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Bhutan's Daily Newspaper
Updated: 20 min 31 sec ago

Ramp up the surveillance systems

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 12:03

In the face of rising Covid-19 cases in the region, the Ministry of Health has advised the government and the public to step up safety measures.

This is an important warning. We have gone through some difficult times. Lockdown is never a convenient measure, as we have experienced.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), the latest variant, BF.7, a sub-variant of Omicron, is the fastest spreading variant to date. BF.7 has been detected in Indian states, especially in Gujarat and Odisha. The risk of the virus entering Bhutan, therefore, is very high.

Ministry of Health in its notification said that ministry is “continuously monitoring the trends of Covid-19 at all the major points of entry.” This is good news. 

We know that the entry of Covid-19 will happen only from the points of entry. There are six entry points in the country: Paro International Airport, Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Samdrupjongkhar, Samtse, and Nganglam in Pemagatshel. Therefore, bolstering measures at the points of entry is critically important.

But the focus should not be only on the points of entry. Safety protocols should be strengthened inside, in towns and villages. Routine Covid-19 integrated influenza surveillance systems are in place to monitor the virus in all these entry points, we are told. Health workers have been alerted and the ministry has enhanced random testing of travellers and foreign workers at the entry points.

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Wearing face masks and washing hands should be made mandatory, especially in major population centres.

Covid-19 continues to be a serious threat. As cases continue to rise in the neighbouring countries, there is a need to bolster our surveillance and quick-action systems.

India is tackling with BF.7, a strain that has China in a very complicated situation today. The variant has already been detected in the US, the UK, and European countries such as Belgium, Germany, France and Denmark, among others.

India is ramping up genome sequencing as a proactive measure to study the emergence of new variants of the virus. The real danger facing us today is that we seem to assume that Covid-19 is no longer a threat. Covid-19 is still a significant threat and we cannot take it lightly.

Information, education, and communication are still very important. What the health sector has done so far deserves our praise but we can together do a lot more. We must prevent the spread of the virus as much as possible. We must, at all costs, avert the kind of destruction that the virus has done to the economy and lives of the people.

Picture story

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 12:02

  Thousands of people enter and exit through the pedestrian terminal at the international border in Phuentsholing every day.

BCCI to request RMA to discontinue six-month observation period

Thu, 12/29/2022 - 12:02

Thukten Zangpo

The Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) on behalf of the businesses decided to submit to the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) to discontinue the six-month observation period at the members’ meeting on December 27.

In October this year, RMA directed that non-performing loans (NPL) that have become performing through repayments made by the borrowers shall be placed under the ‘observation period’ for a period of six months with no bank guarantee and letter of credit.

The observation period, the president of the Construction Association of Bhutan (CAB), Trashi Wangyel, said deprived the clients of credit facilities including availing letter of credits or bank guarantee.

“This has impeded contractors from being able to bid or take part in competitive bidding processes where such banking facilities are required,” he added.

He said that a majority of contractors painstakingly paid the overdue to banks in anticipation that post-covid-19 normalcy would bring new opportunities and business, but it has been a classic case of banks providing umbrellas when sun shines but taking them away when it rains.

“The person or entity under such observation devoid of these facilities and with loss of prospects is bound to fall back with their repayments within these six months and the cycle of NPL will repeat and this time with more critical outcomes,” Trashi Wangyel said.

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A bank guarantee, which is 10 percent of the total contract value, has to be submitted as a performance bond to the procuring agencies. It is a guarantee that the contractor will execute the contract. Otherwise, the procuring agencies can take the 10 percent.

Executive Director of the CAB, Tshering Younten, said that the government provided time extension for the construction works under the fiscal measures. 

However, without bank guarantee, he said that procuring agencies do not accept the extension of work leading to termination of works.

Tshering Younten also said that most of the contractors have more than one company and the construction companies have shareholders. “Even if a company or shareholder is under NPL, it affects all.”

BCCI’s President, Tandy Wangchuk, said that bank guarantees are a zero risk in nature since the borrowers have the fixed assets mortgaged with the banks with loan to assets value of 70 percent for term loans and 50 percent for the overdraft loans.

He said that if the government could re-assess the asset value for the collateral used to avail loans at current market rate, an additional loan amount could be pumped into the economy.

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The Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB) submitted that the hotels under the NPL during the pandemic to defer the loan period for two years like the other hotels with performing loans.

The association also asked for interest rate reduction from 10 percent to 7 percent for the loans under the deferment period.

Executive Director of the HRAB, Sangeeta Rana, said that the association requested before the opening of the tourism to the government and the central bank to reduce the interest rate for the loans from 10 percent to 5 percent for the deferment period.

However, she said that the government declined the request, assuring that the larger group of tourist arrival is expected in coming months and the hoteliers can repay the loans.

“The scenario is different now; there are hardly any tourist coming and the association would request for the interest reduction to 7 percent,” Sangeeta Rana said.

The association also asked if 10 year-tax holiday for hotels  affected by the pandemic could be considered for another two years. 

52 tax officials resign this year alone

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 11:45

Lhakpa Quendren

As the tax filing season approaches, the Department of Revenue and Customs (DRC) has come under mounting pressure with income tax officials quitting their jobs in bulk.

This year alone, 52 income tax officials resigned voluntarily and more could follow. Eleven officials superannuated from the service.

DRC said that the department’s attrition reflects the national trend.

The department is taking a multi-pronged approach to make do with fewer employees.

The department said it would remove redundancy within the organization through business process reviews. This includes multi-tasking to ensure that services are delivered without any disruption within the standard Turn-Around-Time (TAT).

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According to the department, employees are shouldering extra responsibilities.

Contract employees and interns are expected to address the manpower shortage in the department. All accounts services are being clustered together in the form of the Cluster Finance Service (CFS).

“The finance ministry in consultation with the Royal Civil Service Commission will re-deploy excess accounts personnel from the CFS to the DRC to fill the gap to ensure uninterrupted service delivery,” said the department.   

Further to that, the deployment of 20 Post-Graduate Diploma in Financial Management (PGDFM) graduates would ensure the department’s prompt service delivery.

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Long-term solution?

The department is looking at digitalisation as one of the solutions to achieve efficiency and effectiveness.

The focus on building and deepening competencies of human resources would continue to build a highly skilled and efficient workforce, according to the department.

DRC will also focus on grooming young leaders to create a pipeline of leaders for various functions to ensure an effective succession plan is in place.

The average attrition rate at DRC over the 5 years – from 2018 to 2022 – has been 12.2 percent, including superannuation and death.

Exhibitors expect opportunities from Thimphu Mega Trade Fair

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 11:44

YK Poudel 

Local businesses to broaden their business are exhibiting at the Thimphu Mega Trade Fair that began in the capital yesterday.

The fair has over 48 national exhibitors, who have gathered to showcase their goods.

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Bikash Rai, 27, owner of Bikash Easy Shopping, said that he is hopeful of better opportunities after the fair. “Since Thimphu is a business hub of Bhutan with a good start on the first day, I’m certain that the fair would bring businessmen in Thimphu better opportunities.”

Another exhibitor, Dorji Wangmo, who is exhibiting home decor during the fair, said that when she took part in a similar fair in 2018, there were participants from various dzongkhags and it was a successful one. “As the fair is targeted towards regional product promotion, I am hoping for a positive outcome.”

The event manager of Tendrel Events, Sonam Dorji said that the fair is organised with the motive to sell and promote regional products. “The economic affairs ministry issued a ban notice that involves external vendors. The fair being a national fair did not face any challenge and our motive has remained in line with the notice.”

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Varieties of consumer products that are locally produced or imported before the pandemic have been displayed, ranging from furniture, home decor, leather products, gym and fitness accessories, and textile products at the fair.

Exhibitors are charged Nu 20,000 per stall for the entire period of the fair. The five-day fair will end on Saturday.

Tendrel Events aims to conduct such fairs in other regions as well.

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The economic affairs ministry issued a notice that states, “Trade fair with imported goods banned. Only thematic fairs that promote local goods and services for export will be allowed.”

This was done to balance the overall trade of the country.

According to Bhutan Trade Statistics 2021, the overall trade deficit was over Nu 32 billion.

Health ministry to enforce Covid-19 protocols as new variant emerges

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 11:43

KP Sharma 

With the spike in the number of Covid-19 cases in neighbouring countries, the Ministry of Health has advised the government and the public to step up safety measures.

According to World Health (WHO), the latest variant BF.7, a sub-variant of Omicorn, is the fastest spreading variant.

BF.7 has been detected in Indian states, especially in Gujarat and Odisha. The risk of the virus entering Bhutan is high.

Ministry of Health in its notification said that Ministry is “continuously monitoring the trends of COVID-19 at all the major points of Entry.”

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There are around six entry points in the country: Paro International Airport, Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Samdrupjongkhar, Samtse, and Nganglam in Pemagatsel.

As per the Ministry, routine Covid-19 integrated influenza surveillance systems are in place to monitor the virus in all these entry points.

The health workers have been alerted and the ministry has enhanced random testing of travellers and foreign workers at the entry points.

Based on the recommendation of the National Covid-19 Task Force meeting on December 23, the ministry is encouraging people to continue to wear face mask. “Face mask will be mandatory while visiting health facilities, during mass gatherings, and for those with flu like systems.”

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Residents in Thimphu say that maintaining hand hygiene, physical distance and use of face mask must return.

People also raised concerns about gathering during celebrations.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo, through her Facebook account, urged people to use public health tools available, including vaccination.

The ministry encourages people travelling abroad on pilgrimage and other purposes to get fully vaccinated and follow all the precautions.

A case of double jeopardy?

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 11:42

Nima Wangdi  

The High Court (HC) convicted two men to six and three months of mandatory rehabilitation for possessing controlled substances for self-consumption on October 9, last year.

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on November 22 ordered the High Court Chief Justice to lead a team of two other justices of the High Court and hear the case again since the previous judgment was not rendered fairly.

The order asked the Chief Justice of the High Court to decide the case at the earliest complying with Article 21, clause 1 of the Constitution. The section states that the Judiciary shall safeguard, uphold, and administer Justice fairly and independently without fear, favour, or undue delay in accordance with the Rule of Law to inspire trust and confidence and to enhance access to Justice.

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The court last week upheld the dzongkhag court’s judgment and found the two men guilty of selling and possessing controlled substances and sentenced them to five years in prison.

The mother of one of the convicts questions the judicial process. She said it was a criminal case and the rule of law of the criminal case is that a person tried and convicted for an offence by the competent court cannot be tried for a second time according to section 206 of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (CCPC).

The mother said that the retrial and new judgment with new conviction order were completely in violation of Section 206 of CCPC when a person shall not be subject to the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb by law.

She said the case looked exactly like the case where the Thimphu district court in June 2021, dismissed the Penjor Penjor case filed by OAG reasoning that the OAG was both the complainant and the prosecutor and cannot take action against Penjor Penjor. “In my son’s case, the judiciary is the complainant and also adjudicating the case.”

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She said her son had completed the Mandatory Drug Treatment Program as the Central Treatment Assessment Panel recommended for the duration of six months by the HC in the previous judgment.

The special review bench has not reviewed and treated this case in accordance with Article 21 (1) of the Constitution but followed the Supreme Court’s order according to the mother.

“If the complaint was lodged to look into justice delivery procedure due to some suspected influences, then this review bench must first investigate this and then decide whether the retrial of an already disposed of case was merited. The bench did not do this,” she said.

The mother said that she is going to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The road ahead

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 11:40

The Kupar of His Majesty The King and His Holiness the Je Khenpo gracing the inauguration of the Kurizam-Gyalpoizhing road built by de-suups has touched many hearts. Some had changed their Facebook profile picture using the Kupar as a show of love, affection and appreciation. Beyond the Kupar is a story worthy of greater appreciation. 

His Majesty The King’s vision of skilling Bhutanese youth is paying dividends. If starting the DeSuung programme was a master stroke, skilling young Bhutanese is a triumph in many ways. The 7.3 km road was widened and improved to a higher standard in a year. If the aim was to pilot quality road construction and develop best practices by Bhutanese, the evidence is there for many to see.

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Bhutan has been building roads since the first five-year plan in the 1960s. We are still building, widening and repairing roads. In the meantime, the road is one infrastructure that is visible and also on the priority list of political parties. Drive around the country and we can see how roads have reached every nook and corner of the country. Unfortunately, quality is a big issue and some of the roads, particularly farm roads, are not pliable after investing millions.

We have constructed enough roads. The priority will now have to change from building to widening width and shortening distances. Technology has improved in road-building and perhaps, we will see an alternate route from Thimphu to Phuentsholing following the Wangchhu or join Wangdue to Chamgang to cut the distance by hours for those travelling to the east and southeast. Cutting distance could mean a reduction in transportation costs. As a landlocked country, the cost of transportation is one of the main drivers of inflation.

The DeSuung National Service Road Project could contribute significantly to this objective. The idea is not to make our youth construction workers. We will still require hands to turn the bitumen and gravel mix, but what we need is people with skills and dedication. The project was designed to build the capabilities of the de-suups so that they could become skilled workers, competent supervisors, effective managers and capable contractors in the future. 

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Six of them are trained as skilled operators in specialised machines, three in surveying and 13 as skilled construction workers. All of them are equipped to assist and understand general construction practices. This is a boon to the construction industry, especially road construction. The road they built in Gyalpoizhing could be the benchmark in terms of quality. As more get skilled, the construction could depend on locally-trained professionals for skills and knowledge. The big difference is that de-suups have taken the oath of allegiance and will not be lured by what is happening in the industry. 

Critics say that DeSuung can deliver because they are not bogged down by bureaucratic procedures. If that is true, we need to remove the bureaucratic obstacles to let the industry improve and thereby our road infrastructure. Driving beyond the pothole-riddled capital road, many will feel potholes are not a nuisance as they drive on long stretches of roads that had been damaged soon after the inauguration.

33 percent of lakes disappeared

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 11:39

People grappling with water shortage

Choki Wangmo | Dagana

Harkati Tsho, Norbudzingkha — A bright day on the hilltop of the sleeping Dagapela town.

About 100 people from the neighbouring gewogs are busy. In a decorated tent, five monks are preparing for the deity appeasing ritual in front of a tiny altar.

They wait for their MP’s visit. He has promised to help them revive the lakes and solve the acute drinking water problems for once and all.

Phurpa Lhamo Sherpa, 53, is thrilled. With age, it is increasingly difficult for her to get easy access to drinking water. Water needs at her home has increased with two school-going children.

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Every day, she walks 30 minutes asking, begging, for water from her relatives in other gewogs. Sometimes she hires pickup trucks, but this is becoming increasingly beyond her means.

Without water, she has to abandon farm works, the main source of family income.

For the past 35 years, the drinking water shortage in Gozhi Toed did not get much attention. The situation has become dire for half of the 40 households in the chiwog. For two months in winter, the villagers do not have a drinking water. Since their water source at Chichibi and Jhorpokhori (four lakes) dried up, hopes of an easy access to drinking water was low.

Lakes are the main sources of drinking and irrigation water in Dagana. Records with the dzongkhag show that out of 21 lakes spread across eight of the 14 gewogs in Dagana, seven have dried up and six are drying up.

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Without studies, it is difficult to categorise these lakes.

A lecturer of College of Natural Resources, Jambay, who also closely worked with the communities in Dagana, said that the lakes could be barrier lakes as drainage lines are blocked and old gullies have dried up. He also indicated that some could be karst lakes as there are large holes on the other side of the lakes.

Communities have come together to save their water sources. But only few were successful.

A Gozhi Toed resident, Sherub, formed a committee to revive the lake in the earlier days. He said that by the time he resettled in Gozhi 11 years ago, the lakes had started to dry up. “The lakes were reduced to tiny ponds.”

Volunteers carried out works to clean the lakes, planted trees and sought divine support by installing lubums near the lakes.

Three years ago, Nima Wangdi Sherpa and his friends dug up Panatsho at Norbudzingkha to fill their water tanks. It was the only source of water for his community. Out of three lakes, only one remains today.

They are now starting the revival works with the support of their MP.

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Villagers created an artificial lake, Harkati Tsho, on Mingma Sherpa’s private land which is the water source for many housheolds in Tsendagang and Gozhi gewogs. They received a fund support of nu 45,000 from the gewog administration for the project.

“When people resettled, they had to cut tress. It might have caused the lakes to dry up,” said Mingma Sherpa.

Norbuzingkha has been facing water shortage for the past 18 years. Chandra Bdhr Sherpa recalls playing in streams and drawing water from springs as a young boy. “We didn’t have to depend on the lakes. Now, we have to go without water for three months in winter. It is challenging for the elderly, children, and women.”

Bhutan is endowed with abundant water resources. Combined with snow, ice, freshwater lakes, running streams, rivers, and ground water. Bhutan has one of the highest per capita availability of water in the world. With an average flow of 2,238 m3/s, Bhutan generates 70,572 million cubic metres per annum, i.e. 94,500 m3 per person per year, the highest in the region.

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However, a recent study by the Watershed Management Division revealed that of 6,555 water sources in the country, 2,317 (35 percent) are drying up; 147 sources have already dried up.

Samtse, Tsirang, Mongar, Wangdue, and Dagana are severely affected.

Jambay said that lakes are drying across the country due to changes in the catchment area of the lake. “Most of the lakes in Bhutan are rainfed.  During monsoon, it enlarges due to rainwater from the catchment.”

He said that tree plantation at the catchment prevents rainwater from flowing directly into the lake, so the lakes dry up. The leaves, he said, accelerate the deposition of organic minerals and increase nutrition, making the water shallow to support aquatic plants and allow evapotranspiration.

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He recommended reviving drying lakes in Bhutan by creating an environment similar to what existed in the past. It could be done by clearing the catchment of the lake so that rainwater will flow directly into lakes.

Studies show that more than 60 percent of the lakes around the world are on the verge of shrinking due to the impacts of climate change.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development’s Mountain Adaptation Outlook Series says that climate change will increase both water stress and water-related hazards. Precipitation is expected to decrease in the southern plains that are already water stressed, resulting in an even greater risk of droughts.

The impact of climate change on water resources not only affects the water availability but also food security, energy production, industrial sectors, and overall health of ecosystems and inhabitants.

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Bhutan’s Third National Communication to the UNFCCC stated that in the future, summer months are predicted to become wetter and warmer while winter months are expected to be drier, making the overall system more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. It will result in the abundant availability of water in warmer months but less during winter months.

Jambay said that the drying up of lakes is caused by climate change. Due to the increase in temperature, more water is lost through evapotranspiration, resulting in more lakes drying up. With climate change, the rainfall patterns have also changed.

Climate researcher and a lecturer of College of Natural Resources, Om Katel (PhD), said lake ecosystem such as lake surface temperature, evaporation, and water level respond dramatically to climate change impacts. “Lakes are critical natural resources that are sensitive to climate change impacts.”

In the Himalayas, studies confirm that the shrinkage of water in lakes is associated with the reduction in the amount of precipitation that plays a key role in lake dynamics, he said. “Rainfall data in Bhutan show that the precipitation pattern; intensity and frequency, has changed. Such changing pattern affects the recharging of aquifers including the water budget in the lakes.”


This article is funded by Bhutan Media Foundation’s Climate Change Reporting Grant

Lhayul – Paro draw gives City a tittle chance

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 11:36

Thinley Namgay

Druk Lhayul FC’s 2-2 draw against the defending champion Paro FC in one of the crucial games in the ongoing BoB Bhutan Premier League

(BPL) yesterday opened a door for Thimphu City FC (City) to still contest for the 2022 BPL title.

Paro FC was the favourite to claim their third title of the BPL. With this draw, Thimphu City FC still has a chance to win the tournament.

The deciding game is now between Paro FC and City on January 5 at the

Changlimithang Stadium.

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On September 11, Paro FC defeated Lhayul FC 3-1 in the first leg of the tournament at the Woochu Sports Arena in Paro. However, Lhayul played a better and highly pressing game yesterday. Paro’s game tactics improved only in the second half.

The first half ended in a goalless draw. Lhayul broke the deadlock in the 59th minute from unmarked Jomoul Anthony Francois, scoring within a minute after substitution. However, Paro quickly equalised from Kazuo Homma. Kazuo Homma got a brace in the 78th minute, assisted by Chencho Gyeltshen. The joy, alas, was short-lived. Lhayul’s Tenzin Dorji rose to the occasion near the goalie and scored to level the game in the 83rd minute.

Tenzin Dorji was declared the man of the match.Hundreds of spectators came to watch the match despite the freezing weather.

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Of the 18 games in the tournament, City and Paro FC completed 17 games as of yesterday. Paro is leading the tournament with 45 points; City has 43. Even a draw is enough for Paro to bag the third title on January 5.  City will have to win.

Lhayul acquired 39 points from 17 games.  Lhayul will play their last game against Transport United FC on January 4 at Changlimithang Stadium.

DGPC takes over Mangdechhu power plant

Wed, 12/28/2022 - 11:33

Dechen Dolkar  

The 720MW Mangdechhu Hydroelectric Project Authority (MHPA) officially handed over the project to Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) yesterday.

The contract award cost was Nu 37.1B and the cost incurred until July this year was Nu 50.2B. The project required an additional fund of Nu 800M for the payment of liabilities.

The commissioning of the project has increased Bhutan’s electrical power generation capacity by 44 percent to 2,326MW. Since its commissioning, the project has generated more than 9,500 million units of energy.

In 2021, MHPA exported electricity worth Rs 12.13B to India, increasing Bhutan’s electricity exports to Rs 24.43B.

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So far, it earned Nu 43.6B as revenue after the commissioning of the project. The project has generated around 10,599.9 million units of energy as of yesterday.

Speaking at the event, Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma said that the project is yet another milestone.

He said that during the pandemic when the revenue fell, the commissioning of the project helped the country with its revenue.

The commissioning of project increased hydropower revenue in 2020 31 percent.

Lyonpo expressed his gratitude to all the officials, engineers, designers, and workers for delivering the project. He also thanked the Government of India for providing financial and technical support for the construction of the project.

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Ambassador Sudhakar Dalela said that the project was a ‘benchmark project’ which was completed at an optimal cost and time frame.

The power generated by the Mangdechhu Power Station is being exported to India and the evacuation of power is takes place at Alipurduar in West Bengal. The power flows through the 765kV Double Circuit HVDC transmission line running from Bishwanath Charali in Assam to Agra in UP, where the eastern grid is connects the western India grid.

The Mangdechhu Hydropower Station exported net energy at Alipurduar 9165.685 million units and the corresponding billing amount to Power Trading Corporation (PTC) for the exported energy is Nu 37.1B. The billing to PTC has been done for the period of three years until August 2022 from the date of commissioning.

The tariff of the Mangdechhu Project is Nu 4.12 per kWh.

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According to officials from the Department of Hydropower and Power Systems, it is projected to earn revenue of Nu 12B from the project annually. They said that of the total revenue earned around Nu 8.5B will be given to the government exchequer and around Nu 5B will be  repaying the loan for 17 years. In total, there is around Nu 47B loan.

Every five-year tariff will be increased by 10 percent. After completing the repayment of the loan, the tariff will be increased by 5 percent every five years.

A handing-over ceremony was held in Thimphu and witnessed by Lyonpo Loknath Sharma and Ambassador Sudhakar Dalela.

A handing-over document was signed between the managing directors of MHPA and DGPC.

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Four units of Mangdechhu Hydropower Station were commissioned between June 28, 2019 to August 16, 2019. The project was inaugurated by the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi and the Prime Minister of Bhutan Lotay Tshering on August 17, 2019.

The project was awarded the prestigious Brunel Medal, 2020 by the Institute of Civil Engineers, London as a recognition for its excellence in civil engineering and the project’s social and environmental credentials.

The project will reduce about 2.4 million tonnes of Green House Gas emissions each year.

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With the handing over of this project, both India and Bhutan have successfully completed four mega hydroelectric power projects, taking forward our six decades-old hydropower cooperation.

Chamkhar still not relocated after decades of planning

Tue, 12/27/2022 - 12:07

Nima Wangdi

Almost two decades after Chamkhar town relocation plan, little has happened. In fact, the number of shops has increased and more permanent structures have come up.

The dzongkhag administration issued a reminder early this year about the expiry of their lease agreement. The lease agreement expires by September 2023 and the business people are expected to move to the three local area plans (LAP) in Bumthang.

The LAPs are Jalikhar, Chamkhar, and Dekiling.

Businesses say that relocation would not be a problem for shopkeepers but LAPs should be fully ready with all the amenities.

“We want the dzongkhag to consider extending the lease agreement until the LAPs are ready,” a shopkeeper said.

Sangay Phuntsho, another shopkeeper, said, “We will happily leave if we are given an identified place with all the basic amenities.”

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A businessman said Dekiling town plan, which began in 2003, has been scrapped. “Nothing happened after 2008 during which the town development work was stalled due to some political views. There are road networks, streetlights, and parking space but the plots are empty to this day.”

Thromde Thuemi, Ugyen Sangay, said development works are underway in all three LAPs. He said Dekiling town plan has not been canceled and people can start building houses if they want to.

Dzongkhag officials said that the Dekiling town plan alone has been canceled but it is still part of the Bumthang valley development plan that consists of three LAPs. The old Dekiling town plan falls under Dekiling LAP.

“Business people in Chamkhar town can move to any of the LAPs,” the official said. “We have not been able to build all the required amenities in the LAPs at the moment but they are not totally devoid of amenities at the same time.”

The official said that the GSB laying works in the Chamkhar LAP is being tendered and the same would be done for the other two LAPs.

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He said they did not want Dekiling town plan to be a centralised town like some new townships in the country. “This is why the town plan was canceled. We don’t want all the facilities to be concentrated in one place causing traffic jams and shortage of parking space.”

The present Chamkhar town lies along the Chamkharchhu and a major portion of it lies in the flood Red Zone.

DLLC decided not to extend the lease agreement

Early this year, National Land Commission Secretariat (NLCS) and dzongkhag land and survey sector jointly conducted an investigation which found that 70 percent of the lessee had violated the lease agreements.

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The lease agreement requires the lessee to utilise the leased land for only personal purposes and should not be rented out.

Twenty-six lessees had partially rented out their structures while 58 had totally rented out. Four lessees had even sold their leased plots along with structures. The NLC instructed Dzongkhag Land Lease Committee (DLLC) to take action.

The committee so decided not to extend the lease term from September next year.

NC elections in early 2023

Tue, 12/27/2022 - 12:06

Dechen Dolkar 

The Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has notified that the National Council (NC) elections for the fourth Parliament will be conducted in early 2023.

The tenure of the current National Council members end  on May 9, next year. 

The ECB also said that the familiarisation tour of the political parties and candidates would be allowed only until January 31, 2023. All political parties and candidates who are on their familiarisation tour must comply with this announcement.

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ECB has reduced the number of polling stations and consequently, voters may encounter changes in the location of their polling stations.

According to the ECB, given the enhanced road access and improved network connectivity in the country, it has carried out a review with the objective to reduce the number of polling stations.

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Eligible voters who have transferred their Mitsi on or before December 31, 2021, are advised to check their status on  ECB’s website, or by inquiring at the Commission’s Department of Electoral Registration & Delimitation (DERD).

ECB has notified that Voter Photo Identity Card (VPIC) or Citizenship Identity (CID) Card will be used for identifying voters at polling stations on the poll day. It is mandatory for all voters to carry either VPIC or CID card to the polling station.

The ECB urges all voters who have lost their CID cards or have not processed or obtained them to process for a new one immediately to avoid last-minute rush or inconveniences.

Similarly, in the case of those with CID cards with expired validity, it is reminded that such voters must apply for a new card at the earliest.

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ECB has also notified that after the issuance of notification calling the National Council Elections, 2023, all social and religious activities will be closely monitored by the Dzongkhag Election Authorities.

In the event there are other annual calendar events or compelling needs, institutions/individuals concerned must submit applications and obtain approval. The Dzongkhag Chief Election Coordinator will review the applications, on a case-by-case basis, and accord decisions as deemed necessary.

Credit growth improves by 9.2 percent

Tue, 12/27/2022 - 12:05

…indicates a recovering economy

Thukten Zangpo

With the re-opening of the economy, the total credit growth of financial institutions (FIs) saw an increase by 9.2 percent as of September this year from the same month last year, the Royal Monetary Authority figures show.

The total loan disbursement from FIs to customers amounted to Nu 191.96 billion (B) as of September this year. It saw an increase of Nu 16.17B from September last year.

The credit growth had recovered after it slumped to 6.64 percent in September last year. It was the lowest recorded since the rupee shortage in 2012.

This was triggered by the pandemic that led to a weakening of economic activities, risk aversion behaviour of FIs, and delay in government spending on capital projects.

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However, for the credit growth to reach the pre-pandemic level, it should be above 15 percent.

Credit growth is good for an economy because FI’s credit growth signals an economic recovery.

More credit means consumers can borrow and spend more for housing, education, consumer durables, vehicles and other personal expenses. And enterprises can borrow and invest more.

The finance ministry projected an economic growth rate of 4.95 percent this year after recording a growth rate of 4.09 percent in 2021. The economic growth dipped to -10.01 percent in 2020 because of the pandemic.

Breaking into the economic sectors, loans disbursed to the housing sector, which accounted for 27 percent of the total loan, were recorded at Nu 51.83B. It is an increase of Nu 6.3B.

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The service and tourism credit at Nu 55.6B, which was severely impacted by the pandemic, saw a growth of about 12 percent. This sector accounted for 28 percent of the total loans.

There has also been growth in education loans by over 50 percent to Nu 10.25B from Nu 6.76B.

Credit to the transport sector increased by 43.23 percent to Nu 9.98B because of the demand for passenger cars.

To save the country’s dwindling foreign currency reserves, the government suspended the import of select vehicles from August this year. This could save the government about Nu 5B annually.

However, credit to trade and commerce was contracted by Nu 3.74B to Nu 16.39B. The loans to the production and manufacturing sector declined to Nu 20.66B, a decrease of Nu 1.41B.

Similarly, agriculture credit saw a decrease at Nu 5.61B from Nu 6.65B.

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An economist said that more than 60 percent of the sectoral loans comprise import and consumption loans, which are not much help for economic growth.

Being an import-dependent country, more flow of money in the economy would result in further widening the country’s trade deficit.

The country’s trade deficit, including electricity, has been widening over the years. At Nu 48.14B, the trade deficit as of September this year was more than the value of export of Nu 44.9B. It saw an increase of Nu 15.9B from the previous year.

This could pose a threat to already dwindling foreign currency reserves. The total foreign currency reserves have decreased by over 40 percent to USD 729.7 million (M) as of September this year from USD 1.29B in the same month last year.

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Bhutan’s total reserves can only meet 13.11 months of essential imports, more than a month’s reserve mandated by the Constitution of 12 months.

Nu 108.7M forgone from duty-free entitlement tax

Tue, 12/27/2022 - 12:03

Dechen Dolkar 

The government last year forswore Nu 108.7M from the taxes from the duty-free entitlement, according to the Ministry of Finance (MoF).

From next year, the duty-free quota privilege will be given only to diplomats governed by the international laws, conventions and covenants ratified by the parliament of Bhutan and International employees governed by the Bilateral and multilateral agreement signed by the government of Bhutan.

Starting January next year the quota for duty-free goods will be discontinued for those who were entitled so far. This enabled those with a quota to buy high-quality goods like wine, whiskey, cosmetics, as well as other non-consumable products free of taxes from the identified retail outlets.

Over 1,226 individuals were entitled to and have availed of the quota so far.

Executives and specialists of civil service, cabinet ministers and the members of parliament, drangpons, armed forces personnel above the rank of Lt. Colonel, head of constitutional office and attorney general, heads of the international agency, and the chairperson of the Royal Privy Council are entitled to duty-free quota.

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Five eminent Lopens of Zhung Dratshang, the highest personal income taxpayers, Indian military officers (IMTART and GREF), and honorary consuls of foreign countries are also entitled to duty-free quota.

However, the Cabinet arrived at the decision after a review showed that duty-free quota had not just hit redundancy but had outlived its intended purpose.

The duty-free quota was introduced in 1989 to provide access to consumer goods that originated from advanced countries, support the tourism sector, operate as an enterprise on a commercial basis, provide a source of foreign exchange and generate revenue for the country.

According to the Office of Prime Minister, memberships proliferated over the years leading to loss of revenue and misuse.

“Also, with the steady growth of the economy, similar products are now adequately available in the market,” the officials said.

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According to the PMO, as we strive to bring about reform driven by accountability and transparency, and as we introduce a clean wage system, we are convinced that such perks have lost relevance.

“Such steps, though small, will go a long way in professionalising the processes and bringing about the change that we aspire,” the PMO said.

Looking back and ahead

Tue, 12/27/2022 - 12:02

The year was good and bad. It had its ups and downs, successes and failures, its turmoil and peace, sunshine and rain.

This is what we say every year, whether we are summing up the past year or predicting the year ahead. We need no special research findings or astrological knowledge to reach such a conclusion.

The truth is that there is certainly much more to the year. As we place behind us another 12 months of history there is much to reflect on, much to remember, and much to learn from.

There is a deep consciousness for the need to preserve a sacred past, be it our history, values, integrity, or rich cultural and religious heritage. It is visible in diverse imagery. It could not have been emphasised better than the awards on National Day.

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There is an urgency that Bhutanese folklore history, which has been passed down in the oral tradition, must be documented. The development of literature itself, along with the print media, is competing with the fast-moving audio-visual media, especially with the invasion of more foreign, and entertaining content through electronic gadgets.

Then there were the growing pains of a fledgling private sector. The change in policy stirred things in the tourism and hospitality sector. Lengthy debates went back and forth, and reforms came, but some are still not convinced the change is for the better.

The Bhutanese entrepreneur, sometimes led by a herd mentality, showed a lack of initiative in seeking new ideas for business. This applied to a range of trends like laying futsal pitches, singing competitions, tailoring, and bakery. The construction business was not as lucrative as it appeared, with the spike in prices of materials, delays in projects, and a shortage of funds.

Consumers with more awareness took many businesses to Office of the Consumer Protection. Inflation and the relatively high cost of living in Thimphu were their reality.

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But a dramatic achievement came in the field of vaccination and public health screening. The waste management programme got a shot in the arm with a new committee. It has certainly changed the way residents deal with waste in major towns. Whether they can sustain, only time will tell.

If the main social concerns of 2022 were not new, they were relevant.

There was call for increased awareness of juvenile crime and youth problems. The high alcohol consumption and related behaviour were pointing to deeper social problems. Focus has returned to fighting the “drugs” menace.

Even as the education sector worked towards a more coherent long-term transformation, the need for skilled and semi-skilled people in all sectors was strongly felt. A bigger question was whether social conditions and peer pressure were pushing many skilled people to greener pastures beyond our borders.

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These were some of the thoughts which flitted through our minds over the past year. If the question is, why do we look back, the answer is that there is so much to learn from the past.

A simple case in point is the lessons from the pandemic. With cases of a new subvariant of Omicron surging in our neighbouring countries, the lessons we learnt must prompt us to shift to the safety mode. Instantly.

Water harvesting technology helps farms adapt to climate change

Tue, 12/27/2022 - 12:01

Chhimi Dema 

Five years ago, farmers from Salari village in Barshong, Tsirang had to carry water in buckets to irrigate their fields. 

A resident of Salari, Tshering Zangmo, woke up most days at midnight to fetch water for irrigation and drinking.  

Today, they enjoy proper sleep. The scarcity is no more because of climate-smart technology, water harvesting pond technology. 

The low-cost plastic-lined water harvesting pond technology can store rainwater or runoff water used during the dry or lean season for agriculture and household purposes.  

In Barshong, Tsirang, the water harvest technology was introduced in 2014 with support from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. 

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The technology was later modified and improved to suit the country’s topography.  

Tshering Zangmo installed two water harvesting ponds five years ago. 

She said that her vegetable production increased threefold. “This technology has greatly helped and increased my income from vegetable farming.” 

Tshering Zangmo pumps water from the pond and connects it to her field. The pond is kept open to collect rainwater; when not in use, she connects it to the drinking water line.

“The technology is convenient and helps strengthen our livelihood. I am grateful for it,” she said. 

Tshering Zangmo invested Nu 40,000 to construct two water-harvesting ponds. 

Water harvesting pond at Mendrelgang

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The water harvest pond depending on its size can store water from 16.97 to 41.60 cubic litres. 

A pond is dug first based on specifications the agriculture ministry developed. Based on the size of the pond, a tarpaulin sheet is laid inside to stop water from entering the ground. 

Farmers can store rainwater, water from perennial sources or connect with drinking pipelines. Water from it can be used by pumping or constructing pipes in the pond.

Currently, there are 230 farmers in Tsirang and 350 farmers in Dagana using water-harvesting technology. 

Tsirang’s agriculture officer, Dorji Gyeltshen, said that water-harvesting technology is the most important climate-smart technology in agriculture. “If we cannot adapt to climate change then we fall victim to it.” 

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The water-harvesting technology allows farmers to collect water which can be used during water scarcity or prolonged drought, Dorji Gyeltshen said. 

“The water cycle is disrupted because of climate change and it causes erratic rainfall. On rainy days we have to harvest the water to use it during its shortage. This is how we build resilience to climate change,” he added. 

Phurba Moktan, a farmer in Mendrelgang, constructed the water-harvesting technology five years ago. 

He has connected the pond to a bio-digester which provides both water and nutrients in the field. In winter, he pumps water from the spring near his house and connects it to the pond, and in summer, he collects rainwater. 

Phurba Moktan said that he could start commercial farming after the construction of the water-harvesting pond. “Before we could only produce vegetables to meet our household demand, beyond that it was difficult with the shortage of water.” 

Today in a month he earns from Nu 10,000 to Nu 15,000 selling vegetables such as cabbage and cauliflower. 

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s report on Coping with Water Scarcity in Agriculture states that the excessive use and degradation of water resources are threatening the sustainability of livelihoods dependent on water and agriculture. 

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Water scarcity is expected to intensify as a result of climate change with frequent and severe droughts affecting agriculture production, according to the report. 

FAO recommended improving agricultural water productivity sustainably; improving and climate-proofing irrigation services and infrastructure; and planning, designing and managing multiple water resources, among others to address water scarcity in the agriculture sector. 

Water storage (such as reservoirs and ponds) and water-supply infrastructure can be designed and managed in ways that more effectively serve the needs of water users for irrigation, livestock, gardens, habitats for fish and other aquatic resources, transport, hydroelectric power generation and the environment.

“Multiple benefits can be derived from the synergetic use of water resources, resulting in greater water-use efficiency and more services for all,” the report stated. 

In the country, agriculture research and development centres are introducing and testing various climate-smart technologies to build resilience against climate change. 

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Agriculture Research and Development Centre (ARDC) at Bajo is testing technologies such as biochar (charcoal-like substance that is made by burning organic material), bokashi (fermented organic matter), smart greenhouses, hydroponics, various types of irrigation, and other technologies before introducing them to the farmers. 

ARDC Bajo’s programme director also the focal for the water-harvesting technology, Pema Chofil, said that the water-harvesting technology is successful because it is low-cost and implemented on a household level. 

“The vegetable production success that Tsirang and Dagana farmers experience today is because of the water-harvesting technology,” he said. 

Pema Chofil said that with changing climate the world is facing water management issues. “Proper water management solves much of the problem in the agriculture sector.”

He said that farmers in other dzongkhags are interested in investing in water-harvesting technology. 

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Currently, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests with support from FAO, Green Climate Fund, and International Fund for Agriculture Development is working on various projects in the country to promote climate-smart approaches in the agriculture sector.

The story is funded by Bhutan Media Foundation’s climate change reporting grant. 

Co-op urged to resolve macaque export row

Tue, 12/27/2022 - 12:00

US and Cambodian authorities should work together to solve issues surrounding the arrest of a senior Cambodian agricultural official over the alleged “illegal” export of long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) to the US, local analysts urged.

Although a bail was ordered by the US court, Kry Masphal – director of the Department of Wildlife and Biodiversity at the Forestry Administration (FiA) under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries – remains in custody.

The US District Court for the Southern District of Florida on December 22 ordered the release on bail of Masphal and imposed on him a GPS transmitter amid an ongoing investigation.

Masphal was arrested last month in New York, while transiting the US on his way to a meeting of the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Panama. He was charged with conspiracy to smuggle the macaques into the country.

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The December 22 release order came after three days of bond hearings before US Judge Kathleen M Williams in Chambers in Miami, Florida, and took immediate effect, according to the court document seen by The Post.

“For reasons discussed on the record during the aforementioned hearings, [Masphal] is ordered released as of the time of entry of this order and is to be fitted with a GPS monitoring system immediately upon release by the pre-trial services office in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York,” said the order.

The document stated that Masphal would have to report to the Cambodian embassy in Washington and remain there until December 27.

“On December 27, 2022, [Masphal] will report to the pre-trial services office for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, where he will be re-fitted with another GPS monitoring system.

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“[Masphal] will then reside at a residence in the Eastern District of Virginia where he will remain for the duration of this litigation. He will remain at this residence on home confinement, with no exceptions, until further order of this court,” it said.

According to agriculture minister Dith Tina, Masphal had not been released as of December 24.

“Despite [the] court order, DMC officers are still detaining Mr Kry. What happens there?” he tweeted.

As of December 25, Masphal had not been released in accordance with the Court’s order, said ministry spokeswoman Im Rachna.

“We are waiting for the US authorities to implement the court decision,” she told The Post.

Masphal was arrested in the US in November.

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The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida (USAO-SDFL) indicted him for conspiring with a Hong Kong-based company to “illegally” import macaques – sometimes referred to in US legal terms as non-human primates (NHPs) – into the US between December 2017 and January 2022.

He is one of the eight people indicted by the USAO-SDFL for allegedly conspiring with locally-registered Vanny Bio Research (Cambodia) Co Ltd to supply the company’s farms with macaques to be brought into the US in violation of its laws and the CITES Convention.

Keo Omaliss, director-general of the FiA, has also been indicted by the US court.

Cambodia has staunchly denied all the allegations. The agriculture ministry emphasised in a recent statement that the macaques are not captured in the wilderness and smuggled out, but instead bred and raised in captivity under humane conditions that are hygienic and conform to international standards.

Only the macaques born and raised in captivity are exported, as is obligated by the CITES Convention and applicable laws, the statement added.

Last week, The Post reached out to the US embassy in Phnom Penh to seek clarification on the case and what could be done through diplomatic channels.

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Stephanie Arzate, the embassy spokesperson, said only that the US is a leader in the global fight against the illicit trade in wildlife and views the trafficking of protected wildlife as a threat to good governance and rule of law while destabilising the environment.

“The US values its cooperation with Cambodia in areas of mutual interest, including efforts to combat wildlife trafficking,” she said.

According to Tina, the number of macaques allowed for export to the US in 2020 was 17,821, in 45 shipments, of which 12,978 were authorised to Vanny Bio Research.

He said the macaques were legally exported in accordance with the Cambodian law and CITES Convention, noting that “none of the shipment has been returned for any reason”. This, he said, implies that if the US side cares about wildlife, they should not have allowed any of wild macaques, if found, to be used and should instead return them to the wild of their origin.

Kin Phea, director of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said Cambodian officials should not be the ones held responsible. Should these alleged crimes really have occurred, the companies involving in exporting and importing the animals are the ones that ought to be held accountable.

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“In this case, there should be close cooperation between the two governments. A review should be conducted to ascertain whether any crimes really took place. The companies involved should be held accountable. It is them that should be facing charges or arrest, should a crime have taken place.

“An official who was merely transiting through the US should not have been arrested for alleged participation in the illegal wildlife trade. It is not officials who make these trades, but companies,” he added.

He said if the arrest was made due to a misunderstanding, it could have a negative effect on the bilateral relationship between the two countries.

Contributed by

Niem Chheng

Mini Dragon League begins

Tue, 12/27/2022 - 11:59

Thinley Namgay  

Thirteen teams from Thimphu and Paro are competing in the second edition of Mini Dragon League which began yesterday at the Changlimithang Stadium.   

The league is one of the grassroots development programmes organised by the Bhutan Football Federation (BFF).  

The tournament is divided into four groups: U-8 boys; U-10 boys; U-12 boys; and U-12 girls. 

Twelve matches were played yesterday among the under (U)-12, and U-10 boys’ categories. 

In the U-12 category, Young Dragon Football Academy (FA) overpowered Young Warrior FA 14-0, Thimphu City FA humbled Friends United FA 10-3, and Paro FA beat Brotherhood FA 4-2.  

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While Transport United FA won against Druk Lhayul FA 3-0, Junior FA humbled Tensung FA 7-1, and Paro FA (Thimphu) routed CG-7 FA 8-5.  

In U-10 group, Paro FA won against Brotherhood FA 11-2, Transport United FA defeated Druk Lhayul FA 3 -0, and Junior FA won 2 -1 against Tensung FA.   

Meanwhile, Young Dragon FA defeated Young Warrior FA 7-2, CG-7 FA won against Paro FA (Thimphu) 7-0, and Thimphu City FA won against Friends United FA 7- 4. 

 The U-8 boys and U-12 girls’ teams will play tomorrow.   

Considering the age and strength, game lengths for the Mini Dragon League are less than the usual 90-minute game length for older players.

Coordinator Yeshey Dorji from the BFF said, “The sizes of the pitch in each category are different than the usual ground. For instance, for the U-10 category, the pitch size is 25 metres by 35 metres.”   

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“The U-8 teams will play for 40 minutes and 50 minutes is for U-10 teams.  The U-12 teams can play for an hour,” Yeshey Dorji said.    

He said that this year’s league is more like a festival for the kids as well as the parents. “Everyone can come and enjoy.” 

Yeshey Dorji said that to give equal opportunity to other children, Mini Dragon League would be soon organised in Gelephu.  

Besides promoting football, the tournament intends to ensure mass participation, game experience and showcase talents, and meaningfully engage children in the winter break.   

The tournament will end next month.

His Majesty The King graces inauguration of Kurizam-Gyalpoizhing Highway

Tue, 12/27/2022 - 11:58

His Majesty The King graced the inauguration of the Kurizam-Gyalpoizhing Highway, built under the DeSuung National Service Road Project yesterday. The inauguration ceremony was presided over by His Holiness the Je Khenpo. 

The road was widened and improved to a higher standard with the aim to pilot quality road construction, develop best practices that can be disseminated in the industry and to develop a critical mass of the necessary skills, processes and practices in this critical area of nation building. 

This pioneering road project was undertaken by DeSuung in partnership with the Ministry of Works and Human Settlements following the highly successful water projects implemented by de-suups across 20 dzongkhags over the past years.  

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The  project was designed to build capabilities of the De-Suups in all aspects of road construction so that they can become skilled workers, competent supervisors, effective managers and capable contractors in the future. 

Towards that end, the project recruited a road designer, a material engineer and a project manager from a well reputed Japanese company to train the de-suups and oversee the project. The objective of the project was to benchmark the quality of Bhutanese road construction to leading international standards with adequately designed road geometry, slope protection works, drainages, cross drainages, and proper road signs. It was also to sensitize and impart the best work culture, ethics and professionalism to our youth. 

The 7.3km road was built in exactly one year, starting from December 17, 2021. A total amount of Nu 238 million was spent including procurement of specialised machines, hiring of international experts, and other trainings and logistics. A total of 167 de-suups were engaged in the project. Six of them are now trained as skilled operators in specialised machines, three in surveying and 13 as skilled construction workers. All of them are equipped to assist and understand general construction practices. 

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While in Gyalpoizhing, His Majesty also visited the Bongderma Gyalsung Academy Site and granted an audience to the people working there.