Two Royal Academy of Performing Arts (RAPA) artists who tested positive for Covid-19 while in Bangladesh during Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering’s recent visit are recovering in a hospital in Dhaka.
A team of 22 artists from RAPA were part of Lyonchhen’s delegation to Dhaka as a cultural troupe for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence.
According to a source, the artists tested positive before returning to Bhutan after a week-long stay in Dhaka. On March 24, on the day of the team’s performance in Dhaka, one of the musicians complained of headache and fever at the performance venue.
He was then taken to a first aid tent where a Covid-19 rapid test was conducted. The result was positive. He also tested positive on the confirmatory RT-PCR test.
According to the source, following the incident, as primary contacts of the man, the entire RAPA team were held back from returning with the rest of the entourage as scheduled.
Lyonchhen and other members of the entourage returned on March 25. They were all tested yesterday and the results will be out today.
The remaining artists, 21 of them, were tested again when another female dancer tested positive. She was admitted in the same hospital as her colleague, while the rest of the team who tested negative were flown out on March 28 in a special Drukair flight. They are currently under 21-day quarantine.
Sources said that the duo are in stable condition and are being treated at Sheikh Russel hospital in Dhaka. “As a government guest, the Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh is also constantly monitoring their condition. Bhutanese Embassy is also in contact with them and their doctor on a regular basis.”
It was learnt that the two artists could have picked up the infection on their arrival in Dhaka. Prior to their departure on March 19, the entire entourage was tested for Covid-19 in Bhutan.
After their arrival, the team was tested again on March 22, a day prior to Lyonchhen’s arrival in Dhaka. All of them tested negative. “Not sure if they went around shopping but most likely they picked it up after their arrival in Bangladesh,” said a source.
The team was kept at a Four-Star Hotel — Fars Hotel. It was also learnt that the cultural troupe did not have any official meeting with Lyonchhen and the rest of the entourage members.
The health ministry did not share details of the incident.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh has been seeing a surge in Covid-19 cases since March this year. The infection continued to remain above 5,000 for the second consecutive day on Tuesday in the country with the total infection reaching more than 606,000 so far.
The number of new Covid-19 infections over the last two days is the highest since the first positive case was detected in Bangladesh last year. The country also saw 45 deaths in a row taking the death toll to 8,994.
Out of 2,979 water bodies mapped during the recent Bhutan glacial lake inventory, 567 within the four river basins are classified as glacial lakes, of which 17 are potentially dangerous.
Covering an area of 0.14 percent and constituting 19.03 percent of the water bodies in the country, all glacial lakes in Bhutan are between 4,062 metres above sea level (masl) and 5,507masl, with larger glacial lakes located between an elevation band of 5,000masl.
According to the survey, Phochu sub-basin has the highest number of glacial lakes (157), of which nine are potentially dangerous. Thorthomi is the largest glacial lake, which lies in the headwater of the Phochu basin with a surface area of 4.20km2.
With only nine, Dangmechu has the least number of glacial lakes. Wangchu basin has 13 glacial lakes that are in stable condition, the survey report says.
These findings recently published by the National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM) defies the two-decade old belief that the country has more than 2,500 glacial lakes and over 20 potentially dangerous glacial lakes.
In the latest criteria set by NCHM, a lake that falls above the elevation of 3,500masl and not more than two kilometres from glaciers are considered glacial lakes. In the past, the criteria set by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, all lakes above the elevation of 3,500masl were considered glacial lakes.
An official with NCHM said that the difference in the current and past inventories were caused by additional criteria to define glacial lakes and the use of different base materials with differing resolution and techniques in the current inventory.
The data for the survey was collected using satellite images and remote sensing techniques.
The updated inventory is expected to serve as the primary source of information for scientific studies and as a basis for socioeconomic developmental planning in the country.
The report states that most glacial lakes in Bhutan are erosional which means the lakes are formed after glacier retreat and detached from mother glacier.
Due to climate change impacts, studies indicate that glaciers in high mountain regions are experiencing accelerated retreat rate. As a result of higher precipitation in the eastern Himalayan region in which Bhutan falls, the country’s glaciers face a higher recession rate.
The presence of active glaciers in the country has also resulted in the formation of new lakes, expansion of existing supra glacial ponds, and increase in water level in the proglacial lakes.
The risk from glacial lakes downstream is ever-present. According to records, Bhutan has experienced a total of 21 Glacial Lake Outburst Floods.
Bhutan has become poorer by five White-Bellied Herons this year. The annual WBH survey counted only 22 herons, which is the lowest in the past five years.
The decrease in The population of the endangered species was mainly observed in the upper Punatsangchhu basin—Phochhu, Mochhu, Adha, and Harachhu—the oldest and previously popular habitats in the country. What is worrying is that for the first time in 19 years there were no birds found in these otherwise rich and safe habitats . Phochhu and Mochhu areas once hosted the highest known population in the country.
The magnificent big bird is shy and prefers undisturbed freshwater river systems. Its presence indicates a healthy ecosystem. Things are not going right in the Punatsangchhu basin.
Studies have attributed the decrease in WBH population to habitat loss and damage from infrastructure development, agriculture expansion, hydropower projects, extractive industries, climate change, and increasing pressure on habitats. Experts say the already endangered bird is in crisis with increased mortality and declining breeding success.
There is no denying that there were indiscriminate events in those valleys, issues that conservationists have been raising for a long time now. But they fell on deaf ears. We are only witnessing the consequences.
Farm road construction along rivers and human activities have to be properly managed in the sensitive areas near the habitats.
The National Environment Strategy emphasises the conservation of the country’s biodiversity.
National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan 2014 sets out targets for public awareness of biodiversity values, integration into development planning, introduction of positive incentives, sustainable production and consumption, and habitat mapping and trend monitoring, among others.
There is plenty of support in legislation and strong policies. But what is lacking is support of the communities and ownership of the cause. The critically endangered bird was first spotted by His Majesty the Fourth King in 1975. Not much happened until Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) was commanded to initiate conservation work.
So far its two captive breeding exercises have been successful but they were on a smaller scale.
To sustain WBH conservation efforts for the next 20 years, RSPN needs USD 150,000 annually. The NGO’s estimates show that this can only be possible with a White-bellied Heron endowment fund of USD 3 million at 5 percent annual investment interest. RSPN still requires to raise USD 1.35 million to achieve the target.
Allocating such a huge budget for the WBH’s conservation is impossible given the constraints and competing priorities. The least we can do is to keep away from its habitats. Demarcating the areas and restricting activities in those places could be a solution. Not long from now, the communities can manage the areas and reap huge benefits in terms of controlled bird watching for tourists and locals alike.
But if we delay any more, there may not be any left to save.
While diplomatic relations between Bhutan and Korea was established in September 1987, the KOICA volunteer office in Bhutan was started in December 2019 in Thimphu. Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) is a governmental agency of the Republic of Korea (ROK) founded on April 1, 1991. KOICA Program Coordinator in Bhutan Eunkyoung Koh talks to Kuensel about its plans and activities
KOICA Bhutan World Friends Program office in Bhutan is one year four months. How has the journey been so far given the Covid-19 pandemic?
We started our office with the first batch of volunteers ( four) in December 2019. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all the volunteers had to return to Korea which temporarily stopped all-volunteer program all over the world.
We’d like to express our respects and appreciation to the leadership of His Majesty The King for the success in combating the pandemic. Since the KOICA office in Bhutan is a volunteer program office and has not yet become a country office, our first initiated project in response to COVID-19 was the donation of Oxygen Cylinders worth USD 50,000 for the three regional referral hospitals through the Ministry of Health in June last year. We also handed over Test Kits from Korea on behalf of the Embassy of Korea in Dhaka worth USD 400, 000. In addition, KOICA Alumni Bhutan (KAB) with support from KOICA also donated Nu 585,000 to the national Covid-19 relief fund.
Korea for a long time has helped in the development of Taekwondo in Bhutan. What were the other areas of cooperation?
The volunteers who returned back to Korea from Bhutan were working as instructors for Korean language, health and physical education, chef and baking. We have also received many requests from the education, health and agriculture sectors including a request for Taekwondo coaches.
Since 1991, KOICA has invited around 600 Bhutanese government officials and private individuals from various fields such as agriculture, TVET, education and youth development, health, gender, police, infrastructure, the film industry and environment through KOICA’s Fellowship program called Capacity Improvement and Advancement for Tomorrow (CIAT).
Korea is known for its make-up artists (beauty industry). Has there been an exchange of knowledge or training in that sector?
We have not yet explored support in the beauty industry, but we have supported the capacity building of the members of the Bhutanese film industry since 2015 under the Country Focus Training. This partnership with Bhutan has been further extended for another three years starting 2021.
Our volunteer program is based on the request from the government, and we will be very happy to dispatch volunteer for the beauty industry if we do get any requests.
Going forward, what are some of the areas of priority?
Our priorities are what KOICA’s core values stand for – “People, Peace, Prosperity and Planet” which is in line with the priorities of the Royal Government of Bhutan. Our office is still a volunteer program, and we would want to bring in more volunteers with expertise in diverse fields and look forward to strengthening our partnership with the Royal Government of Bhutan, the Civil Society Organisations, development partners and the private sector. We would want to support the country by enhancing human resources in many development fields.
Anything else you would like to add?
This year marks the 30 years Anniversary of KOICA and we look forward to building our partnership with the Royal Government and the people of Bhutan. KOICA remains committed to contributing to the realisation of the comprehensive Sustainable Development Goals by incorporating the 17 goals into our plans, strategies and policies which are very well aligned to Bhutan’s 12th Five Year Plan. We will assist the Royal Government of Bhutan to achieve the SDGs and ensure that we reach every section of the society.
Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
State Mining Corporation Limited (SMCL) has denied time extension to Pemi Dejung Kuenphen Private Limited (PDKPL) after the company could not procure earthmoving equipment (EMEs) for hire to SMCL within the deadline.
SMCL’s letter to PDKPL on March 24, stated that the corporation had given adequate time to PDKPL since June last year to prepare their proposal at the cost of delays and adverse impact on the SMCL’s performance to meet the targets.
The letter stated that partial fulfilment of conditions would not be acceptable, and SMCL would not be liable in any manner.
The company wrote back to SMCL on March 27. It stated, “Although it’s for positive purpose and long-term business, we would have no choice but to hire EMEs due to the high cost of EMEs, low value of the collateral and less equity collection for shares.”
The letter stated that considering the sustainability and distribution of income, they would be procuring the EMEs phase-wise or, in a year’s time. “This would reduce not only the financial pressure of the community but also benefit those individuals who had invested in EMEs.”
According to the letter, since it’s a community project, some financial institutions are willing to finance without a mortgage, but they require a confirmation letter of the work. “It would not only ease the community in availing the loan but also accelerate in taking the work.”
“We would face severe consequences if the deal is cancelled as we already paid Nu 20M advance to the dealer. We also found it enough time and confidence to take up the work on time as we heard SMCL had extended three months to the present contractor,” the letter stated.
The SMCL would now continue tender formalities for the hiring of EMEs for the two coal mines at Habrang and Tshophangma in Samdrupcholing drungkhag, Samdrupjongkhar.
SMCL’s officials said they are preparing for the open tender for coal mines at Habrang following the board’s directives. The coal mines at Tshophangma would be awarded to the lowest evaluated bidder fulfilling the tender procedures. “Local trucks would be deployed based on individual households.”
Archers are undergoing training to draw compound bows safely at the Changlimithang archery range.
The training is organised by the Bhutan Indigenous Games and Sports Association (BIGSA).
BIGSA official, Tshewang Namgay, said that the training was an impetus to prevent side and sky drawing of the bow before taking aim at the target. “Side and sky drawing are dodgy, and BIGSA worries about this. The majority of casualties usually occur when the archer isn’t attentive or due to unsafe drawing technique.”
Three officials from BIGSA are facilitating the training. It is free and open to all.
“If archers follow the safe bow draw technique, risks will be minimised because an arrow will remain within the range,” said Tshewang Namgay.
After this training, BIGSA will not allow the players, who are inclined to side and sky drawing in the upcoming national compound archery tournaments, he said. “Such rules won’t apply for traditional bow archers.”
However, human resource and financial constraint is the main challenge for BIGSA to implement the same rules in all 20 dzongkhags. At present, BIGSA has no dzongkhag coordinator.
The discussion was ongoing in BIGSA on whether to give a certificate or card to the archers, who have undergone the training.
Tshewang Namgay said a card system was needed as proof of archers using the compound bow for sustainable archery safety. “Archery range owners across the country will allow archers only after producing the card.”
The training, which began in February, has trained more than 190 archers so far.
Archer Nidup, 65, said that such training was necessary. “I also trained with my German instructor in the past, but still this training is useful. Nowadays, the majority use a compound bow and arrow, which is risky.”
“Safety measures and proper releasing technique are a must for all the archers,” he said.
BIGSA had offered similar training in 2016 and 2017 to all the dzongkhags. BIGSA plans to conduct more training in other dzongkhags when the pandemic situation subsides.
The stray arrow has become a major concern for Thimphu residents where the number of archery range has been growing over the years.
There are around 20 archery ranges between Dechencholing and Khasadrapchu, mostly near roads or houses, posing a danger to commuters and residents.
At the archery range near Royal Thimphu College (RTC), the problem has been growing. Within less than a year, nine mishaps have occurred.
Alcohol consumption among players is one of the main reasons.
Kinley Tshering, 64, said that archery is Bhutan’s national game but mishaps could be more lethal if safety measures are not put in place. “Of the six stray arrows, which came towards my home, three came right in front of my front door.”
The archery range near RTC was completed last year. Dzongkhag officials use the range most of the time.
“Thimphu dzongkhag administration didn’t seek permission from the local people. After completing, dzongdag and dzongrab promised us that they’d put 100 percent safety measures,” said Kinley Tshering.
Indra Galley’s home was also hit by the arrow thrice.
“I’m worried. Recently, when the arrow hit the roof of my house, one of the archers gave Nu 300 to my husband requesting not to report to anyone,” said Indra Galley.
“Players are drunk most of the time,” she said.
There are no safety walls at Changbangdu archery range. Tshering Chek’s house is very close to this archery range.
“Sometimes arrows land in my vegetable garden. It’s scary. Whenever there’s a match, we have to stay inside the house,” Tshering Cheki said. There are around seven houses near the range.
The two national archery ranges at Changlimithang also need more safety measures. One side of the range is facing Lungtenzampa, and the other Changlimithang sports complex. These are the busiest public places.
Bhutan Indigenous Games and Sports Association’s coordinator, Tshewang Namgay, said that the safety barriers would be increased, and the association would increase its technical team.
The government’s efforts to frontload the 12th Plan activities amid a dip in the domestic revenue are expected to aggravate the public debt situation which is already high.
Public debt projected for the fiscal year 2020-21 is 126.5 percent of GDP, an increase of 8.4 percent from the previous year, according to a report on Bhutan’s preparation on transition from the Least Developed Countries category submitted recently to the UN’s Committee for Development Policy.
Public debt increased rapidly from 61 percent of GDP in 2010 to an estimated 121 percent in 2020.
The report states that the projected increase is mainly on account of the borrowings from the domestic market through issuance of T-bills and government bonds to meet the resource gap, and loan disbursements for the Kholongchu hydropower project.
One of the reasons for the increasing debt is the fiscal deficit. The domestic revenue is estimated to fall by 14 percent in 2020.
The 12th Plan had set a target to maintain the average fiscal deficit below 3 percent of GDP and to fund at least 80 percent of the Plan expenditure through domestic revenue.
Achieving this target looks increasingly uncertain in the light of the elevated expenditure requirements linked to Covid-19 mitigation and recovery and the pressure on non-hydro revenue sources.
Falling revenues due to the Covid-19 pandemic are expected to widen the fiscal gap in the fiscal year 2020-21 to about 8.4 percent of GDP, likely necessitating recourse to borrowing on foreign markets, should access to grant funding be diminished by Covid-19 impacts on donor countries.
However, most of this debt is directly linked to the hydropower construction projects, where the credit is secured against long-term power purchase agreements. “The external debt is, therefore, unlikely to lead to a debt crisis,” the report states.
The government says that a strong US dollar would make external borrowings more meaningful as the government would receive more when converted into the ngultrum.
But the depreciation of the ngultrum against the US dollar is also expected to aggravate the public debt situation. The local currency suffered 5.19 percent depreciation against the US dollar in 2020.
However, Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that the government would not borrow funds for Covid-19 purposes.
He said that the public debt figures were already high even before the Covid-19 pandemic. “The loans we’ve taken are for development purposes,” he said.
Parliament ratified the European Investment Bank framework agreement in the winter session last year, which will allow Bhutan to borrow from the bank.
As of December last year, Nu 31.07 billion (B), which is around 49 percent of the total commitments made by development partners (Nu 63B), was received.
Besides external grant, the government received loans from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB) for the pandemic response programmes. They were in addition to the regular country partnership assistance.
On the support received for Covid-19 pandemic measures, external assistance received from development partners have substantially capacitated Bhutan in handling and managing the pandemic thereby also helping in the implementation of the 12th Plan.
According to Debt Report 2021 published by the World Bank Group, Bhutan owed 74 percent of its external public debt to bilateral creditors.
In South Asia, the World Bank report states Bhutan had both the highest debt- to-export and debt-to-Gross National Income (GNI) ratio at the end of 2019, 330 percent and 117 percent, respectively.
Yangchen C Rinzin
According to the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB), the last bye-election for Choekhor-Tang constituency in Bumthang cost the government Nu 2.236 million (M).
The constituency became vacant after former Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) resigned on September 7 last year. The bye-election was held on November 19 last year, where member of parliament (MP) Dawa won the bye-election.
The majority of expenses incurred were for daily subsistence allowance of returning officers, national observers, security personnel, polling officials and dzongkhag election officials on election duty.
An official from ECB said that this was the trend of expenditure in most of the bye-elections every year, as the electoral process remains the same. “However, owing to the prevailing global pandemic last year, an additional expense was incurred.”
The expenses also include campaign finance, setting up an office in Bumthang and Australia, institution of Covid-19 safety protocols, postal ballots, and state sponsored election materials.
Similarly, the government also spent Nu 0.444M on the bye-election of Bumdeling gewog in Trashiyangtse last year. The bye-election was conducted after the former gup was convicted in a forgery case. The government also spent Nu 0.389M for the bye-election of mangmi for Goenshari gewog in Punakha after the previous mangmi passed away.
The expenditure for tshogpa bye-election for Peljorling chiwog of Phuntengchung gewog in Tsirang was Nu 0.183M.
While ECB is mandated to conduct bye-elections, as per Sections 577 and 579 of the Election Act 2008, as and when causal vacancies arise, the quandary over the resignation of elected leaders without completing their term remains debatable.
Debates are underway as to whether MPs, who resign prematurely, should be allowed to re-contest in future elections. Some feel that, while it was not fair to hold back members, the problem would not be solved until it put in legislation.
Many say that such an issue would not be solved until there were specific regulations to refund government election expenses. “The National Assembly, National Council, local government or election Acts don’t say that elected members can’t resign. It’s not clear.”
An ECB official said that the election commission could only act as per the Election Act’s provisions to conduct the by-election. Still, the reason for the vacancy of a constituency and the necessity to act is not in the purview of the ECB.
“We’re required to conduct by-elections when the seat of a member elected to any House of Parliament or Local Government is vacant on various reasons,” an official said. “This is to fill the vacancy, and, as per the Act, the bye-election should be held within 90 days and 30 days for local government.”
The official added that expenditure is bound to occur because bye-elections occur as per the provisions. Still, keeping in mind limited resources, ECB has always underscored the need to be judicious and exercise prudence in incurring election expenses.
ECB’s measures to reduce the expenditure of election include doing away with polling assistants’ deployment in 1,127 polling stations during the local government elections and 865 polling stations during the Parliamentary elections.
The ECB official said that the ECB has also stopped issuing extension kits to officials performing election duty in difficult polling stations and done away giving impress fund of Nu 30,000 to returning officers.
“The ECB has a budget for by-election. However, as per the norms, the finance ministry releases the budget when needed for the election,” the ECB official said.
Almost two decades since its establishment, the Wangsel Institute for the Deaf in Paro will have its first cohort for classes 11 and 12 this year.
The Deaf education, which started as a small unit under Drukgyel Lower Secondary school in 2003, was upgraded to class 12 last year.
Education ministry’s deputy chief programme officer for Special Education Needs, Pema Chhogyel, said Bhutanese Sign language (BSL) was in the developing stage and Deaf education new in the country. “It would be very difficult to have fast or instant progress. Muenselling Institute in Khaling for the blind was established in 1973 and studying into class 11 happened only in 1996 with two students.”
He said the education for students with deafness had to be upgraded progressively to facilitate the learning of the students with deafness whose learning needs and approach differed considerably.
Pema Chhogyel said they had assessed the future scope, resource and capacity of the school before upgrading.
Wangsel Institute’s principal, Dechen Tshering, said they would manage with existing resources and had identified subject teachers, timetable and allotment of classroom. “With the upgradation, main focus is enhancement of numeracy and literacy to develop entrepreneurship skills and life skills.”
He said every student was taking one TVET course to transit directly to work place or labour market.
Pema Chhogyel said the ministry would explore possibilities in creating access to tertiary education for students with deafness in future.
However, he said, a college management had agreed to take one or two students with deafness if they could institute some basic services and received required support from education ministry and stakeholders.
“Pursuing college education for students with deafness would be even challenging due to limited communication, inadequate BSL, interpreter services and facilities,” Pema Chhogyel said.
In 2019, with approval from Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC), six assistant instructors – six persons with deafness and four vocational instructors were recruited.
The ministry also look forward to follow up on the proposals to RCSC for interpreters for students with deafness and teacher assistants for inclusive schools.
The students at Wangsel Institute learn from adapted and modified curriculum from the general curriculum. Due to limited receptive, expressive and communicative scope with Bhutanese Sign language currently, the teachers need to select and customise the subject contents based on the relevancy and competency of the learners with deafness.
Dechen Tshering said teachers need not avail separate training to teach class 11 and 12 as the level of numeracy and literacy for deaf students was lower than general school.
BSL research and documentation has been a continued process since it was started in 2003.
Pema Chhogyel said, “The research team at Wangsel Institute along with a Sign language expert from Thailand is working on how to develop BSL appropriately with proper grammar, syntax and structure. There are over 3000 signs of BSL developed. Language development never stops.”
Until comprehensive communicable language was not developed, Pema Chhogyel said, the teachers be it at school or colleges needed to customise their teaching strategy and subject contents for students with deafness. “The students with deafness will face difficulty if all multilingual subjects are taught at each level which is written in complete language.”
He said, “We need strong collaboration and support from relevant agencies for all these successes.”
At Wangsel Institute, class 11 and 12 students are taught English, Dzongkha, Mathematics, ICT, and technical and vocational subjects. The students could be facilitated in taking the subjects as streams gradually with establishment of required services and facilities.
The class 10 and 12 students appear their final examination designed at Wangsel Institute, which are assessed and validated by Bhutan Council for School Examination and Assessment BCSEA for certification and endorsement of the results.
There are 105 students at the school. It started with numeracy and literacy with 10 students in 2004.
Meanwhile, with support from Pro Bhutan German association, additional infrastructure is being built in the institute. A soundproof studio is being built for BSL research and documentation.
Additional six-unit classrooms, hostels, additional rooms for vocational traits are also being built.
Education ministry also looks forward to strengthening Wangsel Institute as the resource centre for Deaf education services in Bhutan.
To intervene in the acquisition of interactive language for children with Deafness right from an early age, the Ministry will also explore establishing an early childhood care and development (ECCD) programme at Wangsel Institute.
Pema Chhogyel said this would need immense support, commitment and proper groundwork with the parents, service providers and stakeholders. “There are logistic, administrative, and resource challenges to establish such services.”
Thimphu’s population is 114,551. Yet, as Thimphu heads for the third thromde election on April 28, there are only 8,007 registered voters.
And, likewise, Phuentsholing’s resident number is 27,658 (according to the population and housing census of Bhutan 2017), but the city has only 932 registered voters. In Gelephu, the number of city resident is 9,858, but the number of registered voter is 1,542.
The number of registered voters is according to the Election Commission of Bhutan’s Electoral Roll issued last Sunday, March 28.
Having come so far with democracy and local government elections, the people are asking valid questions as to for whom the elections should happen. For example, the world over, residents vote for their representatives.
This does not happen in Bhutan. So, what are the consequences?
“What happens here is maximisation of land and increasing profits for landowners, while critical services in the city diminishes,” a city resident said.
City planning has been a major failure, starting from Thimphu. Bajothang in Wangdue and Khuruthang in Punakha are living examples of town planning that could have been models for township development in other parts of Bhutan.
“What the whole election process doesn’t give us is the space to say what we want as residents of the town,” said Karma from Gelephu. “Our towns are growing physically, perhaps, but vital services are decreasing.”
Town and city residents say that the thromde election should be about building community vitality.
“Only residents know what is needed. Majority of people want a liveable city with walking and bicycles trails, playgrounds, parks but residents can’t vote. Therefore, they have no say,” a Thimphu resident, said.
Pema has been living in Babesa, Thimphu for more than 20 years. She does not have civil registration or census in Thimphu. She can’t vote to elect the Thimphu thrompon. “If I’m allowed to vote, then I can choose a thrompon, who would focus on facilities and services that residents of Thimphu require. That’s probably why Thimphu is increasingly facing problem like water shortage, waste disposal and safety.”
Section 100 of the Election Act of Bhutan 2008 mandates a voter to be registered in the civil registry and have a household number of civil registration in that town for not less than one year.
The campaign for the third thromde election will start from Friday.
Chhimi Dema and Nima
During the scrutiny of nomination papers for the thromde election for tshogpa yesterday, it was found that two candidates had party affiliation and one had criminal records. They were disqualified effectively.
The Office of Returning Officer in Gelephu Thromde disqualified two candidates out of 13 nominations. Gelephu Thromde had the highest number of thromde tshogpa candidates.
The returning officer for Gelephu Thromde, Needup, said that a disqualified candidate was the lone candidate from Trashiling demkhong (constituency). Aspiring candidate from Samdrupling could not produce her security clearances for election purposes. The aspiring candidate was convicted for a criminal offence in the past, according to sources.
Trashiling demkhong that includes one of the important establishments, Industrial Service Centre, in Gelephu thromde would continue to be without a tshogpa.
Trashiling was represented by an officiating tshogpa for the past seven months elected by the thromde. The officiating tshogpa was rejected during the scrutiny of nominations.
Aspiring candidate, Passang Dorji, said that he was not aware of his membership with a political, as the party lost the election in the primary round a few years ago.
“I did not renew the membership for the past three years and I thought that my membership would become outdated by default,” he said.
He added that it was a big loss for the people because he was the lone candidate from the demkhong. “Many things are left out when there is no tshogpa representing the demkhong,” said Passang Dorji. “It’s a big lesson. I declared that I was not a member of any political party while signing the undertaking. I had no idea about my affiliation with the party.”
With the two disqualified, 11 candidates will now contest from the six.
The nominee from Samdrupling and was rejected yesterday, Dhan Maya Dhimal, said that she applied for general security clearance and it was approved.
“I did not know that I have to apply for election purpose. I came to know about it at the last minute. I tried till 4pm yesterday but failed. I had to give up,” she said. “I am without work for over a year.”
Gelephu thromde has 1,542 registered voters, the highest from Namkhaling demkhong, according to the election commission’s final electoral roll for dzongkhag thromde.
A total of 27 candidates are contesting in the upcoming thromde election as tshogpa. There are eight women candidates.
The only woman candidate from Motithang Demkhong in Thimphu was disqualified as well. She was disqualified for having affiliation with a political party.
Eight candidates are contesting in the Thromde Tshogpa election for Thimphu.
Phuentsholing Thromde has eight candidates for the Thromde Tshogpa position. Rinchhending and Pakerzhing demkhongs have two tshogpa candidates each standing for the election.
Many question the role of the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) whenever they see and hear of women and children in difficult circumstances.
Those, who work closely with the commission, understand how far it has come from being an institution that only focused on policies and plans to a service provider in recent years. There are many more activities it could still do to improve and uplift the condition of women and children in the country.
Women and children issues in the country draw attention. It is an issue that is close to policy makers and many others. However, going by the commitments, especially budget, it sounds more like lip service.
With only Nu 150,000 allocated annually to provide services to women and children in emergencies, there is nothing much the commission can do but grumble. To add salt to the wound, its budget was also slashed last year when cases increased by more than 90 percent.
Provisions of three Acts -Domestic Violence Prevention Act, Child Care and Protection Act, and Child Adoption Act- mandate the government to provide an adequate budget for the commission to develop and implement programmes and activities for survivors of gender-based violence and children in difficult circumstances and children in conflict with the law.
But the provisions do not translate into action without support from the government and agencies that allocate the budget.
Since its establishment in 2004, officials have taken to forums, workshops and meetings to raise issues of the lack of resources and capacity to provide efficient service delivery, but nothing has changed. Desperate, there were proposals to establish a ministry for women and children.
Hopes were raised when gender equality and women empowerment were incorporated as a National Key Result Area in the 12th Plan. This was not followed up by budget allocation, a key in achieving such visions.
The budget allocation speaks volumes of a lack of seriousness in improving the well being of women and children. Commitments are renewed every year on International Women’s Day and World Children Day, but there is no action to translate the commitments into actions.
Lack of funds is not an acceptable excuse. We spend millions on hospitality and entertainment. Nu 150,000 is not even 10 percent of a minister’s hospitality and entertainment budget for a year. Where is the priority?
If we are serious about women and child issues, we should change. The government and agencies should reprioritise and re-appropriate budget to ensure that services like shelter homes and reintegration programmes are in place. Effective child protection systems are necessary to prevent increasing cases of violence against children.
It’s not practical to have protection, probation and child welfare officers in every dzongkhag, but one dedicated officer, who is committed to the profession, is a must, for instance.
Let us not frame laws that gather dust on shelves and have leaders, who only claim they support women and children at official gatherings. Let the commitments and rhetoric translate into action if we really care about the welfare of our women and children.
Phurpa Lhamo | Gasa
March 26, Lunana — Ten in all—four medical staff and six desuups—are travelling day and night, across high mountains in Lunana, Gasa, where the land is still in the grip of icy winter.
They have watertight, heavy-duty Magnum boots on and are dressed to equal the challenges of the desolate and unforgiving mountains. It’s a long and rough journey and, without porter and pony services, fraught with danger.
But when the nation calls, to back away is not an option.
Since the nationwide vaccination programme began on March 27, a doctor, a nurse, two health assistants and six teachers of Lunana Primary School, all desuups, have been carrying the vaccine, a 16kg oxygen cylinder, regulator, medical equipment and emergency kits on their back.
A day prior, on March 26, at 6:30am, the team began the journey from Lunana primary health centre (PHC) to Thangza and Toenchoe. The journey takes twelve hours. The team reached their destination at 6:00pm the same day.
After reaching Toenchoe, the team waited for the vaccination programme to begin in Thimphu. The first day vaccination programme in Lunana did not see many people, as it is barley plantation season. The team waited from early morning until 6pm.
The team continued the vaccination programme in the villages on March 28 until 2pm. By 3:15pm, the team moved to Tshojong village. Travelling at night amid heavy snowfall, they reached Tshojong at 8:30pm.
After completing vaccination on March 29, the team moved to Lunana PHC the same day. It took the team four hours to reach there.
Health assistant Karma Tashi is already worried about the most difficult part of the journey, from PHC to Wachey. It’s a long journey through snow and ice. The team is expected to reach Wachey on April 1.
“If we don’t travel by night, we won’t be able to complete the vaccination programme on time,” Karma Tashi said. “The terrain is rough and full of challenges, especially at this time.”
After completing the vaccination programme at Wachey on April 2, the team will return to PHC.
All members of the team are tired but in good health. “We’re being extra cautious during the journey. We haven’t faced any issue so far,” a team member said.
What if some people missed the vaccination programme?
The team will have to trek back, which means the programme completion could take more than two weeks.
13 get the jab in Esuna
Thirteen villagers of Esuna village, the furthest village in Lunana, received their doses of the Covishield vaccine on March 29.
From Ramina, it takes five days to reach Esuna. Heavy snowfall has blocked the way to the village.
The vaccine was delivered through chopper service.
According to Gasa’s health officer, Tashi Norbu, two health officers and a desuup were sent to Esuna as part of the health team.
Dema, 38, from Esuna, said that people were ready and came forward to get the vaccine jab. “We’re really grateful for the vaccine. If not for the helicopter service, we’d have had to travel for more than five days to Ramina.”
Local government officials said that, in Lunana, people have been coming forward for vaccination.
To date, there has not been any issue of major side effects among the vaccine recipients.
All in stable condition but they will be required to take the second dose
Talks of a second dose even as people queued for the first led to three people getting a second shot of the Covishield vaccine on the same day.
Since the rollout of the nationwide vaccination campaign on March 27, three people have accidentally received a double dose of the vaccine.
A 51-year-old monk in Samtse was the first person to receive the double dose on Saturday, the first day of the vaccination campaign on March 27. It was unintended on the monk’s part and accidental on the health workers. The monk is ‘absolutely fine’ and the incident passed as a blooper.
On his arrival at the vaccination station located at the Tashicholing gewog Administration office, the monk registered for the vaccine online. “They took my ID card and mobile numbers. I was then asked to join the line to get my vaccine.”
After receiving the injection, the monk, as mandated by the system, was escorted to an observation room. “While I was waiting in the room, people were talking about the second dose. They said that we needed to get the injection twice and in Samtse they were going to give us the second dose on the same day,” he told Kuensel.
He said that, while he was leaving the observation room after completing the 30 minutes, an official asked him to report his status and he was put back in the same line. “I didn’t ask anything as I thought this was being done for the second dose,” he said. “Even the person, who gave me the injection, didn’t ask me anything.”
As he was being escorted for another round of observation, officials saw the indelible ink mark on his thumbnail.
“I felt nothing. I heard of people getting sick after the vaccine but I didn’t experience any sickness even after two injections.”
Another person in Nganglam also accidentally got vaccinated twice on the same day. In his case, sources said that he was not escorted properly to the observation room after the vaccine.
The 54-year-old man received the two doses consecutively without waiting for 30 minutes. Kuensel learnt that the man was escorted only halfway to the observation room and, instead of going to the designated room, the man entered another vaccination room and got the second jab.
Health officials said that the online registration system was overwhelmed on the first day as more than a thousand people logged on the system at the same time. “We then resorted to manual registration. The monk in Samtse had registered online but when he registered, he was offline. Therefore, he couldn’t be traced on the system,” said an official.
Also, the lack of coordination among officials at the vaccination centres and the irregular flow of movement brought about by respective arrangements caused the inconveniences.
Officials said that the health ministry had already distributed a uniform concept explaining how a vaccination station needed to be set up across the country. This included pre-screening before the vaccination and then escorting individuals to the observation room, followed by exit routes.
However, officials said that shortage of manpower and the overwhelming crowd, compounded by the irregular setup at the vaccination centres, led to the issues.
A third person in Zhemgang received two doses of the vaccine together on March 29, two days after the incident of the double dose in Samtse and Nganglam.
Health officials said that many assumed that the two doses of the vaccine could be taken together, which is not correct.
The official said that the second dose of the vaccine would be provided eight to 12 weeks after receiving the first dose. “We’d like to request people to consult the health workers or desuups on duty if they have any confusion with the vaccine or the process.”
He said that following the incidences, the ministry had asked respective centres to streamline and review the flow of movement of people at the vaccination centres to avoid similar incidents in the future.
Technically, although there are no contraindications associated with a double dose of vaccine, officials said that their concern was the extra dosage could intensify the minor side effects in the person who receives it. “This is because the first dose we’re injecting is the optimal dose used to trigger the body’s immune response.”
However, none of the three recipients experienced any additional side effects even after the second shot. They will also be required to take the second dose as usual with the rest of the population when it is made available.
Meanwhile, 343,707 people were vaccinated as of yesterday, covering 68.6 percent of the eligible population.
The population of endangered species is declining in other oldest habitats in the country
Bhutan counted 22 white-bellied herons (WBH) during the recent annual population survey, which is the lowest in five years.
The five-day population survey that ended on March 3 recorded 19 adults and three sub-adult individuals, which has decreased by five individuals compared with 2020.
Sixty-four percent (14 individuals) of the birds were found in the Punatsangchhu basin, and 46 percent (8 individuals) were counted in the Mangdechhu basin.
Of the 10 sighting areas, six fall under Punatsangchhu basin, and four under Mangdechhu basin. An individual has been recorded for the first time in the Chamkharchhu basin.
However, the decrease in population, according to the survey report was observed in the upper Punatsangchhu basin—Phochhu, Mochhu, Adha, and Harachhu—the oldest and previously most abundantly used habitats in Bhutan.
“For the first time in 19 years, no heron was sighted in Phochhu and Mochhu areas that once hosted the highest and oldest known population in the country,” said the chief of species and habitat conservation division with Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), Indra Prasad Acharja.
Phochhu and Mochhu areas had eight birds during 2007 and 2008.
No birds were sighted in Kurigongri and lower Mangdichhu basins.
The population is also decreasing in Adha, Nangzhina, and nearby areas, which were historically preferred feeding and nesting habitats until 2010.
Eighty-two surveyors from RSPN, the forest department, and local conservation support groups surveyed 53 priority zones, spanning more than 800 kilometres.
The survey covered all currently known and expected habitats along Punatsangchhu, Mangdechhu, Chamkharchhu, Drangmechhu, Kurichhu, Kholongchhu, and major tributaries.
Three live nests were located during the survey, of which two had three eggs each and one pair of herons was found building a nest.
Indra Prasad Acharja said that for every WBH sighted, observer, date, time, GPS location, count, age, and activity were recorded. The survey was conducted using Epicollect5 digital data collection platform.
“Other bird species sighted during the survey were also enumerated for record and to study the diversity and population trend of associated species within the area.”
Studies have attributed the decrease in WBH population to habitat loss and damage from infrastructure development, agriculture expansion, hydropower projects, extractive industries, climate change and increasing pressure on habitats. The small population is under crisis with increased mortality and declining breeding success.
The distribution of WBH in undisturbed freshwater river systems and its feeding habits signifies the health of the ecosystem. “WBH presence in rivers indicate the health of the rivers, the fish population, water quality, the health of associated freshwater biodiversity, level of disturbances, pollution, and above all, intactness of our nature,” said Indra Prasad Acharja.
WBH (Ardea insignis) is a large heron species found in freshwater ecosystems of the Himalayas. It is critically endangered under the IUCN Red List of threatened species.
In Bhutan, WBH is protected under Schedule I of Forests and Nature Conservation Act 1995. It was listed as threatened in 1988, uplisted to endangered in 1994, and to critically endangered since 2007.
The first WBH population survey was conducted in 2003 and has become an annual event. In the last five years, the highest number was recorded at 28 individuals in 2016.
Although established to take the lead in promoting and protecting the rights of women and children in the country, National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) say they lack resources and capacity to provide services.
Officials say three acts, Domestic Violence Prevention Act of Bhutan (DVPA) 2013, Child Care and Protection Act of Bhutan (CCPA) 2011, and Child Adoption Act (CAA) of Bhutan 2012 mandate them to provide services to survivors of gender-based violence (GBV), children in difficult circumstances (CIDC) and children in conflict with law (CICL).
“The acts state the government shall provide adequate budget to NCWC for its effective implementation to develop, coordinate and monitor programmes and activities for survivors of GBV and children,” an official said.
He said they had not been able to provide services like child shelter homes and reintegration programmes as mandated in the Acts. “There is also lack of protection, probation and child welfare officer.”
According to the official, reintegration programmes include livelihood training, finding employment and setting up a small business for survivors. “But there are no strong reintegration programmes in the country.”
CCPA 2011 also mandates alternative sentencing for children but there is no programme approved by the government to engage the children.
The official said they had been proposing to the government, the former governments and the present, since the implementation of the Acts for support to put these services in place but nothing has been done to date.
DVPA 2013 also mandates instituting three officers, protection, probation, and child welfare officers, in all 20 dzongkhags.
The official said the Royal Civil Service Commission approved three officers in 2018 but they are on contract.
He said NCWC reached out to dzongkhag legal officers to take the roles of the three officers but with legal officers shouldering multiple responsibilities, the services weren’t in place as desired.
Without shelter homes in place, NCWC relies on Civil Society Organisations for interim shelter and relevant agencies for reintegration programmes, which officials say was not easy with formalities and CSO’s functioning with a limited budget.
Most NCWC clients sought interim shelter at the hospital before the pandemic and detention centre.
CCPA 2011 also states government shall endeavour to establish and maintain as many child homes, remand homes, special home, and closed facility and aftercare homes, as may be necessary.
“Forget about the five child homes, the government didn’t even approve interim shelter,” an official said. “It’s difficult to find shelter for cases with mental illness and addiction.”
Officials say shelter home was preferred only as last resort for survivors but an interim shelter was necessary with cases reported during off-hours.
The government usually allocates Nu 150,000 to NCWC for women and children in emergency but it was slashed off last year due to the pandemic.
However, the commission received 448 cases last year, which is an increase of 90.6 percent compared to 235 in 2019.
Out of 448 cases, 123 were GBV cases, 22 CICL cases, 94 CIDC cases, 200 women in difficult circumstances and nine advice, guidance and miscellaneous cases.
NCWC could provide reintegration services to only 136 individuals last year, which officials explained was done after they explored budget.
They say lack of reintegration programmes impact CICL, as most cases are burglary, larceny, and battery.
Most children in Youth Development Rehabilitation Centre in Tshimasham, Chukha, are recidivists or habitual offenders. “A child might have committed repeated burglary after being caught because he has no other option,” an NCWC official said.
He said that, when a child was sent back to the same environment where parents could not afford basic necessities he or she would commit the crime again. “If there were strong reintegration programmes to make the family independent, the child might not be a repeat offender.”
The official said, without reintegration programmes, the cases would worsen and these facilities should be in place to better manage cases.
According to CCPA 2011, a child should be given alternative sentencing called diversion as far as possible.
Officials say NCWC facilitates diversion of CICL but it is not readily available as there are no programmes by the government where the children should be engaged.
In an effort to address the issues, NCWC drafted its own Act, which was submitted to the government.
Nima Wangdi | Dhaka
With the Bangladesh government allocating a plot at the diplomatic enclave at Baridhara, the Royal Bhutan Embassy in Dhaka will soon have a new chancery with Bhutanese traditional architecture.
Baridhara is a 10-minute walk from the present embassy at Gulshan 2.
Fenced with barbed wire and brick walls, the 80 decimals plot for the construction is located next to the Indian Embassy.
Officials at the Royal Bhutan Embassy in Dhaka said the government had already approved the budget for the construction.
They said the works and the human settlement and foreign ministry have approved the drawing. “Cabinet is yet to endorse it.”
Officials also said they would start construction once the foreign ministry gives go ahead. “A Bhutanese project engineer will be deputed to ensure Bhutanese architecture and quality of the construction.”
With the chancery construction, all the embassy staff can move in. “Chancery with Bhutanese architecture can also provide better visibility,” an official said.
As of now, they live in rented apartments around the embassy. “The present embassy will be turned in to ambassador’s residence and the government won’t have to pay ambassador’s house rent thereafter,” an official said.
President Hussain Muhammad Ershad gifted the two-storeyed present embassy building to Bhutan in 1985. The building houses three transit rooms as part of public service to Bhutanese travelling around along with the embassy office.
Besides Bangladesh, the Royal Bhutan Embassy in Dhaka also looks after affairs with the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and South Korea.
Nim Dorji | Trongsa
The 19.5km Korphu gewog centre (GC) road blacktopping could not complete on time again.
As per the contractual agreement, the blacktopping is supposed to complete on March 12 but work only began on that day.
Departments of Road’s chief engineer in Trongsa, Ugyen Dorji, said blacktopping work must complete before June, as there is no spill-over budget in the next financial year. “Even if the contractor fails, we have to find alternatives.”
It was learnt the contractor started work on March 12 only and completed blacktopping about 800m of the road as of March 24.
However, Korphu gewog administration and residents are not happy with the quality of the work.
Gewog officials said the quality of the work, which has just begun, is not as they expected.
Korphu Mangmi Yeshi Nidup said that the people were unhappy, as the work lacked quality. “There’s no compressor machine and work is done manually, leaving dust on the road about to be blacktopped.”
He also alleged that bitumen was applied on soil. “I’m seeing this for the first time. We’re worried that it won’t last a year.”
People also complained that the base course was not done properly.
A villager, Dorji Tshewang, said that, although the road condition had improved compared to the past, it was still bumpy and not even after the base course was laid. “The drains are also not of good quality.”
He claimed that, in some areas, drain construction was not completed and he said that the road from Wangdigang was risky. “If the blacktop should last longer, the base course needs to be done well.”
The site supervisor of Druk Samdrup Construction, Sonam Dorji, said, as per the tender, they were supposed to maintain the existing base course, construct a drain and blacktop.
“The compressor machine will be brought within a week at the site.”
He said it was difficult to get the materials for blacktopping. “We hired residents of Nimshong for the blacktopping work.”
Chief engineer Ugyen Dorji said that the base course for Korphu road was as per the standard and in good condition. “We’re monitoring the work strictly.”
Meanwhile, the GC blacktopping works started in 2016. The first contractor was terminated for not executing the work.
Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue
For the past two years, Wangdue’s dzongkhag administration has been trying to compile documents to help four children of Gembo’s family in Jala, Ruebisa to register as citizens.
Gembo lives in Jala with his wife and five children.
Apart from the eldest 18-year old daughter, the couple’s four younger children are not registered as citizens of Bhutan.
According to the Citizenship Act of Bhutan, to register children as citizens, they must be born in the country and should be listed with the dzongkhag or the drungkhag after their birth.
However, if a child is more than a year old and still not registered in the official record, registration is not permitted but could be applied to the home ministry by the concerned local authority.
According to Ruebisa Gup Karma Wangdi, the children weren’t registered during census as the family didn’t reside in the village then.
He added that, further, Gembo and his wife were registered under a constituency in Trongsa.
Later, with help from the relatives, Gembo’s census details were shifted to Wangdue.
According to Gembo, he lost all necessary documents required to apply for citizenship after he met with an accident in 2007.
According to Wangdue Dzongdag, Sonam Jamtsho, the dzongkhag officials came to know about Gembo’s issue in 2018 and the census officials started compiling documents.
Dzongkhag census officials visited Gembo’s family numerous times to process documents. Transportation services were provided by the gewog officials for the family to move and procure required documents.
Dzongkhag’s census officer, Dechen Wangdi, said that Gembo didn’t have marriage certificate and the three of the four children didn’t have health certificates. “We needed to know their date of births to process the documents. We also tried to find out their date of births through health records but we couldn’t find it out.”
To ensure education for Gembo’s children, dzongkhag officials also issued a letter to enroll children in Jala Primary School.
Dechen Wangdi said that the documents would be filed to the Department of Civil Registration and Census on March 19.
Kuensel learned that dzongkhag kidu officials also visited the family with ration and basic necessities.