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Bhutan's Daily Newspaper
Updated: 2 hours 55 min ago

RBP warns of online scammers  and burglary cases

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 12:16

Jigmi Wangdi

Pema (name changed) received a WhatsApp message from an Indian number saying she had won Nu 2.5 million in a lucky draw. The number was not on her contact list.

Suspicious of the number, Pema googled the name of the bank that was mentioned in the message and she found pictures of the bank and its manager. She was convinced.  After she replied, the messenger asked for her picture. Pema received a message which contained a certificate that stated that she had won the lucky draw.

The certificate had a picture of Pema along with pictures of Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Pema was convinced that she was a lucky person.

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She video-called the messenger and the Indian showed her a desk with a pile of cash. He asked Pema to pay a fee of Nu 23,100 to claim the reward. Pema happily transferred the money.

Soon after the confirmation of the transfer, the messenger blocked Pema. Pema was scammed. The money that Pema paid in fees was transferred to a woman in Tsirang.

It would later come to light that the woman in Tsirang was a middleman who received a certain amount as commission.

This is one of the many cases the Royal Bhutan Police found when many Bhutanese fell prey to an online scam. The RBP has since apprehended the woman and froze the woman’s bank account. The victim did not receive compensation for the money which was transferred as a fee.

Police said that they received 10 cases pertaining to online scams so far. Most of the scammers, police said, are from India with middlemen in Bhutan working for them.

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Most of the middlemen are between the ages of 20 and 30 and are mostly college dropouts and unemployed. The RBP has caught three individuals involved in the scams so far.

The RBP said that most of the scammers also target Bhutanese students studying in India.

The scammers use WhatsApp as a medium for messaging people about fake lucky draws and Telegram to invite people to invest in Bitcoin, a popular cryptocurrency.

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Burglary cases increasing in Thimphu

Meanwhile, police officials said that burglary cases are increasing in Thimphu and urged residents to be alert and improve the security of their homes to prevent burglaries.

Police said that there are at least one or two cases of burglary or larceny reported every day. “Residents should improve the quality of security in their homes to deter possible burglaries,” said a police official.

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An official from the RBP said that residents should install CCTV cameras and alarms on doors to prevent burglaries.

The official also urged residents to not keep highly valuable items and high amounts of cash at home without proper security. Police also urged residents to report any suspects to the police.

Focusing on the user

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 12:15

In 2019, 12 more gewogs were declared Open Defecation Free (ODF) taking the total number to 93 gewogs. Last year, three more dzongkhags and 26 additional gewogs were listed in this category with improved sanitation coverage. Last week, 76 gewogs from 12 dzongkhags achieved 100 percent ODF making Bhutan fully ODF.

The elimination of open defecation is recognised as a top priority for improving the health, nutrition, and productivity of developing country populations and is explicitly mentioned in SDG target 6.2.

World Health Organisation (WHO) defines open defecation as the practice of defecating in fields, forests, bushes, bodies of water, or other open spaces.

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As one of the essential components of improving public health is to provide improved sanitation for all as a matter of priority. The prevalence of sanitation and hygiene-related diseases such as diarrhoea and dysentery remained in the top five communicable diseases over the last decade. This was mainly due to the practice of predominantly simple pit toilets.

According to the 2017 Population and Housing Census of Bhutan (PHCB), Gasa dzongkhag recorded the lowest proportion of households with improved sanitation facilities at 55.1 percent, followed by Dagana at 59.8 percent.

In the process of rapid urbanisation across our towns, we also see semi-permanent structures mushroom on the outskirts and those crowded settlements negotiating with limited sanitation facilities. These settlements if we do not monitor and ensure proper facilities could be sources of disease outbreaks in the future.

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We agree that priorities are changing in a society going through a severe transformation. After six decades of extremely rapid development our needs have changed and such improved sanitation facilities have become the basis of modern life.

Going by the trend we saw recently during the religious events at Kuenselphodrang, the habit to hit the bushes remains strong in us.

The ODF milestone is a major achievement given how far we have come. The focus must now be on the quality of facilities including those in our institutions.

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If things slide and in case the tips threaten this milestone, this could increase the burden on the State’s exchequer as Bhutanese are entitled to free healthcare services.

For a start, we can have proper signboards to show the location of such public facilities in our towns. A visitor to Norzin Lam is forced to pretend as a customer to relieve oneself in one of the locked facilities. Or else, the only option is to rush down to Thimphuchhu.

Decolonising the Bhutan Forest Bill 2021

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 12:14

Our greatest national pride is that we were never colonised by a foreign power. Nonetheless, we have not been completely free from the influence and impacts of colonialism. Colonialism first found its way into our social fabric through The Bhutan Forest Act 1969 when the foreign idea of ‘scientific forest management’ (SFM) advocated nationalisation of forest which forced the local people to surrender their traditional forest rights. The British in India employed the SFM as a front for land grab from indigenous people in pursuit of their economic interest. The new Forest Bill 2021 shows that colonialism in forest has not receded but only gone more rogue. Here is how:

First, the Bill has been drafted with no consideration of the major political, economic, social and ecological changes that have taken place since the 1995 Forest Act. For instance, the country adopted the Constitution in 2008. Article 5, Section 1 entrusts that every Bhutanese is…

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…a trustee of the Kingdom’s natural resources and environment for the benefit of the present and future generation and it is the fundamental duty of every citizen to contribute to the protection of the natural environment, conservation of the rich biodiversity of Bhutan…

Forests are to the Bhutanese the centre of their world and the source of their spiritual, social, cultural and material wealth. The Bill ignores our history, culture and indigenous natural resource management systems; instead, it looks upon farmers, the true custodians of environment, as forest destroyers, while framing Government foresters as forest protectors.  

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According to Government reports, forest cover increased from 72.5 to 83.9 % between 1995 and 2016. This huge forest expansion over the years has transformed our landscapes. The agricultural lands, for example, has been reduced from 7.7% in 1995 to 2.7 % today. The alpine pasturelands, the lifeline for yak herders, has declined from 3.9 to 2.5% because of the fire suppression policy that has resulted in pasturelands invaded by unpalatable scrubs. These outcomes and trends are a serious livelihood and food security issue. The Bill focuses on trees mostly. 

The primary objective of the National Forest Inventory is to inform the country about forest area, composition, timber stock, carbon stock, annual growth, extraction rate, forest use and biodiversity. The Government spent the enormous sum of Nu. 118 million to undertake the National Forest Inventory 2016. According to NFI, timber stock has nearly doubled from 529 M m³ in 1981 to 1001 M m³ in 2016, with annual forest growth at 13.5 M m3. In 2016, total wood removed from the forest was a mere 2.9% of the annual growth or 0.04% of the total timber stock. Wood import was over six times the wood export. Bhutan’s negative balance of trade is a serious macro-economic issue. The Bill fails to incorporate the NFI data and other national forest statistics.

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Our rural population made up 96% in 1960. Today it is 57%. The population density is 19 persons/km2 – compared to Bangladesh’s 1,265/km2, India’s 477, Switzerland’s 221 and Nepal’s 213. We are literally an empty country. The number of abandoned villages and houses in the rural areas is rising, and presents a multitude of social issues. In addition, our fertility rate is below the replacement rate. Without enough Bhutanese, we won’t be Bhutan. Instead of improving living conditions in rural areas, the Bill will make life impossibly difficult for the people.   

The anti-people sentiment in the Bill is rooted in the history of the Forest Department. Bhutan’s Forest Department was set up following the colonial example in India where it is the owner, manager, policy makers and police all rolled into one. The mission of the colonial Forest Department in India was to protect and advance the Empire’s economic interests from timber and other forest produce. Colonial laws, policies, attitudes and actions served to dominate and exert control over local populations. A teak sapling on a private land, for example, belonged to the government, and the land owner was required to nurture it; a bullock cart was not to be seen in and around forests once evening had set in; even wood carried by a swollen river in summer belonged to the government. We adopted the Indian Forest Act 1927 as the Bhutan Forest Act 1969.  

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A new colonial sentiment, that of anti-development, came into force with the 1995 Forest Act. It was the direct influence of the World Wildlife Fund, an international conservation NGO from the US, which established a base in the country in 1980s. WWF brought with it the American idea of a National Park as a strategy for forest conservation. WWF has so far assisted the Government in declaring over half of Bhutan’s total land area as protected area. 

In the US, where it was born, the concept of a National Park has a sad, ugly and violent history. It is premised on the Western worldview of nature: a wilderness untouched by humans, and one in which wildlife and biodiversity are best protected when people are removed from the ecosystem. When the US Government established the first such park in the world, Yellowstone National Park in 1872, in the ancestral lands of Native American Indians, the Army was called in to forcibly remove the natives. In one massacre, the Army killed 200 natives; over the subsequent 32 years, from 1886 to 1918, the Army was stationed at the park to keep people out. A National Park basically was people’s land grab by the colonial administration as a pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people. Here read ‘people’ as white people. 

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Bhutanese conservationists take pride in stating that we don’t evict people from our parks. But in reality, our people may have escaped eviction due to practical difficulties, not from kind-heartedness of the conservationists. On top of our stringent forest rules, people and communities in parks are subjected to additional prohibitions and denied development. In the Shingkhar-Gorgan Road case, the green activists stopped the Government in providing a motorable road to a remote region.  

Second, one step forward and two steps back. The 1969 Forest Act nationalised all forests and trees belonging to communities and citizens. 

Tropical deforestation was a raging international environmental issue in 1980s like the climate change today. One factor behind deforestation was the forest nationalisation policies in Asia and Africa, a colonial legacy. As forest property rights changed hands from local to national authority, people engaged in short-term exploitative behaviour, leading to deforestation. Research has shown that property rights, whether legally or tacitly recognized by the state, are important components of sustainable use of resources by rural communities. To course correct it, community forests, decentralization and devolution in forest decision making had become the dominant theme in sustainable forest development dialogues. Against this background, the 1995 Forest Act included a new chapter devoted to Community Forest. In the new Bill, the community forest is relegated to a section with a clause stating the people shall have no ownership over the land, water resources, soil, sand, stone, boulder and riverbed materials in the Community Forests. This is a backslide. 

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Third, the colonial mindset that Bhutanese foresters and conservationists inherited from British India and WWF has gone rogue in this new Bill. The Schedule of Species lists a total of 73 mammals, 147 plants, 227 birds, 8 amphibians, 20 fish, 15 reptiles, 7 tortoises and turtles and 3 insects requiring legal protection. Possessing, killing, injuring and moving these plant and animal species invite fines and imprisonment. These lists have been developed on the whims of conservationists, as we have not heard of a formal report assessing the threats to populations of these species. 

The Bill is a Permit Raj. People require a permit from the DoFPS for anything and everything to do with forest and forest produce; felling a tree on a private land and moving it to another location, owning a power chainsaw, fishing in a river, conducting forest research, exporting and importing forest produce.

The Bill also dangerously formalizes military tactics with new clauses on uniform, rank insignia, arms and ammunition for Government foresters to protect wildlife for conservation. This is militarisation of conservation and we must question it. 

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Fourth, outdated science. According to the surveys conducted by DoFPS, water sources that dried up across the country represented 2% in 2019 and it rose to 25% in 2021. DoFPS’s traditional approach to water conservation has been to expand tree cover in the watersheds. 

The understanding of forest–water relationship has grown significantly in recent decades. We know that trees suck up ground water and release it to the atmosphere through the evapo-transpiration process, and as tree cover changes in a landscape, so too does the hydrology. Unmanaged and overstocked forests use more water and therefore may produce less streamflow than managed forests. The Bill fails to mention the forest-water relationship and how to manage watersheds in the light of new research information.

Further, the Bill continues with the old fire suppression policy. This policy has led to dense forests and excessive accumulation of undergrowth and leaf-litter on forest floors. This forest condition is a time bomb in a warming world for a mega fire. The Bill does not take into account destruction caused by climate-change-induced megafires around the world, from arctic to temperate to tropical forests. We see these fire catastrophes play out live on TV. How real is this possibility for us and what can we do to prevent a natural disaster of such cataclysmic proportion happening to us in future? 

Last but not the least, Bhutan’s forest law should be born out of the cutting-edge science, sacred relationship between people and nature, indigenous knowledge and the importance of forests to the national economy and people’s livelihoods, not based on the archaic colonial mindset of grabbing land from people, controlling and criminalizing people. The Bill appears to have been drafted in haste. This ill-informed piece of legislation needs to be sent back to the drawing board. 

Contributed by 

Phuntsho Namgyel (PhD)


Forest Analyst 

Bhutan becomes open defecation free country

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 12:13

Nima Wangdi

With access to improved sanitation facilities nationwide, Bhutan is now declared an Open Defecation Free (ODF) country.

World Health Organisation (WHO) defines open defecation as the practice of defecating in fields, forests, bushes, water bodies, or other open spaces.

The elimination of open defecation is recognised as a top priority for improving the health, nutrition, and productivity of developing country populations and is explicitly mentioned in SDG target 6.2.

According to the press release from Health Ministry, a total of 76 gewogs from 12 dzongkhags of Bumthang, Chukha, Gasa, Haa, Paro, Pemagatshel, Punakha, Samtse, Sarpang, Thimphu, Trashigang, and Zhemgang achieved 100 percent ODF this year on the World Toilet Day November 19. “Bhutan’s ODF coverage is now 100 per cent.”

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Sowai Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that it is an important achievement in Bhutan’s public health. “This means all the homes in the country now have improved toilets.”

SNV Bhutan’s Regional Programme Manager Gabrielle Halcrow said that with the support of Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Program partners including local CSOs such as Ability Bhutan and Bhutan Network for Empowering Women, there is a shared commitment to not only sustain but continue to progress towards safely-managed sanitation for all.

“For SNV, it was a privilege to partner with the ministry to develop and scale up approaches to improving rural sanitation and hygiene since the first pilot activities in 2008 to what is now a national programme collectively celebrating ending open defecation,” Gabrielle Halcrow said.

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“We commend the government for the leadership and commitment – from the villages to the national level, that has progressively realised the human right to sanitation and hygiene across rural Bhutan,” he said.

He said that Bhutan Toilet Organisation’s SATO technology also made upgrading sanitation facilities affordable and convenient.

UNICEF Bhutan’s Representative Dr Will Parks said that ending open defecation is a celebration of the change in the knowledge, attitude, and practices among the nation’s people on sanitation and the role the humble toilet plays in saving lives.

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“Today, we also celebrate the collective power of enduring partnership. For it was this partnership with the government, forged 48 years ago, to connect homes with the health ministry’s Rural Water Supply Scheme, that contributed towards improving sanitation in rural Bhutan,” he said.

He said, “While the impacts of becoming an open defecation-free society are visible through the health of people, we must not become complacent with the achievements made thus far. Together, we can do more.”

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According to the Joint Press release from UNICEF Bhutan and the health ministry, while sustaining the progress, the health ministry and partners will also strengthen the safe management of excreta to ensure the health and wellbeing of the people.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that all must strive towards making every home fully equipped with sustained, climate change resilient, and safely-managed sanitation facilities with an institutionalised monitoring system.

Going by the WHO global statements, open defecation rates have been decreasing steadily. From 2000-2020, the number of people practising open defecation declined from 1,229 million to 494 million, an average decrease of 37 million people per year. 

SHINE to bring tourism benefits to eastern Bhutan

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 12:12

YK Poudel

As a part of an initiative to promote tourism in the eastern part of Bhutan, the project Sustainable Hospitality Industries Inclusive of Native Entrepreneurs (SHINE) launched the “Uncharted Bhutan Tourism Attraction Books” and “Regional Food Program” in Thimphu yesterday.

According to Minister of Economic Affairs, Loknath Sharma, said such initiatives would enable tourists to get a better experience regarding indigenous products in the country.

“The project will be effective with better technology. Basically, the platform is important and ensuring that the transaction method is feasible for the customers would make it more sustainable,” he said.

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The project’s lead manager, Dr Robert Wimmer, said that the project has employed a two-way strategy with comprehensive information on the eastern dzongkhags. The books, he said, could be used as a framework for regional tourism development and a resource map.

“While Thimphu, Paro, and Punakha hold 65.9 percent of the tourism share, all the six eastern dzongkhags combined receive only 2.3 percent of the tourism influx and the corresponding value. This project is exclusive and in-built with local partners who will continue the project,” said Dr Robert Wimmer.

Chorten Dorji, executive director of Handicrafts Association of Bhutan, said the project would be able to make a difference with co-operation among the stakeholders in strengthening Bhutan’s local economy, creating jobs and improving infrastructure while also conserving the fragile ecosystems.

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“Weeks after the implementation, we noticed tourists taking interest in local products; we can achieve high value in tourism if we work on these aspects and provide an authentic experience to the tourist,” said Chorten Dorji.

The books have lists of rich tourism products in the seven eastern dzongkhag of Bhutan—Dagana, Lhuentse, Mongar, Pemagatshel, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, and Zhemgang with detailed information on natural and cultural resources, food and beverages, handicrafts, festivals and infrastructure, among other.

The project is being implemented in partnership with HAB (Handicrafts Association of Bhutan), BAOWE (Bhutan Association of Women Entrepreneurs), and Stenum Asia.

The five-year project worth 2.3 million Euro is being funded by European Union SWITCH-Asia programme which was initiated in 2020.

Dagapela-Dalbari SNH opens after several delays 

Tue, 11/22/2022 - 12:11

Choki Wangmo | Dagana

Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji and the Ambassador of Netherlands to Bhutan Marten Van den Berg inaugurated the Dagapela-Dalbari secondary national highway yesterday.

The construction of the 80.58km road, supported by the Facility for Infrastructure Development (“ORIO”) of the Netherlands, began in 2014.

The highway establishes a new north-south road corridor by linking the existing Sunkosh- Dagana road in the North to Lhamoizingkha-Kerabari road in the South.

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In the past, the commuters travelling to Lhamoidzingkha or Phuentsholing from Dagana had to travel about 500km via Thimphu-Phuntsholing highway. The new highway has now reduced the travel time to two hours between Dagana and Lhamoidzingkha.

The road will benefit 523 households in Tsendegang, Gozhi, Gesarling, Dorona, and Karmaling gewogs. Residents of Tsirang, Sarpang, Chhukha, Wangdue, and Trongsa will also be benefitted by the infrastructure.

The construction of SNH started in 2014

According to the press release from the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, the new highway will help reduce poverty in the region while increasing social welfare through enhanced economic development. “It would improve access to production inputs and markets in the district and shorten travel time and reduce transportation cost.”

As Lhamoidzingkha shares a border with India, people expect that once border talks are initiated between India and Bhutan, it would improve trade and serve as a tourist entry and exit point. Currently, producers and exporters from the drungkhag have to transport their goods through Gelephu or Phuentsholing.  

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Lyonpo said: “Dagana has many pilgrimage sites and this road would help boost tourism in the region. This road is a key to the dzongkhag’s development.

“Once the border opens from Lhamoidzingkha, the economic prospects would also improve. We are currently in talks with the Government of India to recognise this place as an entry and exit point.”

Marten Van den Berg said that infrastructure plays a crucial role in development and prosperity.

The project, supposed to be completed by 2017, faced hiccups and several delays. The contracts for packages B and C were terminated in January 2015. These two contract packages were re-packaged into four packages and re-tendered. Contracts were re-awarded in 2017.

Earlier, the construction was divided into three packages.

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Director general of the Department of Roads (DoR), Tenzin, said: “The project was delayed for two years due to issues in project coordination.”

Rugged terrain, deep gorges, erratic monsoon, and the pandemic also caused the delays, he added.

The 1.5 billion project was implemented by the  DoR with 50 percent co-financing from the Netherlands.

Government proposes to increase rural life insurance claim 

Mon, 11/21/2022 - 12:06

Dechen Dolkar 

The rural life insurance claim is expected to increase from Nu 30,000 to a minimum of Nu 150,000 for individuals.

On Friday, during the question hour session in the National Assembly, the Member Parliament (MP) from Mongar Constituency, Karma Lhamo said that the motion for revision of the rural life insurance scheme moved by Mongar dzongkhag in 2019 has benefited the rural people with the revision.

Until 2009 the premium paid by individuals was Nu 30 annually and the total claim was Nu 10,000 after death. After increasing the premium by an individual paid to Nu 45, the claim rose to Nu 15,000.

In 2019, the claim was increased to Nu 30,000. The government pays a premium of Nu 108 and an individual contributes Nu 87, a total premium of Nu 195 annually.

The MP said that it has been five years without a revision despite the rise in inflation. “It will benefit the low-income people immensely for their funeral rites,” the MP said.

Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said that the government has already initiated the revision.

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“About 90 percent of the work is done. It will not take more than four months to complete the remaining revision work,” he said.  

Lyonpo said that the government discussed with Royal Insurance Corporation Limited the scheme revision.

“We understand that Nu 30,000 is not enough for rituals. The government proposed to increase the claim to a minimum of Nu 150,000 and a maximum of Nu 200,000 for individuals,” Lyonpo said.

However, Lyonpo said that the government felt that it should be categorised into two groups, those earning salaries and those who are not.

For those salaried people, the government will provide a subsidy of 30 percent of the premium and 70 percent should be paid by themselves. This means the individuals will have to pay more than Nu 200 annually.  The government will have to pay more than Nu 100, in total which will amount to about Nu 400 annually.

For the rural people, the government will provide a subsidy of 70 percent of the premium and 30 percent of the premium will be paid by themselves annually.

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Lyonpo said that this will bridge the gap between those getting a salary and those rural people.

Life improves after Wakhar water woes end

Mon, 11/21/2022 - 12:05

Neten Dorji  | Wakhar

Persistent acute water shortage in Wakhar had forced the villagers almost to vacate and leave. They went everywhere seeking help to solve the problem.

A year on, they decided to never leave. Residents of Wakhar village in Lumang gewog are now happy.

The 13 households changed their decision when reliable drinking water reached their homes a year ago. The village became more harmonious and prospered.

A villager, Yeshi Choden said, “Earlier, we had to go out early in the morning to fetch water, but today we have running water in the tap at our own homes.”

She said that the end to their plight of having to wander far away for water has increased their productivity.

Another villager, Lemo said they had to fetch water for the household beginning early in the morning.

“If we did not fetch water on time, we had to come back with an empty container,” the mother of three said.

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The villagers said that it took 15 minutes to reach the water pond. “I fetched water about five times a day. But it was still not sufficient for household chores. For the past two years, we have been continuously fetching water from the pond which is slowly drying up,” said another villager, Karma Yangzom.

Lemo said that today, they don’t have to worry about that. “We even use flush toilets and it’s easier to maintain sanitation.”

She said that people have fought over water issues in the past which created an environment of discord and mistrust among the villagers.

Moshi-Wakhar chiwog representative Wangchuk, said, “The gewog spent about Nu 0.6 million to deliver safe drinking water to Wakhar. To curb the misuse of water supply and for proper water management, the villagers have appointed a caretaker.”

Another villager, Pema, said that they faced water problems until they got a reliable source.

He said now most of the villagers grow vegetables on a large scale.

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Agriculture ministry seeks Adaptation Fund help

Mon, 11/21/2022 - 12:03

Chhimi Dema

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests is in talks with the insurance companies in the country and proposed a fund from the Adaptation Fund to compensate the farmers for their crop damage and loss.

These initiatives were taken after the human-wildlife conflict endowment fund failed its implementation due to the pandemic and misuse of the fund, according to Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor.

Chumey-Ura Member of Parliament, Karma Wangchuk, asked the minister about the status and implementation of the endowment fund during the National Assembly Question Hour session on November 18.

Lyonpo Yeshey Penjor said that the agriculture ministry adds Nu 1.7 billion as the principal amount for the endowment fund, and compensations for crop or livestock losses are paid from its interest.

“For this, the government has to invest or look for donors. Owing to the pandemic, the government could not inject the amount,” he said.

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Farmers in the country on average lose about 8,250 metric tonnes of crops worth Nu 171.75 million every year to wild animals, according to forestry officials in the country. The endowment fund was established in 2010 to support the farmers in recovering from crop loss and damage.

However, Lyonpo Yeshey Penjor said that international experts recommend an insurance scheme instead of the endowment fund. “Experts said that the endowment fund is not a sustainable funding mechanism and donors do not support it.”

Lyonpo informed the House that during his recent visit to Italy, he proposed USD 4.9 million to the Adaption Fund.

Adaption Fund is an international fund that finances projects and programmes aimed at helping developing countries to adapt to the harmful effects of climate change.

The agriculture ministry was asked to submit a proposal to secure funds.

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The endowment fund failed partly because of its lengthy process to claim compensation. Considering it, the previous government gave Nu 300,000 from the fund to the gewogs to compensate the farmers for their loss.

However, it was found that some gewog administrations used the endowment fund to supplement the budget for developmental activities.

Currently, the ministry established the gewog tiger conservation tshogpa (GTCT) which is a community-based tiger conservation fund in six gewogs of Nubi, Tangsibji, Langthel, and Nabji Korphu in Trongsa, Nangkhor in Zhemgang, and Chumey in Bumthang.

Bhutan Tiger Centre under the agriculture ministry provides Nu 1 million as seed money for the GTCT and the member pays a minimum premium for their registered livestock.

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Raising national wage rate still on the table

Mon, 11/21/2022 - 12:02

Jigmi Wangdi 

The national daily minimum wage will be increased from Nu 215 to Nu 460 along with provident funds to the national workforce, according to Labour Minister Lyonpo Karma Dorji.

Maenbi-Tsaenkhar MP Choki Gyeltshen asked the minister when the government would implement its pledge to increase the minimum wage rate during the question hour in the National Assembly on November 18.

Lyonpo said that the ministry has done a lot of work by conducting research.

“Following the research findings, we submitted a formal request to the Ministry of Finance proposing to increase the wage rate from Nu 215 to Nu 460,” he said.

Lyonpo said that owing to a budget deficit in the country, this change could not be implemented. The two ministries are working to increase the wage rate when the situation improves.

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“Through the research in the past two months, we were able to identify 2,800 people in the national workforce,” Lyonpo said, “When we increase their wage rate to Nu 460, the annual budget required will be around Nu 350 million.”

Lyonpo said that the World Bank is supporting the labour ministry to increase the wage.

“We are looking into the incomes of the private sector, tax payments, and the country’s economic situation. The ministry is working with the Department of Revenue and Customs on this,” said Lyonpo.  “We are studying the pros and cons.”

New facilities ease life at Draktsho East 

Mon, 11/21/2022 - 12:01

… the institute is now a fully accessible centre 

Neten Dorj | Kanglung

Life was not easy for Tenzin Wangchuk from Trashiyangtse who enrolled in Draktsho-East in Kanglung, Trashigang. Every day he needs two friends to enter the classroom and return to the hostel. He is one of the wheelchair users.

Those difficult days are now history. The Opening Your Heart to Bhutan handed over all accessible facilities to the institute on November 19.

Spending over Nu 14.16 million, Opening Your Heart to Bhutan supported the building of ramps, railings, a dining hall and kitchen, a hostel, an academic block, a children’s park and other facilities.

Students of Draktsho -East welcomed the facilities.

“Thanks for supporting me and others; these facilities will make a difference to my life and other wheelchair users,” said Tenzin Wangchuk.“Ramp and railing inside the institute immensely benefit us to access the classroom and other areas.”

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In the past, it was difficult to get access to classrooms and the dining hall especially during monsoon. “Every time I step out, I need two people to accompany me to lift the wheelchair. Friends usually get angry when we fall down and it is exhausting for them,” said Tenzin.

Choyang Kuencha, 13, also a wheelchair user, shared similar experiences. He said, today the ramp is wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair and has made life easier.

“I no longer have to rely on others to support me. It allows me to use all facilities we have in the institute,” he said.

A country representative of the Opening Your Heart to Bhutan, Ugyen Tshering, said most premises and academic blocks, toilets and surroundings are equipped with disabled-friendly facilities.

“If we neglect disabled people in the community, it will be difficult for them to fit in the society,” he said. “There is still a lot of work to be done to make it accessible for them.”

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He said they supported gradual improvements such as building a girls’ hostel, dining hall, kitchen and academic block and then making the surroundings friendly for all disabled people.

A student said that places outside of their premises are not disabled-friendly in Kanglung. “Even if we think of going out in the town, it is difficult for those wheelchair users,” he said, adding, a lot needs to be done.

Opening Your Heart to Bhutan also provides a monthly stipend for food.

Officials said that the community also needs to be engaged to know the reality of disabled people.

“If the government could give at least a monthly stipend for students of Draktsho like other students, it would reduce the burden on donors. Moreover, we need not depend on others,” said an official. “Support from locals  can make a big difference to disabled people.”

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Thinleypang-Takila road blacktopping to begin soon

Mon, 11/21/2022 - 12:01

Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

Pilgrims visiting the Guru Rinpoche statue at Takila in Lhuentse can soon expect a smooth ride along the once pothole-riddled winding road between Thinleypang and Takila after its maintenance is complete.

During his recent visit to the gewog, the public of Maenbi gewog pleaded to Lyonchen Dr Lotay Tshering who verbally committed to addressing the public grievance.

The budget for the resurfacing of the road is approved now. “Our request will finally be answered and we are anticipating a smooth ride soon,” a civil servant residing at Tangmachhu, Zangpo, said.

The officials from the Department of Roads regional office at Lingmethang confirmed that Nu 35 million has been approved to resurface the entire 15km stretch.

The Chief Engineer Kinzang Dorji said the tender for the work has already been floated and it is currently in the contract signing stage with the contractor. He said the resurfacing work would commence soon and is expected to take seven months and is scheduled to be completed by June 2023.

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A tourist driver, Dorji, said although the tourists were happy and satisfied once they reach the giant statue the poor road condition on the entire stretch leaves a bad impression. “The road badly needs maintenance.”

A taxi driver from Mongar who frequently takes local pilgrims on a round trip to Takila said the 15-km stretch which used to take half an hour now takes more than an hour as the car can’t be driven beyond second gear. “Besides it also causes huge wear and tear to vehicles.”

Given the need, the issue was also discussed several times in the Gewog Tshogde and further discussed in the Dzongkhag Tshogdu but nothing has been done so far.

Maenbi gup, Ngawang Dhendrup, said that it has been more than six years since the road has been without maintenance and it was high time to improve given the high traffic because of the guru statue and other religious sites.

Although no record has been maintained, he said every pilgrim who visited historic Singye Dzong makes a point to visit the Guru statue which remains open all the time besides international tourists and resurfacing would impact grandly.

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Ngawang Dhendrup said the improved road would also benefit the people of Maedtsho gewog as there is a plan to lay Granular Sub-Base (GSB) on the connecting road between Maenbi and Maedtsho gewog, which would shorten the distance to go to dzongkhag administration.

Bhutan affirms its commitment to children’s wellbeing 

Mon, 11/21/2022 - 12:00

…to promote inclusivity and the protection of children from all sorts of violence, a football exhibition game was held.

YK Poudel

Policymakers, representatives from National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), Bhutan Football Federation (BFF), UNICEF, and the partners celebrated World Children’s Day (WCD) themed “Inclusion, for every child” at the Changlimithang yesterday.

The day was marked coinciding with the NCWC and UNICEF’s ongoing ending violence against children campaign.

Health Minister and the Vice Chairperson of the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) Dechen Wangmo highlighted the roles of policymakers in creating an enabling environment for children to thrive.

“We must protect our children and at the same time, we must take the responsibility to create an environment through which they can reach their highest potential,” the minister said.

UNICEF Bhutan’s Deputy Representative, Marie-Consolee Mukangendo, said that UNICEF shall remain committed to supporting the measures taken by the government in addressing the issues concerning children’s wellbeing.

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“Today, we are celebrating every child, everywhere. As people all around the world unite to celebrate the world cup, we want them to also unite around every child’s right to non-discrimination and inclusion.”

As World Children’s Day coincides with the World Cup kick-off, an exhibition football match was played among the policymakers led by the Prime Minister, celebrities, footballers, young people, and children to highlight critical issues affecting children.

Thinley Lhendup, 10, Junior Football Academy player, said that such events organised for the children enable them to get better opportunities and become better people. “I am happy to be a part of the event today. It provides young children like me a medium to get together and share about things that concern us as a child,” he said.

WCD was first established in 1954 as Universal Children’s Day, and November 20 marks the date on which the Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959.

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Looking at safe and secure future

Mon, 11/21/2022 - 11:59

With the Ministry of Education deciding not to renew contracts for the National Contract Teachers (NCT) and Regular Contract Teachers (RCT) in some schools, the worry is that there could be an acute shortage of teachers in schools.

Replacing them with trained and regular teachers is a good option, but how do we guarantee that they will stay in the system?

In all sectors, in all departments, and in all agencies—government and private—the problem is continuing loss of human resources, talent and skills.

Thimphu Thromde alone has received at least 51 applications for voluntary resignations, excluding EOL, so far. Some schools like Phobjikha Central School in Wangdue have been functioning without a principal or vice principal.

There are two sectors where Bhutanese going to Australia or better-paying countries will have a very detrimental impact—health and education. Doctors and nurses too are leaving in droves.

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At a time when Bhutan is trying to give a leg up to STEM and other vital subjects for a more solid picture of Bhutan’s future, these developments are antithetical. The efforts and dreams are meeting at a difficult crosswind.

There is a big change happening in the country today, which is good. The education sector, however, seems to be lounging about. The impact is going to be serious. Good education and better-paying job has lost relevance in Bhutan—Bhutanese are ready for competition on the global stage because doing so gives them at least some sense of security.

Simply put, Bhutan’s economy, Bhutan’s policies, and Bhutan’s ambitions are not meeting in one place. And we are losing professionals who stand a good chance to succeed in other countries.

If we had a system that recognised talent and paid civil servants and employees in the private sector well that could ensure them a safe future, as simple as home ownership when they retire, Bhutanese professionals have little reason to fly abroad.

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Bhutan will continue to lose talent so long as the country cannot bring about serious social reform. The civil service shake-up is a new beginning. There is much more we need to do, and very quickly.

Disruption is good, but it will truly be appreciated for what it is only when it really brings the much-desired change. The change young Bhutanese professionals need is a safe and secure future.

Govt. recommends loan rescheduling to resolve NPLs

Mon, 11/21/2022 - 11:58

Thukten Zangpo 

The government has recommended rescheduling the loan repayment period to the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) to resolve non-performing loans (NPL), Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said.

Suppose the loan repayment period is extended from 10 to 20 years, it could benefit both the lenders and the borrowers, he said when quizzed by the Nanong-Shumar MP Lungten Namgyel on NPLs in the National Assembly on November 18.

Lyonpo said that people take loans without carrying out a cost-benefit analysis – not knowing how much they have to pay on loans’ interest rate and equated monthly instalments.

He said that the loans availed for the purpose of businesses are spent on the development of their assets. “Loans for buying houses and land were highest in the year 2019, 2020 and 2021.”

Lyonpo added that the banks also do not properly check the credit quality and loan appraisal systems are a little bit weak.

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He added that the ministry can only recommend to RMA, and the authority has the sole responsibility for monetary policy.

NPL is not a current issue; Lyonpo said adding that of the total loan outstanding of Nu 145 billion (B) in financial institutions (FIs), Nu 26B equivalent to 46 percent was NPL in 2021.

He said that the NPL ratio is better now at 14 percent of the total loan portfolio and banks with NPL have to maintain the NPL threshold at 5 percent.

Since May this year, the Central Bank has directed the Bhutan Development Bank (BDB),  Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan (RICB) and National Cottage and Small Industry Development Bank (NCSIDB) to suspend loans because of high NPL.

The NPL has crossed the central bank’s threshold of 7.5 percent for BDBL and RICB and 5 percent for NCSIDB.

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The Central Bank’s recent financial sector performance report shows that NPL to the total loan ratio dropped to 8.64 percent (Nu 16.06B) in June this year from 14.08 percent (Nu 24.24B) in the same period last year. It saw a decrease of Nu 8.2B.

“The service and tourism, trade and commerce, and production and manufacturing sectors saw a substantial decrease in NPL by Nu 2B, 1.8B, and 1.5B respectively,” the report stated.

The highest NPL was recorded for service and tourism at 5.12B followed by production and manufacturing at Nu 3.08B and trade and commerce at Nu 2.87B.

These sectors account for over 50 percent of the total loans and were impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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As of June this year, the total loans disbursed by the FIs increased to Nu 185.91B from Nu 172.12B in the same period, the previous year.

Picture story

Mon, 11/21/2022 - 11:56

Thousands of devotees received initiations and blessings from His Eminence Namkhai Nyingpo Rinpoche at Kuenselphodrang on the last day of the weeklong recitation of Tshigduen Soeldep (seven-line prayer dedicated to Guru Rinpoche) yesterday

Focus point

Sat, 11/19/2022 - 12:38

New political party gearing to register with ECB 

Sat, 11/19/2022 - 12:37

… other parties welcome the news 

Nima Wangdi and Sonam Yangtsho  

With one more political party being formed, Bhutan could have five parties contesting the elections in 2023. The party doesn’t have a name yet.

National Land Commission’s Secretary, Dasho Pema Chewang is going to be its president. He is resigning from the commission on Monday.

“The name, charter, and symbols of the party will be announced after the party gets registered with the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) soon,” a press release from the aspiring party’s communication unit stated. “As of today, the party has 25 confirmed candidates.”

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The press release stated that the party will be processing for registration with the ECB by end of this month after which the candidates, ideology, and manifesto will be revealed.

However, the party’s communication unit said one of the party’s guiding principles is to achieve inclusive prosperity by recognising every household as the foundation of the national economy.

Dasho Pema Chewang said that the regionally-balanced development, equal opportunity and participation of all social groups in governance, economic transformation by leveraging on technology and strong leadership are some of the party’s initial focus.

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“We are just out of the worst public health crisis and our economy, including the global economy, has taken a bad hit. Our young and talented lots are leaving the country for better opportunities,” Dasho Pema Chewang said.

“It is at this time that we need to build our character, the character of our democracy, of our society, of our economy, the character of our nation,” he said.

The press note stated, “After registration, the party is looking forward to interacting with the people and other stakeholders to mainstream its vision with the reality on the ground.” Groundworks have also been almost completed by now and the party will start working in full swing from next week making up for the late start.

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He said that given his age and experience, he believes that he can take on greater responsibilities to answer the call of the nation.

Dasho Pema Chewang is from Kanglung-Udzorong-Samkhar constituency in Trashigang.

Druk Phunsum Tshogpa’s General Secretary, Sonam Tashi said that the coming of a new party was good as it adds to the choice for the people. “More political parties could contribute to building a healthier political system in the country.”

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Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s General Secretary Phurba said they welcome the new party. He said more political parties are better for the country and democracy.

He said the way we work may be different but the visions are the same for all. “Whoever comes to the power will be serving the country.”

“People generally think that the political parties see each other as enemies which is wrong,” he said. “We are not enemies but valuable options for the people.”

NC to redeliberate on Civil Service Bill

Sat, 11/19/2022 - 12:36

Dechen Dolkar 

The National Council’s legislative committee recommended repealing section 31 of the Civil Service Reform Bill 2022 during the deliberation on the Bill on November 17. 

Tsirang MP and the chairperson of the Legislative Committee, Dhan Kumar Sunwar, presented the committee’s recommendation to the House.

The Civil Service Reform Bill 2022 section 31, states that the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) shall compound petty offences in accordance with the compounding rules.

The National Assembly amended that the OAG shall compound petty offences in accordance with the compounding rules endorsed by Lhengye Zhungtshog.

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The Deputy Chairperson of the Committee, eminent member Ugyen Tshering said that section 31 is not related to the civil service reform initiative and is completely different.

He said that in future it could create many problems including the overhauling of the entire legal system in the country.

As an example, he said that in other countries there are many instances where the government interferes with the Attorney General’s prosecution of cases. “Though it has not happened in our country, it is difficult to say what type of government will come in future,” the eminent member said.

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He said that in terms of accountability since 62 percent of the offences are compoundable offences and the accountability of the people will be lost.

The eminent member also said that only rich people would be able to pay the fine in lieu of imprisonment and only those who cannot pay would be undergoing imprisonment.

The Committee accepted the National Assembly’s amended section 11 stating that the Lhengye Zhungtshog may rename the ministries in consultation with the Royal Civil Service Commission.

However, the MP of Gasa, Dorji Khandu said that section 11 of the Bill contradicts the Constitution and the Bill.

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Article 20, section 2 of the Constitution states that the Executive Power shall be vested in the Lhengye Zhungtshog which shall consist of the Ministers headed by the Prime Minister. The number of Ministers shall be determined by the number of Ministries required to provide efficient and good governance. The creation of an additional ministry or reduction of any ministry shall be approved by Parliament. Ministries shall not be created for the purpose only of appointing Ministers.

The Committee clarified that existing legislation passed by the Parliament empowered the Lhengye Zhungtshog to name the ministries with the recommendation of the Royal Civil Service Commission.

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The National Council Chairperson directed the Legislative Committee to review sections 11 and 31 of the Bill. These sections of the Bill were asked to review after the members raised some concerns. The review will be presented today.

The National Assembly amended 8 sections out of which the Committee amended 3 sections and repealed one section from the original Bill. The House accepted most of the recommendations proposed by the Committee.

Picture story

Sat, 11/19/2022 - 12:35

His Holiness the Je Khenpo is presiding over a weeklong Moenlam Chhenmo (Great Aspiration prayer for world peace) in Samtse that will end next week.