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Updated: 2 hours 17 min ago

OAG charges former BDBL general manager

Mon, 07/26/2021 - 11:34

Thinley Namgay  

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) charged a former general manager of Bhutan Development Bank Limited (BDBL) for her involvement in a fraudulent land price case.

The case was registered in Thimphu dzongkhag court on July 15.

The 54-year-old general manager of the credit department from Bjabcho in Chukha was charged for abuse of function, abuse of privileged information and failure to declare conflict of interest in a land case.

The case that happened in 2008 surfaced in 2011 when an individual complained to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) that his 10 decimal lands in Dhamdara, Phuentsholing was undervalued. 

The individual took a loan of Nu 800,000 from the BDBL in 2008 mortgaging his 10 decimal lands in Dhamdara. BDBL’s land price estimate indicated the land could fetch Nu 1.52 million (M) that time.

However, on April 28, 2010, the individual submitted an application to the managing director of the BDBL stating that he cannot repay the loan and asked BDBL to auction his mortgage land, deduct the loan amount and give him the remaining money.

ACC’s investigation revealed that there were only two bidders during the land auction on September 3, 2011 and one of the bidders is an employee of BDBL and he bided on behalf of the general manager’s brother.

According to the OAG, the employee participated in the auction as per the order of general manager.

The representative of the defendant’s brother bided the land at Nu 870,000 and bought the land, almost 57 percent lesser than the actual price. 

According to the OAG charges, the general manager was one of the members in the auction.  “Before the auctioning of the land, the general manager was supposed to declare the benefit of the land as per the BDBL rules, which she didn’t do to help her brother get the land.”

OAG requested the court to re-auction the land or give the land back to the victim and order the victim to repay the loan.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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A long way to go after the second jab

Mon, 07/26/2021 - 11:33

Covid-19 is not going to go away anytime soon.  That’s why we are talking about the need to heed Covid 19 advice more seriously now more than ever. We are talking about the existence of a new variant – Lambda.

What do we know about Lambda? Practically nothing. But going by the available reports, the variant, which is currently the dominant strain in the UK, could be more transmissible than the Delta variant.

Publicans and restaurateurs, who have lost business and income for a long time, are eager to get back to something like normality. Many people, particularly those living along the borders, have had to face a very difficult time with prolonged lockdown and restriction measures.

Thankfully, we got enough vaccines supplies and the roll-out has been impressive so far. But we are still in an unforgiving race between vaccines and new variants. That’s what we know.

Just because we got the second jab doesn’t mean that we are fully protected from the virus. With cases running at alarming rates in the neighbouring countries and beyond, taking precautions is all the more critical. We know this too.

Nothing has changed significantly in our battle against the Covid-19; it is still largely upon us to manage the risks. 

There will be demands from certain quarters of the society to open up or to loosen the restrictions placed upon them. Some might even disregard the protocols in place because they got the second jab. The government must tackle these issues sensibly and urgently.

For the people living along the borders, lockdown has been very long. Many are going through very difficult times. But the difficulties facing individuals and families can and should be eased. That’s why we have task forces and officials on duty full-time. In such difficult time as the one we are going through, silos could inflict the biggest and hardest blow.

There is a need to ease the difficulties facing the people in the border areas, especially in Phuentsholing. That, however, doesn’t mean we should forget or omit the protocols altogether. What the people need are services at their door to keep going in these long, dark and strenuous times.

His Majesty the King said Saturday that if difficulties prolong in these areas, it would have untold impact on the people and the danger is that going about the way we have been people might no longer fear Covid-19. 

This is the real danger facing us today.

 All’s been good so far even as we have had to fight a tough enemy with limited resources but there can be no room for virus complacency—there are new variants and forces to be reckoned with.

Simply put the fight is nowhere near over; we have a long way to go. In this respect, we have many gaps to fill. New variants are coming. We have a long way to go even after the second jab.

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GNHC should not rush to finalise economic roadmap review: PM

Mon, 07/26/2021 - 11:32

Yangchen C Rinzin

It is almost six months since the task force submitted the draft 21st Century Economic Roadmap to the Gross National Happiness Commission Secretariat (GNHC) for onward submission to the government.

The GNHC was to review and detail out the implementation plan to operationalise the roadmap. However, information on how the final document is shaping up is in short supply from the Commission.

The roadmap was drawn from the His Majesty The King’s speech during the 112th National Day, in 2019. The task force comprising of members from various professional backgrounds was formed to develop the economic roadmap.

His Majesty The King said that the government, lawmakers, private sector and experts in various fields must work collectively to chart out a clear Economic Roadmap for the 21st Century to help every individual and entity understand their respective roles and work towards a common national objective.

Many are questioning whether the government has shelved the task force’s recommendations or rejected the draft economic roadmap.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering told Kuensel that any planning for economic activities must evolve through GNHC and so the review was vital.

He said that the gap does not mean that the recommendations are shelved or rejected by the government. Review only means to review the document before submitting it to the Cabinet, he said.

“Several reviews are also important. The process is going on and we’ve not forgotten the economic roadmap amidst the pandemic and challenges,” Lyonchhen said. “GNHC must come up with implementation strategies to achieve the targets mentioned in the roadmap.”

Lyonchhen explained that the government cannot rush and endorse the roadmap because it’s the country’s economic pathway. “My directives to GNHC is that they shouldn’t rush and discuss thoroughly before submitting to the government. I don’t want GNHC to give me a reason for time shortage so, I’ll wait for them to submit when they’re fully ready.”

GNHC’s policy and planning division’s chief, Karma Jamtsho, said that GNHC was reviewing the recommendations made by the task force and was simultaneously making sure that the roadmap does not impact Gross National Happiness.

He said that the economic roadmap is a comprehensive report and so the GNHC should be careful during the review, especially to look into how to achieve those targets and investment it would require and availability of resources.

“The task force has set a GDP target,” he said. “We may have to reject some of the recommendations if they are not implementable. Review is mainly to improve on the recommendations.”

With many questioning the GHN values with the government focusing more on the GDP, Karma Jamtsho said that the review also included how to address this suspicion and achieve GDP without compromising the GNH.

“But we must understand that the roadmap is not only for the present pandemic situation; it encompasses decades from 2020. We cannot rush,” he added. “However, we’re targeting to complete the review by this year.”


What’s are we looking for in the roadmap?

The roadmap sets an ambitious target of a high-income economy by 2030 with a per capita income of USD 12,375.

The task force was formed before the country recorded its first Covid-19 case.

In the wake of the pandemic, the government lowered the GDP growth to 2 percent from around 6 percent for the current fiscal year.

Accordingly, the task force set a GDP target of USD 10 billion within the 10 years with an annual growth rate of 10 percent.

It entails a cumulative investment of about Nu 1.5 trillion assuming a much higher level of incremental capital-output ratio (ICRO) of 2.8 than the historically recorded ICOR of 7.

To enable the flow of resources towards productive purposes, the roadmap emphasises an ecosystem that makes investment and employment generation as frictionless as possible.

Governance and ecosystem, human capital and infrastructure, and technology are three key thematic elements that will define the characteristics of the 21st-century economy.

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Picture story

Mon, 07/26/2021 - 11:32

Bhutan’s ace female archer, Karma scored 616 points, her personal best, in the women’s individual ranking round in Archery on Day 1 of Tokyo Olympics finishing 56th. She will now face Deepika Kumari, India’s veteran archer, who finished 9th with a score of 663 in the same event on July 28. The 30-year-old qualified through Asian Championships two years ago to book a berth at Tokyo Olympics. 

Focus point

Sat, 07/24/2021 - 14:00

A community’s dream to take part in mining cut short?

Sat, 07/24/2021 - 14:00

All that glitters is not gold. Community learns the hard way

Tashi Dema 

Lost and worried, members of the Pedmi Dejung Kuenphen Private Limited (PDPL), a company formed by people of four gewogs in Samdrupcholing drungkhag, are now  suspecting  there could be more reasons than just their inability to procure machineries on time that disqualified them from the contract to hire machineries to the State Mining Corporation Limited (SMCL) in Habrang and Tshophangma mining activities.

The company has 4,187 members from gewogs of Phuentshothang, Pemathang, Samrang and Martsala, who invested money to buy earth-moving machinery (EMEs).

However, today, they are not only deprived of the opportunity to hire machinery but lost about Nu 20 million (M) to a contractor they paid in advance. While the steering committee members are opting for a legal suit against the contractor, villagers who invested money in the contract after taking loans are worried.

The project started in November 2019 when some residents consulted local leaders and instituted a community company called Pedmi Dejung Kuenphen Private Limited (PDPL).

Members said that in January last year, SMCL’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) assured them that he would award the work to them this year after the contractors involved in hiring EMEs complete their contract term.

By June last year, they received a letter of intent from SMCL asking them to prepare bylaws and make their community group a legal entity. By September, SMCL sent them a requisition of 25 excavators, four 10-wheeler dumpers, four payloaders and 69 six-wheeler dumpers.

“In November, SMCL asked us about the status and preparedness of the shares and we reported we might collect about Nu 189 million,” a member said. “But we could barely collect Nu 35 million through chiwog representatives and community volunteers.”

PDKPL’s steering committee members wrote to SMCL on December 31 last year, detailing their back-up plans such as deploying workable machines of the public and avail loans to purchase remaining machines to meet the conditions.

However, on January 14 this year, SMCL called tenders for the Tshophangma mining. The group and four gewog leaders immediately wrote to SMCL to cancel the tender.

When this did not happen, the group then appealed to the Prime Minister and availed a time extension of 45 days.

SMCL, however, changed the condition of the machine requirements by increasing the number of heavy machinery and vehicles in February this year, which impacted the community contract. “By changing the requirement, there was a difference of about Nu 60M and also the new condition mandated we deploy new machines,” a member said.

A community member said they requested only 45-day extension based on the requirement conditions set in September 2020.

In that 45 days extension period, community members set up offices, called quotations for EMEs supply and started banking works, but without experience and capacity, they could not fulfil the requirements.

Some members travelled to Thimphu to request agencies involved, including officials of Druk Holding and Investment (DHI).

PDKPL’s members said repeated lockdowns and permanent sealing of border gates affected them to raise funds, as export of cash crops like ginger, betel nut and rice were hampered. They said compulsory quarantine in order to travel from Samdrupjongkhar to other areas also hampered their work.

A member said there was a lot of communication gap between SMCL and the community. “We work on a voluntary basis and we do not have knowledge and expertise on such projects.”


Facebook post

Members alleged they were told by DHI officials, Samdrupjongkhar’s member of Parliament Jigme Wangchuk and SMCL officials that they would not get the work because they wrote against them through an anonymous post on Facebook.

The anonymous Facebook post alleged a contractor who is executing a hiring work of corruption and linked SCML’s chief executive officer, NC member Jigme Wangchuk and DHI officials. It claimed DHI officials were given locally produced Khamtey rice.

A member said they repeatedly told all officials that it is not fair to punish the whole community because of an anonymous post. “We told them they should track the writer and drag him to court instead of punishing 4,187 people.”


Who executes the work now? 

In Habrang, a local contractor executes the work. Members alleged he was given liberty to deploy machines within the range of five years old and were given repeated time extensions.

Allegations are rife that most of the machines deployed at the sites under a contractor belonged to NC deputy chairperson, Jigme Wangchuk, although the machine was registered in his brother’s name.

“A former DHI board member also owns machines,” a Samdrupcholing resident said. Most of the managers of financial institutions here own machines in their relative’s name.”

In Tshophangma, a contractor who was awarded the work also could not fulfil the obligations of SMCL’s. After repeated time extensions, the work was cancelled and SMCL is executing the work departmentally.

Residents in Samdrupcholing allege that the community contract does not receive support from authorities because their bylaw mandates only residents of the four gewogs to hire machinery and trucks.

“As the most affected community, we thought we should benefit from the mining activity, but we did not realise we are risking our opportunity,” a community member said.


SMCL’s stand

SMCL officials explained there is a difference while hiring from the community and through tenders, as the community is awarded the work directly with negotiated rates or existing rates.

“Since the benefits must be shared by all community members, they have to pool resources, procure and own machines,” an official said. “Otherwise, only machine owners in the community will benefit.”

He said in a community contract, they do not allow bank loans to finance the machines, as banks will benefit and not the community.

The official explained they cannot dictate the terms when hiring is done through open tenders as procurement norms will govern it.

SMCL officials refused to acknowledge the change in conditions although there is a letter from the company dated February 5 that changed the conditions for the community contract.

An official said about 50 trucks that they deployed in two mining areas are from local households, without any middlemen.


Way forward 

PDKPL members insist that DHI and SMCL should award machine and dumper hiring works to the community.

A member said that if DHI and SMCL are serious about uplifting the community of the mining site, communities should be allowed to deploy machines and vehicles that are functional and not new.

A prominent public figure in Samdrupjongkhar also agreed that SMCL’s new requirement issued in February this year limited the community’s capacity. “The conditions were made to ensure the community cannot fulfil it.”

A member of the National Assembly, who is familiar with mining issues, said NA was apprehensive about SMCL taking up all the mining works because they were mindful of issues like this.

The member said affected communities are not benefitting because of state monopoly. “SMCL and DHI should give them some flexibility for the benefit of being the local residents who were affected by mining activities. SMCL should encourage and support the community by helping in procuring machines instead of being too rigid.”

A corporate employee said if SMCL wanted to help the community, they could have supported them and built their capacity.

Meanwhile, it was learnt DHI had verbally instructed SMCL not to award any machine hiring works to communities henceforth.

“Because of PDKPL, all communities living in mining areas will be impacted,” the public figure from Samdrupjongkhar said.

WWF report shows HWC need integrated risk management approaches 

Sat, 07/24/2021 - 13:58

Choki Wangmo  | Tsirang

Bhutan could explore long-term integrated risk management approaches like the SAFE strategy rather than adopting temporary crop compensation and insurance schemes, to ensure that both humans and wildlife have coexistence and not conflict. 

According to World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) forests and wildlife programme leader, Nagdrel Lhamo, despite the complexities of human-wildlife conflict (HWC),  effective HWC management must occur for the benefit of the stakeholders involved. “We all jump to the conclusion that animals are the ones causing harm to humans and property.”

The SAFE system management is a holistic approach that involves making the system—people, wildlife, livestock, and habitat— safe.

The approach assesses conflicts in a landscape through a structured stakeholder consultation process which allows managers, decision-makers, and practitioners to develop HWC strategies that gradually remove immediate risks.

Findings of the WWF’s recent report on HWC, titled, “Future for all: the need for human-wildlife coexistence”, states that while complete eradication of HWC is impossible, a well-planned, integrated management approaches can reduce conflicts and lead to coexistence between people and animals. “Such approaches require work on prevention, mitigation, response, research, and monitoring backed by strong policy support and the participation of local communities.”

The report that featured contributions from 155 experts from 40 organisations based in 27 countries states that despite being strongly linked to the Sustainable Development Goals, HWC continues to be overlooked by policymakers.

Reducing HWC through integrated approaches, the report states, lead to opportunities and benefits not only for biodiversity and impacted communities, but for society, sustainable development, production, and the global economy at large. “HWC is as much a development and humanitarian issue as it is a conservation concern, affecting the income of farmers, herders, artisanal fishers, and indigenous peoples, particularly those living in poverty.”

HWC interferes with access to water for communities competing with wildlife for local water sources and drives inequality as those who pay the price for living with wildlife rarely receive the benefits of coexistence, it states.

According to the findings, conflict-related killing affects more than 75 percent of the world’s wild cat species, and terrestrial and marine carnivore species such as polar bears and Mediterranean monk seals, and large herbivores such as elephants.

Nagdrel Lhamo said that HWC is inevitable in Bhutan considering communities’ proximity to forests.

One of the measures to skillfully tackle HWC, she said, is by maintaining a database through SMART (spatial monitoring and reporting tool) to understand the conflict.

“Encroachment into the habitats is one of the main causes of conflict. A spatial land use plan would be critical to managing the conflict,” she said.

Edited by Tshering Palden

100 days under siege 

Sat, 07/24/2021 - 13:57

 … Phuentsholing residents endure the country’s longest lockdown 

Rajesh Rai and Younten Tshedup     

Once a bustling town, the major commercial hub in the country — Phuentsholing — lies lifeless today. Everything has ground to a stop except for the transmission of the virus.

Phuentsholing will complete the 100th day under lockdown tomorrow. Although the bordering town has had some moments of relaxation in between, it could not come out of the lockdown restrictions completely. The town has been locked down since April 17 after an 8-year-old boy and his mother tested positive for Covid-19 from the flu clinic the previous day.

Residents are exhausted and frustrated with the situation. Many have left Phuentsholing after much endurance for places like Thimphu, Paro, Wangdue, and Mongar. “It’s very depressing when you are confined in your own house for too long,” said Karma Dorji, a businessman who is currently in Mongar with his family.

For others, it is their children’s education that has led to this forced migration. “With the situation showing no signs of improvement in Phuentsholing, I’m worried about my children,” said a father of two in Phuentsholing. “I’m looking for admission for my children in Thimphu. If I don’t get there, I’ll try in other dzongkhags.”

What went wrong in Phuentsholing?

Owing to its close proximity to the international border, Phuentsholing was identified as one of the high-risk areas in the country since the beginning of the pandemic last year. Positive cases from the community continue to emerge even after several months of being under lockdown.

The question is if the lockdown has worked in Phuentsholing? Going by the rate of community case detection, it has not.

Kuensel learnt that recently some of the staff of one of the corporations had organised a dinner in Phuentsholing. Some of the people attending the dinner programme were infected with the virus. There were also instances where people did not show up for testing during the third mass testing.

The government decided to impose a complete lockdown in Phuentsholing on July 9 in preparation for the second nationwide vaccination campaign. But before imposing the lockdown, people were allowed to come out and do shopping on July 8. This was a mistake.

Kuensel learned that some five women working in shops under Mega Zone II were sent to Mega Zone I without being tested on July 8. These women were working in the Core IV area of the main town under Mega Zone II.

Using the e-permit, the women returned to their homes at Toorsa NHDCL housing colony under Mega Zone I. Some of these women tested positive for Covid-19 on July 11, two days after the fourth lockdown. They also infected their friends.

The building where they were living at the NHDCL housing colony in Toorsa area was declared as a ‘red building’.

A resident of the building, Rinchen, said that knowing about the incident he called the hotline number to inquire why the women were allowed to move without getting tested in the first place. “I was told that they only tested people returning to Toorsa settlement. I asked them if it was only the settlement area that was prone to the virus.”

Rinchen said that the mistake forced his building to turn red.

Speaking to Kuensel, a Toorsa temporary settlement resident said that a person over the hotline had told him the same thing that he could return without testing. However, he said that the hotline had advised him to stay under strict home quarantine for seven days.

“But I went to check at a flu-clinic and went home,” he said, adding that he stayed under strict home quarantine. “Without the test result, people are not allowed inside the Toorsa temporary settlement.”

The Delta concern 

One of the reasons why Phuentsholing continues to detect positive cases from the community was because of the highly transmissible Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 virus, said Dr Sonam Wangchuk of the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NI-TAG).

He said that Phuentsholing in the past recorded positive cases from the community but the outbreak was not as wide and recurring as the current one. This was because the virus then was not as transmissible as this one, he added.

“We have protocols in place but then they were not being followed strictly before and even today,” said Dr Sonam Wangchuk. “They thought the same measures and protocols would work this time, which we know is not working against the Delta variant.”

Technical Advisory Group (TAG) member, Dr Tshokey, said that unlike in the past outbreaks, the current outbreak saw the majority of the family members turning positive if a single individual is infected. “This is because the Delta variant is highly and effectively transmissible.”

Since April 17, 514 positive cases have been detected in Phuentsholing of which 347 were contacts of the earlier detected patients. 167 positive cases were detected from the community.

The blame game

Frustrated and tired, residents have started blaming the task force for failing to contain the spread of the virus in Phuentsholing. Pointing to the recently uncovered loopholes in the protocols, residents are questioning the credibility of the task force members.

However, there are a few who say that they can only blame the location of the place.

A Phuentsholing resident, requesting anonymity, said: “Not being able to contain the virus cannot be blamed on anyone. Phuentsholing is the import-export hub. Anything can happen at any time given the porous border.”

However, he said that the registration of movement of people to low-risk areas must be transparent. “Some have travelled twice in a month where some have been waiting for more than two months to travel. Some register today and leave within a day or two.”

Containment zones and escort personnel must also be strengthened as main lapses can occur from there, he added.

A woman from Pasakha, Nima Dema said she registered for quarantine to travel on July 2.

“When I call the hotline, they give me different excuses. I don’t understand,” she said. “Even they are not sure when we will get the facility.”

Nima wants to go to Thimphu for some urgent work related to a family problem.  “But I don’t know how they consider the urgent cases. Those responding to hotline calls should know the details of the registration at least.”

Others say the task force including the health officials and frontline workers have been tirelessly working to contain the spread of the virus. “If it wasn’t for them, the entire country would be suffering today. We must understand that they have been staying away from their family and loved ones for more than a year now.”

An employee in one of the industries in Pasakha, Gagan Sharma, said that it was the second time his building was identified as a ‘red building.’ “It was declared as red from July 8. We haven’t come across any problems as of now. I think it is because we were mentally prepared.”

He said that essential supplies have been consistent. The building was declared red once in June before.

Business-wise, it is the small shops, restaurants and bars that would experience significant impact even if the lockdown opens after the vaccination.

A restaurant owner, Karma Tshering Dorji, said he cannot take kidu. “Our King is already doing so much for us,” he said, adding that the government could help them. “If the government can help us avail loans with less interest for those affected businesses in Phuentsholing.”

He said that he would not want a large sum of loan. An amount that could help him pick his restaurant business up and pay for the outstanding rents would be enough, he added. “We can pay the loan once we start our business and it starts running smoothly.”

Edited by Tshering Palden

Improve your KYC or lose your customers

Sat, 07/24/2021 - 13:57

Know Your Customer (KYC) is one of the most important tools of the financial services providers (FSPs), especially banks, to verify the identity of the customer and manage and mitigate the risks, including criminal elements or money laundering activities prudently and maintain strong customer trust in the financial institutions.  

Failure to observe KYC is a serious infringement on customer’s rights.

The recent Gelephu case where a woman lost all her savings seems to be a good example of failure to exercise due diligence. KYC was set aside which allowed the criminal to run away with the client’s savings. 

When the Bank of Bhutan launched BoB Connect Agents in 2017, the BoB touted that such facilities are “secure, convenient and hassle-free transactions” which is provided through one-time password (OTP). Probably, the bank did not realize the enormous threats of using such technology if left for OTP as the sole means to allow the transaction. 

A paper published by the International Journal of Engineering Research & Technology revealed that “there are several ways such as Wireless interception, mobile phone Trojans, SIM Swap Attack” through where one can obtain OTP. With the reform in the education system, special focus on computer literacy and the introduction of coding, we may even have many homes grown hackers who may obtain OTP illegally and steal our money.  

Thus, our banks must put in vigorous KYC mechanisms to protect the customers through multilayered security and identification—only a bonafide customer should be able to avail banking services like BoB Connect.

The recent case was not because of the mere loss of mobile phones because of the extent to which the BoB agents failed to follow. It is reported that a person can withdraw a maximum of Nu 10,000 at a time and a total of Nu 595,000 was withdrawn. This means the person was able to complete more than 59 transactions. The fact that despite him being a foreign citizen who came with numerous OTPs belonging to a Bhutanese woman and agents permitted multiple transactions itself shows the magnitude of lack of due diligence and KYC measures. This is a clear failure on the part of FSPs and the bank should reimburse her money back.

Section 144 of the Financial Service Act 2011 mandates the financial service providers to “establish KYC system to identify and verify customers to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism, a reporting entity.” Failure to do is liable to “any action in damages” arising out of such lapses besides other administrative and criminal sanctions.  

Rule 2.1 of Agent Banking Rules and Regulations 2016, imposes an equal duty on the banks for the failure of their agents when it relates its business.  Further, Rule 3.2.6 of Consumer Protection for Financial Services Rules and Regulations 2019 requires the FSPS to “establish grievance redressal mechanism with appropriate and adequate measures to address consumer grievances” and require FSPs to “publicly display the compensation policy through respective websites.”

At the time of writing this article, none of the FSPs had anything on their websites on such policy.

Financial matters are not only personal affairs but also serve as the lifeline for customers. Considering our small population holding bank accounts, any such news will create distrust in the society on banking services. The Agents Rules imposes equal liability on both the bank and agents in such failure. 

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

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

Tala plant resumes power generation partially

Sat, 07/24/2021 - 13:56

MB Subba 

Tala hydropower plant successfully restored generation of electricity by one of the units yesterday.

The plant was shut down on July 19 after large chunks of debris clogged the gates of the intake tunnels due to heavy rain for days. Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) officials are working round the clock to restore generation to the plant’s full capacity.

“On completion of filling the reservoir, the desilting chambers and the short dewatered section of the water-conducting system, the first generating unit of the Tala power plant was started today,” DGPC’s managing director, Dasho Chhewang Rinzin, said yesterday.

The installed capacity of each of the six units of the 1,020MW hydropower plant is 170MW.

He added that since there could still be some air that is trapped in the water conductor system from the incident on July 19, loading of the first generating unit is being taken up cautiously step by step with all parameters at the dam, the surge shaft and powerhouse being monitored carefully.

The cleaning of the intake gates and clearing of the debris from the desilting gates chamber were completed on July 22. On completion of the scouring of the reservoir, the closing of the dam radial gates was started in the late-night of July 22 to fill the reservoir.

“It is being planned to start the second generating unit later tonight if there are no problems faced with the first generating unit,” Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said yesterday. The other generating units, he said, would be started depending on the success of the initial generating units.

On the issue facing the plant, he said that the problem was with the water-conducting system from the dam to the surge shaft and not with the generating units themselves.

The plant remained shut down for four days as of yesterday evening with a daily revenue loss of about Nu 55 million (M). This means that the total revenue loss amounted to about Nu 220M as of yesterday.

According to the DGPC, at this time of the year, the Tala power plant with the monsoon rains would be generating a total of 1,122MW, including the additional 10 percent overloading capacity. This is equivalent to a daily generation of about 26 million units.

On the causes of the damage, DGPC MD said that from the review of the sequence of events, it appeared that the penstock pressure loss and subsequent events could have been caused by air suction into the water conductor system due to choking at the dam intake gates.

All resources of Tala and Chhukha power plants have been mobilised for cleaning of the intake gates and to lower the reservoir level to get access to the intake gates. The desilting gates chamber is also being cleared of any debris to allow free flow of water into the headrace tunnel.

Edited by Tshering Palden

Three takes Sinopharm vaccine as second dose in Sarpang

Sat, 07/24/2021 - 13:56

Nima | Gelephu

While the heterologous mixing of AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccines are not studied for use yet, three people have taken this mix-and-match regime in the ongoing mass vaccination drive in Sarpang.

Of 29,505 people vaccinated in the past four days in the dzongkhag, four chose to take Sinopharm vaccine – three took the vaccine for the second dose and one chose as the first dose on July 22.

Dzongkha health Officer, Tshering Penjor said that the doses were given on the request from the people. “It’s their choice and we have to give what they have asked for. Our preference was Moderna as recommended by the ministry,” he said.

He added there was only limited stock of Sinopharm vaccines and it was available only in two vaccination posts: Gelephu central regional referral hospital (CRRH) and Sarpang hospital.

Officials from Gelephu CRRH said that those who have taken the Sinopharm vaccine as the second dose were monitored closely and there were no reports of any complications to date.

Officials from the National Immunization Technical Advisory Group (NI-TAG) said that using Sinopharm as the second dose was not allowed and the health workers were to inform NI-TAG while using the vaccine even as the first dose.

Before the nationwide vaccination campaign, Lyonchen Dr Lotay Tshering, during his live question and answer session on July 19, said that the mix-and-match regime: AstraZeneca as the first dose to Sinopharm as the second dose – was not studied and backed by evidence.

In over two hours of a live session on Facebook, Lyonchen recommended taking Moderna as the second dose to AstraZeneca as the efficiency is much higher.

The prime minister added that many countries, where two doses of Sinopharm or AstraZeneca vaccines were administered, were now looking for a third dose of an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna).

Mixing the Moderna vaccine as the second dose to AstraZeneca (first dose) has proven to be more efficacious especially against the emerging variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus including the Delta variant, which is the dominant variant in the country today, according to Lyonchen.

“What we are recommending is taking the Moderna vaccine, an mRNA vaccine, as a second dose to the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine. This is the regime followed in Canada, Western European countries, and Scandinavian countries,” he said then.

Sarpang received 240 doses of Sinopharm vaccines for the second mass vaccination campaign.

Edited by Tshering Palden

Bamboo craft on the verge of extinction in Phumzur 

Sat, 07/24/2021 - 13:55

Nim Dorji | Trongsa

Tshazo (bamboo craft) one of the main sources of income for the people of Phumzur, a Monpa village, is disappearing.

Only a few elders practice tshazo. This, according to the people, was due to a lack of raw materials and the younger ones not showing interest in the craft.

“If the elderly people are not there, the art will not be there,” a villager said.

Sonam Tshering, 53,  continues weaving bamboo products despite many challenges. He has to walk around a day to collect raw materials in the leech-infested jungle. “It’s what puts off our young ones.”

Sonam Tshering said that he cannot do any other work besides bamboo weaving. His main customers are pilgrims visiting the pilgrimage sites in his village.

The abundance of cheap imported substitutes for their hand-made products in the market is the main challenge to their business.

The villagers said that if they could afford they would buy the imported goods from the market rather than struggling in the forest. “But we don’t have the money.”

As their village falls under the park area they are restricted to collect raw materials.

A villager, Bago said that if we plant a bamboo plant near our house it takes two to three years to grow. “All children in the community go to school and there is no one to learn the art.”

Jangbi tshogpa Lhajay said that tshazo was the main source of income for the Monpa community in the past. “All the villagers depended on this trade.”

Most of the villagers choose easier means to earn. They work as daily wage earners at the community contract work sites, and other construction sites nearby.

He said that it takes around five days to make a lakchu (a small bamboo basket) from collecting the raw material until the product is complete. It barely fetches Nu 1,000.

People felt that it’s not profitable if they only rely on bamboo art.

To keep the culture alive, they want to propose to the gewog administration to train the students in Jangbi school on bamboo work once every week.

Langthel Gup said that villagers formed a group but it did not work well due to some internal conflict among the members.

We are discussing with the relevant offices to revive the tshazo and keep the art alive in the Monpa community.

Monpas are believed to be the native inhabitants of the country.

Edited by Tshering Palden

Drangjagoenpa residents await blacktopped road

Sat, 07/24/2021 - 13:54

Phub Dem | Paro

A three-kilometre farm road from Olathang to Drangjagoenpa, overlooking the scenic Paro town is in dire need of maintenance. 

The stretch starts with a steep rocky slope riddled with potholes. The turnings are sharp, and it becomes challenging to travel, especially during monsoon.

Locals link fewer residents and low rental income to poor road conditions.

A landlord, Tshering Yangzom, said that many wanted to rent her house but the poor road conditions deterred them. She said that none rented her house until recently, which was built a year ago. 

Considering the bad road, she had to reduce the rent from Nu 5,000 to Nu 3,000. Otherwise, she said that her house would remain empty. “I have difficulty in repaying the loan I took to build the house.” 

Although it is a short stretch of road, it is essential for residents, a primary school and Tsherim’s abode Drangjagoenpa Lhakhang. Drangjagoenpa village has 37 households. 

Damchoe Dorji, a teacher staying on rent, said that it has been three years since he came to Drangjagoenpa, but the road remained the same. 

He said taxi drivers charge exorbitant fare. “The potholes and steep slopes damage the light vehicles as well.” 

According to Tshering Dorji, many private vehicles use the road daily, and the rocky slope was risky to the travellers. For instance, he said that three vehicles flipped over, after they could not climb the road on the hillside. 

He said that even the school bus doesn’t ply the road as it was risky, although the school is below the road. “Students walk to school from the garage below.” 

Had it not been for the pandemic, Lungyni Gup Jamtsho said that the road would be already blacktopped.

He said that the gewog sent the estimate to blacktop the road to the finance ministry through the dzongkhag. 

He said that it was an eyesore for many visitors who visit Tsherigma Lhakhang. 

In the past, the locals traveled through the Hotel Olathang compound. As it was inconvenient, the 3-km road was constructed. As compensation, the hotel gave Nu 300,000 to the community to maintain the road.   

The locals want to use that money to maintain the road. This, according to gup, was not advisable as the road would be blacktopped.

Besides, he said that the amount was inadequate to maintain even a few metres of the road. “We can invest Nu 300,000 in the ground widening project at the Lhakhang or other community project.”

Edited by Tshering Palden

Bhutan’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign

Sat, 07/24/2021 - 13:54

Impact on science, vaccine supply and global intellectual property rights

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic continues to shape the socio-economic, political, and technological landscape in the fight to stop the spread of the virus. Bhutan’s responses to Covid-19 and the success it has achieved are worth sharing with the world. In particular, vaccine rollout strategies and the vaccination campaign has attracted global attention. Within a three-week time in March 2021, 61 percent of Bhutan’s population received the first round of their vaccines, matched only by Israel at the time. The accomplishment of rapid rollout of vaccines was achieved despite Bhutan lacking a domestic pharmaceutical manufacturing industry. India’s generous donation of vaccines to Bhutan and neighbouring countries in the region played a major role in the success of the rollout.

In the first round, Bhutan had administered mostly Covishield doses received from India. The spike in the Covid-19 cases increased both in the region and worldwide with new variants of the virus which severed vaccine supply. Bhutan faced a conundrum over the uncertainty of the second round of vaccines given the shortage of supply worldwide. Moreover, time was running out to administer the vaccines with the prescribed time gap of 16 weeks between the first and second rounds of vaccination. Fortunately, many countries came forward to donate to Bhutan for the second round well before the recommended time frame widened; some of the countries are the United States, Denmark, China, and also India. The second dose of vaccination in Bhutan will constitute different vaccines, however. The vaccines are AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer, and Sinopharm.

First, the question of mix-and-match of vaccines is as much of interest to the general public and policymakers, given the different types of vaccines now available, as to the health professionals worldwide. The vaccination strategy of mix-and-match now adopted by Bhutan will hugely impact global science. Many countries are divided over the idea of mixing vaccines; however, an equal number of countries are also advocating mixing vaccines to increase immunity against the Covid-19 virus. Although Bhutan has announced that people can opt for vaccines of their choice, it is clear that the situation of different vaccines at disposal and consequent efficacy rates from the vaccine mixing for a large number of people will contribute to the much-needed scientific basis.

Second, many countries like Bhutan, lacking a local pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, depend on donor countries for medicines and medical technologies like vaccines. Covid-19 is an ongoing pandemic, and this means that only a handful of countries with advanced research and development facilities and capabilities can manufacture and supply Covid-19 vaccines. At present, there is a global petition at the World Trade Organization (WTO) led by India and South Africa and supported by more than 100 countries proposing for a waiver of intellectual property rights temporarily to facilitate vaccine manufacture, rapid distribution, and supply to countries who are not able to manufacture vaccines themselves. Vaccine supply and distribution are not at all possible if technological know-how, data, resources, and investment on the Covid-19 vaccination are withheld from larger public interests which are at stake at the moment. Protection of human health and well-being must triumph over anything else. The legal measure of medical technologies like Covid-19 vaccine by patents, trademark or trade secrets, or other intellectual property rights is stalling the efforts to deal with the pandemic. Bhutan’s plea for the second round of vaccines and the timely donation from donor countries is real-world practical evidence in support of waiving off restrictive legal and regulatory systems that function to override global health crises.

The death toll from the Covid-19 pandemic is rising globally. There is a genuine need for rapid vaccine rollout and treatment of patients both in developed and developing nations. Bhutan and Covid-19 and the way vaccines have been rolled out amidst practical challenges and supply uncertainties as well as the forthcoming support of donor countries is a clear message to the global community that both science and law can be worked out favourably to deal with the pandemic like Covid-19.

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

Contributed by

Kencho Peldon

University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Animation, a growing industry

Sat, 07/24/2021 - 13:53

Thinley Namgay

At the iBEST Institute in Thimphu, a 26-year-old animator, Tshering Yangki, sketches a girl on her computer. The character is part of the UNICEF and education ministry’s project.

For this project, the iBEST animation team will create an animation video to raise awareness on the importance of Early Childhood Care and Development.

Animation. Simply put means movement of picture. In a broader sense, it is an art of visual storytelling.

Tshering’s chamber is occupied with computers and youngsters who have come there to study animation. Everyone is working on creating different characters.

According to Tshering, the animation is a crucial form of ICT that can create employment. “Animation keeps changing depending on creativity.”

It requires more people.

A single animation video, for example, involves at least a 2-D animator, 3-D animator, content writer, background artist, illustrator, visual effects creator, compositor, and editor.

Tshering Yangki has been working at iBEST for almost six years.

“I had no knowledge of animation when I had just completed Class XII. I came to Thimphu to attend a month-long tally course. After that, a relative of mine asked if I would be interested to join iBEST to learn animation,” Tshering said.

iBEST alone has more than 30 animators, tell-tale sign of growing popularity of animation.

Druk Motion’s animator, Tandin Dorji, said that he started the firm in 2019 with a dream to improve animation quality in the country.

“I feel animation is the most effective way to communicate. It can change the perspective of how you see the world. It can bring out creativity. If you are passionate and want to tell a story, animation is the best platform,” he said.

Some of the animation firms in the capital are iBEST, Zoom Out, Yellow Box, Athang, and Druk Motion. These firms employ around 60 people in animation works.

And competition is stiff.

Nima, an animator, said that script, a character design, colour choice, storyboarding, and the background colour should be properly planned. It takes a lot of effort.”


Pema Tashi is an animator. He said that animators face problems of meeting the demand of the client, deadline, and creativity issues.

“We also look at the best international animation works before proceeding with ours. I am optimistic that Bhutanese animators will do the work independently in the future,” he said.

For these firms, government agencies are the main clients.

Tandin Dorji said that it was sometimes difficult to get works. “The only customer we have right now is SAMUH.”

Another challenge is not getting enough time for production, according to Tandin. “There is  lack of professional trainers in the country.”

Chief Executive Officer of Athang Private Limited, Karma Dhendup, said that his customers are government and international agencies, overseas companies, and a few  IT professionals.

Competing with state-owned companies in ERP market he said, was changeling. “Because government owned agencies award them the work directly. Audience in Bhutan is small. To take it to the international level is costly and time-consuming.”

Sonam Wangdi, an animator at Yellow Box, said that resources are expensive. Animation needs a highly integrated computer.

The way forward

Karma Dhendup said that to reach global level, support from the government is necessary.

The animator at Zoom Out, Choling, said that Bhutan has a rich repertoire of stories and folktales which could be turned into animation programmes. “For that, the government can and must support animation firms and animators. Government can, for example, provide soft loans to animators to buy equipment.”

“Government can also provide free or cheaper space in incubation hubs.”

Sonam Wangdi, said that the government could provide advanced training to young and aspiring animators.

Many say that animation could be taught in schools to bring about significant development in the sector.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

Monsoon woes for Hongkong Market meat vendors 

Sat, 07/24/2021 - 13:52

Yangyel Lhaden

Meat vendors in Hongkong Market above the Norzin Lam dread rainy days. Every downpour floods their shops with water mixed with raw sewage.

The vendors resorted to different measures to stop the stormwater from entering their place but in vain.

The stormwater enters through the left entrance of the meat shops and rainwater floods the ground floor.

One of the meat vendors said last week the meat vendors had to drain the water and clean the space twice.

She said it only took a few minutes of heavy rain to expose the poor status of the drainage system. “Within minutes the ground floor is flooded with stormwater with water level as high as  80cm.”

A pipe under the road drains water from the areas above the road at the entrance of meat shops. He said that the surface runoff water from the road also enters the ground floor.

A meat vendor said Thimphu thromde constructed a drain with metal slab covering near the left entrance but it did not serve the purpose. “Surface runoff water does not enter the drain as the metal slab is higher than the road.”

She said thromde officials suggested closing the entrance but unloading their goods would be difficult.

It is not just the vendors. Shopkeepers in the adjacent Karma Khangzang building said for the first time in 14 years surface runoff water entered their shop. 

“All the footwear in my shop was covered with sewage and debris,” a shopkeeper said. She suspects covering the open drain near Burger Point to convert it into a footpath worsened the situation.

A shopkeeper along the footpath said every time it rained, he had to close his shop as it was risky. “The force of stormwater has broken the footpath and it overflowed.”

He said before when the drain was not covered, they could remove the garbage and overflow of stormwater was not a problem. “With limited human resources in thromde, I don’t expect them to clean the drain.”

He said that the thromde could have left a part open to clean whenever the drain gets clogged.

Kuensel tried contacting Thromde officials but they were unavailable for comments.

Edited by Tshering Palden

Thromde starts GIS study to improve public transport in Thimphu 

Sat, 07/24/2021 - 13:51

Yangyel Lhaden

Come November and Thimphu Thromde will implement the new routes, bus stops, and terminals that are identified through geographic information system (GIS)-based street mapping.

In the past 22 years, since the start of the City Bus Service (CBS) in Thimphu, the routes, bus stops and terminals were based on complicated conventional maps.

Lack of technical expertise and problems in organisational structure posed serious challenges in upgrading the system. The CBS was under Bhutan Post Corporation while its services were related to the thromde office.

Last year, the CBS was placed under Thimphu Thrompon. Thimphu thromde’s Chief Urban Planner Thinley Norbu said for city bus services it required land for routes and bus stops which was directly related with the thromde office.

He said officials from CBS presented how city buses functioned and shared bus stops were randomly selected according to public demand and about the inefficiency of the circular route.

Thinley Norbu said both CBS and Thimphu thromde felt the need for a professional study according to GIS to identify routes, bus stops, and terminals.

That’s when the urban planning division began studying every bus stop and route to map the new routes based on population density.

Urban Planner, Sonam Jamtsho said for efficient public transport, accurate timing for bus arrival was important. “Our concept of new routes was an interchange of buses whereby a person had to wait for a maximum of 10 minutes for the next bus.”

For example, he said that a person travelling to Motithang from Babesa could board a bus on the trunk lane and disembark at Memorial Chorten. From there the person can board a subsidiary bus to Motithang.

A trunk or main lane from Babesa to Dechecholing will connect North and South of Thimphu. Those places not covered by trunk routes are connected with each other and to the trunk route by subsidiary routes.

Ten subsidiary routes are Samtenling to Yangchenphug Higher Secondary School (YHSS), Zilukha to Motithang, Motithang to YHSS, Changedaphu to Lungtenphu, Changjalu-old highway-Semtokha-Olakha workshop, Pelkhil Higher Secondary School to Royal Thimphu College (RTC)  junction, Babesa to Debsi, RTC junction to RTC, RTC to Serbithang, and Changbangdu to Changzamtog.

A ring road, for interconnection within the city covering places: flyover bridge, hospital, Changangkha, Kawajangsa, Centenary Farmers’ Market, Babesa Express Way, and back to fly over bridge is also identified.

Sonam Jamtsho said that complete coverage was impossible as there were chances a bus could ply empty to places such as upper Pamtsho. “Upper Pamtsho is not connected to CBS.”

Currently, the city bus follows a circular route meaning buses start and end the journey at the only terminal in Changlam taxi parking which consumes time.

Sonam Jamtsho said that the GIS team in its initial study identified two terminals in North and South but that was not enough. “An additional central terminal at the CBS office is identified. One in Motithang is in the plan.”

A southern terminal at the RTC junction is under construction and the northern terminal will be in Dangrina.

Sonam Jamtsho said that the team studied the distance a person had to walk or travel to a stop upon boarding and after getting off the bus.

He said that the last-mile connectivity could be walking, driving with a private car to the bus stop, and cab. “ Driving with a private car to the bus stop is not feasible in Bhutan.”

He said at least a footpath connectivity should be provided according to our plan. “Construction of the footpath will depend on the budget.”

Thromde is conducting a two-year study of the feasibility of a rapid transit system or a dedicated lane for buses.

Edited by Tshering Palden

Phuentsholing on a full vaccination drive

Fri, 07/23/2021 - 12:59

… unlocking plans onboard as fourth lockdown ends

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Despite still being in lockdown, more than 4,000 individuals received the second dose in Phuentsholing as of yesterday. This includes all the residents of Mega Zone 3 and parts of Mega Zone 1 and 2.

Children aged between 12 and 17 years were given Pfizer shots. Phuentsholing has 1,771 youths in this age group. There are 3,871 under 11 years old.

Vaccination at Mega Zone 3 started on July 21 and concluded yesterday, while vaccination for Mega Zone 1 and 2 began yesterday.

Mega Zone 3 covers Pasakha and Pekarzhing. Vaccination started earlier in Mega Zone 3 because it didn’t report any positive cases for more than 21 days.

Although the plan was to start the vaccination drive after the mass screening in Mega Zone 1 and 2, the Southern Covid-19 Task Force (SC-19TF) announced a change in the plan late night on July 21. The mass testing was cancelled.

Vaccination started from Phuentsholing Shedra and Toorsa Tar in Mega Zone 1 and Rinchending Goenpa and College of Science and Technology (CST) in Mega Zone 2.

The vaccinators go door to door. De-suups called out residents for the jab. Those suffering from Covid-19-like signs and symptoms were not vaccinated.

Individuals in red buildings and clusters will be vaccinated in their respective homes or apartments after completion of vaccination.

Vaccination underway in Pasakha

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Relaxation starts in Mega Zone 3

Since vaccination is over in Mega Zone 3, a restrictive movement or yellow phase will begin today.

Movement of people on foot within the sub-zones Ahlay, Pasakha and Pekarzhing will be allowed until 7:30pm. Shops are allowed to open from 8am to 7pm.

Construction activities and operation of industries are allowed in self-containment mode. Export and import will be facilitated as per the protocols prescribed by the SC-19TF.

Mega Zone 3 will transition into the green phase or complete relaxation from July 30, provided there are no positive cases.

Meanwhile, Mega Zone 1 and 2  will remain under complete lockdown until the vaccination campaign is over.

A restrictive movement, for one vaccinated individual from every household, will be allowed to come out to buy essential supplies from the eighth day for the next one week. This means, the vaccination programme will complete by July 28 and only one person will be allowed to come out until August 4.

A complete lockdown is expected for Mega Zones 1 and 2 between August 10 and 13.

This period will give adequate antibodies to vaccinated individuals including children who are receiving their first Pfizer dose.

Any response measures to be imposed upon detection of cases during lockdown or yellow phase post-vaccination will be decided based on the epidemiological situation. 

This approach adopted will give everyone who got vaccinated adequate immune protection that can avoid or minimise outbreaks and transmission after re-opening.  

Meanwhile, symptomatic testing will continue in all three zones. 

The current enhanced surveillance strategy will also be continued for another month after vaccination.

What are the people  saying?

While vaccination has come as a huge relief to residents, many businessmen are worried further lockdown until full relaxation would worsen their situation.

A restaurant owner, Karma Tshering Dorji said he doesn’t understand why there should be further lockdown until mid-August after the vaccination.

“It is almost half a year,” he said. “We have rents to pay. The things inside the restaurant are already damaged.”

He said that restaurants and bars were the ones that will see maximum protocols after the relaxation. Crowding at the multi-storied vegetable complex was more concerning, he said.

“I think shops in the town must be allowed to sell vegetables until the outbreak is fully contained after the vaccination,” he said.

A grocery retail shop owner, Dorji Wangchuk said he even called 5555 to ask if there was any possibility to take some essentials home.

“But it was not allowed. The rats must have spoiled everything,” he said. He said he is worried about paying four months’ rent and the further lockdown was not helping.

“It is more than three months and there are positive cases from the community which is also surprising,” he said. “I have some proof to show why there are positive cases.”

Another shopkeeper, Namgay Dorji said the vaccination was a blessing. “But we are worried the lockdown will continue until mid-August.”

“We are under lockdown from April to August. How can we manage to pay rent for five months?” he said. “Government has lots of plans like fiscal and monetary policies for the nation. But now the government must focus more on Phuentsholing and provide us with special schemes.”

A resident said that the vaccination and further lockdown plan was a “very well directed move” by the SC-19TF.

“It is better than waiting a few more days for the mass screening,” he said. “Otherwise the vaccination would be delayed.”

Meanwhile, Samtse vaccinated around 3,000 individuals on the first day of the campaign yesterday.

“Given that these places are still under lockdown, we are aware of the inconveniences caused, however, we acknowledge the solidarity shown by the individuals residing there,” Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said.

Edited by Tshering Palden

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Increase in prices of essentials remains unabated

Fri, 07/23/2021 - 12:56

Govt. hopes the inflation will slowdown after second round of vaccination

MB Subba

While prices of local farm produce have decreased significantly, the overall inflation rate remains high and unabated amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

In one of the highest increases, the prices of petrol and diesel have increased by about 53 percent the past one year. This implies that the fuel budget of a person who spent Nu 2,500 monthly a year ago has increased by about Nu 1,325 for the same quantity.

The prices per litre of petrol and diesel in Thimphu was Nu 77.2 and Nu 73.46 respectively as of yesterday. The prices of petrol and diesel in June last year were Nu 50 and 48 respectively.

Similarly, the price increases of food items have been sharp and continued to be the main driver of inflation of food items at 12.7 percent in the past year, according to data published by the National Statistics Bureau (NSB) on July 13.

The betel nut and betel leaves recorded the highest increase with 40.75 percent, followed by meat and cooking oils at 37.21 percent and 20.21 percent respectively. A carton of Dalda that cost Nu 900 last year increased by 100 percent this year.

The overall consumer price index (CPI) for the month of May 2021 increased by 8.69 percent from May 2020. 

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This means that the prices of goods and services consumed by the households are 8.69 percent costlier in May this year compared to the same month last year.

Prices of non-food items went up by 5.40 percent in the past one year with garments and transport recording the highest increase of more than 8 percent. Increase in transport is mainly due to price of petrol and diesel.

Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma said that the prices of fuel were beyond the government’s control as the prices are determined by the prices of crude India purchases and the market factors.

“We hope that the situation will improve once the country achieves herd immunity after the completion of the second round of vaccination. Some of the restrictions are expected to be relaxed to reduce the cost of transportation,” he said, adding that consumers should refrain from making unnecessary purchases.

Lyonpo said that the government was not been able to do much as the inflation came not only from the production level but also due to high transportation costs.

“The high loading and unloading charges at Mini Dry Port (MDP) in Phuentsholing and Sorchen makes the goods expensive besides other factors,” he said.

Inflation, he said, was prevalent in most countries and Bhutan’s inflation rate was about 3 percent higher than that of India. Lyonpo said that the capacity of the MDP was restricted and only a limited numbers of vehicles and workers are allowed inside due to Covid-19 protocols and that waiting charges had to be paid for vehicles.

The economic affairs minister said that the implementation of the recently passed Customs Duty Bill 2021 would reduce the prices of goods imported from third countries. The Bill reduces the duty to 10 percent from the existing rates of up to 50 percent on about 500 goods from third countries.

However, the prices of local farm produce have decreased. For instance, the prices of local chillies fell from up to Nu 600 per kilogramme last winter to Nu 30 per kilogramme recently in some dzongkhags.

Similarly, the prices of other vegetables like cabbage have also decreased.

Paro’s Dogar Gup, Lhab Tshering, said that farmers used to get Nu 500 for 30 kilogrammes of cabbage in the Phuentsholing auction yard before the pandemic. “Now farmers are selling 30 kilogrammes of cabbage for Nu 300, which comes to Nu 10 per kg only, to Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL). They have to either sell at the low price or let them rote in the garden,” he said.

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that the low prices for local produce were because of the supply and demand factors. But he added that India’s recent decision to recognize the import of chilli, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, peas and soybean from Bhutan would benefit farmers in terms of getting better prices and access to market.

According to the NSB, drop in vegetable prices contributed to the decrease prices in the food group.

Inflation also erodes the purchasing power of money. The purchasing power of Ngultrum as measured by CPI is Nu 64 as of May 2021 compared to December 2012. This means, Nu 100 in May 2021 is worth only Nu 64 at December 2012 prices.

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Why we must get vaccinated

Fri, 07/23/2021 - 12:53

The second roll-out of the vaccines has begun and many have already taken the jab. 

There are doubts among the people and the choice of vaccine is a major issue.

If there is any choice to make, it is this: get vaccinated. Will you be free of Covid-19 after getting the vaccine? No, but you will not succumb to the disease, the dreadful pandemic.

We have three approved vaccines available today. All are WHO-approved. But there are influences in the play. The fact is, no vaccine is better than the other.

But then we are seeing a sort of marketing on the boards where vaccinations are happening. This must stop, immediately, because further confusion is really unnecessary.

We have a choice—to get any vaccine of our choice. But go get it, that’s more important.

The vaccine politics has heightened; it will only get worse in the coming days and months.   

The whole debate must be understood in this new context—the need to go on and open up in the most sensible manner which is by building herd immunity.

Is that enough? No.

We need to do much more than we have been able to do. At a time when a majority of Bhutanese people are asking whether they should get a jab or which vaccine they must get, a clear-cut advisory is in short supply. This is the real problem.

Giving direction is more important than giving choices.

There is science to tell us that vaccination is important to protect ourselves from this menacing scourge. What is unhealthy is the information that is coming out about the vaccines. 

Logically, if the vaccines work wonderfully fine individually to protect ourselves from the virus that has caused so much disruption in societies, why and how is mixing a danger?

The vaccine politics has been raging and it will in the coming days only get worse, unfortunately. What is important is that we make sure that we get them from the vial to the arm sooner than later. 

Businesses can open and the public can breathe fresh air. Economically that’s good but we can not have it one way. No. 

We can defeat the virus, why not. But go get a jab, no matter what vaccine brands you’re getting. You will be protected and so the society will be.

Moderna? Get it. AstraZeneca? Go get it. Sinopharm, why not? These are vaccines that will help us fight the virus. But this is just a new beginning for us. Much will depend on how we react to the pandemic.

 We are yet to see the light at the end of the tunnel and we cannot play with these urgent choices, not this time.

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