for the lower secondary school.
She said that the middle school would house new infrastructures such as a six-unit classroom, two 100 bedded hostels and a laboratory that would require sufficient water. “The school provides breakfast and lunch to all students and provides boarding facilities to classes XI and XII.”
The existing water source of the school is located near a pastureland, which blocks the pipe during monsoon.
She said that the supporting staff had to clear the blockage now and then. “The source is an hour walk from the highway. And the storage tank is in dire need of maintenance.”
The school has 388 students and 143 availing boarding facilities.
Sonam Choden said that the water project would immensely benefit the school and students, especially during the pandemic.
Uesu mangmi, Ugyen Chungwa, said the water problem was due to improper planning in the past.
He said that the planners did not study the feasibility of water sources. “There was no survey and research to study the potential of water projects, resulting in the failure.”
He cited examples of how water pipes run underneath some houses and people have to fetch water like in the olden days.
The mangmi also said the scarcity was mainly due to the increasing infrastructure and population in the chiwog. “There were only 17 households earlier. It increased to 47 within a short span of time.”
He said that the locals were grateful to His Majesty the King for the priceless gift.
By Phub Dem | Haa
Edited by Tashi Dema
Villagers of Pang in Nubi gewog, Trongsa, had to delay paddy cultivation as road construction damaged irrigation canal.
Since last year, paddy cultivation on around 10-acre wetland of six households was delayed by more than two weeks.
This year, the farmers are three weeks behind cultivation schedule.
Wangchuk, a farmer, said that last year they cultivated paddy two weeks behind. “We made a temporary drain about 700 metres along the road for cultivation. We thought that this year the problem will be solved but it has remained the same.”
Chimmi Dorji said that once the road is completed which will connect to the bridge over Mangdechhu it will benefit the people, as the people residing on the other side can reach the gewog easily. “But at the moment, farmers are seriously affected.”
The villagers said that they had informed the relevant authority about the issue.
It has been more than a month without machine and workers at the road construction site.
A team from the dzongkhag administration and gewog official visited the site recently.
The gewog has provided pipe for the drinking water connection as a temporary measure to support cultivation.
Zongchu, a farmer, said that as the land was located higher compared to other areas it delayed cultivation and hampered production.
Villagers say that the problem will be solved only after drain construction is complete.
The people in the village take turns to supply water for cultivation.
Nubi Gup Ugyen Tenzin said that the pipe would be kept there until drinking water supply work begins.
Nim Dorji | Trongsa
Edited by Jigme Wangchuk
The nation yesterday woke up to tragic news. Ten cordyceps collectors from Laya lost their lives as landslide swept away their camps near Tshari-Jathang, a day’s walk up the towering mountains from Laya.
The highlanders were in the mountains collecting cordyceps since May 17. Some of them were returning home to their families when the incident occurred.
The injured were flown to Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital in Thimphu. It would have been a difficult rescue operation had it not been for the Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services. The response of the local leaders and the rescue teams should be appreciated for the promptness with which they acted and organised the operation.
For the abruptness and the magnitude with which it hit us, the incident will remain in our hearts and minds for a long time.
Natural disasters are beyond human control. And being in the Himalayas, we are constantly reminded of our vulnerabilities which they will only grow in the future. Vagaries of weather and changing climate are some of the new realities that we are forced to confront, sometimes with human lives.
Sources say that yesterday’s landslide in Laya could have been triggered by heavy and continuous rainfall in the past few days. Data with the National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM), for June, recorded the highest rainfall of 23mm on June 14. On June 15, the station in Gasa recorded 13.6mm of rainfall.
In the mountains, weather and other natural elements can have devastating impact. We haven’t forgotten the 1994 GLOF and windstorms of 2011, 2013 and 2014. Rainfall-induced floods and landslides are becoming increasingly common.
So, what do we do?
We know that we are surrounded by such dangers. Next, we need to prepare and inform the people about impending disasters, especially those who live in and around the risk-prone areas. That’s disaster preparedness at the basic level and we clearly need to do more. Awareness and education help because it is always far more important than just identifying the risks.
Disaster management has always received special priority, as it must, but we could take hands-on training to the villages so that future disasters can be averted without having to fly rescue teams to the distant mountains. In the long run this would be cheaper for the country. More important, however, we would have saved many a precious life.
Five other cordyceps collectors who were injured recovering at Thimphu hospital
In one of the worst tragedies in the country’s history, 10 highlanders from Laya died after the tents they were living in were swept away by a landslide near Tshari-Jathang, Ri-Druzhi in Laya, early morning yesterday.
The accident occurred at around 1am. The highlanders, three men and seven women, were out collecting cordyceps in the area since May 17. Seven of them were from Lungo village in Laya.
Five individuals who were injured at the site were airlifted using the two helicopters as soon as the accident was reported at around 3am. All the five, four men and a woman, are in stable condition and recovering at the national referral hospital in Thimphu.
According to doctors, besides a man who had suffered facial bone fracture and needed surgery, none suffered life-threatening injuries. The man also sustained a wrist fracture.
Another patient sustained multiple rib fractures including a chest injury. However, doctors said that the man was out of danger given the timely intervention made available.
“They were evacuated right on time and reached the hospital before their conditions worsened,” said a doctor at the emergency department. “It’d have been a different story if it wasn’t for the helicopter assistance because the nearest health facility is several hours from the accident site.”
By 11am, all the injured were airlifted to the national referral hospital.
At around 2am yesterday, Laya Gup, Lhakpa Tshering, woke up to a frantic knock on his door. The gewog’s mangmi had come with a grave news about cordyceps collectors near Tshari-Jathang.
The gup and mangmi started inquiring details of the accident from a villager, Phuba, who was among the 20 plus cordyceps collectors camped at Ri-Druzhi, which is located about a day’s walk from Laya.
According to the gup, there were about 18 tents pitched in the area out of which 12 were submerged under the slide.
“Phuba informed that 10 people were likely dead and five more injured at the site. He said that the injured would also die if the helicopters did not come to help,” he said, adding that the focus was then to call in the helicopters for rescue.
Calls to the Gasa dzongdag, disaster management focal person and health officials were made starting at 4am. The first chopper reportedly reached the site of the accident around 6:45am.
A team was formed to leave for Tshari-Jathang by 7am. “We arranged 10 horses and rations to go with them,” said that gup. At around 8:30am, a team of 19 individuals left from Laya Central School.
By noon yesterday, all contacts to the survivors and the team who left for the site ceased. The gup said that it could be because of the poor network and lack of battery in the phones of the cordeyceps collectors who had been in the field since mid May.
Every year, the cordyceps collectors in Gasa are screened for high blood pressure, diabetes and other diseases to ensure safety before they leave for collection in the mountains.
The collectors received their permits on May 17 this year. The collectors still have 10 days until their collection time expires.
It was leant that some of the groups who left for collection from Laya were returning home yesterday.
A Laya resident, who was also collecting cordyceps at a different location, said that they had family members in their group and they had returned to help the bereaved.
He said that every year, around five groups went to different locations to collect cordyceps. It was learnt that cordyceps grow in abundance once every four years. “And in Laya, there would have been more cordyceps this year. So many people went for collection this time, thus the group had many people,” he added.
The groups who left for collection mostly consist of close family members. “There were couples in the group who have passed away leaving their young children behind. It was really sad when we heard the news and we couldn’t eat or focus on finding cordyceps. So we decided to return home,” said another resident.
Tshari-Jathang is among the furthest cordyceps collection sites located in Laya.
Sources said that the landslide yesterday morning was triggered by heavy and continuous rainfall in Laya for the past few days.
Data with the National Center for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM) recorded the highest rainfall of 23mm on June 14 for the month of June, a day prior to the accident. On June 15, the station in Gasa recorded 13.6mm of rainfall.
This time last year, between June 12 and June 16, the stations recorded rainfall measuring not more than 10mm.
Last year, the dzongkhag recorded the highest number of rainy days — 214 days.
By Phurpa Lhamo and Younten Tshedup
Edited by Tshering Palden