Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
Following the government’s recent decision to allow open an entry point in Samdrupjongkhar, a two-week advanced cooking course was conducted in Samdrupjongkhar to boost the culinary skills of those in the hospitality and tourism industry.
About 26 staff and hoteliers from Samdrupjongkhar and Pemagatshel were trained on cooking 49 Continental and Indian cuisines.
The trainer, chef Tshewang Penjor, said participants were trained based on the ingredients available in Samdrupjongkhar.
A participant, Norbu Zangpo, said that since most of the participants were staff and owners of the hotels, it would help to revive the dying hotel business.
“It would also help to boost the business once the tourism entry point opens in Samdrupjongkhar.”
The senior labour officer, Tshongtu, said the objectives for organising such programme was to enhance quality and access to skilling opportunities which meet the skills required of the industry, enhance productivity and performance of workforce and to impart Continental and Indian cuisines to cater both international and regional tourists, among others.
He said that the regional labour office in collaboration with the ministry would also conduct training on western garment tailoring, accounting, and home appliances repair, traditional tailoring, and beauty and saloon training.
The regional labour office and NLD Institute in Thimphu conducted the programme in collaboration with the ministry of labour and human resource. The government of India funded the programme that ended on August 1.
Bhutan Archery Federation (BAF) organised a two-day friendly archery tournament between Bhutan and Japan. The tournament was conducted without archers coming out in the archery ground. It was conducted virtually.
The tournament that began on August 1 was conducted using the Zoom app where players and officials from the two countries could view the score and archers shooting.
Archers competed in two different categories – individual qualification and the mixed round. Sixteen players took part in a 70-metre archery range in the respective country using recurve bow. Eleven players were from three teams of Japan-SEISA, Elite Academy and the national team.
Five archers from Bhutan including para archer Pema Rigsel played at Langjophakha archery range in Thimphu.
BAF archers stood second in the mixed category by losing to the national team of Japan. Both the teams had a tie with four points each in the initial rounds, but BAF players lost 16-20 in an added round.
BAF archer Karma set her new record. After shooting six arrows for six rounds twice, she scored 656 points from a total of 720 points. “I have practised consistently at home during the pandemic. It paid off. I will work hard to play in the Olympics.” Despite qualifying for the Olympics in Japan through a quota, Karma still has to hit the minimum qualifying score of 605 points.
Another BAF archer, Sonam Dema defeated Karma 6-2 points and headed to the third-place match, but she lost to Japanese national player, Juri Shibuya 4-6. Sonam Dema said that she could have grabbed the third position if her final round went well. “Of the three arrows, one landed at a five-pointer which pulled down my aggregate.”
BAF’s head coach and a Korean olympian, Park Young Sook, said that Bhutanese archers had played well despite limited practice sessions. “I will continue the virtual competitions with other countries to engage the players until the covid situation subsides.”
This is the third time BAF has organised an online competition amid Covid-19. Tournaments were also organised with South Korea and Chinese Taipei to meaningfully engaged players and to understand the standard of foreign players.
Heavy match schedule means most games will not be aired on BBS
Phub Dem | Paro
Although the opening game of Bhutan Premier League (BPL) at Woochu Sports Arena in Paro was screened live on BBS, it received a significant number of viewers, watching from the roadsides.
DeSuups on duty guarded all the entry point to the arena, but some fans even managed to enter the orchards overseeing the field.
Paro FC, in collaboration with BBS, will screen its home match Live from Paro.
But it is a bad year for the football enthusiast, and other clubs.
According to Bhutan Football Federation’s (BFF) media focal Phuntsho Wangdi, the federation tried to negotiate with BBS. However, due to heavy match schedule, which is about 56 matches, BBS did not have the slot to air all the games, he said.
“We have asked other clubs to explore the possibilities to screen their matches like Paro FC, as it was not possible for BBS to air all the matches. And we agreed to support them.”
He said that BFF was going to negotiate with BBS to screen some important matches after the second round.
The BPL is a source of sustainability for clubs, especially during the pandemic. Phuntsho Wangdi said that the payroll of the players, coaching fees and other management activities solely depended on the BPL for financial assistance.
For instance, there are about 100 referees with BFF, and their payroll depends on tournaments like BPL and other matches. BFF also prioritise the tournament primarily to allow local clubs to participate in international matches such as the AFC qualifiers next year and to select a strong national team, according to Phuntsho Wangdi. “Participation in international matches is essential as the clubs could earn good money, and it helped the local players in skill development.”
The restriction on foreign players due to Covid-19 protocol, according to BFF, was both a boon and a bane.
Phuntsho Wangdi said that the restriction could encourage local participation, but the competition and learning experiences won’t be the same without them. “There is an excitement in the game when there are foreign players.”
Each club can hire a maximum of four foreign players.
Paro FC’s technical director and head coach, Puspa Lal Sharma said that there was a difference in the level of play without the international players.
He said that the pandemic had some impact on the performance of the club as it has restricted players to practice as a team. “But the club has tailored made training for the players and the players had been practicing individually.”
Manager of Drukstar FC Sonam Choden said that the local players in her club could equally play as good as the international players.
The club had four foreign players last year.
BPL that usually begins in June was postponed due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus
CG7 scores four for Paro FC
Newcomer in the BoB Bhutan Premier League (BPL) started their season with a good start after drawing Transport United FC, 1-1.
The game yesterday at Changlimithang stadium saw two quick goals in the first quarter, but disappointed those watching online when the next three quarters ended goalless.
Transport United FC’s Tsenda Dorji scored in the sixth minute. However, the lead was short-lived. The opponent responded with an equaliser through Ngawang Tobgay after seven minutes. Despite several attempts from Transport, the team from the Royal Bhutan Army defended well.
Meanwhile, in the opening match of the BPL season on Saturday, Paro FC thrashed Druk Stars FC at the Woochu Sports Arena in Paro 8-0.
The first half of the game ended with a 5-0 drubbing of Druk Stars. With nine minutes into the game, mid-fielder Loday Wangchuk opened the flood gates with a long-distance goal.
Striker Chencho Gyeltshen popularly known as CG7 scored four goals. Yeshi Dorji, Tsheltrim and Phub Thinley were also on the score sheet.
CG7 expressed his joy on social media. “Finally BPL has started and nothing can express the happiness after so long. Let’s keep going strong and thank you to my teammates.”
Paro FC stated in its official Facebook page that unlike the previous two seasons, the club won the opening match this time. Paro FC will host Transport United FC on August 8 in Paro.
Thimphu City FC will play Paro United FC tomorrow at the Changlimithang stadium.
17 Covid-19 cases confirmed in the border town
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Neighbouring town, Jaigaon has confirmed 17 Covid-19 positive cases, which many say could cross the porous border to the commercial hub of the country, Phuentsholing.
Sources confirmed that at least three officials from the Jaigaon police station have tested positive for the virus.
The general secretary of the Jaigaon Merchants’ Association (JMA), RS Gupta, said that mass testing has started in Jaigaon.
“About 100 people were tested when 17 positive cases were reported,” he said.
RS Gupta said that as more testings are done, more positive cases are going to appear. Most of the positive cases are also among public servants such as police and health officials, he added.
The GS said that people don’t show symptoms and that only testing could confirm the results.
“All the meetings and gatherings have been stopped for now in Jaigaon,” he said. “People have become more cautious. They wear masks.”
Recently, Jaigaon Transporters Welfare Association had announced that import-export via Phuentsholing-Jaigaon would be stopped from August 1. The association had placed certain demands to the Bhutanese counterpart.
However, the import-export has not been put to halt.
The import-export via Jaigaon and Phuentsholing wouldn’t be any problem, RS Gupta said. It is understandable that if Jaigaon is in problem, Bhutan will also be in problem, he added.
“Similarly, if Bhutan is in problem, Jaigaon will be in problem that is for sure,” he said. “We are two different entities but one soul.”
Considering the current status, Jaigaon will remain under complete lockdown from August 4 until August 9, it has been decided, he said. This decision, he explained, has been undertaken at the block development level.
The editor of a local magazine in Jaigaon, Ajay Verma said that Jaigaon was “green zone” until June 7. But on June 7, a 45-year-old man from Subash Pali was tested positive, following which four more were tested positive.
Recently, three deaths have been reported in Jaigaon, with the latest being reported on August 2 in a 36-year-old woman from Hasimara. The first death was from Dalsingpara where a 57-year-old woman and 52-year-old man from Jaigaon succumbed to the virus.
“Situation became alarming when people came to know about the two deaths in 24 hours’ time,” he said.
Around midnight on August 1, Ajay Verma said that the officer-in-charge of Jaigaon along with his two subordinates and two volunteers were tested positive. These police officials had volunteered on a Covid-19 testing camp organised in Jaigaon on July 27.
“Most of the Covid-19 patients are sent to Tapsikhata Integrated Ayush hospital in Alipurduar,” he said.
Tapsikhata is 54-km away from Jaigaon.
With rising Covid-19 cases in Jaigaon, Ajay Verma said Bhutanese should be aware and follow the WHO safety protocols.
“Jaigaon and Phuentsholing will be normal after the pandemic. Both the people of Phuentsholing and Jaigaon should stay united and hope for the best.”
Meanwhile, in Phuentsholing, people are aware of the situation across the border. As usual, wearing face masks and following the Covid-19 safety protocols are ongoing. Many are even expecting a lockdown would help.
A Phuentsholing resident, Sonam Tshewang said that residents of Phuentsholing should be more cautious.
“A community transmission is going to happen here as well if we are complacent,” he said.
Govt. still exploring options
Yangchen C Rinzin
Schools will not open today, August 1.
Amidst rumours on social media that the schools will reopen from this month, it was confirmed that the government has no plans to re-open schools for Classes VII-IX and XI as yet.
The education ministry issued a notification that no information on re-opening of schools was announced or requested. The ministry also notified, through social media, that it would issue official notification as and when the government decides to re-open the schools.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering during a meeting with Parliamentarians on July 30 said that the government was still discussing re-opening schools for the rest of the classes.
“We’ve not taken any kind of decision and we’re looking at the situation to explore options on how to re-open,” Lyonchhen said. “There are schools with Classes from PP-VIII. If we open for two classes then we’ll have to open for other classes and both teaching and non-teaching staff will have to return.”
Lyonchhen said that the government would have to look into this issue, as almost 65 percent of the DeSuups are teachers. “We’ve the most important task in places like Phuentsholing where everyday patrolling is important and we keep receiving issues like shortages of DeSuup volunteers at the borders,” Lyonchhen said. “Re-opening schools would disturb that.”
Lyonchhen said that if Classes X and XII that was re-opened in July are managed well, then the government will explore options to re-open only Classes IX and XI, or leave as it is, but the government has not been able to decide. “Many had shared similar ideas that even if Classes IX and XI was re-opened it would not make any difference. So, we’re looking along this line.”
Lyonchhen said people must realise that if the rest of the classes re-open, it does not mean it will increase the risk of local transmission, but the rapidity will be high in case of a local transmission.
“We must know this,” Lyonchhen said. “That’s why in the lockdown protocol if we’ve a local transmission, the first steps would be school closures.”
Consultations are being held. On Thursday at the meeting when Lyonchhen asked Parliamentarians to raise hands if it’s all right to re-open only Classes IX and XI or all, there was a substantial agreement on re-opening of Classes IX and XI.
Lyonchhen said that the government has asked dzongkhag/thromde education officers and principals including teachers to conduct a survey as much as possible with the parents to seek their views on the re-opening of schools.
“I personally feel it’s all right to open from Classes VII-XII, but the problem is there are Classes PP-VIII category while we need more voluntary services.”
However, Lyonchhen said that the government’s decision would not change for Classes PP-VI. It will remain closed for the 2020 academic session.
Meanwhile, about Nu 22.54 million (M) was spent in delivering Education in Emergency during the closure of schools since March 6 and March 18.
Of the total, Nu 371,647 was incurred on stationery for video lessons, Nu 685,652 on food and refreshment for video lessons while Nu 542,308 was spent on sustenance allowance for teachers and officials involved in the lesson recording.
About Nu 1.48M was spent for development of prioritised curriculum and Nu 10.20M for Self Instructional Materials (SIM) that were distributed to those students who did not have access to online education.
The education ministry also spent Nu 884,000 in the development and transportation of SIM materials.
Around Nu 28,000 was also spent on capacity building and another Nu 1.19M for printing of the prioritised curriculum.
Education secretary Karma Tshering said that the prices charged for publication and recordings were on cost recovery modality while other agencies provided their services for free.
The upcoming session of Parliament, which was supposed to be the summer session of 2020, is being postponed further to November due to Covid-19, the Speaker has indicated.
Earlier, National Assembly Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel had said that the upcoming session could be held in September so that the winter session would be held towards the end of the year.
The rationale was that the last session, which was held from June 1 to 17 to pass the annual budget 2020-21, was considered as the continuation of the third session.
However, speaking to Members of Parliament at the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB) on July 30, the Speaker said that discussions were being held with the National Council on the possibility of calling the session in November.
This means that the last budget session should be considered as the fourth session although it did not meet the constitutional requirement to be called a separate session. Should Parliament consider the budget session as the fourth session, then the upcoming session that is expected to commence in November will be considered as the winter session of 2020.
The National Assembly had officially said that the budget session was a continuation of the third session. Should the budget session be considered as the continuation of the third session, Parliament has not had any session in 2020.
Speaking in the RUB hall, Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that the two houses of Parliament were in a regular discussion on the upcoming session.
“The NC Thrizin and I had a meeting and we discussed the possibility of having the session in November,” he said.
The Speaker said that he was mindful about the constitutional requirement to hold two sessions in a year. But he added that some members were of the view that the recent session, which passed the budget, could be considered as one of the two sessions for 2020.
At the post-session plenary held in June, however, most members had agreed that the budget session should not be considered as a separate session. The Parliament should have two sessions in a year as per the Constitution.
The Constitution states that the Druk Gyalpo shall be received in a joint sitting of Parliament with chibdrel ceremony at the commencement of each session of Parliament. Each session shall be opened with a zhugdrel phunsumtshogpai tendrel and each session shall conclude with the tashi moenlam.
Normally, winter sessions begin in November while the summer sessions begin in May. However, some members said it was an extraordinary situation and that they had no issue with the session being delayed.
“The nation is going through an unusual situation because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is important to be as cautious as possible. The Speaker’s proposal to reschedule the National Assembly session to a later date is a good idea,” Bartsham-Shongphu MP Passang Dorji (PhD) said.
He added, “As things stand, how the pandemic situation would shape up in the coming days appears as unpredictable as it is worrying. Convening parliament sessions during such dire times will pose risks for we might not be able to observe required preventive health protocols.”
The delay of the session comes at a time when the crucial bills and issues are awaiting Parliament approval.
For instance, the National Council (NC) would have completed discussions on the Mines and Minerals Bill 2020, which was passed by the NA in January this year. In the absence of a new Mines and Minerals Bill, a debate has been raging over whether the state or the private sector should operate the mines and minerals businesses.
Similarly, the NA would have concluded deliberations on the Lhengye Zhungtshog Bill and Entitlement and Service Conditions (amendment) Bill for the Holders, Members and Commissioners of Constitutional Offices, which were passed by NC in the last winter session.
Today marks 30 years since Bhutan ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Bhutan is among 172 countries to have extended support to the joint statement titled “Protect our Children” at the United Nations (UN). The statement is an initiative in response to the UN Secretary-General’s call on countries to prioritise children’s education, food, health and safety amid the Covid-19 pandemic situation.
A joint statement from the foreign ministry, National Commission Women and Children, and UNICEF welcomed the release of the UN Secretary General’s policy brief outlining the harmful effects of the pandemic on children as well as the complementary agenda for action issued by UNICEF. The agenda for action is aimed at protecting the most vulnerable children and to prevent this public health emergency from becoming a child-rights crisis.
The joint release stated that the government continues to accord high priority towards the protection and wellbeing of Bhutanese children and in ensuring that they are not deprived of their basic needs and rights during the current situation.
Among other initiatives, the NCWC with support from UNICEF and UNDP has developed a gender and child protection emergency preparedness and response plan during Covid-19 pandemic.
The plan covers all aspects of interventions to be implemented by relevant government and non-government partners to ensure that children’s needs and wellbeing are taken into consideration during the preparations and response to the Covid-19 situation.
The UNICEF Bhutan has been instrumental in supplementing the government’s efforts in preparing and responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly in ensuring the wellbeing of children during the current Covid-19 situation and has expressed their commitment to continue supporting the government in its efforts to protect all children in Bhutan, both during and after the pandemic.
Covid-19 cases cross the hundredth mark
With the confirmation of two more Covid-19 positive cases on July 30, Bhutan touched the three-digit mark (101) since the country reported its first positive case on March 5.
However, the country continues to be in the orange stage given that there is no local transmission of the virus yet.
Also with 88 people considered recovered, the Covid-19 recovery rate for Bhutan stands at 87 percent. There are 13 people with an active infection at the isolation ward and they are all asymptomatic for now. And there is no mortality from the pandemic so far.
At the isolation ward
Donning the white coveralls (protective suit), doctors and nurses patrol the Covd-19 isolation ward at the new eye hospital at the national referral hospital. This is where the Covid-19 patients are kept once they test positive to the virus.
However, unlike the graphic hospital scenes portrayed in international media, the picture of the isolation ward in Bhutan is relatively tranquil.
Clinical microbiologist with the national referral hospital, Dr Tshokey, said that save for the little tense environment because of the protective gears, it was a usual affair at the isolation ward.
The patients, according to Dr Tshokey, spent their days watching and making videos and singing. “It’s a lively environment unlike the ones we see in news of people suffering in pain and dying.”
A strong patient-caregiver bond is also observed at the ward. “Sometimes when a patients’ stay is prolonged, the staff feel equally sad and sorry for them. And when someone tests negative it’s like winning a lottery for both the patient and the staff monitoring them.”
Sharing a recent incident, Dr Tshokey said that everyone at the ward was sincerely praying for a pregnant mother who had tested positive to the virus. “Everyone was eagerly waiting for the results expecting it to come negative. When the result was otherwise, all became equally depressed. Such is the bond between these people.”
He said that the clinical management team also took pride when an individual left the isolation after testing negative. “Some have even set targets to make sure a certain number of people get out during their shift,” he said. “At one time we had 29 patients at the ward and the staff really wanted to bring it down to a single-digit before the next shift.”
The feedback from the patients, once they leave for de-isolation, has also been positive so far, he added.
Reasons for isolation and treatment
Any person testing positive for Covid-19 is mandatorily isolated in a health facility in Bhutan. This does not happen in most of the countries.
Dr Tshokey said that the primary objective of isolating a positive patient is to prevent the risk of transmission to others.
He said that although all positive cases in the country so far have been asymptomatic, asking them to isolate at their respective homes, like in most countries, would increase the risk of local transmission.
The other objective of isolating a patient in a health facility is to provide timely medical services and to monitor the patient constantly. All patients undergo a baseline investigation that includes an X-Ray scanning and blood tests. This is done to identify the presence of any other underlying health conditions that could possibly complicate the case further.
“A dedicated team of health professionals will constantly monitor the patients and if there are any complications we can immediately provide the treatments. This is why isolation is important,” Dr Tshokey said.
Patients are also provided symptomatic treatments. If a patient has headache painkillers are provided and if he or she develops cough, accordingly treatment for the symptom is provided in an isolation ward.
Zero death from Covid-19 and high recovery rate
A major achievement for the country so far has been preventing any mortality cases from the pandemic.
An up-front reason for this achievement according to the clinical microbiologist is the age group of those who are infected. “The epidemiological data shows that risk of severe disease, complication and death from Covid-19 is higher in elderly people.”
Except for the two American patients the rest of the positive cases so far have been between the ages of 25-35 years.
Also, the stringent health protocol put in place by the government has helped achieve this success.
Dr Tshokey said that the mandatory isolation of individuals upon testing positive and making sure they are negative on multiple occasions before releasing them has helped the government prevent a community outbreak.
He said that in other countries only the severe cases were admitted to the hospitals. Asymptomatic cases are advised to isolate themselves at homes for about seven days. “After the seven days, if no symptoms, the individuals are considered recovered. There are no testing provisions also which is why there is a lot of community transmission in these places.”
However, in Bhutan, he said that for a person to be declared recovered he or she has to spend adequate time in isolation and tested negative at least twice within 24 hours. Following this, the person is removed to a mandatory two-week de-isolation facility. The individual is tested again on the last day of the two-week period.
Initially, only after testing negative upon completion of the de-isolation individuals were considered as recovered. However, the ministry recently revised its protocol declaring all people coming out of isolation as recovered.
“This was revised because technically people who have been removed from isolation are recovered. And although the chances of testing positive again are very slim, we do not want to take chances. We are also still continuing with the de-isolation.”
However, Dr Tshokey cautioned that with the high recovery rate and zero death, the public should not become complacent. In the event of a community transmission, he said that all age groups including children and elderlies would be infected. “The probability of having severe cases would increase and there will be mortality.”
With His Majesty selflessly leading in the frontline and because of the preventive measures put in place by the government, there has been no casualty from the pandemic so far, he said. “Also as a Buddhist country, we cannot deny the presence of the divine intervention. But for how long can we count on it?”
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Soon after the opening of the “tobacco quota outlets” in Phuentsholing was announced yesterday, many rushed to buy the products at the two outlets at the customs building.
People queued up with a copy of their citizenship identity cards.
About seven varieties of cigarettes, including bidis, and chewing tobacco (BABA) were floated for sale.
This initiative is line with the government’s decision to make tobacco products available through Bhutan Duty Free Limited (BDFL) and curb smuggling in the wake of the pandemic.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering had said that this mechanism would allow Bhutanese to buy the specified quantity of tobacco products for personal consumption from the BDFL outlets by paying 100 percent tax.
Illegally, a piece of Navy Cut cigarette is sold at Nu 30-35 in Phuentsholing. With the BDFL access, smokers get 200 pieces at Nu 3,610, which means it is Nu 18.05 per piece.
The rate of a dozen chewing tobacco (BABA) costs Nu 150. A single packet weighing 10 grams with a maximum retail price of Nu 3 is sold between Nu 50 and 80 in the black market.
Dorji, who had come to buy chewing tobacco yesterday said that the initiative was timely.
“This means less number of illegal selling and buying,” he said.
Another buyer, Tashi Wangchuk, said that such measure should have been started a long time ago.
“It would have brought economic benefits to the government,” he said, adding that many people wouldn’t have gone to jail for smuggling.
Although people lauded the initiative, many are unhappy that they cannot buy in loose packets. The tobacco outlets will facilitate services during office hours—from 9am to 5pm. Similar outlets will be opened in nine places Phuentsholing and Thimphu.
Chimi Dema | Dagana
Considering the travel risks for dzongkhag tshogdu (DT) members this monsoon, Dagana dzongkhag, for the first time endorsed its budget proposal for the financial year 2020-2021 through a video conference on July 30.
The dzongkhag tshogdu (DT) committee also postponed the session on other agendas until the end of the monsoon. The eighth DT was supposed to take place on July 30 to 31.
The recent roadblock at Sonamja on the Jumja-Raidak highway has cut off access for officials from far-flung gewogs like Karmaling, Lhamoidzingkha and Nichula under Lhamoidzingkha drungkhag.
A temporary log bridge is being constructed for light and medium vehicles.
While major blocks at two sites were cleared last week on the Sunkosh-Dagana highway, dzongkhag officials said that it was still risky for members from nearby gewogs to travel given unfavourable weather conditions.
In addition, it was also intended to avoid public gatherings in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, officials said.
Meanwhile, the virtual meeting chaired by the DT chairperson, Kana Gup Lhawang Dorji and attended by gewog and dzongkhag officials along with the dzongkhag finance committee endorsed a budget of Nu 295.533 million (M) for this fiscal year (FY).
Among the sectors, the engineering sector was allocated the highest budget of Nu 97M for the fiscal year. Dagana planning officer, Sonam Jamtsho said the sector has many spillover activities from the last fiscal year.
For this fiscal year, some of the major activities under engineering sector include blacktopping of Khebisa gewog centre road and construction of farm road at Dorona Choongwa chiwog in Dorona gewog. More than Nu 22M has been allocated for the two projects.
Of the Nu 31M allocated for the health sector, Nu 9M was for the construction of a new primary health centre in Karmaling gewog.
One of the major activities in the agriculture sector, allocated Nu 60M, is the construction of a renewable natural resources centre in Dorona, Tsangkha and Tsendagang gewogs with an allocated budget of about Nu 10M.
Apart from the budget endorsement, Dzongdag Phintsho Choeden used the virtual platform to remind gewog officials to remain vigilant and have Covid-19 precautionary measures in place in their respective gewogs.
In an attempt to conserve folk literature, language lover and lecturer, Dorji Wangchuk (PhD), has come up with a book: “English through folk tales of Bhutan.”
Designed to instill listening, speaking, reading, writing, and critical thinking, among others, the book is first of its kind which could help readers to slowly dissect the essence of rich Bhutanese folk tales through exercise at the end of each story.
The book contains 18 stories, retold differently to entice and familiarise young Bhutanese with their cultural roots.
This is in the language of the author himself: “Folk tales are supposed to be ‘inaccurately accurate’ and ‘inconsistently consistent’. It is this feature, among others, that distinguishes folk tales from other literary genres.”
What is unique about this book?
It’s got literary theories embedded in almost every line. Folk tales help to shape a cultural and individual identity.
Through varied characters like monkeys and birds, the stories bring into limelight the themes of basic Bhutanese beliefs like love, compassion, greed, and cause and effect.
As a young girl who grew up nodding to my granny’s folk tales by a kerosene lamp every night in my village, I share the writer’s concern about the fast-vanishing tradition, which is a symbol of our cultural and historical identities.
The probability of total wipeout of Bhutanese folk tales is high in the face of “cheap digital entertainment.”
But the culture has to evolve, even oral traditions. Documentation such as this one holds the promise to retain or preserve what continues to define Bhutan and Bhutanese—art, music, food, dance, songs, legends, costumes, and fables.
Notwithstanding spelling mistakes and phrase usage, each story is beautifully illustrated, helping the readers to visualise their meanings. The book, however, is not meant for leisure reading. To successfully carry out the exercises on skills development, one has to introspect.
The book is meant for educational engagement.
The author could have retained the originality of tales, however. Some dramatisation could have been left out.
A group of taxi drivers spend nearly three hours at the pick-up and drop-off zone near Changlimithang Stadium in Thimphu arguing over the new lane system.
Tshegay, a committee member of Bhutan Taxi Association (BTA), complained that some of his fellow drivers were making mockery of the traffic rules. “We made this rule ourselves to address the problem of parking space shortage but we lack cooperation among ourselves. If we make the rules rubbish, we might lose the permit to park along the private spots.”
The cab drivers were restricted from parking in a private parking spot at Chang Lam and Norzin Lam after the lane system. BTA requested the traffic officials to let them park their taxi at the private parking lot along Chang Lam.
“At the designated parking area the drivers have to wait the whole day if other cab drivers picked up passengers from undesignated place,” said Tshegay.
There are about 4,000 taxis in Thimphu. The new taxi stand has space for only 35 taxis.
Sharchok Drukpa, a taxi driver said that he once had to do ten rounds around the city to enter the new parking stand.
Mohan Lal, a taxi driver, said that allowing taxi drivers to pick the clients from outside the designated parking lot would be convenient.
Jigme Singye, another cab driver, said the new system was ridiculous.
Taxi drivers are being issued Traffic Infringement Notice (TIN) by the traffic police while queueing to enter the new parking lot.
Kinley Tshering, a taxi driver, said: “Traffic police should monitor the vehicles waiting to enter the new taxi stand instead of issuing TIN for small mistakes.”
Dorji, a taxi driver, said that the old system worked better. “Taxi drivers should vote to either reinstitute the old system or follow the new rule.”
Taxi drivers were flouting the parking rules and so have lost parking right to park at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH).
“We will be the one to suffer if we refuse to respect the rule,” Tshegay said.
“Heated arguments on the parking issue leads to physical brawl sometimes. It’s quite an unhealthy show,” said a taxi driver.
The BTA in collaboration with Thimphu Thromde has identified 26 locations to build new taxi parking to address parking space shortage in Thimphu.
“No matter how many more taxi stands we come up with, there will always be some taxi drivers who would make situations difficult for the rest,” said an association’s tshogpa.
Nima | Gelephu
Residents of Gelephu thromde lack ownership of the public infrastructure in the thromde a survey has found.
The social accountability survey conducted in six demkhongs of Gelephu thromde on July 28 showed widespread lack of voluntary action, and poor participation to take care of the public infrastructure.
The survey focused on the quality of basic infrastructures like a footpath, drainage, sewerage, streetlight, road, and the community ownership of the infrastructure within the thromde.
The survey findings were presented during a meeting between the thromde, members of the committee of concerned citizens (CCC), and the committee of community members (CCM) on July 30.
Chairperson with CCC and CCM, Kelzang said it would be difficult to monitor all infrastructure for thromde with limited human resource capacity.
“Community participation is important in this scenario,” he said. “But, there is no reporting system concerning the infrastructure from demkhong tshogpas and also no monitoring from the service provider.”
He added that there is a need for coordination and communication between the service provider and the service users.
“Gelephu has a different landscape comparing to other thromdes with the vast flatlands. It’s a central business hub. People’s ownership and participation in planning are important,” said Kelzang.
While acknowledging the need to engage people to take care of the infrastructure in the thromde, representatives from different demkhongs highlighted the need to have improved, safe, and user-friendly infrastructure.
Covering drainage properly, footpaths with railings, securing streetlight connections, enhancing connectivity of roads, timely maintenance were issues concerning the basic infrastructure across demkhongs.
In Sonamgatshel demkhong, the study found out that the blacktopping of roads on the outskirts of the town was not done. Without proper drainage coverage, the low-lying areas in the demkhong are at risk of flooding.
The works to continue construction of drainage, road and streetlight are stopped today at Samdrupling demkhong.
The members of the CCC and CCM took part in the survey as a part of social responsibility and community engagement workshop to assess people’s understanding of public infrastructure.
An official from the thromde said that the development of infrastructure is carried out as per the thromde’s structural plan to avoid damage to the amenities when the plots are being developed.
Gelephu Thrompon, Tikaram Kafley said people should begin to take ownership of the infrastructure.
“There is no concern among people today. Even for minor drain blocks, residents wait for the thromde,” he said. “ This can be done by themselves if they have a sense of ownership.”
The thromde plans to engage people while tendering and handing-taking of the infrastructure to enable community engagement. “We will let people see the quality of the work,” he said.
Awareness and responsibilities related to community ownership would be planned for any infrastructure development in the future, according to the thrompon.
Over 50 participants took part in the five-day workshop conducted by CCC and CCM with support from the Bhutan Transparency Initiative.
The workshop was carried with strict compliance to the Covid-19 protocols, according to the officials from CCC and CCM.
Coinciding with the World Rangers’ Day, the forest department introduced the revised insignia system for every rank in the profession yesterday.
Themed: “In service of nation and environment”, about 20 senior forestry officials like the director, chief forestry officers, deputy chief forestry officer, and specialists were awarded the insignia or gosa by agriculture and forest minister Yeshey Penjore.
Based on their ranks, hereafter the forestry officials will wear the insignia, which features the elements of the national flower, Meconopsis gakyidiana, along with the logo of the department and the colour of the national flag worn as stripes.
It signifies the commitment of the department to conserve and protect the country’s environment with loyalty and dedication.
The forestry insignia system is pegged to the position classification system of the Royal Civil Service Commission.
The Forest and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan mandates forestry personnel under the forest department to wear a standardised uniform for the purpose of carrying out their duties and maintain order and discipline within the department.
The forest uniforms are of two types—office uniform and combat uniform—according to the forestry uniform code, 2019.
The international day is observed to commemorate rangers who have lost their lives or were injured in the line of duty and also to celebrate the works of rangers at the forefront of conservation.
Lyonpo applauded the rangers for their excellent service to the nation and protecting the forest. There are about 300 foresters at the frontline of Covid-19 duty along the borders.
During the celebration, the software for Bhutan METT (Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool) plus along with some other important publications such as the forestry uniform code, REDD+ Strategy, protected area zonation guidelines of Bhutan, guidelines for classifying and managing key biodiversity areas and biodiversity monitoring protocol were also launched.
The day was observed in partnership with World Wildlife Fund Bhutan, Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation, Bhutan Foundation, Royal Society for Protection of Nature, and Bhutan for Life. This year marks four years since Bhutan joined the Ranger Federation of Asia.
Globally, about 150 rangers lose their lives in the line of duty each year protecting wildlife and national parks.
Paro FC to face Druk Stars FC
Defending champions Paro FC will play Thimphu-based Druk Stars FC at the Woochu Sports Arena in Paro in the opening game of the 2020 BoB Bhutan Premier League (BPL) at 3pm today.
BPL which was supposed to begin after the Bhutan Super League season which completed on March 21 was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last month, participating teams began training following the government’s decision to lift the ban imposed on sports activities since March.
Paro FC’s skipper Jigme Tshering Dorjee said that the team is ready for this season.
“Although we have no foreign players in the squad, the eight national players we have would make a difference in the game today,” he said. “But the match would be competitive since it’s among domestic players and also because Druk Stars FC has very young players.”
Paro FC’s dominance in the last season was also attributed to its four international players-three from Cameroon and another one from Sikkim, India. As the national league winners, club also took part in the AFC qualifiers against Defenders FC of Sri Lanka and Bengaluru FC of India last year.
In an earlier interview, Paro FC’s technical director and head coach, Puspalal Sharma said that every team has an equal chance to win the league this year.
Druk Stars’ coordinator Ngawang Jampel said that today’s game would be tough as his team is facing the defending champions in their home ground.
“My team has no national players. Moreover, all the players are young, and only a few have featured in the past BPL seasons.”
“We will give our best,” said Ngawang Jampel, adding that the BPL matches within the domestic players would showcase the standard of Bhutanese football clubs. “People will understand where we have reached so far in terms of technique and tactics.”
The game would be streamed live on BBS channel 2.
Paro FC has recently signed a contract with the BBS for the live telecast of all its seven matches for the fans.
In the current arrangement, spectators are not allowed in all the league venues. Officials said all precautionary measures are all in place in all the venues.
Moreover, as per the guidelines of the FIFA, players are prohibited from shaking hands on the ground, spitting, and meeting other team members before the match.
A total of eight teams are taking part in the league.
The entire league matches will be broadcasted live on mycujoo sports channel-http.mycujoo.tv.
This week, the government of India approved a new education policy that paves way for radical reforms in the education sector. The policy, in a nutshell, lays the foundation for transforming the education system to suit the needs of the 21st century. From emphasising on learning outcomes and making education relevant, the policy is received well.
At home, many are not only talking about the policy, but also reviewing it with many appreciating the overhaul in the Indian system. Education is one sector Bhutan is closely linked with India. The generation of leaders, both in the government and private are the products of an Indian education system. While some have studied in Indian schools and colleges, most are taught by Indian teachers. Our children are still taught Indian history.
There is interest in change because we are talking along the same lines. Quality of education is high on the priority list. The need of a new policy has long been recognised. In fact, we drafted one about a decade ago. It has been fine-tuned and submitted to the Cabinet just before the Covid-19 pandemic forced school to close, it is learnt.
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to reprioritise a lot of activities and policies. We have waited long and we can wait until the pandemic is over. The waiting time could also be used to review our policies. The new Indian policy sounds familiar, as we had been stressing on similar changes in the education system. Besides, thousands of Bhutanese study in India on government or private scholarships.
Learning coding or computational thinking, problem solving and integrating vocational education as early as early as in the sixth grade, reducing rigid course structures are some of the new ideas we had been talking about for a while. Recently, the focus is on STEM subjects and there is emphasis on contemporary learning subjects from the highest authority.
While the importance of contemporary subjects like Artificial Intelligence, Design Thinking, or Environment Education specified in the new policy (Indian) are seen as India’s future and its leadership role in these fields, our leadership has stressed on these for a long time. His Majesty The King had been expressing the importance of these contemporary subjects at every meeting with educationists, policy makers and even young students.
The Indian reform starts from pre-school to reforming examinations to system of assessment and teacher education. While we do not have the resources and the expertise to overhaul a system like the new Indian education policy, we are well aware of our needs. We need not copy policies. But given the similarities of the system, deep rotted thus far, it is relevant to Bhutan. There are more students finishing university degrees from India than from home colleges.
In more than half a century of modern education, we can be proud of as far as our schooling system is concerned. We have come out of rote learning, adapted to changing syllabus and always forged our own curriculum. While we insist on an independent policy, a Bhutanese system encompassing our development philosophy, we should accept that the way we educate our children are changing. We have to change because the purpose of education has changed. From filling minds with facts, a long time ago, it is now to make children explore and think, the most relevant in current times.
Yesterday, Kuensel reported that the government has found “A solution to end the illegal tobacco trade” and the editorial supported the government’s move stating that though it violates the existing tobacco control law, it is the most practical as well as hinting most do not pay the taxes as required by the law.
Both the editorial and the Prime Minister’s (PM) statement makes complete sense from the perspective of social menace and risk posed by this illegal cross-border smuggling of tobacco in the possible spread of Covid-19. Such a bold editorial and government’s decision to come up with such interim measures raises questions on whether the legislature remained ignorant of the loopholes in the law or if Bhutan Narcotic Control Authority (BNCA) as custodian of the law failed its responsibility in effective implementation of the law.
The World Health Organization in May stated that “the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats killing more than 8 million people a year around the world” mostly from middle or low income countries. Our parliament enacted this law because of enormous ill effects on health and not to punish people but failed to achieve its objectives.
The PM’s justification that “Bhutan has not banned the import of tobacco products in the country,” seems correct as importation for personal consumption is legal. Section 11 of the Tobacco Control Act 2010 (Amended 2014) banned the sale of tobacco or tobacco products within the country.
However, if the government decides to sell, the caveat is that under section 50 of the Act, a buyer can face hefty fines as well imprisonment unless the government decides to set aside the existing law completely by taking shelter under Covid-19. Section 22 and 23 of the Act mandates BNCA to “promote and implement a cessation of tobacco use and adequate treatment for tobacco dependence” in health care facilities. These provisions are intended to reduce tobacco use and dependence in the country. The PM was correct in saying, “this is a wrong time to rehabilitate a person or change their habits.” But it has been more than a decade since the implementation of this law started. What have the implementing agencies been doing in this area?
Unlike any other law, this law went for two amendments within five years after the enactment. Yet the parliament has only increased the quantity defeating the primary objective of the law (reduce use) and BNCA only enforced the punitive measures but not the cessation measure as mandated by the law.
While considering the importance of securing our borders from Covid-19, the government may be excused from taking such drastic measures to the extent of defying the parliamentary act as there are no better alternatives. However, governments must not take this as a precedent and continue such steps in other areas.
Government must realise that the present situation is an unprecedented step by the state in a democracy and must not be considered ordinary. In the name of national emergency, the government should not become too powerful, undermining the fundamental principles of democracy. In such difficult times, the rule of law must remain above everything. The Constitution does not provide such extraordinary authority to the government and in ordinary circumstances is against the rule of law and tenets of democratic culture.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.
Duty Free outlets to sell tobacco products
With increasing cases of illegal trade of tobacco products along the border, the government has formally asked the Bhutan Duty Free Limited to be the main vendor of tobacco products in the country.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering during a meeting with Parliamentarians yesterday said that currently tobacco smuggling is one of the major illegal activities along the border with more than 30 individuals apprehended daily.
Lyonchhen said that in the light of the pandemic, to curb the illegal movement of people across the border (smuggling of tobacco) and to control the tobacco black market in the country, the government has devised the mechanism.
The mechanism, Lyonchhen said, would allow Bhutanese to buy the specified quantity of tobacco products for personal consumption from the Bhutan Duty Free Limited outlets by paying 100 percent tax.
He said that the outlets, which would be set up in several places (around nine) including Thimphu and Phuentsholing should be assumed as a foreign source from where individuals are allowed to buy tobacco products of specified quantity by law.
The Prime Minister explained that Bhutan has not banned the import of tobacco products in the country. Only the sale of tobacco products is banned, he added.
The Tobacco Control Act allows a person to import tobacco and tobacco products for personal consumption upon paying duties and taxes.
However, under the current situation, Lyonchhen said that with people restricted from going out of the country, theoretically, a smoker couldn’t get a packet of cigarettes in the country.
“This is a wrong time to rehabilitate a person. This is not the time to change their habits,” he said.
Lyonchhen said, “We are not trying to be legally correct here. We want to be correct from the Covid-19-point-of-view. This is also socially correct. ”
He added that it is because of the Tobacco Control Act that is giving the government a space to bring in duty free on board and allowing them to collect the tax on the products.
The Prime Minister also said that while the mechanism has been devised as a temporary measure to address the need of the hour, the Parliamentarians have the right to amend the Act, should they feel the need in the long term.
Meanwhile, according to the Tobacco Control (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2014, an individual could bring in either 800 sticks of cigarettes or 1,200 sticks of bidis or 150 pieces of cigars or 750 grams of other tobacco or tobacco products in a month after paying tax.
Transactions go digital amid Covid-19 pandemic and digital drive
Digital payment transactions have seen a significant jump amid the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Royal Monetary Authority’s (RMA) report on the Covid-19 impact on Payments in Bhutan.
The economy recorded 29.5 million (M) domestic retail payment transactions from January to June 2020 amounting to Nu 80.66 billion (B). The average number of recorded transactions increased to 4.9M per month as compared to 3.1M in 2019.
The share of digital payments in the total recorded domestic payment transactions rose to more than 85 percent in the first quarter of 2020 from 77.47 percent in 2019. Out of that, the monthly average growth in mobile payments increased from 5.18 percent in 2019 to 8.29 percent in 2020.
Similarly, mobile wallets saw an increase in the volume of transactions processed, especially with effect from March 2020, with the launch of eTeeru of Tashi InfoComm. The increase is also attributed to policy changes made by the central bank in April 2020 to allow merchant payment and enhance transaction limits.
However, the RMA states that it was not only the Covid-19 pandemic that encouraged more people to switch to the digital payment system.
The RMA’s director of Department of Payment and Settlement Systems, Tshering Wangmo, said that the increase in digital payments was also a result of the RMA and banks’ rigorous digital initiatives. She said digital payments have gained popularity and trust and that the central bank would further promote cashless payments.
The digital payment system, she said, would be more relevant and crucial if the country goes into the Covid-19 red-zone. “The recent launch of Bhutan Quick Response (QR) Code for payment is also expected to further benefit customers,” she said.
Launched on July 17, QR Code facilitates customers to make payments by scanning QR codes of different banks directly from their accounts without the need for POS (point of sale) terminals. However, there are complaints that transections are not smooth as expected. Money getting deducted but not getting credited is the main complain among users.
The RMA also reported that payments through the Global Interchange for Financial Transaction (GIFT), an electronic system that enables individuals and business entities to claim the payments online from the government, also increased significantly.
The GIFT has three payment components—BITS (deferred interbank fund transfer below Nu 1M), RTGS (real time large value fund transfer above Nu 1M) and BULK (real time retail payments with no amount ceilings).
The transaction volume through BITS increased significantly this year. As of June this year, the economy recorded a total of 8,925 transactions amounting to more than Nu 1,366M through BITS.
Through BULK, a total of 23,469 transactions valued at Nu 2.52B were processed as of June. The system is also used for bulk disbursement of funds such as salaries, loan and pension by government agencies, corporates and private institutions from one bank to another.
The Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu is also being disbursed through BULK, according to the RMA.
As of June, a total of 2,215 transactions worth more than Nu 30.323B were recorded. The average number of such transactions per month increased to 176 this year as compared to 128 last year.
Through RTGS and cheques, transactions worth Nu 155.16B took place as of June 2020. Compared with pervious years, a majority of large value transactions were channeled digitally instead of using cheques.
Cash withdrawal from ATMs saw a drop in 2020 as more people chose digital transactions.
The withdrawals from ATMs saw a negative growth of 2.74 percent from an average growth of 12.55 percent. As of June, a total of 12.54 M transactions amounting to Nu 44.86B was made through ATMs.
The report includes data from January 2019 to June 2020 and broadly categorised payments into retail and large value payments and further based on payment instruments such as card, mobile and internet, cheques, and cash.