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Updated: 33 min 3 sec ago

Investing in Bhutan

Sat, 01/07/2023 - 16:56

With eight new foreign direct investment (FDI) projects worth Nu 356.29 million (M) approved in 2022, Bhutan now has 101 projects worth Nu 43.62 billion.

FDI projects, small or big, should be welcomed. It is a good source of hard or convertible currency. As an import-driven economy, FDI, if successful, could come to the rescue of our fast-depleting convertible currency. While what we import is 100 percent finished goods, our exports are limited or mostly in the raw form whether it is limestone or dolomite. If we are banking on our biggest export still, electricity, it is only in neighbouring India.

The export of electricity can only offset, at best, the import of fossil fuel. In this context, FDI should be promoted, encouraged and welcomed. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the country was well on its way to attracting foreign investors. There were 16 FDI projects worth Nu 6.78B, in 2018 alone. Twelve projects worth Nu 1.17B and 10 projects worth Nu 2.1B were approved in 2020. There had been some hurdles on the way with the pandemic disrupting investments.

FDI could still be a solution for Bhutan. When Bhutan opened its door to investors, the selling points raised the antenna of foreign businesses. An English-speaking workforce, low-emission development, political stability, transparency, cheap power or clean energy from hydroelectricity and clean air appealed to investors. However, as investors are finding out, there are challenges that conflict with our advantages.

Political stability, ease of doing business, transparency and a clean environment matter to business, especially foreign companies exploring avenues for profit. Bhutan presents the perfect business environment. However, for many, business efficiency that results in bigger profits is the priority. Political stability or a clean environment are added advantages.  Infrastructure, logistics and connectivity play a crucial role in attracting or driving away investments.

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Our challenge, despite all the advantages claimed, is in the ground reality. Poor infrastructure, especially roads, the long distance and uncertainties from policy changes could discourage investments. We lack infrastructure. As a landlocked country, surface or road transportation is the biggest bottleneck. We have invested in building roads since the first Five Year Plan. It is still the biggest hurdle for investors, local or foreign today.

The FDI policy is being reviewed to make investment environment-friendly and attract FDI through creating a brand image of dependability and trustworthiness as a nation. While this is our advantage, our hurdles restrict investments. This is evident from the areas of FDI in the country today. Of the eight projects approved in 2022, six were in the service sector.  Only two were in the manufacturing sector. Today, the manufacturing sector takes advantage of cheap or subsidised energy, the only advantage over others. With the growing focus on alternative sources of clean and cheaper energy, the only advantage could disappear, forcing us to look to other alternatives to attract FDIs.

The hotel sector has the highest number of FDI, contributing to 36 percent, and information technology with 22 percent. Even here, the share is declining with FDI declining from 42 percent in 2019 to 36 percent in 2022.

As FDIs shift from hotels to other sectors, we need to improve our infrastructure, especially roads, if we are to attract FDIs with our other advantages like political stability and clean air, peace and friendliness.

Insurance claim case reaches to High Court

Fri, 01/06/2023 - 14:24

… The victim claims compensation of Nu 3.75M from insurance company

Rinzin Wangchuk

The proprietor of Phuntsho Timber Industry claimed compensation of Nu 266,890 on April 21, 2020, from Bhutan Insurance Limited (BIL) after a windstorm damaged one of his factory’s structures.

In his letter to the BIL’s general manager in Phuentsholing, the proprietor stated that the heavy storm blew off the entire roof of the store or work shed within his factory premises at the industrial estate in Phuentsholing. He also claimed for the finished furniture products and other items in the store which rain had destroyed. The incident occurred around 8.30 pm on April 19, 2020.

The insurance claim of Nu 266,890 was worked out, according to Phuntsho Wangdi, based on the estimated cost of re-roofing work, materials and the items damaged in the store.

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Of the Nu 18.771 million with an annual premium of Nu 79,780 for structures and other related properties he insured, Nu 354,034 was insured for the store and work shed under the industrial all-risk policy from July 11, 2016.

BIL branch office in Phuentsholing conducted both self-assessment and joint assessment of the damages and estimated the total loss of Nu 195,000. The report was then forwarded to the head office in Thimphu for further validation.

While reviewing the report and making the final assessment, according to BIL officials, they found that only the roof of the store or work shed was damaged and the claimant was eligible for compensation of Nu 82,766 only. “This is because the claimant had insured the building less than the market value,” an official from the claim division said.

An official from BIL said that BIL reviewed the estimated claim once again and came out with three options after the claimant appealed to the chief executive officer. The first and second options were calculated based on loss ratio and loss estimated amounting to Nu 23,633 and Nu 30,270 respectively. Phuntsho Wangdi through email accepted the third option of Nu 101,466 offered by BIL on September 17, 2020.

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“I accepted their offer since I needed the money to repair my damaged structure,” Phuntsho Wangdi said. “However, they didn’t pay me even after five months.”

He said that BIL refused to pay even after accepting the third option. “I then informed the insurer through email on October 15 that the claimed amount, which was mutually agreed between the two parties should be treated as null and void,” he said.

Phuntsho Wangdi then moved Phuentsholing Drungkhag court to claim his initial compensation of Nu 266,890. “I would have accepted had the company paid me the amount immediately,” he told Kuensel.

He also claimed compensation of Nu 3.750M from BIL for the loss incurred as the insurer refused to pay him. The lukewarm response from the company also affected his business, and production and his employees had to remain idle for 26 months.

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He also accused BIL of illegally transferring Nu 79,780 as insurance premium into the insurer’s account from his account maintained with Bhutan National Bank (BNB) without his consent. He requested the court to refund the premium amount of Nu 79,780 with interest.

BIL officials said that since the proprietor hasn’t renewed his insurance for his timber factory, the insurer renewed the insurance policy as per the existing prudential regulations of Royal Monetary Authority (RMA). The regulations stated that a financial institution shall ensure that fixed assets pledged as collateral or mortgaged against loans are properly insured.

BIL signed memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the BNB stipulating a condition that in the event of the borrower’s failure to insure or renew the insurance policy, BNB would insure or renew the insurance policy and debit the cost of the insurance to the borrower’s loan account. “So BIL hasn’t transferred the insurance premium unilaterally but done as per the prudential regulations and MoU signed with BNB,” BIL officials said.

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Both Phuentsholing drungkhag court and Chukha dzongkhag court ruled in favour of the defendant reasoning that the plaintiff had accepted the third option offered by BIL as per the Contract Act of Bhutan. The dzongkhag appellate court ordered BIL to pay the compensation of Nu 101,466 to Phuntsho Wangdi by January 20 this year.

For the compensation of Nu 3.750M claimed by Phuntsho Wangdi, the court ruled the compensation is not permissible for any loss or damage which is remote or indirect as per Section 211 of the Contract Act.

However, the court ordered BIL to pay 50 percent of Nu 101,466 to the claimant as remedies for breaching the contract. The Chukha court’s ruling stated that the company, being a service provider, had failed to perform its obligations. “The claimant had reminded the insurer twice through emails to pay him the third option amount, but BIL kept the payment pending, which defeated the purpose of insuring against the natural disasters,” the judgment passed on December 28 stated.

Aggrieved by the dzongkhag court’s ruling, Phuntsho Wangdi appealed to the High Court on January 3.

Guideline proposes decent working time for nurses

Fri, 01/06/2023 - 12:25

Lhakpa Quendren   

Nurses have been going on leave using their leave accumulated by non-working days despite the absence of a clear guideline on whether their day off can be accumulated and used to take long-term leave.

To standardise the working time arrangement for nurses, the nursing administration and management of the national referral hospital (JDWNRH) drafted a guideline on their working hours and the weekly day off and submitted it to the health ministry.

This comes after the Samtse dzongkhag administration in February last year decided to restrict nurses in the dzongkhag from taking accumulated leave after working during government holidays and Sundays.

The guideline is expected to guide nursing in-charge in organising the weekly off day and government holiday to rationalize the accumulation of weekly off days.

JDWNRH’s deputy nursing superintendent Tshering Dema said that while the process of nursing service has been practised so far, there is no written guideline.

She said that the guideline specifically focuses on working hours and the weekly off days for the nurses. “We drafted it in consultation with the national head nurses during the pandemic.”

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As it is a human resource-related issue, she said, it has to be submitted to the Royal Civil Service Commission for endorsement.

If the draft guideline is endorsed, a nurse will be allowed to accumulate five days a month from a weekly day off and government holidays. And all the accumulated dues should be cleared by month’s end.

Tshering Dema said while nurses’ dues for working during holidays will be considered taking leave, there will be accountability and transparency for verification and approval.

“The hospital’s in-charge will have to notify the regional or national referral hospitals when the total due weekly off-day accumulation exceeds 10 days for all individual nurses,” she said.

The draft guideline was developed after the health ministry asked the nursing superintendent of JDWNRH to prepare a report for a way forward.

The health ministry’s chief human resource officer, Sangay Thinley, said that the ministry could not discuss the issue due to the transformation exercise.

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He, however, said that the new agency, National Medical Service, would look into the issue as part of the transformation. “Such issues will be resolved once the new agency is established.”

The health ministry has developed a Nursing Services Administrative Manual 2018 which allows weekly off days and government holidays. But it is silent on the leave accumulated from non-working days.

Nurses’ work schedule is quite different from other civil servants as they have to do night duty of 12-hour shifts twice a week and 6 hours of regular shifts – morning and evening – on other days with one day off in a week.

Mobile banking a challenge for elderly

Fri, 01/06/2023 - 12:24

YK Poudel

While many consider the establishment of online mobile banking as an authentic digital transition in Bhutan, customers, particularly the elderly and those without access to mobile banking services, continue to walk around stores in search of the e-load service.

Of the 45 shops that Kuensel reached out that previously used to provide e-load services, only eleven continue to provide the e-load service.

Samten Wangda, 43, is a regular user of e-load facility. He finds it difficult to find a shop that provides e-load recharge. “Only a few shops now provide the service. It is problematic for elderly people without access to mobile banking apps,” he said.

One of the shopkeepers said that she no longer could make a profit out of e-load business like in the past. “This could be one of the reasons why many shops ceased selling paper vouchers and data packages,” she said.

Several shopkeepers said that with modern mobile banking facilities that support recharge, providing e-load is not a profitable business.

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Lobzang, 59, said, “Until a few months ago, we used to see paper vouchers, and ‘e-load done here’” posters in every shop. Although I have mBOB app, I don’t know how to recharge data or talk time. This is cumbersome for elderly people like me,” he said.

The owner of Tandin Tshongkhang at Changzamtok, who used to purchase e-load service in bulk for both Bhutan Telecom and TashiCell said, “It costs a minimum of Nu 20,000 to purchase an e-load from Telecom and the six percent commission that we used to receive from TashiCell has been stopped as well. This has affected the business.”

As per Bhutan Telecom, the shopkeepers who provide e-load facility will be briefed on the revision in the minimum amount of Nu 5, 000 e-load that a shopkeeper has to buy which was Nu 20, 000 previously.

New Sherubgatshel MSS needs urgent expansion 

Fri, 01/06/2023 - 12:24

… community is happy with upgradation of the school from LSS

KP Sharma 

Sherubgatshel Lower Secondary School in Norgaygang gewog, Samtse recently upgraded to Middle Secondary School (MSS) is the first middle secondary school in the gewog.

The school will have its first batch of class IX students starting the academic year 2023.

Education minister Jai Bir Rai inaugurated the school on December 26 while on his tour to Samtse and Haa dzongkhags.

It was established in 1952 and was later upgraded to junior high school in the late 1970s. The school reopened in 2001 as a community primary school.

Since it was the only school to cater to the growing number of students in the region, it was upgraded to lower secondary (LSS) in 2008.

According to the education ministry, there are currently 466 students, of which 210 are boarders, with 26 teaching staff.

As the school is in its initial phase of upgradation, it is going to face challenges in terms of not having adequate classrooms, hostel, and quarters for the warden and matron.

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Vice Principal of the school, Ram Bhakta Sharma, said that the school was exploring all the possibilities to accommodate class IX students this year.

“We will have a shortage of facilities like science laboratory and hostel for the students,” he said.

To address the classroom shortage, the school had to adjust 3 rooms and they are now ready. “We will use the study hall as a hostel until the new hostel comes up,” said the vice principal.

The school has requested the dzongkhag education office for more teachers, especially those teaching subjects like economics and science. “We are informed by the education office that they will work on it and send the teachers on time,” he said.

The up-gradation of the school is expected to benefit the entire gewog which has 950 households.

Norgaygang Gup, Shyam Kumar Gurung said that with more students passing out every year and Tendruk being far, the need to upgrade school was felt urgent.

More than 70 students from Sherubgatshel LSS were sent to Tendruk Central School for higher studies leading to more congestion in the school. “It is the collaborative effort of parents, school and Gewog for the successful up-gradation of the school,” the gup said.

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He said that the decision to upgrade the school was endorsed by Dzongkhag Tshogdu after repeated requests from the gewog tshogde.

The school will benefit Dangreyboog-Patshaling, Miphelgang-Sampheling, Chongzhu-Tshachu, Khababgang-Noryok, Joenpang-Lingarnang, and Chugo-Phendeygang chiwogs.

The school occupies over 12 acres. However, the gup said that they are planning to acquire additional 5 acres to set up a primary school separately.

“More than 12 people from the village came forward to give their land for the school set up,” said the gup.

Students from Sangacholing LSS and other schools would be transferred to the school in class IX this year.

Decongesting Thimphu traffic 

Fri, 01/06/2023 - 12:18

After the schools closed, traffic in Thimphu especially during the morning and evening rush hours has eased.

The Lungtenzampa area is usually choked because parents drive their children or send their cars to drop them off to school. The weekends are no better because it is the main thoroughfare to the vegetable market.

This relief, however, is temporary. Come February, schools will reopen and the traffic  willbe back, as they do every year, with more students. The capital city has 34 schools with around 17,000 students last year.

The Lungtenzampa bridge reconstruction project, which is now pushed to the 13th Plan and beyond, is unlikely to be completed any time soon. So the traffic problem will be back with a vengeance.

This is a problem which has to be resolved with a long-term view. It will persist and grow, long after the bridge is completed.

If Thimphu’s population is growing fast, the vehicle population is growing even faster. The number of vehicles in Thimphu has grown over the years. Thimphu has 68,435 vehicles as of October 31 last year. This is almost 55 percent of the entire vehicles in the country. It is an increase of almost 6,000 vehicles from 2021. 

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It is a situation where the suggestion for school buses or car pooling  is worthy of some deep thought. A well-organised system of school buses to pick up and drop off students will have numerous advantages.

Besides relieving the traffic, school buses will be cheaper for parents, they would be accessible to a larger number of students, and it would also be safer for students who walk on the same roads to school. With official vehicles used to drop students it would also be cheaper for the government and other organisations.

The education ministry and schools themselves may be apprehensive of the costs, especially if they have to maintain a fleet of buses, but the increasing number of thromde buses or even the private buses could provide a business possibility like it is done in many town and cities around the world.

There will always be a proportion of students being driven to school, but the worsening conditions must reach a point where the student numbers will make such a business viable. If the layout of the town makes door-to-door pick-up not possible, there is always the solution of pick-up points around the town. For a few schools, mostly private, it has proven effective.

New bridge brings new hope

Fri, 01/06/2023 - 12:10

Chencho Dema | Punakha  

Phub Tshewang is exhausted and out of breath. But the two plastic bags full of vegetables and a bag of rice is not weighing him down. He has a bus to catch. As he crosses the newly-built bridge, he is thankful that he does not need to use the time-consuming ropeway.

The residents of Bali, Chhubu gewog in Punakha like many others are happy with the new infrastructure in the gewog. The recently-inaugurated steel saves time, and is safe and wide enough for vehicles to pass. Before this bridge, there was a ropeway over the Mochhu river which was the lifeline for the villagers of Bali village.

“We faced many challenges and risks crossing the ropeway during the monsoon,” he said.

The 150-feet long bailey bridge with a carrying capacity of 18 tonnes was constructed with funding assistance from the Government of India. The Bridge was completed on October 30 and was formally inaugurated on November 12 in the presence of Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji.

Residents of 33 households in Bali depend on agriculture. Almost everyone grows chillies, beans, slipper gourd, cucumber and eggplant to supplement their income. The agricultural produce is taken to Khuruthang town for sale during the weekends.

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“We can now easily transport our agricultural products to the market and earn better than before,’’ Phub Tshewang said, adding that the bridge has reduced travel time to an hour from Bali to Khuruthang.

Another villager, Namgay Om said she is happy that she does not need to walk for hours like before. “It took us two days to take our goods to the vegetable market in Khuruthang. We pack our goods in sacks, carry them and leave them with one of the shops in Zhoshi village about an hour’s walk from our village. We have to pay Nu 10 for every sack. But today, we just need to drop it till the bridge and a vehicle is ready to take our goods to the town,” said Namgay Om.

Chhubu Gewog is one of the biggest gewogs in Punakha. The bridge connects Kabisa gewog and Bali in Chhubu gewog.  Gup Jimba Gyeltshen said that the bridge would change life in the gewog. “Agricultural produce is their (farmers) only source of income and without a bridge, they had to struggle walking for hours carrying heavy loads of vegetables and rice to get to the nearest road point,” he said. The bridge, he added, will enhance the sale of vegetables and improve their earnings.

Bali chiwog is one of the remotest chiwogs in Punakha dzongkhag.

Communities surrender Khaling Gonpa to Dratshang

Fri, 01/06/2023 - 12:09

Neten Dorji | Khaling

With the challenge of finding caretakers for lhakhangs, communities in Khaling, Trashigang surrendered two lhakhangs to the central monastic body.

Villagers said that due to the lack of young lay monks in the communities, they are finding it challenging to take care of lhakhangs.

A resident, Ugyen Phuntsho, said: “ So that  the lhakhangs have knowledgeable and permanent caretakers, we decided to surrender the lhakhangs to the central monastic body.”

According to villagers, organising religious events and rituals for the dead has become challenging over the years due to lack of lay monks in the village.

“Finding monks to conduct a cleansing ceremony has become a challenge. It is expensive to get choeps from Udzorong and Brekha,” Tshewang Gyeltshen, a villager, said.

In the past, each household in the community used to contribute Nu 200 in a year to caretakers. People of Khaling used to take turns to look after the two lhakhang.

Khaling Gup Sonam Dorji said that upon consultation with the people of Khaling, “we decided to hand over the lhakhang to Zhung Dratshang.”

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The caretaker who has been looking after Khaling Gonpa for the last 12 years is old and wants to retire.

Local leaders said that the gewogs have already prioritised the renovation and maintenance of lhakhang before it is surrendered.


Khaling Gonpa is considered one of the most important temples in eastern Bhutan. It is believed that the temple was built by Je Kuenga Gyektshen popularly known as Gyalse Ganapati.

The small temple was later renovated and enlarged at the behest  of Trashigang Dzongpon Thrinley Tobgay during the reign of second king Jigme Wangchuck.

The temple houses sacred objects like the founder’s boots, seal, utensils, scrolls of Guru Rinpoche, Chenrigzing and Yoepame, believed to have been crafted by the Trisong Duetshen in the 7th century.

Paro FC wins 2022 BoB Bhutan Premier League

Fri, 01/06/2023 - 12:08

Thimphu City FC 1 – 2 Paro FC

Thinley Namgay 

Paro FC was crowned the champions of the 2022 BoB Bhutan Premier League (BPL) after defeating Thimphu City FC 2-1 at the Changlimithang Stadium yesterday in a highly contested game.

It was Paro FC’s (Tigers)  third BPL title. In a much subdued final game, both teams approached cautiously and the game was heading for goalless draw when Paro FC’s forward Chencho Gyeltshen scored and gave the team a deserved lead in the 35th minute.  He received a standing ovation from the audience.

Chencho dribbled from a long-distance and found the right side of the net. The first half ended 1-0 for the Tigers.   Buoyed by the lead, Paro FC went to double the lead in the 54th minute through Kazuo Homma. The striker scored from a long distance.

However, City grew back into the game and pulled back one in the 66th minute.  Dawa Tshering scored in the penalty.  The game ended 2-1 for the Tigers.

More than 5,000 spectators gathered at the stadium to watch the game despite the freezing cold in Thimphu.  Paro FC became the first team to defeat City this season. The Tigers remained unbeaten this season with 48 points from 15 wins and three draws.

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The Tigers drew against City, Ugyen Academy and Druk Lhayul FC.

Thimphu City and Paro FC had become arch rivals. In their last six clashes in the BPL in the last three years,  City won two matches in the 2020 season at home and away, 4-2 and 4-3. In the 2021 season and 2022 first leg, they drew all three games with a goal each.

Paro FC’s head coach, Puspalal Sharma, said that the team did very well. “The team formation was planned one year before the season. I want to thank all the players, fans, management of the club, sponsors and BFF for the support.”

“Now our team will focus on the upcoming AFC game sometime in August,” he said.

City’s President,  Hishey Tshering, said that he was glad that Paro won the championship. “My team also did well.”

Debutant Druk Lhayul FC was the team to note this season. Lhayul was one of the main title contenders this season. Lhayul came third with 40 points.

It was Druk Lhayul FC who drew 2-2 against the Tigers in the crucial game on December 27 that gave City the chance to win the championship.

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Another newcomer to the league, RTC FC came fourth with 30 points. Transport FC came fifth with 25 points with a game in hand. The team will play their last game against Tensung FC today at Changlimithang at 6pm.

Paro FC was awarded a cash prize of Nu 2.4 million (M) and a winning trophy. City was awarded Nu 1M.

The most valuable player of the season was Kazuo Homma of Paro FC who was also the top scorer of the season. He scored 34 goals and took home Nu 80,000 in prize money.

The young emerging player is Santa Kumar Limboo from Ugyen Academy. He received Nu 30,000.

Govt. approves eight FDI projects

Fri, 01/06/2023 - 12:07

Thukten Zangpo 

With the government approving eight new foreign direct investment (FDI) projects worth Nu 356.29 million (M) in 2022, Bhutan now has 101 projects worth Nu 43.62 billion (B) today, according to the FDI annual report 2022.

Bhutan has not been able to attract FDI projects at par or above the pre-pandemic level.

The country received the highest, 16 FDIs worth Nu 6.78B, in 2018. Twelve projects worth Nu 1.17B and 10 projects worth Nu 2.1B were approved in 2020.

Of the eight projects approved in 2022, six were in the service sector and two in the manufacturing sector.

However, during the same year, three projects: 2 in the information technology-enabled service sector (ITES) and 1 in hotels withdrew from the country.

In principle, nine projects were issued FDI registration certificates in 2022, of which seven are in the manufacturing sector and two in the service sector.

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About 87 percent of the 101 FDI projects are in the government’s priority sector, mostly located in Thimphu, Paro, and Chukha.

The hotel sector has the highest number of FDI, contributing to 36 percent; information technology or ITES with 22 percent.

According to the department of industry under the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment, the hotel sector’s share of the overall FDI declined from 42 percent in 2019 to 36 percent in 2022. “This is an indication of the receiving FDIs in a diversified sector, a shift from hotels to other sectors.”

The FDI in information technology or ITES increased from 19 percent in 2019 to 22 percent in 2022.

Power-intensive manufacturing increased from five percent in 2019 to eight percent in 2022.

The 49 operating-FDI projects employed 4,601 Bhutanese as of December last year.

Considering the employees in the projects that have not started commercial operation and expatriate workers, the employment figure increased to 5, 279.

FDI companies employed a total of 105 foreign or expatriate workers. For every single expatriate working in the country, there are 39 locals employed.

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By sector, the service sector employed 65 percent and the manufacturing sector employed 35 percent.

Financial services generated the most jobs for Bhutanese with 31 percent.

The information technology or ITES employed 581, an average of 67 Bhutanese in the manufacturing sector; the service sector employed 103 on average.

The country’s 67 percent of the FDI projects are received from investors based in Asia. About 16 percent are from Europe and 10 percent from America.

India is the major source of investment in Bhutan with 51 percent share, followed by Singapore (15 percent) and Thailand (10 percent).

In 2021, Bhutan received capital inflow worth Nu 680M, up from Nu 423M in 2020. Inflows in convertible currency were recorded at USD 6.82M and that in India Rupee at 175.57M.

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Inflow of convertible currency, according to the report, has increased by over 48 percent.

For the year 2021, the operating FDI companies contributed Nu 1.3B in tax (salary tax, custom duties, and corporate tax). This was an increase by 63 percent as compared to the previous year.

For 2020, the operating FDIs contributed Nu 796M in tax. It was down by almost 48 percent from 2019. Tax contribution was Nu 1.53B in 2019.

The tax contribution in 2020 saw a decline because of the impact of the Covid-19 where 65 percent of the 57 operating businesses’ income was down by 65 percent.

The State of the Nation 2022 report stated that the FDI policy is being reviewed to make the investment environment-friendly and attract FDI through creating a brand image of dependability and trustworthiness as a nation.

XBB.1.5 is feared to cause a massive surge globally 

Thu, 01/05/2023 - 11:56

… neighbouring India has recorded five cases so far

Nima Wangdi

With the evolution of Covid-19 virus, experts are concerned about the new variant XBB.1.5 causing a massive surge in the world. Some parts of the world are already fighting against the BF.7 and the new variant is said to be capable of infecting even the vaccinated ones.

A report by The Economic Times showed that immune evasiveness is the ability of the virus to infect people who had prior infection or vaccination or both. XBB.1.5 achieved this by creating a rare type of mutation called F486P, located in its RBD (receptor binding domain).

Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) report showed that the variant is already taking over in the US and it was projected that the XBB.1.5 strain causes about 40 percent of confirmed U.S. Covid cases. The report also showed that about 75% of confirmed cases in the Northeast are reported to be XBB.1.5.

As of yesterday, the SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG) showed that India has a total of five detected cases of XBB.1.5 variants of which three were in Gujarat and one each in Karnataka and Rajasthan.

Going by the online sources, it is unclear where the variant came from but it appears to be spreading quickly. However, there is no suggestion at this point that XBB.1.5 is more severe. But experts believe it is unlikely to do so.

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Virologists and epidemiologists have learned that this Omicron sublineage has features that give it the potential to drive a new surge of Covid-19 cases in the US. But is not known how large it would be and whether it could send many more people to the hospital.

The XBB.1.5 is a relative of the omicron XBB variant, which is a recombinant of the omicron BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75 subvariants.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health urged the general public to follow the Covid-19 protocols and also get vaccinated as eligible and required with new variants being detected in the world and the neighbouring countries.

People experiencing flu-like symptoms are also asked to get tested at the nearest health facilities.

A corporate employee said that like in Bhutan, a new variant might not be easily detected since most of the people suffering from flu don’t go to the health facilities for tests. He said he was severely sick recently but never went to test.

DoT revokes fines imposed on non-certified hotels

Thu, 01/05/2023 - 11:55

Dechen Dolkar

The Department of Tourism (DoT) revoked the fines imposed on five non-certified hotels last month.

The department had penalised nine non-certified hotels with fines ranging from Nu 10,000 to over Nu 300,000 for providing services to tourists, last year.

However, some of the hoteliers appealed to the department to revoke the penalties, since the guests were non-tourists.

According to hoteliers, the DoT has penalised the hotels without inquiring whether it is tourists or non-tourists by looking at the name of the guest in the registration book.

The department in collaboration with the Department of Revenue and Customs (DRC), Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA), and Regional Offices of Economic Affairs (RoEAs) conducted random monitoring in Phuentsholing, Paro and Thimphu, last year.

The hoteliers said that the guests who stayed in their hotels were non-tourists, and they were exhibitors approved by the Bhutan Chamber for Commerce and Industry.

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According to the Tourism Rules and Regulations, an accommodation certified by the DoT will provide accommodation services to the tourist, which will be 3-star and above only. However, the non-tourists can stay in any hotel.

Another budget hotel in Thimphu said that they receive many inquiries from regional tourists.

“Since we are allowed to cater to non-tourists, our guests were all officials, who were technicians for corporations and project officials,” the hoteliers said.

The hoteliers said that they were fined Nu 10,000 for each guest.

“The officials on duty during the inspections themselves were not aware of the rules and regulations,” hoteliers said, adding that they also never cross-checked with the Department of Immigration if the guests were tourists.

The Director General of DoT, Dorji Dhradhul said that the inspection team has seen guest lists with foreigners’ names, and they thought that they were tourists.

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“Our mandate is only to inspect the tourists,” the DG said.

The proprietor of Thimphu Residency, Ugyen Tenzin, said that they were imposed fines for catering service to tourists since they were not certified, though the hotel is categorised as a 3-star hotel.

The proprietor said that during the initial assessment, the hotel couldn’t get certified since a few things were not ready. Later when everything was ready and called the tourism officials for certification, they refused to come for the assessment.

“We were asked to keep a six-month grace period for the next assessment, which is not mentioned in any rules and regulations. I have to wait six months to open for business,” Ugyen Tenzin said.

However, the DG said that the department does assessments as and when required.

Oldest farm road in Lhamoidzingkha gets blacktopped

Thu, 01/05/2023 - 11:55

Choki Wangmo | Dagana

Lhamoidzingkha residents are thrilled with the completion of Farmgaon road GSB laying and blacktopping works within two months.

One of the oldest roads in Lhamoidzingkha gewog, the gewog administration handed over the 2.23km blacktopped road to the users last month.

Jigme Ghishing from Farmgoan said that the road condition in the past was particularly challenging during monsoon season. “We have to use this road to travel to the gewog office, highway, fuel depot, and to avail other services.”

She said that now children can walk to the early learning centre which was impossible in the past due to the poor condition of the road. Puddles, muddy potholes, and dusts posed risks to young children.

“The road quality is of good standard and the residents are happy now,” said Hemant Subba. However, he said that without drains, it might get easily damaged.

Lhamoidzingkha gewog mangmi, Laxman Chhetri, said that the road got blacktopped for the first time in decades.

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The road that falls within the satellite town and connects Lhamoidzingkha town with Lhamoidzingkha-Gedu highway and is expected to benefit about 150 households of Farmgaon, Daragaon, Tsamzhigosa, Sipsuni, and Chongshamling.

Lhamoidzingkha chiwog representative, Leki Rinchen Waiba, said that the communities were happy with the work progress and delivery by the contractor. “The road was completed within two months.”

During monsoon, the heavy downpour makes it challenging for residents in the area. Lhamoidzingkha drungkhag remains cut off in summer.

With the fund support of Nu 4.07million from the then Gross National Happiness Commission, the gewog administration spent Nu 1 million to ensure that the road can withstand heavy monsoon, said an official from the gewog administration.

“The well-maintained road with GSB and blacktopping will benefit the residents in the gewog with clean and safe environment to work, travel, and live in,” Lhamoidzingkha drungpa, Kinley Dorji, said.

Laxman Chhetri said that the blacktopping was delayed in the past due to new Lhamoidzingkha town planning works, which is yet to start.

Solar photovoltaic system brightens Aja Ney and the village

Thu, 01/05/2023 - 11:54

… Provides an opportunity for project replication in other parts of the country

YK Poudel

With the installation of an 80-kilowatt (kW) solar photovoltaic system (PV) that converts sunlight into electricity, the monastery, guesthouses and villages at Aja Ney in Mongar are now electrified.

The solar PV system will benefit over 34 households.

Aja Ney in Shermuhoong gewog, Mongar is a sacred pilgrimage site in Bhutan that sees over a thousand visitors every year. Visitors have to walk about six hours from the nearest road point to reach the sacred site.

The villagers and visitors had been using firewood and lamps for cooking and lighting purpose in the absence of an electricity supply.

Tshering Yangzom, 69, said that with the electric facility, pilgrims visiting Aja Ney and the villagers would now have a better experience. “I have lived my entire life here. Even doing daily chores like cooking at home is very hard. To see the light in my home during my lifetime, I am delighted,” she said.

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According to the executive director of Bhutan for Life Fund Secretariat, Pema Wangda, the community that is largely dependent on fuel wood for heating and cooking will have an eco-friendly experience of using electricity through the project.

The project completed in November 2022

“This solar PV plant is used for lighting, cooking, heating and also charging electronic gadgets. Therefore, the communities of Aja Ney and the pilgrims who visit Aja Ney will benefit through this solar PV plant,” he said.

Solar panels were installed in Dawathang (50 kW), Pema Yangdzong (25 kW) and Dungkar Choling (5 kW), which will supply electricity to these villages.

The Department of Renewable Energy and the Bhutan Ecological Society implemented the project.

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One of the aims of this project is to create employment opportunities through ecotourism in the community in addition to the reduction in usage of firewood and traditional lamps.

The construction of the solar PV system, which started in 2021, was completed in November last year.

Bhutan For Life, Bhutan Foundation, and Global Environment Facility-Small Grants Programme under UNDP funded the project worth over Nu 31.5 million.

The solar PV was launched virtually by Tengye Lyonpo Loknath Sharma in the presence of community members and partners on December 30.

Zomlingthang struggles with waste

Thu, 01/05/2023 - 11:53

… dzongkhag administration waiting for funds to develop the area

Chencho Dema  | Punakha  

Zomlingthang by the Mochhu in Punakha has become popular among picnickers and campers, especially after the pandemic. With the return of visitors, littering has become a problem. 

From plastic bags, beer bottles and cans, to cigarette butts, the place is littered with all kinds of waste. At times, campers leave the bonfire still ablaze. 

The Punakha dzongkhag administration has allowed people to gather for picnics after the pandemic restrictions eased. Those who wish to camp there at night have to seek permission from the dzongkhag. 

A notice board at the site says though, “Night camping and organising entertainment programme is not allowed in this area.”

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Access to the ground is free and many come for picnics, driving, or to enjoy games of khuru or archery during the day. 

The dzongkhag has been struggling with the garbage problem at Zomlingthang, especially on weekends and whenever there is an occasion to celebrate.

On Nyilo or Winter Solstice, a popular holiday in western Bhutan, the large crowd had left waste strewn all over the area. 

While the dzongkhag works to find a solution to the garbage issue, they are careful not to upset people by forbidding them from picnicking and congregating at Zomlingthang.

Punakha Dzongdag Thuji Tshering said that the dzongkhag intends to improve the Zomlingthang ground. 

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“We have drawn up a comprehensive development plan for Zomlingthang and will seek funds from relevant agencies including the Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation. Once we receive funding, the ground will be developed, including fencing,” he said. 

He said that the problem may not be resolved fully until then. 

He also said that instead of concentrating on waste collection, they will instead monitor and impose fines. “I’m hoping that works, and I’ll also recommend patrolling,” he said.

Dzongdag Thuji Tshering said with the National Environment Commission’s (NEC) Zero Waste Mobile App, the problem might be lessened.

Residents of Retsa village, neighbouring Zomlingthang, and those residing across the road complain of loud noise from campers, particularly at night. 

The situation then and now, according to Namgay Tshering, who has lived near the ground for the past forty years, is different. 

“There was a time when we could sleep peacefully, but now, especially on the weekends, when there are celebrations, the loud music goes on until daybreak,” he said. 

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The residents nearby cleaned piles of trash the campers left behind, the 67-year-old said.

He said that occasionally, people, particularly young campers steal wood from their homes to light bonfires. 

“We don’t mind visitors coming to enjoy their time at Zomlingthang as long as they respect our privacy and take back their waste,” he said.

Nima, another resident said that he occasionally finds people congregate, sing, and dance, then quarrel and cry. 

“We are helpless and can’t do anything because if we speak up then they might come in a group and beat us,” he said. He said that an area once beautiful has turned into a dumping ground for waste. 

The other residents also shared similar concerns.

Residents stated it would be helpful if authorities concerned could deploy a person to keep an eye on the waste and activity at Zomthingthang. 

There are about nine households living across the Zomlingthang.  

Jamsel Yeshay Wangyel, a rising Karateka

Thu, 01/05/2023 - 11:52

Thinley Namgay

For five years the Bhutan Karate Association had not brought a gold medal for the country.

The last time Bhutan bagged gold in karate was at the 2017 South Asian Karate Championship in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

However, Jamsel Yeshay Wangyel, a Class X student of Changangkha Middle Secondary in Thimphu recently won gold in the under-67kg junior kumite category at the sixth BG Karate Championship held in Bangladesh.

Jamsel is from Chukha. He faced Karateka from  Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, where he won 3-0 and 4-2 points, respectively.

It was his first international appearance.

Jamsel said: “ Winning a gold medal is a proud moment in my life and the country. I worked hard for it. My parents are also proud of me.”

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“I will continue Karate,” he said, adding that the tournament in Bangladesh gave him vital exposure.

Jamsel, who began his Karate journey two years back, follows a tight schedule every day. “I wake up at 6am and jog for an hour. After that, I prepare for school.”

After school, Jamsel goes home and then to his usual karate training at Changlimithang sports complex which starts at 5pm. He practices for two hours.

Sensei Tshering Dorji and Senpai Kunzang Choda train Jamsel.

Jamsel got into  Karate through his interest. “I used to watch many karate videos and I liked it. I understood that hard work and mental discipline are crucial.”

As a young Karateka, he said one of the challenges is inadequate training time; there is also a lack of good training facilities.

Jamsel said Karate is all about self-defence, mental discipline, and good physical health.

Concerned but not shocked!

Thu, 01/05/2023 - 11:52

In the latest barrier to access to information, public servants could face disciplinary or even criminal sanctions if they share official information, even if the information is non-confidential in nature without authorisation from superiors.  

This was the new year’s gift from the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in the form of its model public service code of conduct launched on December 30.  

This is quite concerning coming from a Constitutional office mandated to promote transparency and accountability. We know that the ACC works diligently to combat corruption. But now we run the risk of this simple rule undoing everything the ACC accomplished in more than a dozen years of its existence.  It is advocating confidentiality to public servants. 

This rule will raise many difficulties for both the media, that is trying to do its duty, and the public at large. Media and antigraft bodies work together in progressive democracies that value transparency and accountability. Information, both ways, help to curb corruption.  

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Of course, not all public servants are ‘chicken-hearted’ and can be bullied with threats of consequences. There have been and there will be some sensible ones who will yield to reason than simply follow the controversial terms and conditions blindly. 

The other danger is that this could open the floodgates to more leaks to the media. Leaks cannot be stopped by rules. They cannot be stopped by punishment, including imprisonment. Eventually, the stories that stem from any leaks will be judged on their value as news stories and on the moral implications of the issues that they cover. And the real judges are the readers and viewers. Information is not for the media. They are the medium to inform the people.  

Professional journalists do not derive satisfaction from leaks aimed at indicting people or organisations. As it is already happening in Bhutan, such information should be used only if the implications of not using it are greater. 

The vision for us is clear – to be a just and harmonious society. But a society where suspicion and lack of confidence are high will only gnaw at the foundations of such a profound vision for the country. Such rules as the new model code of conduct, as awkward it is,  would breed suspicion and lack of trust when the media or for that matter even the public has to come through formal bureaucratic channels to access simple information from the public servants. 

But if the authorities concerned do not intervene now to minimise the damage this will do, our rights granted by the sacred Constitution and the visionary leaders could be quashed. Ironically by a rule made by a Constitutional office. 

Picture story

Thu, 01/05/2023 - 11:51

The venerable Dorji Lopon presided over the Yidham Pel Gepa Dorji Kawang inside the Wangdue dzong yesterday to about 1,000 devotees. Dorji Lopon will also preside over a three-day Ge-Dor Bumde in the dzong starting today. 

Lam Kinley Dorji offered Nu 3 Million to Wangdue Rabdey as seed money to conduct the annual bumdey.

ACC’s model bars public servants from sharing information

Thu, 01/05/2023 - 11:51

… Model code of conduct will be applied as employment terms and conditions

Lhakpa Quendren 

Public servants could face disciplinary or criminal sanction if they share official information, including non-confidential, without authorisation, according to the Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) model public service code of conduct.

ACC on December 30 last year issued an executive order requiring public agencies to develop and implement an agency-specific code of conduct based on the commission’s model public service code of conduct.

It requires a public servant to maintain confidentiality and secrecy of any matter, document, report, and other information related to the official function that becomes known to them.

With this coming into force starting December 31 last year, media professionals say this worrying trend is violating the right to freedom of speech, opinion, and expression and the right to information enshrined in the Constitution.

The Bhutanese’s Editor-in-chief Tenzing Lamsang said that the model code should not stop public agencies and officials from sharing public information which the public requires. “Public information is for the public.”

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“Be it any codes, regulations, or acts, if it is not in keeping with the constitution, it is null and void. All of these should not be ultra vires to the constitution,” he said.

“Right to the information is talking about not State secret, but it is about public information which is needed for the public,” he said, adding that the government should be sharing it since media works to advance the public interests.

Tenzing Lamsang said that this will also impede journalists to cover investigative stories against corruption. “If only authorised civil servants are allowed to talk, how they will expose corruption, at least to the media?”

Business Bhutan’s Managing Editor Kinley Yonten said that such red tape and formalities are unhealthy for democracy. “Media has a pivotal role that a democratic government ensures transparency, sincerity, and accountability.”

He added that strengthening free media will ultimately strengthen democracy and promote liberty. “If democracy allows people to determine their own future, that choice or determination must be based on factual and accurate information.”

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“Perceptions and beliefs that are prevalent within a few agencies, which see media as a threat to their existence and interests, must also change if we are to ensure good governance and not just government,” he added.

A senior journalist said that the media will struggle to perform its duties. “With this kind of rule, we are not even facilitating media.”

He said that it would rather promote corruption, nepotism, and favouritism in the country with people disallowed to share information. “This indirectly means the system does not require media, and it is a really dangerous trend.”

The model code of conduct will be applied as employment terms and conditions of a public servant and the breach will result in disciplinary or criminal sanction as appropriate.

The implementation will be monitored and evaluated through the implementation of the organizational integrity plan derived from the national integrity and anti-corruption strategy.

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The head or senior management in the agency is responsible for implementing the model code.

The ACC, as required by section 35 of the Anti-Corruption Act of Bhutan 2011, developed the model public service code of conduct and advised public agencies to adopt it.

The AAC, on the other hand, said that the model code of conduct is expected to inform the public on what they are entitled to expect in terms of the conduct of public servants. The model code sets out the standards of integrity and conducts that public servants are required to comply with and the procedures to help them meet the standards.

It is one of the core rule-based instruments and successful strategies used in the fight against corruption.

Household spends Nu 52,813 per month

Wed, 01/04/2023 - 11:15

… Non-food contributes more than 50 percent

Thukten Zangpo   

Bhutanese households, on average, spend Nu 52,813 monthly, the figures from Bhutan Living Standard Survey (BLSS) 2022 show.

For urban areas, it was high at Nu 62, 435 and Nu 46,316 per month in rural areas.

Total household consumption expenditure is the sum of food and non-food consumption expenditure, excluding taxes, pension contributions and insurance premiums, and interest payments on loans by households.

Similarly, mean per capita household expenditure or an individual family member spent Nu 15,745 per month in the country. In urban areas, it was Nu 19,374 monthly and Nu 13,294 in rural areas.

For Bhutan, the average household size in the country was 4, 3.8 in the urban areas and 4.1 in rural areas. The number of households in the country was estimated at 164,331. Of these, 33 percent are in urban areas and 67 percent are in rural areas.

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The mean household consumption expenditure among the richest 20 percent (Nu 85,430) was three times more than the poorest 20 percent (Nu 26,495), the report stated.

Compared to rural areas, the mean household expenditure was higher by 45.7 percent in urban areas.   

For food, a household spends 43.4 percent of the expenditure equivalent to Nu 22,933 monthly on food expenses. For urban areas, it is Nu 24,938 and Nu 21,579 for rural areas. This, according to the National Statistics Bureau is 55.8 percent increase in nominal terms over Nu 14,718 in BLSS 2017.

The mean monthly per capita food consumption expenditure for urban areas was estimated at Nu 7,862 and Nu 6,253 per month for rural areas.

In urban areas, food takes about 40.7 percent of household expenditure. The poorest 20 percent spend 49.2 percent on food.

The share of food in the consumption expenditure of the richest 20 percent of urban households is 37.5 percent.

The households spend 15.3 percent of their food budget on dairy products, 14.3 percent on vegetables, 11.1 percent on other cereals and pulses, and 10.4 percent on meats. Around 10 percent of food expenditure was spent on spices and seasonings.

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For non-food, the household spent Nu 29,880 on average per month. This according to NSB is 58.8 percent higher in nominal terms compared to Nu 18,824 in BLSS 2017. Household level expenditure was higher in the urban areas (Nu 37,496 a month) than in the rural areas (Nu 24,736).

The mean monthly per capita non-food consumption expenditure in the country was estimated at Nu 8,843.

Similarly, in urban areas, per capita non-food consumption expenditure (Nu 11,512 per month per person) is higher than in rural areas (Nu 7,040).

The major non-food expenditure items are transport and communications (24.2 percent), miscellaneous expenditure (18.3 percent), rent (16.9 percent), clothing and footwear (10.1 percent), and the least is on health (4.5 percent).

The mean monthly consumption expenditure is highest in Thimphu (Nu 73,111), while Pemagatshel dzongkhag (Nu 34,585) has the lowest.

The monthly per capita consumption expenditure is highest in Thimphu (Nu 20,852) and the lowest was in Samtse (Nu 10,944) and Tsirang (Nu. 10,990). “The per capita consumption in Thimphu is almost two times higher than that of Samtse,” the report stated.

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In terms of income, the mean per capita annual household income was Nu 115,787. This comes to about 9,648 per month, lower than the household expenditure.

For urban households, it was Nu 168,064 that is more than two times the rural mean per capita income of Nu 80,578.

The report also stated that the mean annual household income was Nu 406,134. For urban households, the mean annual household income is Nu 598,759 that was 2.2 times more than that of the rural households (Nu 276,398).

The major sources of household income were wages or salaries (37.5 percent), followed by the sale of cereal, fruits and vegetables (23.9 percent), and meat, dairy products and eggs (11 percent).

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The difference in the consumption expenditure and income could be because of the underreporting of income, non-reporting of wages and salaries, significant transactions in agricultural products in the informal market and income from forest products, the report stated.

On the other hand, the consumption of home-produced food and food received as gifts, may not have been reflected in income.