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Focus point

Sat, 11/27/2021 - 15:44

Experts recommend booster dose in the light of deteriorating Covid-19 situation

Sat, 11/27/2021 - 15:44

Bhutan closely monitoring developments over the new B.1.1.529 variant 

Younten Tshedup 

Just as things were beginning to improve (or at least, that’s what many Bhutanese assumed), a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus of ‘concerning character’ has been identified in at least two countries outside of South Africa where it was first discovered on November 25.

The new variant, B.1.1.529, has been red-flagged by many scientists, given the ‘alarming’ high number of mutations on the virus’s spike proteins that has potentially made the virus more resistant to vaccines, more transmissible, and with greater potential to cause severe disease.

Scientists are calling the B.1.1.529 variant the ‘most heavily’ mutated version of the SARS-CoV-2 virus discovered so far, with potential to be more transmissible than the Delta variant and more effective in evading the immune response provided by the vaccines that are currently available.

Hong Kong and Israel were the first two countries outside South Africa and neighbouring southern African countries to identify the variant. Two cases in Hongkong and a traveller in Israel, all returning from an African country, are reported to be infected with the new variant.

Britain, Israel, and Singapore have restricted travel from the region as of yesterday. The World Health Organisation (WHO), meanwhile, is monitoring the variant. A special meeting with the African scientists was also held yesterday to assess the situation.

 

What does this mean for Bhutan? 

National Immunisation Technical Advisory Group (NI-TAG) member Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that although the B.1.1.529 variant, for now, has been reported in only a few countries, the possibility of it already having spread to other countries is high. “A new variant of a virus is always more transmissible, if not equally so, to the existing variant. Because SARS-CoV-2 virus has effectively established human-to-human transmission by now, any new variants now will be more transmissible than the previous variant.”

He said that Bhutan was closely monitoring the developments as the WHO assessed the potential threat from the new variant and its implications.

Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that given the stringent and conservative measures put in place by the government, Bhutan is not directly threatened by the new variant for now. “However, this doesn’t mean that we are safe from its implications. Personally, I feel the severity from this variant will be higher if an individual is infected.”

He said that the quarantine protocol for international passengers and those travelling from higher to lower risk areas should be able to filter potential positive individuals.

“My worry is that if this variant escalates and is introduced in India, it will spread like wildfire and it will definitely spill over across the border, given the breach incidents happening along the bordering areas,” he said, adding that given the vulnerability of the people living along the bordering areas, the NI-TAG had recommended providing a booster dose of the vaccine to people in these places.

NI-TAG has recommended booster shots for certain sections of the population in light of the deteriorating situation globally. A Covid-19 booster shot is an additional dose of a vaccine administered after the protection provided by the original shot(s) has begun to decrease over time. The booster is designed to help people maintain their level of immunity for a longer period of time.

Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that evidence in developed countries show that the protection from the vaccine (full dose) starts to decline after about six to nine months. In this light, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has now authorised Covid-19 vaccine boosters for certain vulnerable populations. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also recommended the boosters.

Given the lack of resources, health ministry’s plan to study the level of antibody (protection from virus) among vaccine recipients has been delayed. 

Dr Sonam Wangchuk however, said that the study test kits are expected to arrive soon following which the study could commence.

Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that given the global vaccine shortage, the NI-TAG recommended providing booster doses to certain vulnerable populations, including the elderly (65 years and above), and people with underlying health conditions, especially those with immunocompromised conditions such as people with cancer and HIV. The group also includes health workers and Bhutanese travelling outside of the country.

As per records with the MoH, the country currently has about 211,290 doses of mRNA (Pfizer and Moderna) vaccines in stock. Dr Sonam Wangchuk said that the initial plan was to use the Pfizer dose for children between the age of 5 to 11 years once the WHO gave the vaccine emergency use authorisation (EUA).

However, he said that the Pfizer vaccines on hand are not the paediatric dose authorised by the FDA and recommended by the CDC for children between ages 5 to 11 years.

This means that the 211,000 plus doses of vaccines can be used as boosters for the selective vulnerable groups, which would be enough to cover the population in question. Should the government go ahead with the booster plan, the campaign should tentatively start by the end of January next year.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

Opposition raises alarm on govt’s budget use

Sat, 11/27/2021 - 15:43

… Finance minister says he’ll present on the issue to NA on Tuesday

Nima Wangdi  

The Opposition Party wants the government to reassess the reprioritised and deprioritised plan activities so that the implementation of the current plan meets its ultimate objective of equitable and balanced development.

The press release that the party issued on November 25 stated that the reassessment is also important to ensure the party’s objectives are prevented from masquerading as overall sound planning and development goals. The party calls the 12th Five-Year Plan (FYP) reprioritisation and general utilisation a policy and political corruption. “It violates the constitution and public finance resource allocation formula (RAF),” the press release stated.

According to the press release, some critical national programs were dropped. “Government has also diverted a disproportionate amount of the budget to the Prime Minister’s and the constituencies where bye-elections were held.” The Opposition Party stated that the annual audit report 2020-2021 also reported transfer of general reserve funds to normal local development activities, particularly in the finance minister’s constituency.

The party stated that the Covid-19 pandemic has forced the government to reprioritise some planned and budgeted activities. “The government also has the executive power to reprioritise the plans to be responsive to the needs of the situation. But such violations by the government are a serious concern.”

The press release stated that the power to reprioritise or make technical adjustments is not a license to discriminate and favour constituencies. “Though the government has the leverage to align its priorities with the overall Plan endorsed by Parliament, it’s wrong to exercise that leverage at the expense of long-established practice of ensuring fairness in planning processes and outcomes.” The press release stated that the reprioritised budgets and activities were not presented to the Parliament.

The three-page press release declared that in some important reprioritised areas, there is clear unashamed pandering to the temptation of meeting the by-elections promises. “On the priority scale, by-election constituencies have been given more importance over other constituencies. Even the ones that the ruling party members represented were cursorily treated,” the press release stated.

“It is not to undermine the government’s authority but we’re compelled to question the government to explain the source of legitimacy to discriminate among constituencies and regions,” the release stated.

The Opposition also stated that it was more about the ‘element of abuse and adulteration of the authority and duty’ the people placed in the government of the day.

“It is the thirteenth year of parliamentary government in Bhutan. There’re no records of any preceding government that distorted the fundamental principles of equity in development in the name of reprioritisation like the present government,” the release stated.

According to the Opposition Party, this will set a precedent that Bhutanese will not be proud of in the future, and also defeat the decades-old national planning approach with the goal to pursue equitable and regionally balanced development. “Such distortion would compromise the national priority projects while trying to accommodate by-election pledges and discriminatory objectives.”

The People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) also issued a press release reiterating the Opposition Party’s claims. “The budget was also diverted to fulfil the pledges made during the by-elections in Chhoekhor-Tang and Mongar constituencies.”

“This is besides the Nu 19M funded from the General Reserve Fund into the Finance Minister’s constituency in Paro,” the press release stated.

The PDP’s press release claimed that activities worth Nu 2,685M were deprioritised. “The government reprioritised activities worth Nu 385M in the Prime Minister’s constituency, Chhoekhor-Tang and Mongar.”

“The government’s actions set a bad precedent for the future and take the funds away from the poorer regions and dzongkhags. This is policy and political corruption,” the party’s post on its social media stated.

Meanwhile, finance minister Namgay Tshering said he would be reporting this issue in the parliament on Tuesday.

Edited by Tshering Palden

State Secrets should not be a shelter to bury lapses of the state agencies

Sat, 11/27/2021 - 15:42

His Majesty said “media – newspapers, television, radio and the Internet – must play a very important role. Media will be vital in keeping people well informed and in encouraging debate and participation – key to a vibrant democracy to strengthen media.”  This is because the media is watchdog and often recognized as the fourth estate. Such right is not for the media but the public. However, the news of government institutions accusing reporters of stealing government documents raises a serious question of whether state secrets should override the citizen’s right to information. 

Article 7 Section 5 of our Constitution states that “there shall be freedom of the press, radio and television and other forms of dissemination of information, including electronic.” This right is the reiteration of the fundamental right to freedom of speech, expression and information under Article 7 Section 2 and 3. The media “is designed to serve as a powerful antidote to any abuses of power by governmental officials and as a constitutionally chosen means for keeping officials elected by the people responsible to all the people whom they were elected to serve. Suppression of the right of the press to criticize governmental agents and to clamour and contend against change” would deliberately defeat the essence of democratic values on which our Constitution is framed.

In the today’s modern democracy, investigative journalism plays an even greater role as bureaucracies and public agencies often become more complex and information becomes more difficult to access. Investigative journalism exists on the premise that media is recognized as the watchdog. This is because investigative journalism is one of the effective means to fulfil this principle. While investigative journalism is often based on deception and secrecy, it is justified under the public interest and prevention of abuse of authority and corruption. If investigative journalism is done with a public interest, it does not even violate the ethical values of a journalist. This is because the primary reason for the existence of media itself is based on public interest and the public’s right to information. Therefore, “the press is not free to publish with impunity everything and anything it desires to publish or be reckless or negligent or vindictive.” Global research have revealed that investigative journalism carried out with public interest contributed significantly to curbing corruption among public officials and elected leaders.

The Section 71 of the Information and Communications Act 2018 mandates the Media Council to “promote and protect freedom and independence of the media” to promote and enhance ethical and professional standards amongst journalists.”   Under this law, the Media Council can punish the media only if they have violated ethical standards. Otherwise, the Media Council also must protect journalist.  The recent case of public agencies taking the journalist to the Media Council is worrying. The state of media in Bhutan, particularly private media, is grim and such actions from the public agencies further threaten the media personnel and impose too much self-censorship defeating the fundamental purpose of having media in the country. The media will be forced to remain mouthpiece and post offices of the public agencies. Whether the leaked documents were draft or not should not be the reason to accuse journalist of stealing. If there is a vulnerability of burying the truth in the final report, the journalist must have the right to publish such information and protect their sources.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

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

CSI on track: economic affairs minister

Sat, 11/27/2021 - 15:42

Thinley Namgay  

The government has disbursed Nu 1,813 million (M) through Cottage and Small Industries (CSI) Development Bank and Nu 649M through the National Credit Guarantee Scheme (NCGS) to support CSI since last year.

Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma at the National Assembly was responding to Khar-Yurung MP Tshering Choden about the government’s policies and measures to benefit small businesses.

So far, the NCGS has benefited 169 people, Lyonpo said.

The MP said that one of the government’s pledges was to formulate policies to develop small and medium economic businesses. “In the current scenario, the small and micro-economic businesses have not benefited and some have not been able to continue their businesses.”

Tshering Choden said that 115 businesses were closed in Phuentsholing due to the fronting issue, and their licenses were also cancelled.

She said that 55 businesses were related to restaurants, bars and small industries.  Moreover, drayang and karaoke business was affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic and such a situation had further widened the gap between the rich and the poor, she said.

As per Lyonpo, 2,984 people registered as cottage businesses this year. In 2020, the number was 1,481. “The government framed a rule in such a way that the people don’t have to pay and need not do much clearance work.”

The CSI Development Bank and the NCGS are the two activities under the CSI flagship programme started by the government in 2019.

Lyonpo said the government started the CSI estate in Tsirang to benefit the CSI businesses and instituted start-up centre in Samtse besides Changzamtog in Thimphu.

“Bhutan showcased 123 products in the Dubai expo.”

According to Lyonpo, businesses in Phuentsholing and Gelephu were hampered by the pandemic, as most restaurant and automobile workers were foreigners.

Lyonpo said that the discussion was underway as to how the government could provide working capital to revive their businesses.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

295 to contest for LG posts in Samtse

Sat, 11/27/2021 - 15:41

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Samtse is now ready for the upcoming Local Government (LG) elections with a final list of candidates, having completed its dhamngoi zomdu. There are 52 candidates contesting for the gup’s position in 14 gewogs, and 41 mangmi candidates.

A total of 202 tshogpa contestants will contest for the 79 chiwogs in Samtse, including tshogpa demkhongs in the thromde.

Except for Tashichholing, all of the other 13 former gups in Samtse contested in the dhamngoi zomdu. Former gups of Norgaygang and Denchukha were not nominated during the zomdus. There are 41 new gup contestants this time.

Yesterday was the last day for the withdrawal of candidates. The campaign period for the candidates also began on November 25.

According to an election official in Samtse, there were no disqualifications due to complaints.

However, about 11 participants were disqualified due to party affiliation (seven), rejections related to security clearances (two), and nominations not being filed (two). They were all tshogpa candidates.

A former tshogpa candidate from Denchukha gewog, Lila Dhar Chapagai, 31, is contesting for the mangmi post this time. He will compete with three other contestants.

“When I started as a tshogpa, I was inexperienced. But now I have the experience and ideas,” he said.

“I find ideas to work in the larger field. Also, I am giving the people a choice. Not only for the opportunity but to prove myself to and serve the entire gewog.”

Candidates said that they were confident about bringing new ways to bridge between the people and the government and ensure development in the gewogs.

A former gup, who is contesting this time, said the local government should focus on schools in the community.

“We are living in a digitalised world. There are remote schools whereby the local government should play a vital role in terms of infrastructure and improvement,” he said.

“I think this is now the time to focus on schools at the local level,” he said.

While agriculture and livestock are always there, he said, there is a need to further improve.

Edited by Tshering Palden

Pongchula international airport unlikely

Sat, 11/27/2021 - 15:41

Chhimi Dema

The requirement for a runway to fly the smallest aircraft in the country (ATR42-600) is 1,200 meters, and Pongchula in Mongar can support a runway of only 920 metres, according to the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) Minister, Karma Donnen Wangdi.

At the National Assembly’s question hour session yesterday, he said that the MoIC’s technical working group composed of officials from the National Land Commission (NLC), Bhutan Civil Aviation Authority (BCAA), and Department of Air Transport (DoAT) is conducting a technical feasibility study.

MP Karma Lhamo, during the by-election in May, pledged to accelerate development of the Pongchula international airport.

“The technical feasibility report hasn’t been submitted to the ministry yet. Once the ministry gets the report, we will study it for any further developments,” Lyonpo said.

Various feasibility studies have been carried out for the establishment of an airport at Pongchula.

In 2018, BCAA initiated a preliminary feasibility study at Pongchula. In May 2019, the DoAT wrote to the National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM) to study the weather conditions in the area.

In May of this year, the NCHM’s equipment to study the weather conditions of the area for flights was installed. The data collection is underway.

Lyonpo informed the House that the ministry is exploring places for construction of airports.

Bomdeling-Jamkhar MP Dupthob asked the minister about the third international internet gateway.

The two internet gateways today are from India through Phuentsholing and Gelephu.

Lyonpo Karma Donnen Wangdi said: “The third international internet gateway would connect Gelephu-Bongaigaon-Agartala in India to Cumilla-Kuakata in Bangladesh to Singapore.”

He said that there are two costs for Bhutan while connecting the third internet gateway, connecting Bangladesh to Singapore and connecting Bangladesh to Bhutan.

The two telecom operators, Bhutan Telecom and Tashi InfoComm Limited, are negotiating the cost of the third international internet gateway with India, he added.

During the Prime Minister’s visit to Bangladesh in March, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina decided to provide Bhutan internet bandwidth at “a friendly rate” as a gesture of goodwill and friendship.

Lyonpo said that this month when the Minister of the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology of Bangladesh and Bhutanese Embassy in Bangladesh met, the cost of the third internet gateway was discussed.

“The ministry was informed that Bangladesh would send an official letter for the internet gateway from which MoIC, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will discuss the final internet gateway cost with India,” he said.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

What determines the electability of local leaders? 

Sat, 11/27/2021 - 15:40

MB Subba

The country’s voter population has increased to 463,040, a 15 percent increase from the second local government (LG) election held in 2016, according to the electoral roll.

This means that 13 percent, or 60,951 of the total voters, will be choosing their LG candidates for the first time. They are in the age group of 18 to 22 years.

However, close observers say that the entry of new voters will not make much difference in the LG election, which will be held on December 22.

Family connections and personal links could play more significant roles than qualifications and professionalism of candidates, according to Tharchen, executive director of the Centre for Local Governance and Research.

The trend, he said, could continue until everyone is educated and the need for qualified candidates who can deliver services professionally is felt. Tharchen, however, added that money would not play much of a role in LG elections, due to the ECB’s restrictions on the use of money in LG elections.

A candidate can spend up to Nu 75,000 in expenses such as payment for daily sustenance allowance (DSA) for polling booth representatives, although serving refreshments and giving money to voters for attending election campaigns is forbidden.

Personal links with members of political parties in the locality is considered one of the important factors determining the election outcomes.

One of the candidates who lost at the nomination zomdu said that the candidates that are close to influential party members are in favourable positions to win the LG election. He said that he did not seek support from party members.

However, officials say that party members are restricted from campaigning on behalf of candidates.

Trashigang’s former Bidung gup, Sonam Phuntsho, said that many were looking for capable candidates with some work experience as their gups. He said gups exercise executive powers at the gewog level.

An aspiring gup from Pemagatshel said that voters were mainly looking at the candidates’ public relations and past service records.

Voters, he said, mainly preferred middle-aged candidates with some education. “People at the gewog level are not as concerned about highly qualified candidates, as much as whether they can deliver services,” he said.

A voter said that involvement in religious and cultural activities could determine the electability of the candidates besides other factors. “Doing things like going to the cremation ground will matter for candidates,” he said.

Common forums, which have started, are one of the platforms for voters to judge their candidates.

Samdrupjongkhar’s former Langchenphu gup, Guman Singh Gaylal, said some candidates could convince voters through common forums. The limited time allotted for each speaker, he said, is the limitation of common forums.

Some observers, however, say that common forums do not make much difference, as voters have already made their choices. “There could be only a few undecided voters in the common forums,” he said.

Postal voters, who consist of students and those staying outside the dzongkhag, are expected to play a decisive role in the outcomes of the elections.

A young voter said that he would vote for young and educated candidates. “Today’s local leaders should use modern technologies while delivering services efficiently,” he said.

However, a few youth voters who Kuensel talked to said they would go by their parents’ choices. “It’s difficult for me to choose a candidate, as I have not lived in my village,” he said.

Schools in the country will be closed for the winter vacation on the poll day.

The ECB’s spokesperson, Phub Dorji, said that whether students will vote through postal ballots or in person has been taken care of, depending on their choice. “If they have registered for postal ballots, they will vote accordingly,” he said.

A total of 44,231 voters, of which 4,778 are overseas voters, have registered for conventional postal ballots. In the second LG election, the number of postal voters was 78,218.

The reduction in the number of postal ballots in the third LG election has been attributed to the introduction of paper ballot facilitation and mobile voting booths.

While 95,599 voters have registered for facilitation booths, 15,026 have registered for mobile voting booths, according to ECB.

A Thimphu-based corporate employee said that he had chosen the facilitation booth as he did not fully trust the reliability of postal ballots.

“There are chances that conventional postal ballots could get misplaced and may not reach the intended place on time,” he said, adding that ballots are collected in a more organised manner at facilitation booths.

Of the total voters, 236,837 are female and 226,203 are male as of October 1, which is the qualifying date for the third LG elections.

Female voters outnumber male voters by 10,634. In other words, more than 51 percent of the voters are women.

But past elections show that Bhutanese women do not vote according to gender when it comes to exercising their adult franchise.

A female aspirant pointed out that female local leaders had proven that they are as capable as their male counterparts and that the performance of past female local leaders had built confidence in female candidates.

Candidates began their campaigns on November 25 and will end on December 20.

Edited by Tshering Palden

The Constitutional Equation of the GNH

Sat, 11/27/2021 - 15:40

How does a lawyer, an engineer, a journalist, a social thinker, and a former member of parliament communicate, let alone agree or disagree on ideas and ideals embodied in a lofty document like the Constitution of Bhutan? The answer we arrived at is through the idea of a Constitutional Equation of the GNH. In other words, by using the subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in our everyday language as His Majesty the King commanded on the 113th National Day address on education reform. 

At the Institute of Happiness (IOH), a think tank and a policy research institute based in Thimphu,  we have been thinking hard and deep. And in the process of numerous interactions with fellow Bhutanese, we realized that people seemed to be more in quest of a true purpose in life rather than happiness. In the present context, their singular purpose seemed to be answering the nation’s call in the wake of the Royal Kashos

The Royal Kasho on education reform commands us to lead our generation in radically rethinking and transforming our education system by pre-empting the developments of the rapidly changing world by restructuring the way we manage our bureaucracy and the public service for transitioning to a knowledge-based and tech-driven economy. In this “We must make STEM subjects part of their (and our) everyday language.” 

With only human resources as our main national asset, the best way to prepare ourselves to integrate and excel in the digitally-driven future is to be STEM-literate and hence think and speak the STEM language. It is also because the STEM language is so precise and accurate that perhaps it is more effective than any other global language. Being precise in our speech not only makes us extremely effective and efficient communicators but also allows us to identify and break down complex social and cultural constructs and challenges into concrete and useful ideas applicable to our day-to-day life. 

This use of STEM language has the potential of radically reforming the way we think, act, and live as a society. For example, our Constitution has 35 articles and 343 sections, which is far too complex for an average person to comprehend. The GNH framework and related literature go into complex pillars, domains, and sub-domains that have little or no relevance to the average Bhutanese. The authors of this short article, therefore, have teamed up to explore the concept of the Constitutional Equation of the GNH so that the contents of the Constitution can be represented in a simple visual graphic to make it easy to remember, especially for our youth.

Article 9, Section 20 of the Constitution calls for the establishment of a GNH society where “The State shall strive to create conditions that will enable the true and sustainable development of a good and compassionate society rooted in Buddhist ethos and universal human values.” 

This also corresponds to the state of boundless and immeasurable love, compassion, kindness, and equanimity—the four elements of “Tshey Me Zhi”. Let’s call this function f(Z) of the Constitutional equation. Among many factors that go into establishing such a state, the first unique factor is on the environment; 

“The Government shall ensure that, in order to conserve the country’s natural resources and to prevent degradation of the ecosystem, a minimum of sixty percent of Bhutan’s total land shall be maintained under forest cover for all time (Article 5, section 3)”. Let’s refer to this section as factor (X>60) in the Constitutional equation. 

The second unique factor is on the social domain, the attainment of life stages as epitomized by the retirement age of the Druk Gyalpo. 

“Upon reaching the age of sixty-five years, the Druk Gyalpo shall step down and hand over the Throne to the Crown Prince or Crown Princess, provided the Royal Heir has come of age.” (Article 2, section 6). Let’s call this the factor (Y<65) of the Constitutional equation.  

What is fascinating about these three sections is that the end f(Z) function is the product of the two factors (X & Y). Factor X represents the environment which is mainly derived from the four elements of nature (earth=sa, water=chu, fire=me, and wind=lung—the elements of the physical and the material science=STEM) also called the “Jungwa bZhi” in Dzongkha. 

Factor Y represents the age limit (even) for the Druk Gyalpo, to abdicate the Golden Throne. This is derived from the four stages of life which is “Phuntshok Dey Zhi”. In the Buddhist culture this can be roughly compared to the learning stage, working stage, the achievement stage, and the final attainment stage (the elements of social science). These two unique inputs provide the conditions for a GNH state that is immeasurable and boundless, also called the “Tshe Mey Zhi” represented by the mathematical symbol of infinity (Z-∞). The Constitutional Equation can thus be represented in the following visual manner even though there is no real mathematical relation derived amongst the factors. 

K4 : f(Z-∞) = f(X>60)+f(Y<65)

(K4 stands for Drukgyel Zhipa’s brilliant crafting of a Constitution with the four elements of physical science and four elements of social science giving rise to the four immeasurable states of GNH). (Table 1)

The same equation can also be shown in the following visual form where the coordinates represent the Article and the Section numbers in the Constitution. For instance, X coordinates (5,3) represents article 5) and section 3). (Table 2)

(Fig 1)While the X factor has catapulted Bhutan’s role in the forefront of a sustainable environment, a less understood but perhaps even more profound factor is where His Majesty Drugyel Zhipa had gone beyond the Constitutional provision by abdicating the throne in 2006, at the prime age of just 51. This act exemplifies the ultimate act of walking the talk or aligning one’s behaviour with the stated values and goals. 

The idea now must be to take this inspiration to the highest level of governance and also inculcate it at the individual and organizational level where such a gap is responsible for a lot of persisting problems. For instance, the gap between vision statements and ground-level implementation often result in profound dichotomies. We have long realized that coordination is extremely important, yet all along we have been operating in silos. We agree that we need to effect reforms and change but no one is willing to take the first step for fear of failure or marginalization. The closer we can reduce these gaps the closer we move towards solving the Constitutional equation of the GNH. 

In this, we look at how sometimes our values, culture, habits, and mindsets—which make up 90% of what we are familiar and comfortable with—deviate from our learned knowledge including our technical skills and the stated goals, which make up less than 10% of what we are familiar with. We examine this through the “tip of the iceberg” concept where what you see is only 10% on the surface (the tip) and the rest is hidden underneath the surface. For this we turn to our GNH survey 2015 which shows that people’s perception on values over 90% trumps their attitude on knowledge at just 10%. A similar equation could be derived from this model of the iceberg to identify which are the factors you can see above the surface and which are the factors submerged under the surface. Hence, the value of the Constitutional equation even in our day-to-day life and the power of using STEM language for reframing and interpreting even a lofty document such as the Constitution.

Contributed by

Kinga Tshering is a former member of Parliament of Bhutan and an engineer.

Sangay Thinley Dorji is a development consultant.

Sonam Tshering is a lawyer.

Gopilal Acharya is a journalist.

Tourism Post Covid

Sat, 11/27/2021 - 15:39

I would like to start by saying that no words nor actions on our part can ever express nor repay the tourism industry’s love and gratitude to His Majesty for comforting, guiding and sustaining us through this pandemic. His Majesty has been our saviour and continues to do so. Bhutan and its citizens are truly blessed by our Dharma King and we humbly offer our deepest prayers for His Majesty’s long life.

The following are some of my personal views on tourism going forward. I hope it makes some sense and provides some sort of clarity to the challenges the industry is facing presently.

The industry is really complex with so many different players. The industry as a whole is largely inter-related and inter-dependent. However, we now need to start working towards a sound, vibrant and sustainable tourism system or model. In truth, this pandemic may just present us with the cure for our problems!

Various post-Covid tourism recovery measures are already being presented and discussed as per the recent headlines. I do hope something good comes out of it and that tourism slowly rebounds back to normalcy.

In addition, the following topic is something I feel is important moving forward and hope that it is given some consideration.

It is important to once again officially recognize the existence of ‘Undercutting’ and ‘Fronting’.

The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) should immediately make an official statement (better late than never) to the industry to stop undercutting and fronting, and for it to come out clean. It should also announce that anyone resorting to such practices after the resumption of tourism in Bhutan would be dealt with severely. Maximum fines and penalties should then be imposed accordingly.

The industry would then finally, have a golden opportunity to start once again on a clean slate!

An example would be the Government’s recent announcement against ‘Fronting’. All people have been advised to refrain from fronting and to come clean without any action being taken against them. However, strict penalties and actions are to be enforced from January 2022!

Another similar announcement on Undercutting and Fronting in the tourism industry should also be made with effect from 01st January 2022.

These would be directed towards hotels, tour companies, transport, and restaurants, among others.

All tourism service providers from hoteliers (local, farmhouses, tents, and star-rated hotels) to restaurant owners, from transporters and drivers to horse/yak contractors, from tourist amenities such as roadside restrooms to trekking routes and campsites, from rafting tours to motorcycle tours, from mountain biking to MICE tours, from filming to photography tours, from tour/trekking guides to specialist guides, from coffee shops to handicrafts, from airlines to managing waste, from training institutes to touristic centres, from walking/running/cycling trails to touristic paths and all others should be directed by TCB to maintain a minimum level of standard, maintain a minimum level of service, and maintain a minimum level of quality.

The term ‘minimum’ could differ from one service provider to another. TCB should then ensure that the above minimum requirements are strictly followed by way of appropriate consultations, recommendations, reviews and assistance.

Special entry-level requirements could be considered (take examples from countries abroad) for all tourism service providers. This will result in genuine and serious players within the industry and as such deter poor quality, temporary, unqualified and sub-standard tourism products and services.

Propose the creation of a Special Division or Task Force under TCB with the sole mandate of:

a) Rooting out and eliminating undercutting, fronting and other unscrupulous and illegal activities such as tax avoidance amongst others. Independent experts could be bought in (from within or outside the country) to help in creating an incorruptible yet transparent system in place.

b) Monitoring the quality, standard and service of all tourism service products and service providers in the industry.

c) Imposing fines and penalties accordingly.

Creation of a special grievance cell for all kinds of complaints related to tourism from workplace harassment to fronting, from prostitution in hotels to bribery, from manipulation of accounts to corruption, from undercutting to coercion, from discrimination to extortion, from unregulated and over-inflated pricing of tourism services to unscrupulous businesses, from unlicensed hotels and service apartments to unlicensed guides and drivers, from sound pollution to waste management, from inefficient and ineffective delivery of government services to non-payment of bills and so on and so forth. The list goes on!

TCB will maybe need to set up this Special Division or Task Force as soon as possible.

All tourism service providers should be provided with fiscal and non-fiscal subsidies and incentives in order to comply with the new regulations to be in effect from 2022, 2023 or 2024 or on a phase-wise basis depending on the product or service? Experts to that effect could be bought in to help and assist.

Adoption and embracing of technology should also be the need of the hour while planning and strategizing the way forward.

Instituting a committee of specialists to review the minimum daily tariff and sustainable development fee once every two or three years (the present tariff was increased only once since 1991). The daily minimum tariff and sustainable development fee should be reviewed on a timely basis keeping in view the prevailing economic indicators.

The key emphasis here would be to identify and recognize all the problems, challenges, constraints and issues within the tourism industry. Plans and strategies should be in place to permanently address these issues for now and into the future.

Bhutan’s global image as a country emphasising providing ‘value-based services’ stands to be at the crossroads if the above concerns are not addressed. The problems identified are all interrelated and intertwined and will need to be solved simultaneously. Requirement of timely interventions, strong regulations, effective implementation and thorough checks and balances are of paramount importance. If unchecked, the adverse impact on tourism and Bhutan as a country will be disastrous and may even be irreversible. This generation desperately needs to pass on a vibrant, successful, dynamic and exemplary model of tourism to the next.

For it to succeed, the Government will need to provide the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) the following support as soon as possible: funding, increase in manpower, technical guidance and assistance, and more autonomy and authority.

TCB will also need to diligently work with all relevant agencies and stakeholders based ‘throughout’ the country for the plans to succeed. A good start could be to establish a vibrant and productive tourism office with a dedicated team in all dzongkhags.

In conclusion, I do not in any way or form claim to be an expert on tourism nor expect anyone to accept my views.

Contributed by 

Tshering Tashi

A fading love story of Tramtsithang

Sat, 11/27/2021 - 15:38

Chhimi Dema

Tramtsithang Choeten stands on a hill facing the Gangtey-Phobji village. For casual or occasional visitors, and even to the locals themselves, it’s a forlorn little landmark of remote consequence. Thrice it fell to thieves and vandals but each time it was given a new life. If you go to Phobjikha or Gangtey valley, just because it is there overlooking the vast habitat of the famed and admired cranes, you’ll most likely snap a photo with it for remembrance’s sake.

Who built this choeten or when remains shrouded in mystery. The popular belief is that it rests on the chest of a much-feared demoness of Langlaygang, and is therefore a powerful symbol of victory over darkness and evil. The story begins with the meeting of two star-crossed lovers.

Tramtsithang Choeten

It is a fine autumn day circa the 1600s. Gangtey Monastery’s annual tshechu, held in the eighth lunar month, attracted people from the nearby villages. Dungchoe Chubi Dendup from Drangha village in Phobjikha gewog looks for his beloved Sangwa Kuengi Yonten in the crowd. Among the crowd, the lovers struggle to find time alone.

“I will wait for you at the base of Langlaygang tomorrow, as the sun rises from behind the mountain,” whispers Chubi Dendup to Kuengi Yonten.

The next day, Chubi Dendup arrives at the base of the mountain after completing his work and waits for Kuengi Yonten. In Sangtana in Gangtey, Kuengi Yonten is tied up with household chores.

After what appears to be an interminable wait, the lovers finally meet. But it is not Kuengi Yonten who has come. The demoness of Langlaygang, who eavesdropped on the lovers at the tshechu ground, has turned herself into Kuengi Yonten.

When Kuengi Yonten arrives to meet her lover, she finds his body dead and cold.

The sorrow she felt upon finding her lover dead is lost to history retold, but her boldness is still remembered.

Gangtey Monastery

Kuengi Yonten carries the body of her lover to Khawang Lhakhang, built in the 14th century, for a funeral. But to her dismay, no one answers her.

Finally hearing her calls, the statue of Jowo tells her to take the body to Gangtey Monastery where the second Gangtey Trulku Tenzing Legpai Dhendup resides.

In Gangtey Monastery, the Gangtey Trulku tells his attendant that they have an “important” guest visiting today. “Don’t let them enter the monastery. I’ll attend to them myself.”

As instructed, the attendant asks Kuengi Yonten to wait.

Gangtey Trulku performs the funeral rites for Chubi Dendup and takes Kuengi Yonten as his disciple.

Kuengi Yonten meditates and receives the powers to subdue the demoness. She takes down the demoness on the hill where the choeten stands today.

Why couldn’t the lovers meet that day?

Kuengi Yonten is believed to have been a khandro (dakini) destined to take a religious path and subdue the demoness.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

Major planned activities to align with revised TSP 

Sat, 11/27/2021 - 15:37

Yangyel Lhaden 

The much-touted redevelopment of Norzin Lam in the core of Thimphu city has been deferred to align it with the revised Thimphu Structural Plan (TSP) 2002-2027 and will be implemented simultaneously with the revision.

Other activities such as the construction of a fuel depot between Langjopakha and Taba, and archery ranges within Thimphu thromde, have also been deferred.

Norzin Lam, the main street in the capital city has been slated for redevelopment

Ministry of Works and Human Settlement (MoWHS) Director of Human Settlement Tashi Penjor said that to ensure the planning process does not obstruct implementation of developmental activities, major developmental activities will be prioritised and revised at the forefront during the review of the TSP for implementation. “The entire point of the review would be defeated if developmental activities and review take place together.”

He said that elsewhere during the review of plans, a moratorium was issued to an extent that developmental activities stopped and authorities started the review from ground zero. “We’re not issuing a moratorium, as we cannot wait for the completion of the review of the TSP for developmental activities to carry on.”

The Thimphu Structural Plan was developed in 2002 as a long-term plan guiding principle for the capital city’s planned development. The review is expected to finish by 2030.

Reviewing the TSP for the first time began last year, 16 years after its implementation in 2004. The revised TSP will project a development plan until 2050 which will be reviewed once every five or 10 years.

Tashi Penjor said that periodic review every five or 10 years is recommended for structural plans like the TSP, as urbanisation is dynamic. However, the protocol to review came into effect only with the Spatial Planning Standards in 2017.

The development of the TSP was outsourced to international experts because there were no qualified Bhutanese at the time. The plan laid a vision of Thimphu and informed the thromde how they should plan. “During the review, limitations were also found which could have been reviewed a few years ago and updated with relevant proposals,” Tashi Penjor said.

 

TSP review

During the review, it was found that the overarching plan lacked details.

Tashi Penjor said that a detailed implementation plan could have helped achieve the vision of the TSP. “We’ll start TSP from scratch by identifying the challenges and lessons that were learnt while implementing the TSP 2002-2027.”

To implement strategic plans for the revised TSP and to achieve the vision of the TSP, it will be backed up with details by master plans. For instance, if the TSP recommends the development of a road between Babesa and Dechecholing, a Road Master Plan will be developed with specific details such as type of materials to be used, the distance between footpaths and roads, and designs.

Tashi Penjor said that in today’s context, the major challenge to implement plans is that public interest is greater than the primary interests that lead to deviation from planned activities. “We aim to listen to the public interest and use them to align ourselves to achieve the vision of the TSP by coming together for the larger interest.”

Stock taking of the TSP 2002-2027, assimilation of data, technical studies for groundwater, hydrology, and meteorology, forest cover, and a seismological study have been completed so far.

Tashi Penjor said that the team is gathering experts to prepare the revised TSP, which will take about one and a half years. “Developing the TSP requires various stakeholders from diverse backgrounds, such as economists, transport experts, and urban planners.”

Edited by Tshering Palden

New hydropower projects won’t be rushed

Sat, 11/27/2021 - 15:36

Phurpa Lhamo

A lack of consensus between the government and Jaiprakash Associates Limited (Jaypee Group) over Bhutan’s bargain to have 20 percent of powerhouse and dam construction be executed by Bhutanese contractors, and 80 percent by the Jaypee Group independently, is the reason the work at Kholongchu Hydro Electric Project Ltd (KHEL) is currently at a standstill.

Speaking at the national assembly yesterday, Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma said that of the three major projects at KHEL: head race tunnel (HRT), powerhouse and the dam, 80 percent of the HRT work will be executed through a joint venture of a Mumbai-based private company Valecha Engineering Private Ltd and Rigsar Construction. Twenty percent of the work will be executed by Construction Development Corporation Limited (CDCL).

However, with regard to the dam and powerhouse construction, Jaypee Group intends to execute the work and take CDCL as a sub-contractor.  

“If we clear this issue during the construction time, it will be an opportunity for Bhutanese contractors, and also the Bhutanese will learn skills,” Loknath Sharma said. 

KHEL is expected to generate about 2,568.88 million (M) units annually. 

Minister Loknath Sharma also presented an update on the Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project I &II (PI and PII).

Questioning the progress at PI and PII, Bartsham Shongphu Member of Parliament (MP), Passang Dorji, said that since work at PI started about 13 years ago, more than Nu 93.75 billion (B) has been spent on the project. This is an increase from the initial estimate of Nu 35.14B. 

Similarly, PII has spent Nu 72.9B, an increase from an initial estimate of Nu 37.77B.

Minister Loknath Sharma said that at PI, 87 percent of the work was completed and around Nu 81B was spent. At PII, almost 90 percent of the work has been completed.

Minister Loknath Sharma said that the PI project will be complete by 2025 after the detailed project report (DPR) is completed in February next year. 

Stating that the DPR for Kuri Gongri and Dorjilung, Nyera Ama Chhu, Gamrichu, Kholongchhu, Zhongarchhu, Chamkharchhu, Wangchu, Amochu and Sunkosh were ready, Kengkhar Weringla MP Rinzin Jamtsho asked if the government planned to begin new hydropower projects in the next two years.

To this, the minister said that instead of more hydropower projects, the government will focus on projects that have already begun and ensure results. 

He said that new hydropower projects will be commenced but won’t be rushed. 

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

NA agrees to join International Solar Alliance

Fri, 11/26/2021 - 11:42

Yangyel Lhaden 

To scale up solar energy use in the country, National Assembly members agreed to become a member of the International Solar Alliance in first seating of the sixth session of the third Parliament yesterday.

The House supported all 14 articles of the framework agreement on the establishment of ISA and will ratify the framework agreement today.

The agreement was introduced in the House by Tengye Lyonpo ( Minister of Economic Affairs) Loknath Sharma.

Lyonpo said that to achieve energy security focusing on alternative renewable energy such as solar was important as the country imported energy during the lean season.    

“We are not dropping hydropower but embracing solar energy to complement hydropower to augment energy.”




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Lyonpo said that as hydropower was dependent on the run-off-water scheme Bhutan imported energy during the lean season. By trapping solar energy, Bhutan could export surplus energy and generate revenue. “The ministry has conducted final national interest analysis and stakeholder consultation on the membership of Bhutan to ISA.”

Chidrel Lyonpo (Foreign Minister) Dr Tandi Dorji said that registering in ISA would be beneficial for the country to receive international support such as technical and monetary to establish solar plants. “It will also help in developing diplomatic relations.”

International Solar Alliance is initiated by India and currently, has an alliance of 124 countries with the purpose to bring together group of nations to endorse clean energy, sustainable environment, public transport, and climate.

The House also deliberated concerns of social, cultural, environmental, advantages and disadvantages of solar energy,

Athang-Thedtsho Member of Parliament (MP)  Kinley Wangchuk said that Wangdue was chosen as a pilot project for both solar and wind energy. He said that the dzongkhag would continue to support the government’s initiatives but it was important to benefit the locals through better roads.




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Lamgong-Wangchang MP Ugyen Tshering shared concerns of waste from solar energy and suggested if surplus solar energy could be stored and used in lean seasons.

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that the ministry was in the process of formulating regional grid connectivity so that Bhutan could trade electricity in the region.

He said that waste from solar energy especially batteries is a concern in all countries but with advances in technology it could be reduced.

Lyonpo shared that with funding from Asian Development Bank, the ministry will construct a solar plant in Rukubji village in Wangdue next year and start rooftop solar panels for households.

Edited by Tshering Palden

Price of commodities rise despite tax revision

Fri, 11/26/2021 - 11:41

Thukten Zangpo 

Despite the downward revision of the customs duty for third-country imports, the price of commodities in the market has not changed.

Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi asked the finance minister why the reduction in customs duty has not benefited the consumers, importers, and retailers after its six months of implementation.

The Parliament passed the Customs Bill 2021, which reduced the customs duty, an indirect tax levied on third-country imports, to a uniform rate of 10 percent from 50 percent in the summer session this year.

Finance minister, Namgay Tshering said that the price of consumer goods from the third countries has not dropped because of the rise in the cost of production and transportation due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“If the tax of goods imported from third countries was like earlier, the price would have gone up twice or thrice,” Lyonpo said adding that six months was inadequate to conclude whether the revision helped.




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Regarding the refund of the excess customs duty, Lyonpo said that about seven businesses have approached the ministry. However, upon review, it was found that the consumers have not benefited from the revision and thus, the ministry could not reimburse.

Additionally, he said the government also supported the importers and wholesalers with a 5 percent interest working capital loan to help with the supply disruptions.

Lyonpo said that the Public Finance Act of Bhutan 2007 requires the money bill to be executed from the time it is introduced in the National Assembly (NA).

Before the money bill goes to the National Council (NC) and His Majesty The King grants consent, it has to be executed, he added. “That creates confusion.” As per the recommendations received from the two houses, the minister said that the finance ministry was reviewing the Act and it would be tabled in the summer session next year.

The minister introduced three money bills, the Customs Duty (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2021, Tax (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2021, and Goods and Services Tax (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2021 in the NA yesterday.

Lyonpo said that the money bills are submitted for amendment due to the revisions made in the “Convention on the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (HS).”

The revisions to the HS  2022 have resulted in changes in the Bhutan Trade Classification (BTC) Code, Tariff Schedule, and textual changes in the Schedule in the Acts. Lyonpo said that HS 2022 has to be implemented by January 2022.

The HS revision is an update in the product list and restructuring of the product for simpler classification of goods and more visibility in international trade statistics.




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Lyonpo also said that the new tax rates proposed in the Bills are all within the existing rates except for the solar water heater which is proposed to be reduced from 5 percent to 0 percent in the Tax (Amendment) Bill 2021, 10 percent to 0 percent in Customs Duty (Amendment) Bill 2021, and 7 percent to 0 percent in GST (Amendment) Bill 2021 in order to encourage the use of an alternate source of energy.

The Bills were referred to the legislative committee for review.

The 351 sets of amendments to HS 2022 have led to the creation of new 400 BTC codes and deletion of 170 BTC codes thereby resulting in having 5,889 eight-digit BTC Codes in BTC and Tariff Schedule. There were also about 132 textual changes to the schedule.

HS serves as the basis for levying taxes, duties and for the compilation of international trade statistics in 211 economies (of which 158 are Contracting Parties to the HS Convention). It is administered by World Customs Organisation  and is revised every five years.

Edited by Tshering Palden

ECB disqualifies Dangchu gup’s nominee, OAG reviews probable charges

Fri, 11/26/2021 - 11:40

ACC implicates three former local government leaders 

Rinzin Wangchuk

The former Dangchu gup, Pemba, 37, was all set to re-contest for the same post in the upcoming local government elections. He was the only aspiring gup candidate from Tashidingkha-Zami chiwog, Dangchu gewog.

Pemba submitted all the relevant documents to the returning officer (RO) on November 22, the last day for document submissions.

Pemba’s aspirations to contest for the gup post, however, were abruptly dashed by the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) soon after his submission of documents. RAA revoked his audit clearance and the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) disqualified his gup candidature on the same day.

RAA revoked Pemba’s audit clearance issued on November 12 following a report from the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) that he was being implicated for abuse of functions in connection with the awarding of a work contract while he was the gup.

The ACC’s investigation into allegations against Pemba, when he was serving as Dangchu gup, revealed that he allegedly awarded work to his relatives for the construction of Saphugang Lhakhang, his involvement in the work for developing the gewog archery ground instead of awarding it as a community contract, and misuse of a subsidised rural timber permit. The commission began its investigation on May 17 of this year.

 

Involvement of three former local leaders 

The renovation of Saphugang Lhakhang at Tomla-Tokaling chiwog was funded by the government and public donations. The work was a planned project for the fiscal years 2019-2020 and 2020-2021.

The work was awarded to Pema Dorji at an agreed amount of Nu 1.56 million (M), through the drawing of an agreement on April 20, 2020 on the pretext that no person came forward from gewog to take up the work. The ACC, however, found that no Gewog Tshogde (GT) members made official decisions on it.

Later, on March 1 of this year, GT members came to a decision and awarded the work to Ugyen Rinzin, nephew of Pema Dorji, at a lump sum rate Nu 0.9M. In between these two decisions, GT members decided to execute the work departmentally.

ACC’s investigation found that former gup Pemba, former mangmi Sonam Dorji, and gewog administrative officer (GAO) Sonam Zangmo had drawn an agreement with Pema Dorji (a relative of Pemba and Sonam Dorji) long before an official decision was made to award the work to Ugyen Rinzin. Both gup Pemba and mangmi Sonam Dorji were serving as local leaders when the ACC was investigating the allegations.

The investigation also confirmed that the gup, mangmi, and GAO have drawn an agreement and awarded the lhakhang construction work to Pema Dorji without the official consent of all GT members. The investigation determined that Pema Dorji was awarded work worth Nu 1.56M. The total cost of the work was Nu 3.39M.

The construction of the gewog archery ground was executed departmentally in 2020-2021. Owing to the complex system involved in taking up the work departmentally, the gewog had used community contracting protocol (CCP) to avail the budget from Dzongkhag’s finance section based on the decisions taken by GT members.

The ACC found that the gewog had neither followed departmental procedures, nor the CCP while executing the work. While the total cost of the work was within the initial estimate of Nu 0.842M, there were no proper records of expenditures made by the gup amounting to Nu 0.387M against the procurement of materials and making labour payments.

The subsidized rural timber permit of Dophu, 88, from Rida chiwog, was allegedly misused by former Tshogpa Namgay Dorji of Godrang-Taktshar chiwog and Pemba when he was serving as mangmi in 2014.

The investigation established that Dophu had not applied for subsidized rural timber in 2014 and was not aware of this until early 2019 while applying for his timber permit. It was found that the application form for Dophu’s timber permit was filled out and approved by gup Pemba when he served as a mangmi, and was officiated by the then-gup.

The other gewog officials: a livestock extension officer, the GAO, and the beneficiary of the timber, former Tshogpa Namgay Dorji, were also found to have signed the timber allotment form without exercising proper due diligence and conducting proper verification.

In its investigation report submitted to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) on October 12, the commission recommended that the state prosecutor to charge and prosecute former gup Pemba and former Tshogpa Namgay Dorji for the offence of commission amounting to abuse of functions, based on its findings, the strength of the evidence, and the public interest element.

The ACC also recommended that Pemba and former mangmi Sonam Dorji be prosecuted for the offence of omission amounting to abuse of functions and participation in an offence under the Anti-Corruption Act (AC Act) of Bhutan 2011.

Commission amounting to abuse of functions, according to the AC Act, means a public servant who knowingly abuses functions or his or her position by performing an act amounting to favouritism, nepotism, or patronage, in violation of laws, in discharge of his or her functions, to obtain advantage for himself or herself or for another person shall be guilty of an offence.

OAG officials said that they are reviewing the report to see whether it merits prosecution.

Talking over the phone, Pemba said the construction work of Saphugang Lhakhang was awarded as per the community’s decision. “I followed due process while awarding the work,” he said. “I don’t have any conflict of interest with Pema Dorji, who is from Mongar.”

Man sentenced to 3 years for illegal possession of firearm

Fri, 11/26/2021 - 11:38

Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar

On Monday, the Samdrupjongkhar dzongkhag court sentenced a 26-year-old man to three years’ imprisonment for illegal possession of a firearm and hunting wild animals. The sentence is non-compoundable.

The court also sentenced the defendant’s two friends to six months’ imprisonment each for hunting wild animals.

The verdict stated that although the homemade gun (khaduwa) belonged to the defendant’s father, he didn’t know that his son had taken it for hunting on the night of the incident.

According to the judgement, although the defendant’s father has a valid license for the firearm, the court fined him Nu 1,000 for not taking care of it properly.

The case first surfaced when officials from the Samdrupjongkhar Forest and Park Services Division received information that the three men had killed a deer at Gayzor on April 6.

A team of forest officials who investigated the case recovered a deer skin, seized a firearm from the suspects, and arrested them. The suspects used a muzzleloader rifle to kill the deer.

Forest and park services officials forwarded the case to the police on April 29 because the suspects used a firearm to hunt, which is against the Firearms and Ammunition Act of Bhutan 1990.

The officials also handed the skin and the firearm, the khaduwa, over to the police.

Police investigation revealed that the 34-year-old and the 29-year-old men went to the defendant’s house on April 6 after telling his two friends that he needed to maintain his father’s khaduwa.

Since his two friends knew that the defendant’s father was not at home that day, they discussed hunting animals at Gayzor around 8:30pm to 9pm.

The 34-year-old man killed a barking deer. The suspects took it to the defendant’s house and divided it the next day.

Journalist under pressure for reporting lapses in vaccination programme

Fri, 11/26/2021 - 11:35

The DRA claims the report was in its drafting stage and wants the Media Council to take action 

Nima Wangdi 

The Drug Regulatory Authority (DRA) highlighted major hiccups in the country’s vaccination campaign in a “draft” surveillance report. A reporter of a private weekly obtained a copy of the report. The paper, Bhutan Times, reproduced the report highlighting the “glaring gaps.”

Shocked and surprised, the DRA recently filed a case with the Media Council accusing the reporter of stealing government documents, straining the relationship between the DRA and the Ministry of Health (MoH) by reproducing the report.

The reporter, Lhakpa Tshering, said there were five allegations against him, ranging from stealing government documents to spoiling the relationship between the authority and the ministry. He told Kuensel that he had submitted a statement to the Media Council confirming the DRA as not the source of the leaked document.

The report, which the DRA claims is a draft and not the finalised version, is titled “Report on Regulatory Cycle and Oversight of Covid-19 vaccination campaign in Bhutan”.  It contained findings by the DRA on the MoH’s lapses during the Covid-19 vaccination campaigns.

Head of the media council of Bhutan, Tshering Wangmo, said following the DRA complaint, the reporter was called and the issue was mutually resolved. “Of the five allegations, we addressed those that were within our purview and had to drop the rest. “Both of the parties agreed with the decision,” she said.

The DRA  Director Wangdi Gyeltshen said that while by law, they were mandated to take care of government documents, this one was somehow leaked. The document in question was in the draft stage, requiring consultation meetings with other stakeholders. After that, it would still await Board approval,” he said.

“What was in the document was solely the authority’s findings and we thought the stakeholders must be given a chance to clarify before the report was finalised,” the  Director said.

The incident, meanwhile, has generated a discussion about access to information, journalistic ethics, and leaked documents.

A senior journalist said agencies and individuals charging reporters for writing articles using leaked information and asking them to reveal sources is nothing unusual throughout the world. “However, while it is a global trend, when reporters write articles using leaked documents, it will depend on how the reporter actually got the information,” he said.

He said if the reporter has acquired the documents from his sources, it is a fair means of getting information, while stealing the document from someone’s office, hacking into a secured system, and using spy cameras is considered unethical. “Having the information through fair means and not writing articles on it might not make sense to the journalist.”

A retired senior journalist said that it is a global trend to write news articles from leaked documents. “Sometimes governments and organisations deliberately leak documents to feel the pulse of the people on their policy or decision. If it gets a positive response, they will go ahead, and if it backfires, they will blame the media.”

A senior journalist and an author, Gopilal Achariya, said that going by the international practice, the court may ask the reporter to reveal his source if his work poses a threat to national security or violates someone’s privacy. “But the reporter still has a right not to reveal the source and accept the punishment,” he said.

He said leaked government documents are a major source of news throughout the world, especially if they are of direct public interest.

Another retired journalist said that if the vaccination programme has not lived up to the standards of the regulatory authority, or if the DRA found lapses, it is their mandate to point out the lapses. “They should not be worried about their working relationship with the ministry. They have done a good job, I would say.”

Regarding the recent issue, Gopilal Acharya said whatever the reporter has written has no sensitivity and is considered public information. “The journalist seems to have written a factual story on a government report he acquired from his source,” he said.

Meanwhile, a private company has also charged the editor of the Journalist newspaper, Puran Gurung, for defamation. He was asked to reveal the source of the document he had obtained. Puran said the case is with the Media Council of Bhutan routed through the Journalist Association Bhutan (JAB).

JAB President Rinzin Wangchuk said such issues don’t come to JAB often. “The one we received, our attorney has taken it to the Media Council of Bhutan.” He said reporters often get charged for defamation and threatened to be taken to the court.

A lawyer said anyone obtaining government documents illegally could be charged for espionage as enshrined in the penal code of Bhutan. “However, if someone from the office purposefully shared the document with the reporter that will not be the case,” he said if the document has good public interest, the reporter should have the right to publish.

Sergithang Maed chiwog conducts dhamngoi zomdu three times

Fri, 11/26/2021 - 11:30

Tsirang has 208 candidates vying for various LG posts 

Choki Wangmo | Tsirang

Voters of Sergithang Maed chiwog in Sergithang, Tsirang are voting today for the third time in three weeks to nominate a gup candidate from their chiwog.

Since the former Sergithang gup, who was selected from the dhamngoi zomdu earlier this month, passed away recently, another zomdu was conducted in the chiwog yesterday.

The two contenders for the gup post, Aita Raj Rai and Bedu Nath Rai, ended up in a draw with each securing 46 votes.

Across the dzongkhag, 208 candidates have been nominated for gup, mangmi, and tshogpa positions.

Out of the 62 aspiring gup candidates from the dzongkhag, 39 gups were nominated from the zomdus. Out of four female aspirants, one couldn’t make it through the dhamngoi zomdus.

Due to clearance issues, the candidature of two potential gups was revoked and another candidate passed away.

There are 37 candidates, three of whom are females, vying for mangmi posts, and 132 tshogpa candidates, out of which only 19 are women.

According to the records with the Tsirang election office, the majority of female candidates were from the Kilkhorthang-Mendrelgang constituency.

There was only one gup and one tshogpa candidate from Sergithang-Tsirangtoed constituency.

Nine former gups who re-contested were selected from the dhamngoi zomdus. There are 12 gewogs in Tsirang.

A total of 6,868 voters, 3,931 men and 2,937 women, took part in the current local government election. This includes the thromde area.

Edited by Tshering Palden

RCSC will redeploy 25 civil servants

Fri, 11/26/2021 - 11:29

…messengers informed in August to apply for relevant positions within or outside the civil service 

Phurpa Lhamo

Out of more than 500 civil servant positions that the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) removed from the 12 Five Year Plan (FYP) staffing, the commission is trying to redeploy dispatchers, receptionists, and telephone operators, who are regular civil servants.

In August messengers were informed that they should apply for any relevant positions within or outside the civil service, as and when the opportunity arises, an RCSC official said.

“This early notice is to provide them with adequate time to look for alternate employment. The commission has requested agencies not to fill vacant positions arising from superannuation or resignation of this position,” the official said.

“For the messenger post, the commission will facilitate redeployment to other relevant GSP (General Service Positions) if vacancies arise, as these positions are contractual positions,” the official said.

The RCSC’s annual report released in June stated that following the 12th FYP staffing and organisation structure review, the requirements of messengers (GSP) have become redundant and 228 positions have been removed from the 12th FYP staffing.

Further, it stated that dispatchers, telephone operators, and receptionist positions have been merged as one position, since the work of these three positions can be done by one employee with the use of information and communications technology (ICT). This has reduced 260 such positions.

According to an official from the RCSC, the 500 positions reflected in the annual report did not imply that there were 500 excess civil servants who would be removed from civil service, but it referred to the positions that are rendered to be redundant from the adoption of technology and demand for efficient use of human resources.

The official added that the actual number of excess employees was 228 messengers and 25 regular dispatchers, telephone operators, and receptionists.

“For the dispatchers, telephone operators, and receptionists, many of these positions are already vacant and hence only the post is being removed, not the person. Where such positions are filled, we are redeploying them to other vacant positions within the civil service,” the official said.

Following information on the removal of the positions in the 12th FYP staffing, those civil servants in such positions also submitted a petition to Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering. The petition was filed on November 16 and was copied to the Cabinet Secretary and the Opposition Leader (OL).

According to the petition, most individuals working in these positions were women who depended on the job.

One of the messengers said that most employees had worked for a long duration in the civil service, and finding a job during the pandemic was difficult.

The official said that the RCSC was mandated to efficiently administer the human resources requirements in the civil service agencies and was not an employment-creating agency. “Therefore, it is the responsibility of the commission to ensure human resources in the civil service are optimally engaged and draw value for every ngultrum invested and not breed inefficiency.”

Recently, a receptionist was informed that her contract term wouldn’t be extended. She had been working as a receptionist for about five years.

The RCSC official said that the purpose of hiring on a contract was to address short-term HR needs and other professional capabilities that are not available in the civil service.

“Hence, when the requirement of such services no longer exists, or in other words, there are no jobs to be assigned, the post is removed for greater efficiency in human resources usage,” he said.

“Otherwise, this group of vital resources will be underutilised or underemployed without any professional growth and will gradually increase the cost of inefficiency in the economy.”

A notification was also issued on November 1 to the agencies to not renew the contract terms of dispatchers, receptionists, and telephone operators.

According to the official, these positions would be replaced by the 25 regular dispatchers, receptionists, and telephone operators who were identified as excess.

“Those position holders are not removed overnight. Options for redeployment are provided wherever possible, otherwise, individuals are informed much ahead of time, like the case of messengers who have been given sufficient time to find alternative employment.

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