UNDP Bhutan and the Loden Foundation have come up with a different strategy to support the government’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Called the Loden-UNDP Bhutan Covid-19 Response Fund, the special funding window calls for innovative business proposals from Bhutanese individuals and groups.
According to a joint press release, the business proposal should be on how to directly address challenges and problems in the country, as a result of Covid-19 pandemic. Individuals or groups, after selection, could avail interest and collateral free loan support of up to Nu 1.5 Million per project.
“We need to pay attention to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly on vulnerable individuals,” Resident Representative to UNDP Bhutan, Azusa Kubota said.
“That is why we are working with Loden to help mitigate the social and economic consequences and social crisis of the pandemic.”
The press release also stated that this will not only let young people make concrete contributions, but also support Bhutan’s collective efforts to build resilience in the society and economy.
“At a time of crisis, we all feel helpless. One of the most effective ways to gain a sense of empowerment is to be part of the solution,” Azusa Kubota said.
The applicants are expected to explain how to address the problems and challenges imposed on Bhutan through agricultural production, job creation, or tackling emerging needs using innovation, technology and nature-based solutions.
Startups and existing businesses that have potential for upscaling can also apply. A select panel of judges will also review proposals every Friday until the call for proposal is withdrawn.
The application process will be done online and on the phone in support of calls for physical distancing to combat the spread of Covid-19.
The prime minister says he would be the happiest if landlords volunteer
The government is wishing that some landlords will show their benevolent side by voluntarily waiving a few months’ house rents for tenants affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The government estimates that up to 12,000 employees could have lost their jobs. Hotel operators and nightclubs that pay high rents also remain affected due to loss of business.
“I would be the happiest person if some house owners volunteer to forgo a few months’ rents,” Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said at the meet the press on March 27. “But I can only make such requests to house owners as the government cannot make such rules,” he said.
Dr Lotay Tshering said that benevolent gestures would be appreciated the most during difficult times as the Covid-19 pandemic. “The government will appreciate such gestures from landlords. More than us, the public will be thankful,” the prime minister said.
He cited a welcoming development where a hotel operator in Thimphu with 22 staff had come forward to offer monetary support to the government.
“The hotel operator also assured us that he would not lay off the employees despite the loss to his business. He wanted to take care of the employees even if it would force him sell his inherited properties,” he said.
The prime minister said that the government could not ask landlords to forgo house rents.
He said landlords risk their houses being taken by the bank for inability to deposit loan instalments on time. “The government hasn’t invested in their buildings,” he said.
House owners say that such measures are possible only if the banks defer the payment of loan instalments.
However, observers say that rent waivers by many house owners during such a difficult time are actually possible as not all the tenants of a landlord would be affected by loss of jobs.
A Thimphu-based hotel operator recently left the business due to loss of income. “I don’t know when the tourism will be opened again. I am looking for other options,” she said.
About 700 tour guides, mostly freelancers, have registered with the Guides Association of Bhutan (GAB), seeking alternative sources of income.
The GAB expects to deploy the laid-off guides soon, according to the GAB’s executive director, Sonam Tashi.
The prime minister also said that some affected companies had started sending their employees on unpaid leave. He requested the employers not to take such decisions.
Dr Lotay Tshering said sending employees on unpaid leave was equivalent to laying them off. The government, he said, would provide support to affected business enterprises.
“The business houses made profits with the support of those employees during good times. If they manage to take care of their employees by bearing some loss during such times, the government will provide further support,” he said.
The prime minister said that while business houses and persons were looking for government support, they should also reciprocate.
The labour ministry, which is looking into the issue, has notified that any employer laying off their employee must comply with the labour and employment Act.
According to the Act, an employer laying off employees must submit a written notification to the chief labour administrator.
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
Although Trashigang town is not as busy as it used to be and local businesses are affected by Covid-19, retailers claim they have all required essential items.
Daejung Tshongkhang, a whole seller in Trashigang town, stocked 48 metric tonnes (MT) of rice that would last for three months. Another grocery shop, Pema Bakery has stocked 24MT of rice in his new store at Melphey, Trashigang.
A proprietor of Daejung Tshongkhang, Wangchuk Tenzin, said after border gate was sealed, people rushed for essential food items. “I sold trucks of rice but it became normal now. People might have understood the message of the government.”
He stocked all essentials items after trade officials asked him to keep enough stocks.
Wangchuk Tenzin said that after the border was sealed, he stopped selling item in large quantities. “It would be a problem if we sell in bulk. It is mainly for national food security reason,” he said. “It’s our responsibilities to distribute equally at this time.”
Owner of Pema Bakery, Yeshi Lhamo, doesn’t have enough space in her store and opened a new store at Melphey area to stock more essentials items.
The only problem Yeshi Lhamo said was the inflated cost of transportation, as truck charges about Nu 55,000 to reach load to Trashigang from Phuntsholing via Thimphu, which is more than triple the charge of Nu 15000 via Samdrupjongkhar.
“We are told that there were no laborers to load goods from Samdrupjongkhar,” she said. “We don’t have any other options than paying the charges.”
She said she doesn’t sell in larger quantities as items.
There are four FCB depots in Trashigang. More than 200MT of rice, 33.01MT of edible oil and 16.056MT of salts were stocked.
FCB’s depot manager in Trashigang, Tshering Yangtsho, said people need not worry, as depots would received more essential items.
He said that they are selling as per guidelines of national food security reserve, where a household would get two 25kg of rice bags, five litres of edible oil, a packet of everyday milk powder and one kg of salt per day.
In Trashiyangtse, a grocery shop owner, Ten Dorji, said people in the dzongkhag need not worry as Food Corporation of Bhutan stocked enough food items.
He said stocked items in shops would also last for about two months.
Shopkeepers said they stopped selling goods in large quantities.
There is no clue on the two monks who went missing on Friday, March 27.
The monks, aged 18 and 16 of Trashigang Rabdey, were found missing at 8pm while taking attendance in the Lhakhang after the evening prayer. The monks were at the Gomphukora Lhakhang for their usual rituals.
“The monk were best friends and from the same village,” said a source.
A search team member said that there is possibility of the monks being washed away by the river. They found the belongings including robes, slippers and wallets on the banks of Drangmechu, 150 meters away from Gomphukora Lhakhang.
The rescue team that includes police, Desssups, Taxi driver, Red Cross volunteers and dzongkhag officials are searching along the Drangmechhu.
The world now has close to 700,000 Covid-19 positive cases. The number of countries affected by the pandemic stands at 199.
We also know that the world still does not have specific medicine to prevent or treat the disease. According to WHO, possible vaccines and specific drug treatments are being tested through clinical trials. This means the pandemic will continue to affect many societies and communities around the world.
In the face of such a threat, the only sensible thing to do is providing care to the affected people. It has been found that most patients recover where there is supportive care. In Bhutan, free healthcare has been the biggest advantage, but as imported cases grow supportive care will become expensive.
What is heartening at such difficult times is the support that people showing. Many individuals and businesses are contributing in cash and kind to help the government fight the pandemic. Those who can afford are bearing the expenses of facility quarantine. Many offices are preparing for the worse but there is no need to make contributions compulsory.
The kind of success we have achieved in preventing the disease is thanks largely to compliance. Bhutanese people are taking health advisories to heart. And that is very important. In the countries where positives cases are growing rapidly, the problem has been with people’s reluctance to adhere to health and travel warnings.
What we need to know is that we have only imported cases. With stringent measures in place in the country, there is no danger of the disease spreading like wildfire. We should keep it this way and this can only happen with personal care. Travel less. Avoid crowd. Maintain hygiene. Clean your hands frequently, cover your cough with the bend of elbow or tissue, and maintain a distance of at least 1 metre (3 feet) from people who are coughing or sneezing. These are the only tested ways to keep ourselves safe from the disease.
Bhutan is unlikely to come to the situation that some countries are currently faced with. However, we cannot take the problem lightly. That is why the kind of support people are willing to give the government is encouraging.
Even though their businesses have been badly affected, hoteliers are helping the government by making space for facility quarantine. In the days to come, we might need more. Restaurateurs small and big are delivering meals. Those in the transport sector are all set to provide emergency services free.
Most important, the big names in the business are planning big.
It is at such trying times that the Bhutanese show the best in them. With such positivity, tackling Covid-19 ought not to be intractable.
Contributions in cash and kind are welcome but we must not make it mandatory.
Rajesh Rai | Samtse
On Friday, at around 10:35pm, Ramesh Kumar Ghalley received an unexpected call from his brother. He was told to urgently dig up the earth from his courtyard and look for coal.
A paste out of it would ward away coronavirus (Covid-19) if smeared on the forehead, he was told.
Ramesh dug up his courtyard and found some black soil, which he believed was coal. He and his wife made a paste and smeared before going to bed again. The couple also smeared their children’s forehead while they were still sleeping.
This was a rumour that spread as fast as the Covid-19 fake news in remote village of Khenpagaon in Tading gewog, Samtse. Villagers were told that they should dig the courtyard below the roof edges of their houses and unearth coal. The coal paste was to be smeared on the forehead to be immune to the Covid-19. Villagers told Kuensel that a great lama had spelled this for the safety of people as the lama couldn’t reach all the places across the country.
“I asked my brother if it could be done in the morning,” Ramesh, 58, said, adding his brother explained him it was the last day.
For one whole day on March 27, villagers were busy digging for the “coal”.
Ramesh’s brother En Bahadur Ghalley said he got the news from his sister.
“I dug and found the black substances and used it as advised,” he said.
Pema Wangmo knew about it on March 28 morning from a villager. She was dejected because nobody shared it with her.
However, she was able to get the coal dirt and she smeared it on everyone’s forehead in her family.
Tara Maya Ghalley said she doesn’t know much about the virus but heard that it was a disease that has killed many people. She also used the coal.
Meanwhile, villagers realized it was a hoax. Everything has returned to normal in Khenpagaon. The rumour had spread to other villages. In Ngawang Dramtoe, most Doyaps had also dug up their courtyards in search for the coal.
Tading gup Jagath Bahadur Ghalley said that everything is under control.
“We were also on duty. We told villagers it was a fake news and not to believe or panic,” he said.
The gup also said they have advised people to not gather and not to believe in any rumours or fake news until there are some government notices.
Within six hours after the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) uploaded a google form yesterday afternoon, 216 people working in the tourism and hospitality industry registered online for employment as of 6:45pm yesterday.
This is part of an employment support scheme TCB worked in collaboration with its partners in government and private sector for those working in the industry and were severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
TCB stated that while the government would make the formal announcement of the scheme through the economic stimulus plan, they are initiating the online registration so that they could pilot the online registration and improve it if necessary.
Those registered, according to TCB officials, would be provided with temporary jobs and other engagement projects during the travel restriction period and until tourism returns to normal.
The job seekers are expected to be employed in four areas of work, which includes infrastructure and manufacturing, surveys, studies or services, training and reskilling and waste management.
Of the 216 people registered as of yesterday evening, 81.5 percent were male and 18.5 percent female. The highest number of those registered are guides making it 67.6 percent followed by those working in hotels at 15.2 percent.
With more than 57.7 percent choosing survey, studies and services, it is the most preferred job followed by 26.6 percent choosing training and reskilling and 9.9 percent choosing infrastructure and manufacturing, according to TCB officials.
TCB urges everyone interested to register at the earliest so that jobs and similar engagement works could be started. “While we are targeting full-time salaried employees of tourism, others could also apply but they would have to work in one of the four areas.”
Meanwhile, a tour guide said he has opted for survey, studies or services and he hopes it starts soon. “As of now, it is just a registration. I have families to feed and am getting desperate.”
Bhutan Airlines will bring home 93 students from Sri Lanka today.
According to a source, the parents chattered the flight paying Nu 37,000 each. The flight is expected to land today at 4pm.
Meanwhile, Drukair’s new airbus A5-JKW brought home 140 passengers –138 students, one dependent and a minor—studying in Lovely Professional University in Punjab.
The Bhutanese students boarded the flight from Chandigarh on March 28.
The college was closed on March 13 and since then the students were in the college expecting classes to resume soon.
With the lockdown in India, the deputy officer of international affairs of LPU said that special arrangements were made to transfer students from college campus to Chandigarh.
She said that free transportation along with 15 members of LPU including medical staff, administrative officers, and security officials, among others.
Although many believed it was a special flight, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had issued a notification on March 27 stating that the Drukair organised the flight to Chandigarh for a specific government purpose with special approval from the Indian government.
It states that since the flight will return empty from Chandigarh, special approval has also been obtained from the Government of India to bring as many Bhutanese as can be accommodated in the aircraft.
Taking advantage of its capacity, Drukair brought home 140 Bhutanese from Chandigarh; tickets were sold on a first come first serve basis.
Due to the lockdown in India, the Indian authorities allowed the movement of people from one location to Chandigarh airport only.
“It is not an evacuation flight,” states the press release.
According to Sonia Giri, the students had been studying online through University Management Portal which provides access to study materials. Students can also submit their projects through the portal.
Usually the college had mid-term exams around this time of the year, however, with the lockdown the exam was also postponed until further notice.
However, there are still more than 80 students in the college.
“We are hopeful that both governments would help to evacuate the remaining students in the college,” she said.
Five swab samples from those who had flu-like symptoms were sent to the Royal Centre for Disease Control for testing.
The recent directives from the government to encourage farmers in all dzongkhags to increase the production of food items could be a small but significant step. It has been long overdue.
I grew up in a self-sufficient home where my family did not import anything except salt and clothes. Same narratives have come to us through the voices of the elders and the pages of history, but it appears like a joke today due to our policy errors.
It was a national shame that in the aftermath of the rupee crisis in 2012, chili made it to the list of smuggled goods in Bhutan and, today, one kilogram of chili cost Nu 300. We imported 10,454 metric tonnes (MT) of vegetables, worth Nu 152.96 million (M) in six months from January to July 2019 while we were busy making posters about Organic Bhutan or drafting 21st-century paper perfect economic blueprint. No one is responsible for it and the reasons and excuses are plenty: hydropower myopia, climate change, the drying up of springs and water bodies, land degradation, pests and disease, rural-urban migration, and the list goes on.
But the real reason for the current situation of Bhutanese agriculture is because we take vegetables from Falakatta for granted. We make investments of billions of ngultrums in all the sectors except in agriculture. This is compounded by the misguided policy of acquiring prime agricultural land for urban expansion. Chhanjiji, Olakha-Babesa, Semtokha, Hejo, Bajo, Debsi, Taba, Khuruthang were prime agricultural land that we have lost to urbanisation. Bajo township was built on the land that housed the erstwhile Centre for Agriculture Research and Development (CARD) that complemented the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)-funded Punakha-Wangdue Valley Development project. Instead of building on the foundations of such noble projects, the area became a model township with same buildings and centre of controversial sand mining business to fuel urban development on agricultural lands on other parts of Bhutan.
It is not incorrect to say that our new towns export nothing but import everything to sustain it from chips to meats to vegetables to clothes to carbonated drinks. Most of the infrastructure and buildings in these towns are built by the masons and carpenters from India, adding to the informal leakage of the revenue earned from tourism and hydropower.
We have been investing in the industrial estates and since 2006 with limited success and questionable sustainability. Bondeyma in Mongar, Jigmeling in Sarpang, Dhamdum in Samtse, Montanga in Samdrupjongkhar cost government Nu 2,450 million and many are yet to take off.
Given the geopolitical situation in our region, investment in agriculture must be seen an opportunity. Agriculture is an integral part of our culture, the foundation that supported the claims that Bhutan has always been an independent nation. Our directives need to be supported by policy actions. Bhutan can learn and do better than Falakatta or Sikkim that share similar climatic conditions like ours. Our policymakers must not just make a one day visit to these places for Facebook photographs but aspire for Sarpang-Gelephu, Sibsoo-Samtse, Bhangtar-Daifam, Punakha-Wangdue, Thimphu-Paro Agricultural Corporations. Such an investment will not only mitigate the imported and inorganic vegetable flooding in the markets of Bhutan but, more importantly, reinforce our sovereignty and food security.
Institutions like the College of Natural Resources, National Research and Development Centre for Aquaculture and Centre of Rural Development can collaborate with North Bengal Agricultural University and improve on University-Industry partnership concepts like Experimental Farms, Farmer’s Clubs and Organisations. The investment arm of the government, DHI, must incorporate agriculture as an important avenue to strengthen Bhutan in the next decade. It must look to invest in agricultural economics in coordination with agencies like MoEA, MoAF, FCB and the financial institutions to expedite the self-reliance project. DHI’s investment in a dairy plant in Chenary in Trashigang is a good example.
Above all, the government must urgently declare agriculture an all-time national agenda.
Contributed by, Dhrubaraj Sharma
2nd year PhD student
Queensland University of Technology, Australia
In the wake of Coronavirus (Covid – 19) relentless momentum at its pinnacle, every country in the world has shaken over how the pandemic has crushed the global economy, more severe than the ‘Spanish flu of 1918’, ‘oil crises of 1973’ and ‘Ebola outbreak of 2014’.
The epicentre of an outbreak of Covid – 19 has shifted from China in Asia towards Europe and now spiking in the United States of America, while the cases are sharply increasing in our neighbouring country India on a daily basis.
Though the Covid – 19 cases in Bhutan are contained at the moment, with the return of Bhutanese studying and working abroad in particular from Europe, the USA, and other countries, the chances of Covid – 19 cases are likely to increase in the current situation.
His Majesty the King, the Government, Hospitals, Health Professionals and Health Experts are stretching to the breaking point to transform the course of this pandemic in our Country. It has been succeeded thus far following the footsteps of severe measures that countries like South Korea, Japan, and even China have followed and achieved to break the chain of Pandemic. It is achieved mainly through rapid testing, quarantine, and isolation of patients in addition to an early lockdown of the outbreak epicentres.
During this situation, while the Government is taking every measure to contend the Covid– 19, let we wholeheartedly support every effort of the Government gracefully and undergo quarantine for the safety of oneself, for the safety of our own family members, for the safety of our society, for the safety of our community and for the safety of our Nation.
As we are all aware of a high cost and economic burden to the Government during this isolation, quarantine and lockdown period. Still, we are standing behind glaring at each other and leaning towards the Government to completely fund us rather than taking initiatives to fund ourselves for our family members or kinsman in the quarantine units instead. What a shame? I opine that more than 80 percent of the parents of the students and the people who are in the quarantine unit today can afford to pay on their own. Our fellow communities and friends, can we take ‘One Step Forward’ and grasp this as an opportunity to serve Tsa-Wa-Sum by sharing the cost and reduce the economic burden to the Government.
Your small contribution and a sacrifice could pile up a huge to make a difference in curving the current situation as to Julia Carney’s immortal line “Little drops of water, little grains of sand, makes the mighty ocean, and the pleasant land”.
No doubt that the economic downturn caused by Covid – 19 has brought hiccups in our business communities too, like elsewhere around the world and often we hear loud voices for the economic stimulus plan from the Government to support them immediately. Consider the current situation in Business as a regular phenomenon as there are always ‘boom and bust’ in business and prepare to absorb this momentary shock.
Our fellow business communities, can we wait for a moment and gaze carefully on the timeline of our business rather than jumping and asking for support from the Government during this most difficult time. Look carefully at your business trends on the windfall of profits of the past, take ‘One Step Forward’ and utilise a percentage of your past profit to sustain your business during this current situation.
The John F Kennedy, the 35th US President’s said, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. Let us not ask rather serve Tsa-Wa-Sum wholeheartedly.
There is no time to waste and this is not a time to stand still and lean towards the Government for support. This is the time to come and take ‘One Step Forward’, follow the footsteps of His Majesty the King, the Government, the People, and the Nation to fight collectively against Covid – 19 during this most difficult time.
Your ‘One Step Forward’ can break the chain of this Pandemic, together as one we can succeed, we can win!
Contributed by Nar Bahadur Khatiwora,
A family of six lost all their belongings in a fire in Dekiling, Bumthang on March 28.
The fire broke around 3 am.
It was learnt that the family recently bought basic necessities worth of Nu 50,000 including mobile phone procured for e-learning for the kids.
The father while trying to contain the fire suffered minor burn injuries on the right hand.
The cause of the fire is not known and its under investigation.
It took around three hours for the Police, local residents, and desuups to contain the fire.
Meanwhile the dzongkhag administration handed His Majesty’s Semso to the victim.
Yangchen C Rinzin
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said it was not compulsory to teach students through e-learning and there was never a government directive asking to do so.
He emphasised, however, there was a need for students to continue learning.
This is the second time Lyonchhen has clarified the confusion surrounding e-learning in the wake of Covid-19 cases in the country. Following the closure of schools due to the pandemic since March 5 there have been hues and cries among teachers and parents on e-learning in different schools.
There are complaints on social media that children are bogged down with assignments. Some do not have access to internet or gadgets that facilitate e-learning. Many also complained that data charges were exorbitant.
Different schools have tried online education or e-learning through google classrooms and G Suite. Some of the schools are using social media applications like Wechat or WhatsApp where teachers assign students to read certain chapters and send questions. The children are then asked to answer the questions and send picture of their answers.
Many students in the remote parts of the country lack access to internet. Some do not own smartphone or television set. Parents are unable to afford gadgets to facilitate e-learning. Parents say that the new teaching method adopted by schools was more of like distance education where students are provided a list of reading materials, a chapter from textbooks without explaining basic concepts.
Working parents are also faced with problems. They find it difficult to monitor and help children learn. A mother of an 11-year-old, Yangki, said students were given several assignments and always landed up doing homework late into the night.
“We appreciate that teachers are trying to help and are doing their best, but they could reduce the assignment or questions,” she said.
Many also shared teachers should not evaluate students based on e-Learning, as some are doing.
Another parent, Tshering Dendup, said: “Schools can pick up from lessons from where it was left before March 5. More than considering to complete syllabus, the priority is the dire situation Covid-19 has created.”
Many, however, are of the view that such an initiative could be continued as learning experience and to contribute towards innovating e-learning platform and teacher-learning approach.
Considering the concerns raised by people, Lyonchhen said that the government might have to look into developing standard operating procedures on how to keep students engaged through e-learning.
“We did not give any directive to teach children through e-learning but teachers came forward with such initiatives for the well-being students,” Lyonchhen said. “Complaints indicate that parents are bogged down and should understand the value of teachers.”
Lyonchhen said there was no clear information on how to carry out e-learning.
“I do not support teaching through Wechat or WhatsApp although I support e-learning,” Lyonchhen said. “We’ll have to have one policy on how to go with e-learning.”
Lyonchhen expressed concerns that the government might have to look into how to cover such gaps so that children have access to e-learning.
However, an official from the education ministry, during a live interview, clarified that teachers should not give any assignments or homework through e-learning.
Official said that instead children could be helped or monitored and ensure they watch e-learning through Bhutan Broadcasting Service which began from yesterday. This is mainly to keep students engaged.
Education ministry issued a guideline to all the teacher yesterday stating that because of the need to prioritise the intent of the curriculum during an emergency situation, the schools for time being should stop teaching prescribed curriculum.
Teachers should instead implement Education in Emergency developed by Royal Education Council based on thematic approach and curriculum for respective key stages.
Many people also suggested that should the situation persist beyond April, the government should consider changing the school cycle. Some suggested making use of weekends and summer and winter vacations to continue school.
Others say that if worse comes to worst classes could be called off for the whole year because the priority right now is to keep students save.
“But education ministry can continue to engage students through online lessons. Losing one academic year will not have any major impact on the child,” a parent said.
Meanwhile, schools across the country are collecting data on how many students have access to internet, smart phones, and television.
Many have not filed their taxes
Business Income Tax (BIT) and Corporate Income Tax (CIT) filing for 2019 has been deferred until June 30.
As if they knew it was coming, not many paid the CIT or the BIT although the deadline to file the tax ends on March 31, two working days from today.
Those filing CIT and BIT have been asked to refer the guidelines at www.mof.gov.bt, the Department of Revenue and Customs (DRC) announced yesterday.
Out of the total of 426 registered CIT payers, only 86 had filed tax returns as of March 26, according to records with the revenue and customs department.
The number of those who filed their tax returns is smaller in the business category.
There are a total of 40,267 registered BIT payers (both those that submit accounts and that do not submit accounts). Out of the total only 21,342 have filed their tax returns.
Officials however clarified that some of the enterprises may not have operated.
The government yesterday announced that in view of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering announced this yesterday at the meet the press. “It’s fine if people do not file by the end of the regular deadline,” he said.
Business enterprises and registered companies file their tax returns on a self-assessed basis to the Regional Revenue and Customs Office (RCO) of registration with March 31 of every year. The tax returns can be either filed online or by visiting the RRCO.
An official from the department said that the department was yet to receive a formal directive from the government as of yesterday. He said that unlike in the past, he noticed late filling this year.
Corporations are levied a CIT of 30 percent on net profit. CIT is payable by those entities registered under the Company’s Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan.
BIT is a non-corporate business tax. It is also levied at the rate of 30 percent on net profit.
BIT is payable by all unincorporated business entities holding a trade license or registration certificate issued by the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Despite the complete lockdown ordered by the government of India, the second gate that connects Phuentsholing to the infamous Bau Bazaar in Jaigaon was a busy place yesterday.
Bolero pickup trucks and trucks carrying essential goods were continuously let in after disinfection. By evening, more than 200 vehicles had entered Phuentsholing.
These trucks brought in vegetables, other essential commodities, and raw materials for the Pasakha industrial estate. While the essential commodities and vegetables were directed to the mini dry port, the industrial bound trucks took the Northern Bypass road and headed straight to Pasakha.
The quantity may have reduced, but the import of vegetables and fruits are continuing. The lockdown may have caused some inconvenience, but the problem is only with shortage of labourers to unload and transfer the goods. With the lockdown, labourers who enter Phuentsholing for odd jobs were restricted.
On March 23, more than 600 labourers exited Phuentsholing.
However, the regional labour office deployed 66 unemployed youth and adults at the dry port to replace the lost hands. Labour officials said there are more jobless youth who would take up the job.
Depending on the load size, the groups are charging Nu 1,000 to Nu 5,000.
About 10 youth from a recovery volunteer group known as Happiness Centre Recovery Voluntary Group (HCRVG) in Phuentsholing has grabbed the opportunity to earn for the centre’s sustenance.
The centre’s co-founder Ugyen Dorji, 33, said they are working since March 26.
“We are charging Nu 1,200 to Nu 1500 for transferring goods to Bhutanese vehicles from the Indian vehicles,” he said, adding that it was a sustenance opportunity for the centre.
Grocery stores in Phuentsholing refilled their stocks yesterday with consignments arriving by the truckloads.
Hundreds of industrial bound trucks that were stuck across the border also entered Phuentsholing yesterday.
At a press conference yesterday, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the government would ensure continuous supply of vegetables. He said the government had made special arrangements to ensure the supply of vegetables until the local produce could substitute.
The problem is not with supply, it is with transporters, he said.
“If there is shortage, I will go and bring the vegetables,” the prime minister said emphasizing that there is no need to panic or hoard vegetables.
By late afternoon yesterday, the farmer’s market saw truckloads of vegetables come from Phuentsholing. “People are unnecessarily panicking,” said a wholesale dealer. “There are enough for everyone and we keep receiving vegetables,” she said.
The only vegetable in short supply is chili. “There is no chili in the market,” said a vendor. “The chili that many bought thinking it was local is not local. With the import of vegetables scrutinised, chilies will not reach the market,” he said.
We are into the third week since the first Covid-19 positive case was reported in the country. As of now, we have only three positive cases. All are imported.
There is no stone left unturned to stop the spread of the virus. His Majesty The King is providing leadership and guidance. Touring the southern borders, His Majesty is ensuring that Covid-19 or problems related to it is not affecting any Bhutanese.
We are well ahead in terms of preparedness when most countries are overwhelmed with the disease. Our region is prone to pandemic. Population, poverty and ignorance make us vulnerable. It is now predicted that the number of cases could spiral out of control and make South Asia the next epicentre of Covid-19.
It is scary. But we are preparing to the extent that the advice is that there is no harm in being over prepared.
The government is doing everything in its capacity to ensure that the people are safe. They are also calling on the people to cooperate. The citizens are cooperating. Those quarantined for their safety, safety of family, community and the country are sacrificing a lot. One lost a parent when in quarantine and still chose to stay in for the safety of others. The sacrifices are immense.
Covid-19 has brought the economy to a standstill. The private sector is the worst affected. Some businesses have closed door, some have lost jobs some are on the verge of losing. We are beginning to feel the impact. But those affected are not demanding the government to act soon. They know the priority. They are waiting and the government knows they are waiting.
But we are Bhutanese and we come together to face disasters together. The government has not asked for help as yet. But individuals, organisations, associations, well-wishers and even those living far away and affected badly have the country and the people in mind. The contributions, small and big, are encouraging. We can be assured that the Tha Damtsi, a unique character of Bhutanese is still alive.
The story of a shopkeeper sponsoring two mobile phones to students so that they can get access to the online lessons, the story of farmers collecting rice to contribute to hotels serving as facility quarantine and the groups donating television sets are all heart-wrenching. Politics have taken a back seat with political parties supporting the government in its fight to keep the people safe.
With guidance from the helm, we are well aware of our priorities. Our concerns are simple but important. We are concerned about our students missing classes, traders losing business, youth losing jobs and people not getting vegetables. While many countries are not finding quarantine facility, we are even concerned of how to keep ours not only safe but also entertained.
The Prime Minister and his team is calling for cooperation and assuring those affected that there are plans to help them out. Some have already started rolling out. Filing business income and corporate income taxes are deferred, fiscal and monetary policies are being fine-tuned to be announced soon.
As we enter the last week of a busy month, we look forward to a new beginning. Together we can fight Covid-19, together we can rise above all challenges.
This is the Bhutanese spirit.
The right to privacy is a fundamental right under Article 7(19) of our Constitution, which states: “A person shall not be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence nor to unlawful attacks on the person’s honour and reputation”. Article 7(9) gives the right to privacy not only to the person himself or herself but also to the family from arbitrary or unlawful interference. The protection of privacy has become ever more important. With the ever-increasing number of Bhutanese on social media and as the so-called investigative journalism becomes bolder, the vulnerabilities of leakage of personal information to the public is high. In name of investigative journalism or breaking news or to seek popularity on social media by some netizens or to fulfil vested interests, many innocent citizens may become a victim.
Alan Westin defined privacy as “the claim of individuals, groups, or institutions to determine for themselves when, how, and to what extent information about them is communicated to others”. Therefore, the right to privacy is not just protection from divulging personal information but also the right to protect how to divulge and to what extent. This also indicates that, though a person may agree to give his or her personal information, a person who receives the information does not have the right to use the information as one wishes. A scholar said that in a democracy, it is our responsibility to “develop privacy standards that are capable of structuring the right kind of information use”.
This week, the right to freedom of the press and the patient’s right to privacy confronted each other. During one of the Press Conference, some of the journalists questioned the Minister of Health why the information about the first Bhutanese Covid-19 case was kept secret including travel history. The Health Minister responded that the right to privacy of the patient is the priority and there were no benefits out of additional information. The Minister also rightly pointed out that since Bhutanese society is very small and revealing information would make the patient’s identity easy to know. The right to health privacy is among the most important privacy issues because, “certain diseases have long been associated with great stigma (e.g., leprosy, HIV/AIDS); other diseases are correlated in other people’s minds with certain lifestyles and behaviours”. Revealing health information may also pose a threat to the possibilities of getting jobs, reputation and respect within the communities. For example, many might distance themselves from a patient who is diagnosed with Covid-19 in the present case even after she recovers from the disease due to fear of getting infected.
However, should the media or even any person may reveal details of the patient there is no statutory protection of the right of the patient in Bhutan. Further, Bhutan does not have any privacy torts which “provide remedies for intrusions into areas where one is receiving health care or public disclosures of private medical information”. Therefore, it is important to enact a privacy law that will regulate the “confidentiality of the relationship between patients and their physicians or other health caregivers” in the country. The media and individuals must remember that, as per Article 7(2) of our constitution, among others, a person shall not infringe on the rights and freedoms of others which includes the right to privacy.
Sonam Tshering Lawyer, Thimphu
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.
Physical distancing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the transmission of Covid-19. However, many of the public places in Thimphu are facing difficulty in limiting the number of people coming into close contact.
At the Centenary Farmers’ Market (CFM), for example, thousands of people gather every day.
Sherab Lhamo, a vegetable vendor, said was now having to deal with more than 2,000 customers due to panic-buy after Covid-19 cases in the country. “It is risky but without selling vegetables, we have no other sources of income.”
She said that in case there was a Covid-19 case at the market, it would be disastrous. Contact tracing will be difficult. What’s more, vendors faced difficulty in maintaining hygiene and had no time to wash hands frequently.
CFM management has installed four hand-washing facilities at the market’s entrances. Four more is expected by the end of this week. A few days ago, the management also distributed 250 litres of hand sanitisers among the vendors. Four television sets have been installed to provide timely information to the people in the market.
Manager Tshering Tenzin said: “The management has informed people to maintain physical distance but with rush it is difficult to monitor.”
Automobile workshop area in Olakha is facing the same problem. Although the number of visitors thinned after Covid-19 cases in the country, maintaining physical distance is a challenge due to space crunch and nature of work.
In an effort to encourage physical distancing, the referral hospital in Thimphu this week introduced red lines. This is expected to prevent spread of infection, maintain a distance from each other in outpatient and inpatient departments at the hospital.
The banks too are facing the same crowded problem. At the Bank of Bhutan’s branch office in Chubachu, taps have been installed and hand sanitisers at convenient and sensible locations. Visitors are required to register their details at the entrance to make contact tracing easy.
The bank has witnessed about 80 percent reduction in the number of visitors. The bank also has marked red lines for physical distancing.
Public relations and media officer with BOB, Pasang Norbu, said the bank was encouraging digital banking to avoid crowding.
Press release from the Prime Minister’s Office yesterday urged individuals to maintain physical distance at grocery outlets, vegetable markets, fuel depots or other public places such as banks and hospitals. The Road Safety and Transport Authority has been instructed to design and implement strategies for passengers using public transports to maintain physical distance.
“All business entities must ensure and make it conducive for their customers to maintain physical distance. While open-air shows are disallowed, television programmes must be modified for participants to observe physical distance,” the press release stated.
Yesterday, UNICEF Bhutan received USD 450,000 from the Government of Japan to support Bhutan’s efforts to fight Covid-19.
Bhutan Foundation handed over medical supplies and equipment worth Nu 1.13 million to the health ministry.
The donated items include oxygen and therapeutic respiratory apparatus, personal protective equipment, orthopaedic appliances, syringes, surgical equipment, and other disposable medical supplies.
The medical supplies will be distributed to various health facilities and hospitals in Bhutan.
Personal protective equipment and disposable supplies include face masks, hand sanitisers, face shields, disposable gowns, and surgical gloves.
The donated supplies were obtained in partnership with MedShare, an American organisation that sources and delivers medical supplies and equipment to communities around the world.
The Bhutan Foundation has been working in partnership with health ministry over the last decade to develop emergency medical services, provide health services to nomadic populations, and promote public health research in Bhutan.
In appreciation of the hoteliers, who offered their facilities as quarantine centres, DHI and companies have decided that Bhutan Power Corporate (BPC) and Bhutan Telecom Limited (BTL) will provide free electricity and free data services to all private quarantine centres.
“The service is effective for the duration the facilities are used as quarantine centres,” a press release from DHI stated.
According to DHI, the decision to provide free electricity and data services to the quarantine centres was based on the request of the Prime Minister.
Lyonchhen had asked DHI to consider waiver of the electricity bill payment for hotels being used as quarantine centres and reducing the cost of data packages to support continued education with the school facilities being closed.
BPC has identified 76 establishments for free service.
“Besides making data charges free for these quarantine centres, Bhutan Telecom is at the advanced stages of discussion with the Ministry of Information and Communications, and the Ministry of Education. They have generally worked out the technicalities and details,” a press release from DHI stated.
“The proposal is to provide additional data on existing data packages, which will translate into reducing the data charges per unit.”
Tax waiver demands may not be met immediately
The government has already started to provide relief packages to sectors affected by the Covid-19 pandemic even before the economic stimulus plan is announced.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering informed the media yesterday that the government was bearing some portion of salaries of affected companies. In return, the companies have been asked not to lay off their employees.
About 12,000 have been affected due to loss of jobs, according to him. The government, he said, would take care of not only those that have lost jobs but also their dependents.
“It is the government’s responsibility to look after the livelihoods of people,” he said.
According to the prime minister, the economic relief package is targeted at affected employees and business enterprises that have incurred huge losses.
As a monetary measure, Section 66 of the Public Finance Act authorises the finance minister to use public funds to defray expenditure of such exceptional nature.
A full report of such expenditure and its impact on the budget policy and fiscal framework statement will be made to Parliament for ratification through the Supplementary Budget Appropriation Bill.
However, a major relief measure in the wish lists of affected enterprises are tax waivers, which needs the prior approval of Parliament.
However, the prime minister said that there were no plans to call a parliament session to discuss the fiscal and monetary relief measures.
Dr Lotay Tshering said that the fiscal and monetary measures that the government was coming up need not be presented in the parliament. “If there are any measures that should be presented to the parliament, it will be done so later,” he said.
An extraordinary session of Parliament can be called if the exigencies of the situation so demand under the Constitution.
The prime minister said the Speaker, the National Council Chairperson and the opposition leader had offered their support to the government if an extraordinary session should be called.
Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that an extraordinary session might not be required at this time. “If there is a need, the government will submit a Bill in the Parliament,” he said.
The opposition party’s spokesperson MP Dorji Wangdi said that tax measures would definitely need parliament’s approval. But he added that the government could defer the payment.
The prime minister hinted that the fiscal and monetary measures would be at the policy level, which is within the ambit of executive power. “If legislative decisions are required we are ready to assemble any time,” he said.
He said the parliament session is not yet closed and that members would assemble any time if required.
The closing ceremony, which was supposed to be held on March 6, was deferred after the country confirmed its first Covid-19 in the morning of the same day.
Dr Lotay Tshering said that work on the economic relief package was almost completed. He said that announcement of the plan got delayed as there was a need for some amendments in the original plan.
However, he added that the economic relief package would be different from normal economic stimulus plans. The economic relief plan would be dynamic depending on how the situation will evolve, according to him.
The government, the prime minister said, was working with the joint parliamentary committee on Covid-19. The prime minister said the government was doing more than the committee’s recommendations.