Finance minister Namgay Tshering, who is in Paro to witness the annual tsechu, will take the first Covid-19 jab today in Deyankha, Paro.
The lam neten, members of parliament and local leaders will also take the jab in the dzong.
Health officials and tshogpas set up vaccination centres in the villages. Paro has 36 vaccination centres.
According to dzongkhag health officer, Choki Wangmo, 12 vaccination posts would be open to the public today. “Others would open every consecutive day.”
Vaccination centres at the community health unit at Paro hospital and flu clinic will remain open to the public for a week. In contrast, Dogar and Naja gewog vaccination posts will be available for five days.
As of yesterday, 33,483 people registered for the vaccination of the 34,910 projected population in Paro.
Choki Wangmo said that the first week would only cater to people who do not have a medical condition and within the age frame above 18 to 70 years.
To avoid crowding, she said that the local leaders were asked to inform their respective residents to maintain specific timing.
In the other eight gewogs, the vaccination posts will remain open for a day or two.
Choki Wangmo said that the health taskforce would deploy enough people to cover the whole population in the chiwogs within a day or two.
Paro dzongdag Tenzin Thinley clarified that people could travel to other dzongkhag after vaccination.
He said that the health team and Desuups were already at the remote village, Nubri and Yaktsa.
Aligning with tendrel, the ‘first to receive’ vaccines in every centre was identified from the community based on their age. Lagay outreach clinic in Dogar gewog will start the vaccination programme by vaccinating a 30-year-old female born in the Buddhist year of the monkey.
In the meantime, officiating Haa dzongdag, Phurba Wangdi said vaccination centres at seven clusters, including six gewogs and municipal, would remain open for a week, and the health team would visit each chiwog to provide the services.
There are 27 vaccination centres in Haa.
The vaccination programme will start from Lhakhang Karpo by vaccinating a 30-year-old female born in monkey year and a nurse with the same age would provide the vaccination.
Haa has 8,545 people eligible for the vaccination and 7425 had registered.
Phurpa Wangdi said about 100 people are not willing to take the vaccination. “Through awareness programme, about 97 per cent of the population are willing to take the jab.”
Welcome back check-in session initiated to ensure students adapt to new normal
Yangchen C Rinzin
Students across the country returned to school beginning February, especially students of Classes PP-VIII.
Schools had remained closed since March 2020 owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many students were forced to learn through online education after Bhutan saw an increasing number of Covid-19 positive cases and two nationwide lockdowns. Many students said that they were happy to be back in school after almost a year.
Students said it was easier to learn through contact teaching with teachers around to clear their doubts, which was not possible with online education. Students complained about not being able to adapt to online education.
Tshering, a class VIII student of Lungtenzampa middle secondary school (MSS), said she could not study because she had to babysit when her parents were away for work. “By the time my parents are back, I’d be tired. I really wanted to go to school,” she said.
Students of classes IX-XII will start returning to schools in April since classes X and XII had their board examinations in March.
Ganasham Ghimirai, a class VIII student of Gelephu lower secondary school (LSS), said that it was a whole new experience when he returned to school. “But I felt like I was promoted to class VIII without learning anything,” he said.
Students of lower grades were first to go back to school after schools reopened. Students of schools like Thinleygang and Wangdue primary school (PS), Shengana and Dorokha LSS, and Khuruthang MSS will return to school only in April.
These schools were used to host students from Phuentsholing thromde after lockdown.
Tshering Dema, a class VI student of Sherubling PS in Trongsa, said that she really wanted to return to school last year. “I missed my friends and online education was very difficult. I had a hard time because my parents are illiterate and they couldn’t guide me with my studies.”
As much as students are happy, they are also worried they could contract the virus. However, many shared they are also aware of the safety protocols.
A parent in Phuentsholing, Rajesh, said that his son attended the school only for a week and, after the school closure, it became difficult for him and his wife to adjust. “We’re not teachers, and we didn’t know how to help our child with school work.”
During the school closure, the education ministry’s career education and counselling division saw more than 3,000 cases that approached for counselling through Sherig Counselling Service last year.
More than half were students and the majority wanted schools to reopen and wished to return to school.
Although there is no data to compare, many counsellors agreed that students were happy to be back to school.
“Calls for counselling about school-related issues have reduced,” a counsellor in Paro said.
However, the excitement to be back to school might not be the same for every child, according to counsellors. This is why, funded by the UNICEF, the career and education counselling division has come up with a “welcome back check-in session”.
Chief counsellor of career education and counselling division, Reena Thapa, said that session helped students affected by the pandemic and prepared them to go to school mentally prepared.
Reena Thapa said that different students would have had different experience during the school closure. Such a session, therefore, is essential for students, who had gone through difficulties at home and are still stressed.
“Many students, especially those transferred to other schools, mayn’t find it easy to bond. So the sessions help them bond with other students,” she said. “It’ll also help students adapt to new normal and help them move on.”
The session is conducted as and when the schools reopen, but only in 146 schools of the 609 schools in the country that has certified school counsellors.
There are 147 counsellors in the country today, including two on contract.
Reena Thapa said that the session focused more on students, who could leave the school again because of many reasons like not being able to cope with the new school, and on students, who are the victims of domestic violence and whose parents lost jobs due to pandemic.
“Having gone through problems, it’ll not be easy for a child to forget the issue affecting their studies,” she said. “The session will create a safe space for students to express the issues.”
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
As the nation gears up for mass vaccination, the two eastern dzongkhag of Trashigang and Trashiyangtse have received about 39,170 doses of AstraZeneca. The vaccine has been distributed to all the centres in the dzongkhags.
Health officials, clusters doctors, and security personnel are deployed in all the centres.
Trashigang dzongkhag has about 90 vaccination centres with 108 officials and 13 clusters doctors.
A highlander, Phurpa Dorji, said that most of the highlanders registered for the vaccine. “As the vaccine is a gift from His Majesty The King and the government, we’re excited to take the vaccine,” he said.
A villager, Sonam Dorji from Jangphutse, said that most of the villagers had registered for vaccination. “I’m convinced that the vaccine is safe. If one villager doesn’t take the vaccine, then there would be problems.”
He said that Jangphutse village, being near to the international border, people gave more importance to the vaccine.
Zangpo, 84, said that getting the jab was important to protect the whole nation from coronavirus. “I’ll take the vaccine and urge my family members and friends to take it too.”
Sonam Dorji from Jangphutse said that taking the vaccine was important. “Everybody should take it.”
According to health officials of Trashigang, about 29,511 people in the dzongkhag had registered for the vaccine as of yesterday evening.
Dzongkhag health officer (DHO), Gang Dorji, said that the dzongkhag had 15 vehicles for emergency use. “A 30-year-old woman will take the first jab here too,” he said.
Trashiyangtse dzongkhag has 62 vaccination places with 51 officials, 45 vaccinators and more than 62 security personnel.
Dzongkhag health officer, Tshewang Sithar, said the dzongkhag has eight cluster doctors and vehicles ready for emergency purposes.
The dzongkhag also deployed two additional vehicles at Trashiyangtse town and Khamdang gewog for emergency purposes.
Health officials said about 11,100 people in the dzongkhag had registered for the vaccine as yesterday evening.
Supplier unable to meet demand due to financial issues
It has been more than a month since Paro and other eastern dzongkhags ran out of commercial liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
Hotels that cater as quarantine centres in Paro had faced challenges, as they had to use borrowed subsidised and non-subsidised gas.
The procurement officer of Hotel Olathang, which is used as a quarantine centre, said that it had been more than a month since the hotel last received the commercial LPG.
He said that it was difficult to cater for lots of guests using subsidised LPG, which finishes in a day. “To avail subsidised LPG refill, we need to have a card, and the price of LPG is increasing by the day.”
Another hotel owner said that trade officials impose heavy fines if they catch hotels using domestic LPG, but they did not monitor when the regions were running short of commercial LPG for months.
With the introduction of commercial gas cylinders in 2017, hoteliers and restaurateurs surrendered their domestic LPG cylinders and switched to the commercial cylinder.
However, with no commercial LPG supply in the region, restaurant owners and hoteliers have been using green gas (non-subsidised) for their businesses.
The supplier of commercial gas in Paro, Jigme, said that he ran out of stock beginning February 5. He said that he had been receiving numerous calls and had collected multiple empty cylinders. “Customers are pressuring me and there are lots of issues.”
He said that he even complained about the issue to DoT but received no response so far. “Orders from the dzongkhag, quarantine centres, and other eateries are pending due to Paro tsechu.”
According to Bhutan Industrial Gas’s (BIG) general manager, Sonam Tenzin, the agent was unable to supply to the eastern and central parts of the country due to financial issues.
He said Paro would receive its stock today and the delay in supply was due to Covid-19 protocol while transporting the LPG.
The general manager said commercial LPG demand in eastern Bhutan dropped due to a limited customer and hotel and restaurants closures because of the pandemic.
He said that the sale reduced by 90 percent, costing the company a considerable loss.
The company also wrote to the Ministry of Economic Affairs in October last year requesting to increase the selling rate and dealer commission due to the impact of Covid-19.
It states that the company couldn’t pick the quota before the Covid-19 pandemic due to less demand and commercial entities illegally using domestic LPG. “Due to the pandemic, were not able to lift the 100MT quota.”
With a continuous drop in sales, it was difficult for the company to sustain, especially in Samdrupjongkhar and Gelephu, with an average sale volume of one truckload in three months.
Besides, the increase in loading, unloading, transhipment, transportation, MDP and customs fees have further worsened the situation.
The department fixes the operational cost of LPG agents, such as transportation, loading and unloading.
Sonam Tenzin said, with a considerable expenditure, it had been more than a year the company ran at a loss.
An official with BIG said that the agent sold about eight truckloads of commercial LPG during Paro tsechu, but now it was difficult to sell even a truckload in a month.
She said that the company was out of budget and it was difficult to supply LPG.
Meanwhile, the Department of Trade’s officiating director Rinchen Lhazom said that a committee was reviewing the justification submitted by the private firm, as it directly impacts consumers.
She said the committee was reviewing the price and was expecting an outcome by the end of April.
The government approved 10 Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) projects amidst the Covid-19 pandemic last year, according to the FDI annual report 2020.
Five of the projects are in the manufacturing sector and the others in the service sector. Ferro Alloys and IT were the most attractive sectors for FDI in 2020.
Although the number of approved projects declined by two from 2019, the value of the projects last year increased by 80 percent to Nu 2.104 billion (B) from Nu 1.166B.
From within Asia, India remains the major source of FDI investments in the country with 47 percent. Five of the 10 projects—three in Ferro Alloys; and one each in hotel and manufacture of bamboo flooring products, furniture and decorative materials—are from India.
Two of the projects are IT-based and their promoters are from the US and Singapore. The FDIs also include an investment in growing edible oil and medicinal mushrooms from Thailand.
The other two FDIs, which are promoted by investors from Germany, are in the construction and microfinance sectors.
With the 10 new projects, the total number of projects today stands at 92.
Issuance of approvals and certificates of FDI registration are two different stages of receiving FDI projects. The government issues a certificate of FDI registration before approving the project.
A total of nine projects were issued FDI registration certificates in 2020, of which three were approved. This means that six of the projects that received FDI registration certificate in 2020 are processing approvals.
Tengye Lyonpo (Economic Affairs Minister) Loknath Sharma said that he was happy to note that the country received FDIs despite the Covid-19 pandemic. He said that the revision of the FDI policy in 2019 had a few positive impacts and that it could help Bhutan attract more FDI in the future.
Lyonpo said that the projects approved in 2020 were at various stages of implementation. “We’re expecting that they’ll be in good shape by the end of this year,” he said.
According to the report, 64 percent of the total approved FDI projects have started commercial operation. About 66 percent of them are located in Thimphu, Paro and Chukha, with most of them (38 percent) being in Thimphu.
About 44 percent of the total FDI projects approved in the manufacturing sector are located in industrial parks.
According to the report, 42 percent of the FDI projects are at the Pasakha industrial park, 25 percent each in Jigmeling and Motanga industrial parks, and 8 percent in Dhamdum industrial park.
The report also highlights the FDI achievements in terms of capital inflows, employment generation and tax benefits.
The country received a total of USD 22.98 million (M) as capital inflows from foreign investors in 2019. Inflows from Indian investors were recorded at INR 766.38M.
The FDI projects that were in operation as of December 2019 employed a total of 4,486 Bhutanese directly as regular employees. In addition, they employed 777 Bhutanese as casual workers, taking the total to 5,263.
The FDI companies employed a total of 183 regular foreign workers, which was only 3.9 percent of total regular employees. This means that for every single expatriate working in the country, there are 25 locals employed.
The FDI companies contributed a total of Nu 1.531B as taxes to the government in 2019. This was a decline of 12 percent from 2018.
The economic affairs ministry carried out a survey of FDI projects for 2019 in 2020. But a few companies were not able to provide data as they were closed during the year due to the pandemic.
“The decline in the tax revenue could partially be explained by a few companies failing to submit the annual survey during the year,” the report states.
A total of 10 FDI projects in the manufacturing sector exported goods worth Nu 3.7B. Of this, goods worth Nu 3.6B were exported to India.
Inward foreign remittance from non-resident Bhutanese increased significantly in 2020 despite the Covid-19 pandemic affecting the global economy badly.
Non-resident Bhutanese remitted a total of Nu 8.27 billion (B) from January to December last year, according to the Royal Monetary Authority’s (RMA) monthly statistical bulletin for March 2021.
The remittance from non-resident Bhutanese in 2019 was Nu 2.679B. This means that the remittance increased by 208 percent last year.
Remittance inflow helps in building foreign exchange reserves.
Of the total inward remittance received through formal channels, about 80 percent was from Australia. The remittance from the US and the Middle East constituted about 10 percent and 2.5 percent respectively.
The appreciation of the US dollar against the ngultrum is one of the reasons for the significant increase in inward remittance. A stronger dollar bodes well for the recipients through conversion into the ngultrum.
According to statistics released by the central bank, the average rate of the dollar against the ngultrum in 2020 was 74.11 compared with 70.58 in 2019.
The monthly exchange rate of the ngultrum increased to 76.2 per dollar in April 2020 from 71.3 per dollar in January 2020. The exchange rate, however, dropped to 73.66 in December last year.
According to RMA, an Australian dollar account has been opened with the Reserve Bank of Australia to support and incentivise remittance during the Covid-19 pandemic. This move is aimed at minimising the exchange loss for the remitter through currency conversions.
The South Asia region has been the biggest beneficiary of remittance in the world, according to the RMA’s annual report 2019. However, it states Bhutan has lagged behind in capitalising the benefits although inward remittance is considered a stable and reliable source of non-debt financing source for a country.
The government in September 2016 launched RemitBhutan platform to provide a platform for non-resident Bhutanese to remit their savings and earnings to Bhutan through the formal banking channel.
In 2020, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck referral hospital and the Royal Bhutan Police together received 45 teenage pregnancy cases. That is besides 79 cases of sexual assaults involving minors—41 from the hospital’s forensic department, 38 from RBP. According to records with RBP, 33 cases involved sexual assault on girls above the age of 12 years and five below 12.
Dema turns 11 next month. She is worried about menstruation but cannot talk to anyone, even her mother. “I have some idea about it, from TikTok. Menstruation and sexuality issues aren’t talked about in school, neither at home.”
According to education, forensic and RENEW (Respect, Educate, Nurture, and Empower Women) officials, said that young people have little knowledge about their sexuality, diseases, care and relationship. And so, a comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) is necessary.
What is CSE?
CSE is curriculum-based education, which aims to equip children and young people with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that will enable them to develop a positive view of their sexuality in the context of their emotional and social development.
In 2008, to build positive behaviour among young people and to prepare them for the transition of adult life, a guidebook for teachers, life skill based-comprehensive sexuality education (LSE) was launched.
LSE is based on 10 core life skills—critical thinking, self-awareness, decision-making, effective communication, coping with stress, empathy, creative thinking, problem solving, interpersonal relationship, and coping with emotion. That means with the life skills, sexuality topics such as sexual harassment, puberty, and teenage pregnancy are taught whereby sexuality topics are used as tools to learn life skills. The guide is based on age appropriate level which starts from age eight.
The problem is life skills education overshadows sexuality education. What is more? LSE is not part of curriculum. So, it depends on school to school as to how to implement LSE. Some teachers and counsellors are still not aware that the guide exists.
A student of Sherubtse College in Trashigang said sexuality education she got was only from her biology textbooks in school. Sexuality education was a taboo subject, she said.
Choening Sherab, senior programme officer with School Health and Nutrition Division, said the programme lacked uniformity in implementation as some schools conducted sessions during assembly and library period. Some schools do not even have designated period for LSE.
A review of Life Skills Education 2014 revealed the time devoted for each LSE class ranged from five to more than 366 minutes in a single academic year. Modality varied from zero-period, extra-curricular and library period, among others.
A counsellor said that she referred to LSE during guidance counselling (GC), which happens once a week for every class.
She said GC was based on needs assessment and some topics about sexuality, such as healthy relationships within family and among friends and puberty. “Because of limited time, however, full focus can’t be given to sexuality education.”
A primary school teacher has not seen the guidebook even. She said that value education was taught to students where only a few aspects of sexuality education are included.
A school counsellor in Trashigang said that she got CSE materials from the Internet. “For CSE to be successful, teachers must be trained.”
What must happen?
Programme officer with RENEW, Ugyen Thinley, said that the guidebook must be revised, as LGBTI aspect, gender-based violence, social media influence on sexuality were not covered.
Tshering Dolkar, officiating executive director of RENEW, said that CSE must be made strong to keep young people well informed in or out of school.
LSE review also revealed that 36.5 percent of teachers were uncomfortable teaching topics related to sexuality; others misunderstood the concept of CSE and feared that it could encourage sexual behaviour among students.
CSE was launched in 2014 by Paro College of Education to train teacher trainees of two teacher-training institutes to teach LSE. However, it was offered as non-credited 30-hour module.
Samtse College of Education discontinued teaching CSE module as per wheel of academic law of Royal University of Bhutan which does not allow teaching non-credited module.
When should CSE begin?
Before puberty. Ugyen Thinley said that CSE should actually start from kindergarten.
A counsellor with RENEW, Kesang Dolkar, said, as perpetrators of sexual assault on minors were mostly family members, children might think such assaults are acceptable. “If children are made aware of their sexuality and their rights, it can reduce sexual assault against them.”
According to National Statistics Bureau’s report in 2015 on sexual and reproductive health of adolescents and youth in Bhutan, more than 43 percent of the women aged between 15 and 49 years experienced first pregnancy between 11 and 19 years.
Royal Education Council’s (CSE) Karma Dorji said that, since 2019 curriculum revision, some grades began to incorporate sexuality education in Science, Social studies, Dzongkha and English.
The revised textbook is expected to reach the school this year.
To achieve zero dogs mediated human rabies by 2030, a dog population management (DPM) programme kicked off yesterday in Thimphu.
Besides it expects to reduce the stray dog population to a manageable level in public places with 95 percent sterilisation coverage. The programme attempts to convert the ratio of owned and strays from existing 30:70 to 70:30 through adoption, and 100 percent registration and sterilisation of dogs.
As of June last year, there were about 33,000 stray dogs in the country. Of that, 7,000 are in Thimphu, 5,000 in Phuentsholing, 4,000 in Gelephu and 3,000 in Samdrupjongkhar.
As per the Department of Livestock’s (DoL) survey in May last year, Thimphu Thromde and peri-urban areas have 13,000 dogs, of which about 6,000 are stray dogs, and around 4,000 dogs were not sterilised.
The programme implemented by the National Centre for Animal Health (NCAH) under the DoL was launched yesterday by Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji who is the chairperson of the National Waste Management and Stray Dog Population Control Flagship Programme.
The DoL will implement the programme with relevant stakeholders such as Thimphu Thromde, Animal Welfare Organizations (AWOs), BTFEC, desuups, Thimphu Dzongkhag Administration, and other volunteers.
“The field clinics for the campaign will be in three strategic locations in North Thimphu, core town area and South Thimphu to achieve maximum coverage and to ensure that animal welfare is not compromised in transportation,” a press release from DoL stated.
The campaign will begin from the core town area in Chubachu, and the locations in North and South Thimphu will be covered subsequently.
NCAH’s Principal Livestock Health Officer, Dr Hiruka Mahat, said that the nationwide survey of dogs and cat in 2018 showed that only 30 percent of the pets had legitimate owners. “We want to reverse this by doing an aggressive campaign and encouraging people to adopt dogs.”
He said that local governments and AWOs are not technically developed like abroad. “In other countries, all the social nuisance such as stray dogs are taken care of by the local governments. NCAH will provide technical support to them, but they should provide logistic support.”
Dr Hiruka Mahat said that AWOs have many volunteers and animal lovers who can raise awareness on stray dogs. “Just feeding the animals is not enough because veterinary services and pet owners should be ensured. The local government and AWOs should take ownership of awareness and policy,” he said.
The DPM programme in Bumthang that started a month ago has sterilised and vaccinated more than 300 dogs as of last week.
“We cannot go to southern dzongkhags due to the pandemic, but we will give funds for the local authorities to do small scale activities,” said Dr Hiruka Mahat.
After Bumthang, the DPM programme will be organised in Tsirang, Zhemgang, and Trashigang, respectively. Local government, AWOs and relevant stakeholders will also be involved in the programme.
In 2020, the DPM programme was successfully conducted in Haa and Paro with over 93 percent sterilisation and anti-rabies vaccination coverage with 3,685 dogs sterilised and vaccinated against rabies.
The public is asked to take their dogs to the campaign sites for sterilisation and vaccination.
DPM programme, which focuses on the catch, neuter, vaccinate and release protocol, targets to improve the health and welfare of owned and un-owned dog population, reduce numbers of stray dogs through enhanced animal birth control, and promote responsible dog ownership.
Tshering Namgyal | Mongar
In Mongar, traffic police have come up with a rule that Bolero pickup trucks should be parked in a designated parking area above the vegetable shed.
Owners and drivers of Bolero pickup trucks say they are being discriminated against.
“Nowhere in Bhutan is there a designated parking for Bolero. It’s a light vehicle like any other,” a bolero driver, Wangchuk, said.
Bolero is the main mode of transportation for most farmers in the country.
Bolero drivers also said the designated parking is small and other light vehicles also park there. Congestion is a growing problem in the town.
“We have to park far away from the vegetable shed. Shopping becomes very difficult,” said Kinley, another Bolero driver. “Even in bigger towns like the capital city and Phuentsholing, Boleros can be parked in the light vehicle parking lot. Why is this rule in a small town like Mongar?”
Bolero drivers say that other similar vehicles, such as the Hilux and Prado are allowed to park in front of the vegetable market shed. Some are kept there for the entire day. “From where does the issue of space come?” a driver asked.
Some Bolero drivers claim that they are not even allowed to park at night when the parking space is empty.
Mongar police said that Boleros carrying local farm produce come to the shed in the morning from villages, leading to congestion.
A grocery shop owner said, unlike before, cars could now park only for a few minutes with parking lights on while doing shopping. “This is affecting our business.”
Ugyen Wangchuk drives a Bolero taxi. He said that it was difficult to find parking space in the whole of Mongar town because Boleros can’t park anywhere.
The police said that this measure was adopted to streamline traffic rules and regulations.
Bhutan has a serious stray dog problem today. But it is not new.
The government had tried to address the problems and control the dog population with numerous measures for more than half a century now. All of that failed.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, dogs were shot and poisoned as a quick-fix solution to control their number. When that idea failed, dogs were translocated from towns to rural areas. This had an extremely detrimental effect, with dogs turning wild and preying on livestock and wildlife.
Another failed dog population control method was “impounding”, which cost the government Nu 27M (million) for establishing dog shelters throughout the country in mid-2000 (a decade ago?). Then the nationwide ad-hoc sterilisation programme was initiated.
Over 56,000 stray dogs have been sterilised and vaccinated against rabies between 2010 and 2015. For that, the livestock department’s (DoL) National Centre for Animal Health was awarded an “outstanding animal protection award” in 2015 in New Orleans, USA. It is the second award the department has received.
The first “outstanding animal protection educator award” was awarded to the department’s director general in May 2012.
Despite the awards for the efforts, the problems remained. And residents in highlands continued to lose their livestock to feral dogs left behind by travellers, rabies outbreaks frequented communities at times even claiming the lives of people, and the incessant barking became a nuisance at night for both tourists and residents alike.
Yesterday, the government launched yet another campaign to control the dog population. This time, however, it is not the livestock department alone. Non-government organisations working with dogs, the local government and residents are being taken on board. Or at least that is the plan.
Until now the lack of community support for similar dog population control programmes thwarted the success of such initiatives. But going by the way the programme has been implemented in some dzongkhags, stakeholders need to push harder. Institutions like dratshang and schools, among others, can help sterilise and vaccinate all dogs within their premises.
The problems are going to be bigger in Thimphu.
Adopting dogs for residents who live in rented accommodation is not practical. For many residents, landlords have set limits on the number of visitors one can entertain at home forget adopting dogs.
Adopting dogs means accepting responsibility to look after their needs and welfare. How many are aware of vaccination and health needs?
While the livestock department works hard to push dogs off the streets into the homes of the residents, it needs to sensitise those willing to adopt adequately on these aspects.
Nima Wangdi | Dhaka
Although Bhutan and Bangladesh signed the Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) in December last year, the pandemic did not favour any trade activities.
The Prime Ministers of both countries, during their meeting on March 24 in Dhaka, agreed to put efforts to overcome the setback.
This was one of the bilateral issues that the two leaders discussed on the sidelines during Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering’s recent state visit to Bangladesh.
The sole motive of Lyonchhen’s visit was to pay tribute to the father of Bangladesh, Banglabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, on the 50th Independence Day celebration.
The foreign ministries of Bhutan and Bangladesh issued a joint statement on the meeting of the two Prime Ministers.
According the statement, the leaders discussed the importance of holding the commerce secretary-level meeting (CSLM) and foreign office consultation (FOC) at the earliest to overcome the setbacks. “They also emphasised amending standard operating procedure (SOP) on the use of inland waterways and finalise the protocol to the Transit Agreement on the priority basis.”
It also stated the chambers of commerce should come up with innovative ways of doing business to enhance private sector cooperation between the two countries.
“They also encouraged exporters and importers of both countries to use the riverine route as an alternative to the roads for the transportation of goods.”
It also stated the Prime Ministers noted that a secretary-level meeting should be conducted soon as part of the progress towards signing MoU on trilateral cooperation between Bhutan, Bangladesh and India for hydro-electricity. “They would also explore possibilities of bilateral cooperation in this sector.”
Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering thanked Bangladesh for the support rendered to Bhutan towards establishing a third international internet gateway. Bangladesh has also supported Bhutan’s proposal to buy bandwidth from Bangladesh, which will ensure reliable internet and communications for Bhutan.
“As a gesture of goodwill and friendship and as part of the celebrations of 50 years of Bhutan’s recognition of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina decided to provide Bhutan internet bandwidth at a friendly rate,” the joint statement stated. Sheikh Hasina has also offered Bhutan full access to Bangladesh’s seaports.
The two prime ministers have also discussed exploring the possibilities of rail connectivity between two countries through Chilahati-Haldibari interlink between Bangladesh and India. The interlink was inaugurated recently.
Bangladesh also agreed to increase the annual MBBS quota seats for Bhutanese students from 15 to 20. They will also issue multiple entry visa to Bhutanese students for the entire duration of their study depending on the validity of their passports.
Meanwhile, after arriving at Paro airport yesterday, Lyonchhen drove the car that was parked at the airport himself for a mandatory 21-day quarantine in Thimphu.
Getting vaccinated is everyone’s responsibility, says Ninda Dema
Tayatha Om Bekandze Bekandze Maha Bekandze Randza Samu Gate Soha…
“Let my action here today bring peace to all sentient beings. Let my deed today help materialise our Monarch, Je Khenpo, and the governments’ prayers. And let this small step of mine today help us all prevail through this illness.”
This is the prayer Ninda Dema, the country’s first Covid-19 vaccine recipient will make as she receives the jab on March 27.
The intellectual property officer with the economic affairs ministry, Ninda Dema, never imagined she would be the ‘chosen one’ when Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering announced that the country’s first vaccine recipient would be 30-year-old woman, last week.
During a regular family gathering last weekend, the 30-year-old woman was the topic of discussion at her home in Shaba, Paro. “We were all curious as to who would be the woman,” said Ninda. “I said I fit the category too, and it would be a privilege to be the first person to get the vaccine.”
She shared her impromptu prayer with the family and her mother immediately folded her hands and said that she should be the one to receive the first jab. “She said that the prayer and my name all aligned perfectly for the occasion and that I should be the one to receive the vaccine first.”
Ninda’s brother who works with the foreign minister was leaving to collect the additional doses vaccine the next day. “He might have shared our conversation with the minister because the next day he sent me a message saying that I might be the first person to get the vaccine.”
On March 23, the confirmation was made. It was official. In accordance with the Buddhist astrology, Ninda Dema, born in the year of the Monkey (1992) would be the country’s first person to receive the Covid-19 jab. “My desire to be the first person to receive the vaccine came true.”
Ninda, who is currently on deputation with the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu (DGRK) office said that in one of the Audiences, His Majesty The King spoke on the importance of Tendrel (auspicious beginning).
“Everything seemed to have aligned together. As I was turning my car after sharing the news with my sister, a man walked out of her (sister’s) office with a bottle of milk. That was a very auspicious sign,” she said. “Because of all these incidences, I was happy and confident that everything would go well.”
Ninda, the name which roughly translates to sun and moon could spread the rays of hope as the government encourages the people to get vaccinated and become the first nation to vaccinate all the eligible population against Covid-19.
Why get vaccinated?
Ninda Dema said that given an opportunity, there would be many who would want to be the first. “I was lucky. But even if I wasn’t the first person, I would have taken the vaccine anyway,” she said.
The primary reason for getting the jab was to protect herself, she said. “Secondly, it was to prevent the virus from spreading to others. If I don’t take the vaccine and happen to be the reason for spreading the disease, I would be the guiltiest person.”
In the wake of numerous news headlines concerning the vaccine safety, she said that despite some of them being ‘quite intimidating’, scientifically there were no links established, especially between the blood clots and the vaccine.
“People just read the headlines and take decisions. I think they should delve deeper and read the entire news and comprehend the information provided,” she said. “After reading several news articles, what I know is that the vaccines’ benefits outweigh its risks.”
She said that the other important reason as to why she was getting the vaccine was His Majesty The King’s leadership in the fight against the pandemic. “I have blind faith in my King and this reason alone gives me the confidence to take the vaccine.”
With His Majesty The King at the helm of the entire containment efforts, and the measures put in place by the government, Ninda said that Bhutan has successfully contained the disease for now.
However, it was not over yet. “Everyone has a part to play in the fight against the pandemic. At individual level, getting the vaccine is that part,” she said. “Many might think that it won’t make any difference if he or she doesn’t get the vaccine. People must understand that this assumption of theirs could cost others. For the vaccine to work effectively, every individual must get vaccinated. This is everyone’s responsibility.”
She said that despite having trypanophobia (fear of injection and needles), she decided to take the vaccine. “This is my contribution in this fight.”
Meanwhile, as a personal preparation, Ninda visited Dechenphu and Changangkha Lhakhangs in Thimphu yesterday to receive blessings before the big day.
Her mother visited eight lhakhangs in Paro, before noon yesterday.
Ninda Dema will receive the first dose of Covishield vaccine on Saturday at 9:30am in Thimphu. “I am excited and I feel very special. I just pray that everything goes well on the day,” she said. “I would visualise the person who would inject me as the Medicine Buddha and chant the Sangay Menlha prayer.”
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
With Rinchending constituency’s lone thrompon candidate through the dhamngoi zomdu, Phuentsholing thromde now has four hopefuls vying for the thrompon’s post officially.
Karma Gelay, 53, secured 16 “yes” and 12 “no” votes at the zomdu yesterday. Of the 101 eligible voters in the demkhong, only 28 turned out to vote, making it the lowest voter turnout in the zomdus conducted so far.
The other three candidates have served the thromde in various capacities, including the thrompon.
Uttar Kumar Rai, 39, was the former thrompon. Chhungku Dawa, 40, was the former thromde tshogpa of Phuentsholing Maed demkhong, and Devi Charan Dhimal, 56, was the former Phuentsholing thromde engineer.
Chhungku Dawa is also the only woman candidate in the race.
Phuentsholing thromde, meanwhile, has a total of 922 eligible voters. Phuentsholing Toed demkhong has the highest number of voters with 201.
Observers say Pasakha and Pekharzhing, without thrompon candidates, will play an important factor in the upcoming election. These constituencies have 138 and 194 eligible voters respectively.
The last date to file the contestant’s nominations is scheduled for March 29. The campaign will start on April 2.
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Devi Charan Dhimal was nominated from the Phuentsholing Toed constituency at the dhamngoi zomdu held yesterday, securing a place to vie for the thrompon’s post.
The 56-year old former Phuentsholing thromde engineer secured 55 votes against the other thrompon aspirant Deepen Ghallay’s 34.
With 201 eligible voters, Phuentsholing Toed has the highest number of voters in the thromde. A total of 101 voters, which comes to more than 50 percent, turned up to cast their votes yesterday.
With this, three thrompon candidates, one each from Phuentsholing Toed, Phuentsholing Maed, and Neydra, are now out. The last dhamngoi zomdu will be held for Rinchending demkhong today.
A lone candidate, Karma Gelay, 53, will go for “yes” or “no” votes. The constituency has 106 eligible voters.
Pasakha and Pekharzhing constituencies don’t have anyone standing for nomination. These constituencies have 138 and 194 eligible voters respectively and remain strategic vote banks during this thrompon election.
From Phuentsholing Maed demkhong, former thromde tshogpa, 40-year old Chhungku Dawa was nominated at the dhamngoi zomdu securing 42 votes against 31-year old Tandin Wangchuk’s 18.
The former Phuentsholing thrompon Uttar Kumar Rai, 39, has also scraped through the first round with a razor-thin one vote advantage. He received 33 votes against Tashi Wangchuk’s 32.
The last date to file the contestant’s nominations is scheduled for March 29. The campaign will start on April 2.
Phuentsholing thromde has 922 eligible voters.
Tashi Dema and Tshering Palden
Umling drungkhag and gewog accountant in Gelephu had allegedly misappropriated more than Nu 6.9M from the drungkhag and gewog budget.
Royal Audit Authority’s (RAA) preliminary audit observation revealed the accountant had misappropriated more than Nu 3.9M from the budget to construct permanent structures in the drungkhag and blacktopping the drungkhag road.
He had also allegedly misappropriated Nu 585,000 on February 6 last year from the budget to construct staff quarter. On that same day, he misappropriated Nu 65,503 from the budget for site development works at the drungkhag.
He was accused of siphoning Nu 277,843, which was paid as advance for guest visit.
The modus operandi for all the illegal transactions was the same, as the accountant had booked the amounts as expenditure and transferred it from the electronic public expenditure management system (ePEMS) to his personal account.
“The disbursement voucher was prepared, verified, approved and authorised by the accountant single-handedly,” audit observation stated.
RAA had asked the drungkhag administration to recover the funds and also impose penalty and take action against the accountant as per the law.
The accountant was alleged to have misappropriated more than Nu 1.2M from July last year to February this year from the gewog’s budget.
He was accused of transferring Nu 130,000 to another person and later of siphoning the money, transferring Nu 491,001 from gewog account to his own personal account. But he later adjusted Nu 491,001 with payments from the gewog’s budget for rural water supply scheme material procurement.
The accountant was also alleged to have transferred Nu 640,069 from the gewog’s account to his account, but later deposited the amount in the gewog’s account when auditing was conducted.
RAA pointed out that the misappropriations occurred as the accountant operated the letter of credit (LC) account independently without checks and balances. “There was also lack of monitoring over the gewog budget and expenditure, which facilitated most of the payments at the convenience of accountant and embezzlements of funds.”
It had also asked the gewog to take appropriate action and consider imposing penalty for the temporary misuse of funds.
Umling drungkhag officials said they received the audit memo and have made the accountant repay the principal amount he misappropriated.
An official explained the accountant misappropriated the funds by deceiving authorities. “Since he had the authority to do all the transactions independently, it would have been difficult to notice the embezzlement.”
He said the accountant would also be made to pay interest for the funds misappropriated. “We forwarded the case to the dzongkhag human resource committee.”
Three decades after the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) had evolved into a manageable disease with right medication, HIV positive patients in the country are still fighting stigma and discrimination.
An HIV positive patient, Samten, said HIV treatment emerged from a gruelling high pill burden, inconvenient dosing, adverse side effects to a manageable one pill once every 24 hours. “But despite vigorous awareness programmes, stigma and discrimination still exist.”
Samten said she tested positive for HIV in 2016 and that was the day her relatives turned their back against her. “I lost my family, siblings and native community in Chukha.”
She said she went to her village once and swore never to return, even if it was her last day. “Even my close friends ignored me, fearing that they might contract the virus. I was often isolated, refused casual contacts and blamed for contracting the virus.”
From accepting the virus as part of her life to revealing it to her two daughters, reaching out to Lhaksam and taking care of her health, Samten said she had come a long way.
But society remains where it was decades ago.
Illiterate, divorced, and a sole bread earner, she applied for domestic work around the country but was rejected every time she revealed she has HIV.
Samten said she could not hide it because she has to go to the hospital for a regular check-up and produce a medical certificate in most cases. “Many people say I shouldn’t work with them.”
People usually ask where she contacted the virus and blame her bad past life (karma).
Without academic qualification, she said that it was difficult to get a decent job and, with HIV, she was left with limited options. “I explore opportunities in construction work as a daily wage earner as it demands minimal personal details.”
She claimed many offices refused to employ her because she was HIV positive.
Samten is outspoken. “My openness is depriving me of many opportunities, but things have to change. I shared because society must know about it.”
With teary eyes, she said: “I become suicidal at times, but I worry about my children? Who’ll look after them?”
She said that her parents weren’t allowed to meet her. “If I send some parcel to my relatives, I ask my elder daughter to send it. I never touch them.”
Samten said that life became easier after getting in contact with Lhaksam and the community. “I feel at home when I’m with people like myself. And I even got a job where everyone knows I have the virus.”
Some people living with HIV shared having to sneak out at odd hours to attend to their unwell family and friends. “Otherwise, people don’t treat their relatives well in the community,” a person living with HIV said. “Children are bullied in school because they are the daughter or son of people with HIV.”
The executive director of Lhaksam, Wangda Dorji, said that many people are now aware of HIV although at a snail’s pace. “But there are a lot of things to be done.”
He said that stigma and discrimination are the main challenges facing people living with HIV. “People still think sitting and dining with HIV positive patients will transmit the virus.”
Due to social stigma, he said that people living with HIV remained hidden and people do not come forward to test, widening the detection gap.
Wangda Dorji said that the lack of coordination between civil society organisations and health officials impede the advocacy’s reach in the communities.
Today, there are 204 people living with HIV registered with Lhaksam among 741 detected in the country.
The incidents were shared during a two-day workshop on media engagement on HIV and key populations that include transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI), alcohol and other substance dependent and sex workers.
The workshop aimed to create awareness, provide visibility of the key population, and understand the issues faced by them.
In support of Bhutan’s Covid-19 vaccine deployment plan, United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) handed over ICT equipment worth over Nu 7.3 million (M) to the health ministry yesterday.
The equipment would be distributed to the health help centres (HHC) and vaccination points across the country for the smooth rollout of the vaccines.
UNDP’s support in the form of digital solutions includes the digitalisation of the Covid-19 vaccination programme and bolstering of emergency medical services response through support to the HHCs.
According to a joint press release from UNDP and the health ministry, the digital solutions were critical to ensuring quick, efficient, and safe distribution of vaccines.
“The equipment will enable the collection of real-time beneficiary data, including date of vaccination, vaccine type, dose, and potential Adverse Events Following Immunizations (AEFIs). It will also help real-time visibility of the inventory of vaccination points,” states the press release.
The HHCs would be playing a critical role during the vaccine deployment and responding to queries on the vaccination programme including AEFIs.
This support is a part of an agreement between the UNDP and MoH towards using technology in strengthening efforts towards containment of Covid.”
UNDP Resident Representative Azusa Kubota said that the UNDP was ‘honoured’ to support Bhutan’s national Covid-19 vaccine campaign in collaboration with UNICEF and WHO.
UNDP is supporting the BVS through its regional initiative on ‘Digital Solutions for the Delivery of Covid-19 Vaccine’. The support to the HHCs is a part of the UNDP’s global Covid-19 response and recovery project funded by the Government of Japan.
Nima Wangdi | Dhaka
Bangladesh as a nation was born 50 years ago amid strife and turbulence. Today, as she shares her story of success with the world, the first country to recognise Bangladesh as an independent country, Bhutan joins the celebrations.
Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said this in his statement of the guest of honour at the birth centenary of the father of the nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and the golden jubilee of the independence day celebration of Bangladesh at the national parade ground in Dhaka yesterday evening.
Conveying warm greetings and prayers of His Majesty The King and the people of Bhutan, Lyonchhen said it was always a delight to return to Bangladesh. “But the reason this time was more compelling,” he said.
“I came to listen to the story of Bangladesh, that too from her excellency Sheikh Hasina, who is an inspiring leader and mother-like figure to me,” he added.
Lyonchhen said such a historic event uplifts the spirits of the people of Bangladesh and the entire region when Covid-19 pandemic has claimed many lives and disrupted the livelihoods of millions more.
Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said while the two countries have many bilateral engagements, the purpose of his visit this time is purely to pay tribute to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who laid a strong foundation for his nation.
With a few reiterations in Bengali, Lyonchhen thanked Bangladesh for making him and the people of Bhutan part of the celebrations. Lyonchhen then presented the commemorative stamp of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to Sheikh Hasina. A cultural troupe from Royal Academy for Performing Arts (RAPA) also performed traditional and masked dances.
Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, said Dhaka had become a reunion place for South Asian leaders. The presidents of the Maldives and Nepal and the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and Bhutan have come to join the celebrations.
The 10-day celebration started on March 17 by celebrating the birth centenary of the nation’s father and will conclude tomorrow with the Independence Day celebration. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the festivities tomorrow.
PM Sheikh Hasina said, “Bhutan is a close neighbour and a friend.” The countries share similar history and traditions besides the geographical proximity. The contact between the people of the two countries dates way back in history. Mahasiddha Tilopa, who taught Buddhism in Tibet and Bhutan, was also born in Bangladesh.
“In our great liberation war, the late third King of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, and the Bhutanese people supported freedom-loving Bengalis,” she said.
Bhutan is the first country to recognise independent Bangladesh. Even before achieving the final victory on December 16, 1971, Bhutan formally recognised Bangladesh on December 6.
Bangladesh awarded the third King of Bhutan with Bangladesh Liberation War accolade in 2012 for his outstanding contribution to Bangladesh’s great liberation war.
Lyonchhen also met with the Bhutanese community in Bangladesh in the evening. He will return to Bhutan today with the delegation and undergo 21-day mandatory quarantine.
His Majesty The King granted dhar to formally appoint the new Health Secretary and Ambassadors to Kuwait and Thailand, and granted promotion to 11 officers from the Royal Bhutan Army and the Royal Body Guards, yesterday.
Dr Pandup Tshering, who had been serving as the Director General of Medical Services at the health ministry, was appointed as the new Health Secretary.
The secretaries to the government are appointed by His Majesty The King, in accordance with Article 2.19 of the Constitution, on the recommendation of the prime minister, who shall obtain nominations from the Royal Civil Service Commission on the basis of merit and seniority and in accordance with other relevant rules and regulations.
Chitem Tenzin, who was serving as Zimpon Wogma at the Office of the Gyalpo Zimpon, has been appointed as the new Ambassador to Kuwait. Kinzang Dorji, the former Haa Dzongdag has been appointed as the new Ambassador to Thailand.
In accordance with Article 2.19 of the Constitution, His Majesty The King appoints Ambassadors on the recommendation of the prime minister who obtains nominations from the Royal Civil Service Commission.
His Majesty also granted promotions to nine officers from the Royal Bhutan Army and two officers from the Royal Body Guards. The officers have been promoted from the rank of Lt. Colonel to Colonel.
His Majesty The King is the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
Thimphu residents will have to avail vaccines from respective zones
Yangchen C Rinzin
All individuals who have registered for Covid-19 vaccine in Thimphu must go to the vaccination station allocated in their respective zones.
The Covid-19 vaccination programme will start on March 27 across the country.
This means the earlier programme where people were assigned vaccination location and dates provided through the online registration portal is now cancelled, according to the senior programme officer Sangay Phuntsho.
Sangay Phuntsho said that it was decided to provide vaccines through the respective zones, since during the assignment of vaccination location and dates, there were several confusions among people like some families from the same households were given different vaccination location.
“There were errors during the allocation of vaccination stations based on the details provided during the registration for vaccination,” he said. “Some people were assigned location far from their homes so, we had to change the strategy to roll out the vaccines.”
The vaccines will now be provided in 28 different vaccination stations identified in 15 super zones and 44 zones.
The zoning system, ac- cording to the National Zoning Taskforce, will be the same as identified during the second nationwide lockdown last year.
A zoning team member, Tashi Penjore, said that there are about 72,000 eligible people registered for the vaccine in Thimphu and based on the number of population and weeklong vaccination pro-gramme, the team has created vaccination stations.
There will be about 76 vaccination teams that will administer the vaccines.
Tashi Penjore said that there would be three different timings to visit the stations, which is as per the timing mentioned in the movement card issued during the lockdown for respective zones. “This is to ensure that crowds are controlled.”
Individuals can visit the vaccination stations from 9am-11am with the morning card, 12pm-2pm for the afternoon card, and 2pm-4pm for the evening card. Those who do not have a movement card can visit stations from 4pm-5pm.
Those who have not registered can register on spot at the stations and get the jab.
People should carry either a citizenship identity card or driving license, or work permit if non-Bhutanese.
Sangay Phuntsho said that even if a person does not have any documents they can still come and they would be facilitated to register and those with a medical condition should also carry their prescriptions.
Once the person gets the jab at the centre, the person will be kept in the observation room for 30 minutes and will be asked to take note of the doctor’s number to report if they experience any adverse effect.
Sangay Phuntsho said that some schools have been identified as vaccination stations across the country and these schools would remain closed during the week-long vaccination programme. However, other schools and institutions will operate as usual.
“The reason for identifying some schools were based on the space and convenience,” he said. “All inter-dzongkhag movement will be restricted, except for emergency and for those who got the jab and those who are ineligible for the vaccine.”
There will be no change in the seven-day mandatory quarantine to travel from high risk to low risk even after vaccination is completed.
All health workers and active frontline workers who are engaged in the vaccination campaign will be vaccinated after the seven days’ vaccination campaign. The rest would be vaccinated with the general population.
While around 1,200 individuals identified with mobility issues will be provided vaccine through home-based vaccination, vaccination will be provided in a health facility for those above 70 years, but only after the vaccination campaign is over.
A total of 505,710 people have registered for the vaccines across the country as of 5pm yesterday.