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Bhutan's Daily Newspaper
Updated: 2 hours 35 min ago

No hero, no villain

Wed, 11/30/2022 - 12:01

By the time the National Council session ended yesterday at around 12:30 PM, everybody was talking about the removal of the Member of Parliament from Gasa, Dorji Khandu from the National Council hall. 

On the table for discussion was the Pay Structure Reform Bill. When the member who was given the opportunity to comment on Section 16 – Communication allowance, he  started his submission relating to Section 14 – Housing allowance. The Chairperson intervened and when he refused to sit down as requested, the Chairperson asked him to leave the Hall.

As expected, many had passed their judgement on who is right or wrong or why and how the Chairperson can stop or remove a member in the middle of a session. 

Both NC members and the Chairperson are governed by a rule. The Code of Conduct for NC MP states that a member must ensure that his personal conduct is consistent with the dignity, reputation and integrity of the National Council. Members also must, at all times, conduct themselves in a courteous and respectful manner and respect the authority of the Chairperson. The Chairperson must have found the MP’s response to his intervention disrespectful or not courteous. To preserve the dignity and decorum in the NC hall the Chairperson could ask them to leave.  

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What is respectful or disrespectful can be debated like the Bills. Arguing in an aggressive tone with the Chairperson can be construed as one. 

The incident went viral because this is the first time an elected member of Parliament was asked to leave. It is also because those watching the proceedings were not used to such things. A little skirmish between the Speaker and members, between the Chairperson and the members or between members of the ruling and opposition party makes the session interesting. Add to it those ready with their creativity to make fun or memes of the incidents.

The National Assembly and National Council are august halls. Members bow to the Golden Throne which represents the Druk Gyalpo that completes our Parliament. Visitors to Parliament including foreigners or diplomats say ours is the most disciplined Parliament. This is perhaps because many are used to seeing or hearing unruly behaviour including hurling chairs and microphones at each other during session. 

In the past few days there had been two cases of MPs attacking or assaulting each other. On November 23, a MP in Sri Lanka attempted to assault another MP and in Sierra Leona, members of Parliament went on a rampage, hurling objects and punching one another as the Speaker lost control in an ill-tempered debate over new electoral laws. 

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We do not expect this with MPs dangling swords around their waist. Heated debates are needed when it is on issues and not on political or personal grounds. The manner of discourse, debates and decisions will not only reflect the standard of ethics and morality of our leadership but the value of the parliamentary system itself.

Removing the Gasa MP does not make the Chairperson a hero or a villain. Nor is the MP a hero as many are quick to comment. Nobody has lost face or become a hero. We can, in fact, expect more of it and get used to it.

Gasa MP suspended from Pay Bill deliberations 

Wed, 11/30/2022 - 12:00

… it is temporary and until the adoption of Pay Structure Reform Bill 

Thukten Zangpo 

National Council yesterday suspended Member of Parliament from Gasa Dorji Khandu following his removal from the session yesterday morning.

The executive order signed by the NC Chairperson Tashi Dorji stated that the MP would be temporarily suspended until the adoption of the Bill today.

NC Chairperson Tashi Dorji ordered MP Dorji Khandu to leave the hall while deliberating on the Pay Structure Reform Bill 2022.

When the House was deliberating on the recommendations of the Good Governance Committee on the sections of the Bill, the MP was called to speak on Section 16 which is on communication allowance. He tried to talk about the house rent allowance, which was already passed, and relate it to the section.

When the Chairperson asked the MP to stick to the Section or take a seat, the MP refused to sit and argued that he had to raise his concerns. The chairperson then dismissed him from the hall.

Chairperson of the NC, Tashi Dorji said that it is sad that the public had to witness such a situation. “I have no choice as I have to abide by the code of conduct and maintain order in the House as a Chair presiding the session.”

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He added that when a member moves a motion and proposes, another member should second it.

“No one seconded his proposal on the house rent,” the chairperson said, adding that Section 14 on house rent allowance got passed as proposed by the NC’s Good Governance Committee.

He added that when the opportunity was given to the MP to speak on Section 16 which is on communication allowance, he was raising the issue on the previous Section 14.

Tashi Dorji also said that he felt the NC member was trying to criticise the other NC members for not supporting his submission on Section 14.

“There should be decorum in the House, we cannot complete the discussion as per the agenda as we have to go by every Section, which has more than 100 Sections,” he said.

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MP Dorji Khandu said that he was asked to leave the session, when he was trying to argue that the NC’s committee has proposed to retain communication allowance for higher officials which contradict the giving additional house rent allowance for the lower civil servants on Section 16. He added that he does not support the Section on communication allowance. 

MP Dorji Khandu proposed the house rent allowance for the positions S3 and below from Nu 3,500 per month to Nu 5,500 per month or make it as percentage-wise as entitled to other higher officials.

As per Section 42 under the chairperson’s power and duties of the Rules of Procedure of the National Council of Bhutan 2016, the chairperson shall preserve the dignity and decorum in the National Council Hall and maintain discipline among members.

Section 43 of the Act also states, “When the Chairperson is of opinion that a member is deliberately contravening the provisions of these rules, or that a member is in contempt of or is disregarding the authority of the Chairperson or that a member’s conduct is gross disorderly, the member shall be made to leave the National Council Hall immediately.”

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NRDCL to operate timber extraction based on demand in the eastern region

Tue, 11/29/2022 - 12:20

Tshering Namgyal | Mongar  

Of the six Forest Management Units (FMU) in the eastern region, NRDCL has temporarily suspended the operation of four – Rongmanchu in Lhuentse, Dongdechhu in Trashiyangtse, and Kharungla and Wamrong in Trashigang.

Only Lingmethang in Mongar and Khengzor in Pemagatshel are operational.

NRDCL officials said that hardwood extracted from those sites has market issue and the FMU committee meeting decided to temporarily stop operation.

NRDCL sold the old timber stock at Fawan in Lhuentse, Dongdechhu in Trashiyangtse and Wamrong in Trashigang to be used as firewood.

According to officials, the region sold 14,894 CFT at Nu 236.5 per cubic metre which would have fetch close to Nu 1.9 million if it were sold as log form for sawing purpose.

NRDCL officials said even the four sawmills in operation in the region are not willing to buy this timber and it was decided to bring to halt the annual allotment system where the available timber stock is distributed between the NRDCL and Association of Wood-based Industries by forest officials.

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“Due to annual audit objection because of the high operational cost in the absence of demand and had to propose during FMU committee meetings and to the head office and it was approved to be temporarily stopped functioning accordingly and sold it as firewood,” the regional manager of NRDCL’s Zhongar region, Kinley, said.

He said there is no demand for such species of wood in the eastern region.

The regional office also exported about 16100 CFT of such class of wood to India.

Officials said the remaining stock from Kharungla would be transferred to the joinery at Lingmethang for value addition.

“This too doesn’t have good market and it’s been sold in the western Bhutan bearing extra transportation charges,” said Kinley.

However, NRDCL officials said two FMU: Lingmethang and Khengzor in Pemagatshel are doing well in terms of demand as of now.

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NC adopts Forest and Nature Conservation Bill

Tue, 11/29/2022 - 12:19

Chhimi Dema

The National Council adopted the Forest and Nature Conservation Bill 2021 yesterday.

The Forest and Nature Conservation Bill protects the country’s flora and fauna while promoting ecologically-balanced development and allows the utilisation of forest produce through improved access and equity.

It also enhances the mitigation and adaption capacity of forest to climate change and socio-economic activities.

The Forest and Nature Conservation Act, enacted in 1995, was not amended for more than two decades and it contradicts the Constitution, Penal Code, and legislations such as the Land, Mines and Minerals, and Water Acts.

Natural resources and environment committee’s chair, Dorji Khandu, said, “The Bill aligns and harmonises with existing legislations of the country and international commitments.”

He said that the Bill outlines clear procedures and authorities of forest officials, streamlines procedures related to criminal offences and addresses public grievances such as inadequate allocation of timber and human-wildlife conflict among others.

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The Bill specifies the power and functions of the agriculture ministry and gives investigation and enforcement powers to the forest officials, he added.

The Bill has a provision on human-wildlife conflict management measures where the government would institutionalise appropriate measures “with compensation” to address the loss of life or causing permanent disability to human or damage to property, crop and livestock by wildlife.

The Bill also includes provisions for the promotion of nature recreation and ecotourism in State Reserved Forest Land.

Trongsa MP Tashi Samdrup said that the Bill aims for sustainable use of forest produce for perpetuity.

He said that the Bill could help in keeping the country’s forest coverage at 60 percent as enshrined in the Constitution.

The Bill was referred to the National Assembly for deliberations.

NA decides to increase gewog centre roads maintenance fund

Tue, 11/29/2022 - 12:19

Thinley Namgay  

The National Assembly (NA) yesterday decided to increase the budget for the maintenance of the gewog centre (GC) roads.

The motion was moved by the Kengkhar-Weringla MP Rinzin Jamtsho. He said dzongkhags should either hand over the management of the GC roads back to the Department of Roads (DoR) or the government could provide sufficient budget to Local Governments.

So far, the government has provided Nu 30,000 to maintain a km of GC road which many MPs agreed was insufficient.

Previously, the DoR was responsible for construction of GC roads from either the national highway or the dzongkhag highway to the GCs. However, the government handed the work to gewogs.

Today there are 21,000km of roads in the country consisting of Primary National Highway, Secondary National Highway, GC Road, and Farm Road.

Rinzin Jamtsho said that except for places like Soe, Naro, and Lingzhi, about 90 percent of road coverage was achieved, including Laya, Geteyna, Merak, Sakteng, Shingkhar-Lauri, Sangbeykha, and Gakiling.

Rinzin Jamtsho said that after handing over the work to the dzongkhags and gewogs,  many issues emerged due to the inability of the dzongkhag to provide services to all the gewogs and the lack of capacity in the gewogs.

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He said timely maintenance was not carried out on some  roads that were blacktopped.

The government is working on 28 GC roads.

Rinzin Jamtsho said that management of the GC roads by the DoR would be good owing to their ability to ensure proper structure planning and design, making estimates and procurement and formulating management framework and guidelines.

He said that under DoR, regular maintenance works were carried out.  “National wage workers were employed to ensure that the work was carried out.”

Dewathang-Gomdar MP Ugyen Dorji said that roads are the primary infrastructure to improve the livelihood of the people and handing over the works to the DoR would be more practical.

He said that during the monsoon, many roads get damaged and the dzongkhag and gewogs were not in the position to carry the work owing to less budget.

Bartsham-Shongphu MP Dr Passang Dorji said that the government should look into budget allocation for GC road maintenance.  He said that some gewogs don’t require the same budget as others.

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Bardo-Trong MP Gyambo Tshering said that DoR has enough human resources and technical expertise to maintain roads.

However, Athang-Thedtsho MP Kinley Wangchuk said that taking control of GC roads by the DoR would affect the opportunity for the thousands of contractors.

Read Japan Project provides books for Bhutanese researchers 

Tue, 11/29/2022 - 12:18

Promote the understanding of Japan in Bhutan through the provision of books

YK Poudel

Bhutanese researchers will now have 153 additional books about Japan handed to the Centre of Bhutan & GNH Studies (CBS) at its Library of Mind, Body and Sound at Zhichenkhar yesterday.

The books were donated to Bhutan through the Read Japan Project under the Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research with financial support from The Nippon Foundation.

Chief Representative of JICA Bhutan Office, Tomoyuki Yamada said, “The books handed over can be referred by researchers in CBS and Bhutanese citizens for further understanding of Japan.”

President of CBS, Dasho Karma Ura, said that the books from the Read Japan Project would play an important role in the development of the Library for Body, Mind, and Sound. More importantly, he said, the donated books contain knowledge about Japan, which will benefit researchers at CBS and the general public.

As of this year, the project has contributed books to seven institutions in Bhutan: Sherubtse College Library, Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan Central Library, Royal University of Bhutan Libraries in the colleges, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck Public Library, Learning Resources and Documentation Unit Royal Institute of Management and the Library of Mind, Body and Sound.

Read Japan Project is a provisioning project of Japan-related books in English to universities and libraries around the world.

Dusty road makes life difficult for Wamrong-Moshi residents

Tue, 11/29/2022 - 12:18

Neten Dorji | Wamrong

Every time a vehicle passes through Moshi and Reserbu in Wamrong, shopkeepers and houses along the road are greeted with a fog of dust. In winter it gets worse.

The road was widened three years ago but has not been blacktopped yet.

Villagers say that dust is giving them breathing problems.

Singye Phuntsho, 74, has a breathing problem and dust is making his problem worse.

“Something should be done about this road and the dust,” said Singye Phuntsho.

A restaurateur, Kencho, said the road needs blacktopping. “ Recklessly driving and speeding add to the problem.”

Villagers say that the dust is affecting crop production.

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A shopkeeper, Nima Tashi, said: “It has been more than four years since the road has been widened. But who is going to blacktop the road?”

Villagers sprinkle water on dusty roads every day.

During monsoon, potholes make driving difficult.

A shopkeeper in Moshi, Kencho Wangmo, said:  “We can’t even open the windows because of dust. The movement of vehicles has increased over the years and it poses risks to pedestrians.”

A bus driver, karma, said it is risky to drive. “There is an urgent need to solve the problem of dust along the highway.”

DANTAK officials refused to comment.

Building a skilled workforce 

Tue, 11/29/2022 - 12:17

Employment has been recognised by the government as an issue of growing significance. It has been repeatedly discussed over the years, a major concern being the foreboding implication of unemployment in the not-too-distant future.

In the face of an increasing number of youth leaving the country to study or work abroad, Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that Bhutan has to be a high-income country and that the economy should increase at a much higher pace to check that trend. For that, we need to build a skilled workforce.

The immediate problem is clear: we have on one hand thousands of students completing school and graduating from tertiary institutions every year with more and more of them unable to find jobs, on the other, we have many government and private organisations in urgent need of manpower, especially skilled workers, and not being able to find them.

As the problem comes into focus, what we see is the need for something in between, a range of training programmes to prepare youth for the job market. What we need are training centres and institutions at all levels, offering courses in the most urgently required fields.

Skills development has long been recognised in Bhutan as an urgent requirement. Apart from the more academic-oriented courses, Bhutanese society is short of the most basic skilled servicemen which include plumbers and electricians. Our needs of the hour are emerging every day, from the expanding tourism industry to a variety of IT services.

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The need for training extends from school-leavers to university graduates and from young professionals to veteran civil servants. In the traditional sectors like agriculture and livestock, courses are aimed at farmers and extension workers but they need to address school-leavers to encourage some of them to return to the farms.

The government’s good governance policy requires that the skills and proficiency of civil servants at all levels and should be regularly updated. In the now prioritised IT sector, for example, nearly every civil servant needs to adapt to electronic mail, electronic filing, video conferencing and office management, among others.

Both government policy and international trends today point towards the relevance of the private sector in the training field. But the private sector after the Covid-19 pandemic is not in a position to make the investments required to establish training institutions.

The government has also been increasingly engaged in ensuring the quality of training programmes and certifying the courses. But its main role must be to encourage more training institutions and facilities through relevant rules, subsidies, infrastructure, and even sponsorship of the trainees. Our aim should be high-quality training at par with international standards.

We have no doubt that the need to train our workforce has been well recognised. It has also been accepted that such a transformation cannot be achieved overnight. We need to sustain our efforts and not lose sight of our goals.

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Finance minister introduces Pay Structure Reform Bill in NC

Tue, 11/29/2022 - 12:16

Thukten Zangpo

The finance minister introduced the Pay Structure Reform Bill 2022 at the National Council yesterday after the National Assembly passed it as money Bill.

Introducing the Bill, the Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said that the Bill was about re-structuring the existing pay and allowances and not about increasing. “This will address the fundamental structural issues in the pay revision in future.”

Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that the 5th Pay Commission considered budget neutrality while re-structuring the pay and whether the domestic revenue would be adequate to meet the expenditure on salary and allowances.

He said that the existing pay system had 30 different types of allowances that were not reflected in the pay slip and lacked transparency.

However, Lyonpo said that an additional Nu 1.2 billion (B) for the one-off 5 percent indexation to curb the rising costs of goods and one-off fixed payment is included in the pay reform. “No one would be worse-off.”

The civil servants at P1 to P4, P5 to S4, and S5 levels and below will get a lump sum one-off fixed payment of Nu 1,000, Nu 1,500, and Nu 2,000 per month on basic pay to mitigate hardships.

In case the country’s domestic revenue falls beyond the recurrent expenditure, the government can withdraw one of these allowances.

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Lyonpo said the country needed capping or upper ceiling on the costs of salary and allowances to the domestic revenue unlike other countries.

“Other countries have capped 35 percent of the domestic revenue for the salary and allowances. However, in Bhutan it incurs 58 to 60 percent of the country’s domestic revenue,” he said, adding that tax collection has never gone above 12 percent of the gross domestic product.

In 2021-22, tax, the highest contributor to the domestic revenue, contributed Nu 22 billion (B) of the Nu 36B total domestic revenue. For the salary and allowances, it incurred Nu 19.9B in the same year.

Trashigang NC, Lhatu, asked the minister about the clean wage system being followed by other countries apart from Singapore and what would be the benefit of the clean wage system. He also asked whether the ministry looked into pegging the salary to the private sector employees.

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Lyonpo Namgay Tshering responded that the clean wage system is similar to that of Singapore.

On pegging salary revision for the private sector, Lyonpo informed the House that if the pay were not at par, it would bring fiscal instability. He said that the clean wage system has not made a huge difference in the salary revision but helps create a basic foundation.

Lyonpo said that the existing Bhutanese pay structure was following the rank in person system (gets promotion and grade after every five years) which now has to be revised to performance-based rank in the job system.

Chukha NC, Sangay Dorji, also said that there were meritorious promotions and training earlier and asked how the Performance-based Incentives (PBI) would be effective.

Lyonpo answered that the PBI would promote competency, meritocracy and dynamism in public service. He added that the PBI could be up to 100 percent of the basic civil servant’s pay and that the Royal Civil Service Commission is working on the performance management system framework.

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Lyonpo said that non-monetary incentives like meritorious promotions, offering medals were helpful. However, the civil servants, he said, should be provided with the monetary incentives for social security. “The PBI has worked well in other countries.”

On the discontinuation of allowances, Lyonpo said that the vehicle quota system was practised from 1980s when there was not much vehicle to improve mobility.

Not supporting the designated vehicles for MPs as endorsed in NA, Lyonpo asked the NC to review and provide recommendations.

He added that the designated vehicles for prime minister, cabinet ministers and equivalent positions, speaker of the NA, chairperson of the NC and 58 MPs could incur cost of Nu 203 million (M) yearly.

He said that this would require additional 58 drivers whose monthly pay of Nu 18,000 worked out to Nu 12.5M and fuel and maintenance expenditure of Nu 10M yearly.

He said an MP gets Nu 20,000 monthly currently as allowance for fuel, maintenance, and driver’s salary. Expenditure comes to Nu 13.9M. Additionally, MPs get a one-time lump sum vehicle allowance of Nu 1M, which is Nu 58M for 58 MPs.

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“If the designated vehicles can be used for 10 years, there is still an excess of Nu 97M,” Lyonpo said.

Gasa NC Dorji Khandu asked the minister on the government’s decision to discontinue the pool vehicles. “There are about 2,000 pool vehicles in the country, a pool vehicle for every 10 civil servants, and fuel and maintenance costs of Nu 1B yearly.”

Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that the existing designated vehicles have to convert into pool vehicles to be used as and when required by the officials.

Mega Night draws crowds

Mon, 11/28/2022 - 12:13

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

The ongoing Mega Night live musical show in Phuentsholing, which started on November 25, saw hundreds of spectators enjoy the performances.

On the first night, more than two thousand people had gathered to witness the mega musical event of music, songs and drinking until 3am. The numbers doubled on the second day. 

Most who attended the show said that the event was the first of its kind in the town and brought post-Covid-19 celebration.

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A spectator said the live show truly marks the end of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I saw people coming from as far as Thimphu,” he said.

The Mega Night, meanwhile, is a pilot project aimed at making Phuentsholing an entertainment hub, boosting the morale of local residents, and providing a platform to socialise without any cultural and social barriers. A total of 19 local bands are performing.

The programme starts at 9pm every day at the PSA ground and goes on until 3am.

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The entry fee is Nu 300 per individual. A total of 48 stalls have been raised where food and drinks are sold.

A stall owner, Kezang Thinley said the business was good in the first two days.

“The first two days were Friday and Saturday. Now, the last day will see a good crowd,” he said.

Kezang said he had travelled to different places across the border to bring different types of drinks.   

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One of the aims of the event was also to attract people from across the border. However, not many turned up for the event. Residents said that Nu 1,200 SDF and other bills, including hotel charges, which the tourists have to bear are expensive.

Some observers also said that regional artists must be included to attract people from across the border. Phuentsholing Thromde had tried to get a few but they were not able to bring them due to time issues and also because of prior engagement of the artists.

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Phuentsholing Thrompon Uttar Kumar Rai said that the crowd was good in the first two days.

“There were more than 7,000 people,” he said. “But from today, the crowd will subside by many folds.”

The Mega Night will conclude tomorrow.

Business community question ACC’s alleged double standard

Mon, 11/28/2022 - 12:12

Rinzin Wangchuk

Business people in Phuentsholing are saying that there is no uniformity in the implementation of Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) rules regarding seized items and those business enterprises suspended by ACC.

This follows a recent case citing where a furniture unit suspended in September this year is back in operation. A source said that the unit was given 90 days to complete its pending orders from customers with options to import and sell all other available stocks.

The issue here, according to sources, is that back in 2015 many businesses were suspended by ACC where their stocks were auctioned off without any leniency.

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The furniture unit had allegedly colluded with an agency’s procurement section, according to Kuensel sources. They then inflated the price. The procurement officer was supposed to take the inflated amount. It is a case of collusion and bribery. However, some sources said that it is a fronting case.

In a similar case, ACC allowed two retail shops run by one businessman in Thimphu to sell his stock of goods after the shops were suspended for more than a month from operation. The commission closed both shops on July 25 after finding a prima facie of corruption in connection with alleged commercial bribery and tax evasion while importing goods through the Mini Dry Port (MDP) and other designated areas in Phuentsholing last year.


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ACC’s stand

An ACC official said that the ACC’s stand in 2015 and now did not change although the form of corruption is different.

In 2015, the ACC investigated rampant illegal businesses that were run and managed by non-Bhutanese in the name of a Bhutanese license.

The official said that the ACC took the responsibility to clear off the stock balance of suspended business firms through public auction and the proceeds were accounted into government escrow account for final settlement after adjudication is completed. “With an acute shortage of resources at our disposal, it is a huge administrative burden for the commission without making economic sense,” he said.

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In the present circumstances, according to ACC officials, suspended business entities are given permission primarily to fulfil contractual obligations, mostly government institutions that they entered into prior to it being suspended. “The ACC accorded this consideration only after thorough verification of contract agreements and supply orders,” he said. “This consideration is not a new invention to favour any particular business entity.”

He added that the Commission in all circumstances does allow development works to continue despite the fact that the contractor/supplier was found involved in corrupt practices elsewhere.

“The objective of suspension is to prevent further perpetuation of corruption and ultimately create deterrence in the society,” one ACC commissioner said. “Citizenry at large must feel that corruption is high risk and low benefit.”


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Fronting cases

More than 50 business enterprises including 18 importers in Phuentsholing were prosecuted by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) for bribery and tax evasion in 2015 and 2016.

In 2015 alone, ACC had not only investigated 30 cases involving 36 licenses run by non-Bhutanese but also seized and auctioned grocery items and alcoholic beverages worth more than Nu 25 million. ACC had sought restitution of Nu 594.790M from these cases to the State.

ACC’s findings then indicated that implementation and enforcement of laws, rules and regulations were weak. In many cases, individuals responsible for the enforcement of the laws were indirect beneficiaries of fraudulent practices.“Fronting continued to remain a chronic problem since the 1990s,” ACC report of 2015 stated.

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ACC had observed that the most common cases were bribery, deflection of goods across the border, forgery of invoices and Customs Declaration Forms and trade-based money laundering. In order to tackle these businesses that were fronting with great impunity, ACC had initiated investigation in Phuentsholing and those involved in fraudulent cases were prosecuted.

Meanwhile, some Phuentsholing residents also say that the fronting still prevails in the country’s commercial hub.

License holders in Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Samdrup Jongkhar and Samtse towns were required to sign an undertaking that they will not engage in fronting. However, after signing the undertaking, neither did many license holders abide by the rule nor did the authority concerned adequately monitor its implementation as many licenses were found to have been leased to non-Bhutanese for a monthly commission.

We’re always open to understanding Bhutan’s objectives and aspirations

Mon, 11/28/2022 - 12:11

Deputy Ambassador of Australia to Bhutan Sarah Storey talks to Kuensel’s Jigmi Wangdi about some significant developments in the Australia-Bhutan relationship

Could you tell us about your visit? 

It’s my first official visit to Bhutan. I arrived in New Delhi last December but the borders were closed at the time. I needed to come to Bhutan this year as it is the 20th anniversary of our official diplomatic relations. I wanted to see for myself, inspect some of our development projects, and continue the warm relations which exist.

While I have been here for just a few days, I have been fortunate enough to have conversations with your foreign minister, health minister, leader of the opposition, and several important stakeholders. So all this is just to reinforce the value of Australia as Bhutan’s most favoured education destination.


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How has Australia been helping Bhutan in terms of gender issues? 

Australia is very strongly committed to ending gender-based violence and November 25 is the international day for the elimination of violence against women. It was incredibly moving for me to attend a ceremony officiated by Her Majesty the Queen Mother. That was where we were able to commend the work and see the respect given to our partner organisation in Bhutan, RENEW, and the work that they have been doing to try to rid Bhutan of violence against women.

This is not to particularly say it is a problem in Bhutan, this is a problem that is worldwide and after Covid-19, we have only seen rates of violence, particularly at the hands of intimate partners increase. So this is why the work of RENEW has been fantastic.

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They are working with schools to educate young children and it is not just about the rights of girls and women, it’s about the rights of boys and men as well because gender-based violence has an economic impact as well on health and well-being. They are working to also provide shelters for women who have been subjected to violence, to assist them in counselling services and livelihood training so that they can turn over a new leaf.

I met the health minister on November 25 and with the World Health Organisation (WHO) we have partnered with Bhutan in its very ambitious and excellent efforts to rid the nation of cervical cancer. This is something that I feel has been excellent. In Punakha, we met the health centre officials and they mentioned they are implementing this drive and doing HPV screening across the community.


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Have there been any tangible results from the partnership?

Absolutely. I would point to the water and sanitation that we have done under the ‘water for women’ project. That has enabled Bhutan to declare itself to have 100 percent improved sanitation just this month and to be free from open defecation is a remarkable achievement. So through the ‘water for women’ project and our partner SNV, we have been working in four districts again with communities. But part of this is adoption by individuals themselves.

These outcomes have meant that there has been an introduction of sanitation incentives, education and information but it has been the community members themselves who voluntarily take this up, which is excellent.

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For many years we have worked previously on skills and vocational training. So this is the central pillar of our very flourishing development partnership with Bhutan. We are very grateful that so many Bhutanese families consider Australia to be their destination of choice for education. That in itself is a remarkable outcome because just in Bhutan’s Cabinet alone, you have seven members who are Australian alumni. The Prime Minister has been the beneficiary of graduating with a master’s in business administration from the University of Canberra through a partnership that we have had with the Royal Institute of Management.

We have also assisted with nutritional feeding programs some years ago. These are a few examples.


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How will the support be going forward?

It’s imperative in a development partnership to emphasise that it is a partnership. We are very perceptive to the aspirations and the clear planning and initiatives of the Royal Government of Bhutan.

Coming from His Majesty The King, we are hearing a consistent signal of vocational skills and training and the need to assist the Bhutanese economy with getting back on its feet after the pandemic. So we will always be open to understanding the objectives and aspirations of the Royal Government and of the people.

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We are very hopeful that we will continue our partnership on gender-based violence and women’s and girls’ rights. Also on water and sanitation. I am very confident that these will continue.

We are open to working with a range of partners, we have also been working with the World Bank on some hydro projects, so this is very important to us too because we know infrastructure investment is imperative for economic development.

Space science and Bhutan’s future

Mon, 11/28/2022 - 12:09

On Saturday, November 26, the Indian Space Research Organisation launched nine satellites, including an earth observation satellite (EOS-06) in multiple orbits. The mission was hugely successful.

For Bhutan, the achievement carried a special significance because the collaboration between the two friendly nations sent ISRO Nano Satellite-2 into the space.

ISRO Nano Satellite-2 spacecraft is configured with INS-2 Bus. It will have two payloads, namely NanoMx and APRS-Digipeater. NanoMx is a multispectral optical imaging payload developed by Space Applications Centre (SAC). APRS-Digipeater payload is jointly developed by Bhutan’s DITT and URSC.

Why is it a special moment for Bhutan?

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Earth observation satellite’s data is mostly used in archaeology, cartography, environmental monitoring, meteorology and reconnaissance applications, among others. At a time when mountain countries are impelled to fight the effects of climate change even though mountain countries contribute the least to the devastating effects due to changes in the earth’s climate, space exploration such as Satellite-2 could play a vital role in planning advanced response systems.

Also, as Indian media reported, the India-Bhutan satellite is a very important milestone in the history of joint collaboration between Indian and Bhutanese scientists.

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Satellites are launched into space and into their orbit by hitching a ride on a rocket or on the space shuttle, where they are placed inside the cargo bay. After the rocket is launched, a rocket control mechanism utilises the inertial guidance system to make important calculations to adjust the nozzle of the rocket, which allows the rocket to tilt itself in the direction specified by its flight plan.

This is a difficult science.

Space exploration and investigation give us information to increase our knowledge of the cosmos for the benefit of humanity. The recent missions to space have been guided principally by the increasing need for national prestige and bolstering national security.

For Bhutan, it is a giant stride in ways more than one. At a time when the country is giving a special focus to STEM education, a milestone like this gives us a vital push. Such successful space endeavours should encourage our children to look beyond mere professional and civil service jobs.

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The future of the world will be dictated by how savvy a country is with technologies and innovations. That’s why Nano Satellite-2 is a new beginning that should guide Bhutan’s education system and the country’s overall outlook.

As a small Himalayan country, education and innovation could be our best export in the next century.

Policy change required to increase population

Mon, 11/28/2022 - 12:08

Nima Wangdi

Bhutan’s fertility rate, hanging at 1.8 births per woman, is a serious concern and every Bhutanese has to shoulder the collective responsibility, health minister Dechen Wangmo said in the National Assembly on November 25.

Bhutan needs at least 2.5 births per woman according to the global standard for population replacement.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said this during the question hour in the National Assembly responding to Mongar MP Karma Lhamo’s question.

Karma Lhamo asked the minister if the government is planning to come up with policy interventions like providing Nu 10,000 incentive for childbirth to private employees and other citizens like civil servants.

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She also asked if the government is also planning some more policy changes to encourage people to give birth.

Lyonpo said, “Everyone is concerned about the low fertility rate in the country. It requires a collective responsibility and it should not be left only to the health ministry.”

She said that it was not only Bhutan but 28 percent of the countries in Asia are in a demographic crisis, meaning the fertility rate in their counties is below the global requirement.

“We started a fertility treatment at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital and we are also planning to start a procedure to help women conceive soon,” Lyonpo said.

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Lyonpo said that Royal Civil Service Commission has come up with payment of an incentive of Nu10,000 per birth of a child which is good. “We also have flexy working time for the mothers.”

According to Lyonpo, the policy of a small family, a happy family no longer stands. It was used in the 1960s when a woman had six or seven children. The policy changed since the 2000s.

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She said the country does not have a direct policy but people were asked to maintain a good gap of about three years between the children born. It was all in the interest of the mother and child’s health.

According to Lyonpo, 60 percent of women give birth within 25-34 years of age. This is also the time when they are pursuing higher education like a master’s degree or are busy with their work. “Bringing policy changes would really help.”

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According to World Health Organisation, the current fertility rate for World in 2022 is 2.428 births per woman, a 0.41 percent decline from 2021.

GNH-based planning for LGs 

Mon, 11/28/2022 - 12:07

Lumang and Merak gewogs are identified as pilot gewogs in the east 

Neten Dorji | Kanglung

Local leaders and their staff were trained on how to be democratic, inclusive and consultative in conducting public consultations for planning and decision-making in a five-day workshop at Kanglung, Trashigang which ended on November 26.

The participants participated in a series of capacity-building workshops and developed plans using the Gross National Happiness (GNH)-based planning toolkit formulated by the Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy (BCMD).

The initiative was undertaken with the aim to strengthen decentralised planning processes through citizen participation and evidence-based decision-making.

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The workshop initiated a platform for local leaders to discuss views on the implementation of GNH-based community analysis and planning. They were also made to present jointly prepared community development plans, situation assessment and identification, prioritisation, decision-making, and implementation.

A programme officer of BCMD, Namgyel Wangchuk said that consultations and decision-making are made exclusively by the heads of the family and that planning begins not with the analysis of the needs and data but with prioritisation of activities driven by the budget, and deliberation only with a few active individuals.

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“The aim of this workshop is to find potential trainers who can help us carry out participatory planning tool kits to the grassroots level as we venture to eastern dzongkhag,” he said.

“The capacity building of local leaders is necessary where they always faced challenges in prioritising while planning,” said Namgyel Wangchuk.

He said democracy is beyond voting and strengthening citizen engagement through inclusive consultations, and participatory planning is important.

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Many of them found the session on participatory planning to be an eye-opener as they understood that present consultation procedures used today have not changed much to make a successful transition to democracy.

“Earlier we invited only the heads of the family to public consultations. After attending BCMD’s training, I feel voices from women, youths, elderly people and people living with disabilities also needed to be consulted,” said Kinzang Choden, Kharphu-Kurchilo tshogpa of Lumang gewog.

She said the GNH development theory served as the foundation for all prioritised initiatives and planning for her chiwog.

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Another participant, Thinley Zangmo said that inclusive participation in decision-making and planning is needed rather than hearing from a few heads of the village who are literate.

“I found the local leaders lack transparency and accountability since they never share or consult with the public,” she said. “If local leaders implement GNH-based community analysis and planning, the issues of women and youth problems can be heard by them.”

To encourage more women to participate, she said that women empowerment and awareness in the community are necessary.

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Most of the participants highlighted that local leaders have to ensure development plans beyond infrastructures.

“Most of the community development plan’s priorities were on roads, constructions of community temples, clean drinking and irrigation water, and waste management, among others,” said a participant. “They hardly plan for the generation of employment and development of the local economy.”

She also said that using the GNH lens to analyse communities and plan based on the needs would vary from gewog to other dzongkhags.

Sharing his plan for his chiwog, Merak Khamae tshogpa, Tenzin Dorji said that earlier the gewog invited only heads of households for consultation meetings.

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“After attending BCMD’s training, I feel women, youths, elderly people and people living with disabilities also need to be consulted while planning development activities,” he said.

He also said that the training helps them to prioritise the development activities in the chiwog.

Officials said that having carried out decentralisation through local government’s office in terms of political, administrative and financials, if they do not have the right tool, they will somehow circumvent corruption practices.

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“Local leaders usually invite those who are literate where they share only their problems. For instance, if all males are present during meetings, they never share the problem of women. Even university graduates refuse to attend the meeting,” said an official.

He said, “People are never empowered and people are always on the receiving end. They lack consultation, co-creation, and diversity.”

India-Bhutan SAT launched 

Mon, 11/28/2022 - 12:06

Thukten Zangpo 

Bhutan launched the second nano-satellite, India-Bhutan SAT (INS-2B) on November 26, marking yet a historic milestone in its space journey.

Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) launched the satellite jointly developed by India and Bhutan into space. The PSLV C54 carried the India-Bhutan SAT, along with India’s Earth Observation Satellite-06 and other satellites from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Andra Pradesh.

The satellite was built by four engineers from the Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT) under the information and communications ministry, Bhutan and India.

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Presenting His Majesty The King’s message on the successful launch of the satellite at the event in Thimphu, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering thanked the Indian government, the ISRO, and the team.

The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi also tweeted “India-Bhutan satellite is a testament to our special relationship with the people of Bhutan”.

India’s External Affairs Minister of India, Dr S Jaishankar said that the historic milestone could be achieved because of the collaboration of the dedicated team of space engineers and scientists from ISRO and Bhutan.

Indo-Bhutan satellite was launched from Sriharikota, Andra Pradesh on November 26


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Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle carried nine satellites

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“Recognising the positive impact, the South Asia satellite would have on the socio-economic development of Bhutan in areas such as communication and disaster management, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has offered increased bandwidth on an additional transponder for Bhutan’s requirement as a gift to the people of Bhutan,” he added.  

The satellite has the primary capability of acquiring optimal images using the Nano-Mx payload, which was developed by the ISRO. This will capture images of Bhutan in four spectral bands.

The ground spatial resolution that can be achieved is 29 metres as the satellite gets positioned at 506 kilometers above the earth’s surface.

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The satellite image data will be used for applications such as forest canopy mapping, human settlement growth, landslide studies and rooftop solar power potential estimation by the remote sensing group.

The secondary payload, which is designed and built by Bhutan, will be able to broadcast text messages from the orbit for amateur radio users using its digipeater payload.

India has provided hands-on training in satellite building and testing, processing and analysing satellite data to the Bhutanese engineers at the UR Rao Satellite Centre in Bengaluru.

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Five colleges of the Royal University of Bhutan-Royal Thimphu College, Sherubtse College, College of Science and Technology, Jigme Namgyel Engineering College, and Gyelpozhing College of Information Technology have established amateur radio ground stations. An additional radio station will also be established at the Druk Gyalpo’s Institute in Paro.

The satellite weighs 17.8 kilogram and has a mission life of 6 months.

ISRO is also working with Bhutan on establishing a ground station in Thimphu for receiving the data from the satellite.

In August 2019, India and Bhutan jointly inaugurated the South Asia Satellite ground station in Thimphu.

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Bhutan-1 country’s first satellite, an education CubeSat was launched in space on August 10, 2019 by four engineers with DITT as part of their master’s degree in Japan under BIRDS-2 project.

Focus point

Sat, 11/26/2022 - 14:34

Bhutan marks International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women 

Sat, 11/26/2022 - 14:33

YK Poudel  

Bhutan joined the world in observing the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (IDEVAW) in Thimphu yesterday. This year’s global theme is “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls”. Bhutan observed the local theme “UNITE!” to end violence against women through economic empowerment.

Her Majesty the Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck, the Royal Patron for Respect, Educate, Nurture, and Empower Women (RENEW) and UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador for Bhutan was the chief guest at the event. Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji and Labour Minister Karma Dorji, officials, and international dignitaries attended the event.

A 16-day of activism towards the elimination of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) began yesterday. 

RENEW’s Executive Director Tshering Dolkar said that the commemoration in Bhutan emphasised the significance of working with men and boys to end violence against women and girls.

“During the 16 days of Activism, RENEW will coordinate a number of social media campaigns and messaging in collaboration with the NCWC and with support from UNFPA, UNDP, and others,” she said.

According to RENEW’s study on “Gender Norms on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence” among Men in Bhutan, there is little information on how men perceive issues of SGBV and how they might participate in prevention efforts.

UN Resident Coordinator, Karla Robin Hershey said, “Violence against women and girls is the most pervasive human rights violation in the world. This discrimination, violence and abuse targeting half of humanity come at a steep cost. It limits women’s and girls’ participation in all walks of life, denies their basic rights and freedoms, and blocks the equal economic recovery and sustainable growth our world needs.”

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She said that the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – to leave no one behind – cannot be fulfilled without putting an end to violence against women and girls.

Her Majesty the Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck’s initiative, which places a strong emphasis on the empowerment of the people of Lunana, particularly women and girls, was unveiled at the event. Following Her Majesty the Gyalyum’s recent trip to Lunana, an initiative was developed to solve the major issues the people of Lunana are currently facing.

A sensitisation campaign for the highlanders who will spend the winter in Punakha will serve as the initiative’s launchpad. The people of Lunana will get a comprehensive package of services, including partnerships with important service providers and support for their social, educational, and health needs.

Her Majesty also launched RENEW’s film on engaging men and boys in promoting the significance of women’s economic empowerment, “Gencha – The Soulful Gem” a feature film by director Dorji Wangdi.

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Dorji Wangdi said that the film is to advocate for the strength and significance of women and girls in society.

During the 16 days of activism, a number of events will be held all over the nation with the support of Bhutan Telecom, the multi-sectoral task force and community-based support system network, and the taxi association.

The 20 dzongkhags will carry out awareness campaigns on city buses and taxis to discourage violence against women and to inspire all citizens to support women and their rights.

In addition, RENEW and its partners will carry out social media campaigns and discussions on “Partnering with Men & Boys.”

Her Majesty also launched a gender assessment study to comprehend the kind and scope of gender-specific problems and difficulties experienced by women working on hydroelectric, road, and construction projects.

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Eight-member committee reviewing PI barrage option

Sat, 11/26/2022 - 14:33

Dechen Dolkar  

A committee of eight experts from Bhutan and India will review the proposal to build a barrage to replace the dam at the 1,200MW Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project (PI) and present their recommendation to the governments by the end of January next year.

The committee consists of four members from either country.

Kuensel learnt that Bhutanese officials presented the construction of a barrage as feasible instead of a dam. The DPR, prepared by a company from Switzerland, Stucky, at a cost of Nu 150 Million (M), found the barrage to be feasible at a location 2.6 km upstream from the current PI dam site.

However, the government of India officials felt that the barrage was not suitable for safety reasons and expressed their reservations about the barrage proposal.

During the Indian Power Secretary’s visit to Bhutan last month, the two secretaries decided to institute a committee, with members from both sides and explore solutions.

Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma said that this would be the final decision and the committee should submit a report to the government by end of January.

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The decision to construct the barrage came after the right bank of the dam experienced multiple landslides. The project witnessed its first slide in July 2013, followed by a slide in August 2016, and another in January 2019.

The cost of construction of the barrage is estimated between Nu 16 and Nu 18 Billion.

Dispute between L&T and PI   

Meanwhile, a contract company in PI, Larson & Toubro (L&T), is negotiating a dispute regarding claims. Currently, negotiation is being done through arbitration and arbitration asked them to settle with the negotiator settlement committee.

According to the Chairperson of the project, Lyonpo Loknath Sharma, L&T has made 13 claims and claims prior to 2015 amounting to Nu 3 to Nu 4B.

“Currently, the dispute is at the negotiator settlement committee, since the attribution tribunal on sitting charges for the chairperson of the tribunal is very high,” Lyonpo said.

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PI and L&T are trying to negotiate a settlement after the Supreme Court of India instructed that the dispute between them be arbitrated in Bhutan.

Earlier, L&T asked PI authorities to compensate them with Nu 3.91B for keeping their machines and human resources idle after problems surfaced with the dam construction.


Similarly, the 600MW Kholongchhu, Lyonpo said that the Joint Venture, Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) and SJVNL are closing the accounts which would be completed by December end. “The way forward will be decided by DGPC after closing the accounts.”

The DGPC Managing Director, Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said that they are going to start working on how to take the project forward once they finish the transaction of taking over the project.

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Patients worry about staff leaving JDWNRH 

Sat, 11/26/2022 - 14:32

… administration says they need not worry

Nima Wangdi

Health professionals from Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) continue resigning for various reasons. Most of them are leaving for better opportunities abroad.

Sources said that the only chest specialist resigned recently. Likewise, the nurses, those on contract and experienced are also leaving the system.

People express their concerns over the trend. They say that the trend could impact quality care for the patients in the hospital whether or not an adequate number of professionals are recruited.

“Although both doctors and nurses could be replaced, their experience could matter much,” a patient said.

Thinley, who has been a patient attendant recently in the hospital ward, said that the nurse shortage could already be felt. He said the few nurses on duty have to keep themselves busy, running from patient to patient.

“When the worker gets burnt out, it will directly hamper the care for the patients. This is concerning,” he said.

Hospital staff said that nurses from the hospital continue to get visas and then leave. More might be planning to leave which cannot be stopped.

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Another person said that most health professionals leave the system for better financial opportunities while some do due to personal reasons.

However, the hospital’s Chief Human Resource Officer, Tshering Dorji said that the hospital is in a manageable state although professionals continue to leave.

“People who don’t understand the situation might worry but there is nothing to worry about,” he said.

He said that the nurses and doctors resigning has not impacted the health service delivery in the hospital for now. He said depending upon the need of the hospital and the availability of trained professionals in the market, the hospital can recruit them anytime.

“There are a number of training institutes now producing more nurses,” he said.

Tshering Dorji said that the nurses who resigned did not leave at once. There was a good time to adjust and recruit.

“Our nurses are working on six-hour shifts and the number remains as required by the nurse-bed ratio,” Tshering Dorji said, adding that the hospital also has enough nurses for critical care units, and those who have left are immediately replaced.

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The hospital recruits health workers in January every year. Those who could not make it through RCSC’s Preliminary Exams are also recruited on contract since they are trained to perform the job. But some withdraw due to transfer places according to the officials.

Tshering Dorji said that the nurses and doctors are paid better given our standard. He said the hospital couldn’t stop people from resigning, as it is their choice. “We can’t pay them equivalent to some other countries that they are looking at.”

He said only one doctor resigned this year and two superannuated. “We have 69 residency doctors at Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan (KGUMSB) who work in the hospital along with other doctors.”

Some 70 nurses resigned between last year and this year and 50 are on extraordinary leave (EOL) according to the hospital management.

Tshering Dorji said those on EOL are expected to join the hospital.

According to KGUMSB’s report, JDWNRH has a nurse-bed ratio of 1:6. Internationally accepted standard of nurse-bed ratio is around 1:3 in teaching hospitals and 1:5 in general hospitals.

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However, sources said that some three to four nurses manned a 36-bedded ward sometimes. This means the nurse-bed ratio declines to 9-12 beds to a nurse.

The hospital has 136 doctors (General and specialists) and more than 500 nurses.