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དུས་མཐུན་བཟོ་ཡོད: 55 min 51 sec གི་ཧེ་མ།

Picture story

མིག, 10/18/2021 - 12:03

   Price Spike: In one of the highest increase in fuel price in recent times, the cost of a litre of petrol in Thimphu has increased to Nu 81.54 yesterday. A litre of petrol was sold at Nu  60 in the beginning of this year. On August 16, it increased to Nu 76.

Roadblock at Namling to remain longer

མིག, 10/18/2021 - 12:03

…landslides hamper clearing efforts

 Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

The Department of Roads (DoR) officials are currently unable to estimate when the roadblock at Namling on the Mongar-Bumthang highway can be cleared and the road opened to traffic, due to continuous soil and rockslides.

“The active mass sliding is hampering the progress of the work,” a DoR official said.

Initially, officials aimed to clear the blockage in about three days. Officials from the DoR’s regional office in Lingmethang, Mongar, said active mass slides have been triggered by a continuous downpour in the area that has slowed work from both sides of the highway.

However, officials said the DoR is exploring means to expedite the work.

A massive landslide occurred on the evening of October 14, taking out 300 metres of the road and blocking the road at Namling, about 2.5 kilometres from the national workforce labour camp area towards Mongar.

Commuters in hundreds of vehicles, including public transport buses, returned to Bumthang and Mongar, while some continued their journey, changing vehicles.

The Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) office also facilitated the one-time access of 15 public transport buses to and from Thimphu via Gyalpoizhing-Nganglam national highway through Panbang to Trongsa. 

The officials installed escorts and GPS in the vehicles, as they had to pass through the Covid-19 high-risk areas between Tshobaley in Nganglam and Ringdibi in Panbang.

Meanwhile, the RSTA has temporarily suspended public transport buses on the east-west highway until further notice.

Private vehicles need to seek approval from the Covid-19 taskforces of Nganglam and Panbang drungkhags and follow protocols if they wish to travel via this route.

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Rain and windstorm damages paddies in Trongsa

མིག, 10/18/2021 - 12:02

Nim Dorji | Trongsa

It’s paddy harvest season in Trongsa. Farmers have looked forward to having a bountiful harvest, but rain and a windstorm on October 16 damaged the crop in some areas, incurring a huge loss to the owners.

In Langthel gewog, Lingdi farm had paddy fields of almost 15 acres, but the windstorm damaged the crops in more than five acres of it.

One of the farm owners, Tharchen, said they were expecting a bountiful harvest, as they had managed to save the crop from wild animals.

“We would have harvested it in two weeks’ time if not for the damage,” he said. “I am worried that we won’t get even 30 percent of the harvest now.”

Lingdi farm was established with a loan of Nu 1M from National CSI Bank and Nu 700,000 from the project founder.

“We are worried about how to repay the loan,” Tharchen said.

He said that when they availed the loan from NCSI Bank, Nu 72,000 was deducted for insurance. “We thought it was for farm insurance, but upon inquiry, we were informed that the money was deducted for farm proponent’s insurance.”

Tharchen said they would not get crop compensation if the money was for the proponent’s insurance. “As the loan was for the farm, the funds should have been for farm insurance.”

He said that it is really discouraging to do agricultural work because of limited returns and natural disasters. 

“We have requested that the gewog agriculture department visit the farm.”

Similarly, in Nubi gewog, rain damaged the harvested crop.

Gagar tshogpa Kelzang Jurme said many households lost their paddy crop to the rain as it was lying in the fields. “If the rain continues for the next few days, all the harvest will be damaged.”

He said that villagers depend on agriculture and livestock. “Even cattle refuse to eat paddy straw damaged by rain. It will affect livestock production in winter.”

Nubi Gup Ugyen Tenzin said farmers who harvested the paddy and left it in the fields will have a damaged product. “We didn’t get any formal report of damage yet.”

According to the dzongkhag agriculture officials, they have not received any formal report of damage. “If we receive any reports, we will investigate,” an official said.

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Gasa Tshachhu flood caused damage Nu 4M

མིག, 10/18/2021 - 12:02

Phurpa Lhamo | Gasa

Property worth Nu 4 million (M) has been confirmed damaged or washed away by the swollen Mochhu on August 26 this year.

Gasa Tshachhu Manager Tandin Dorji said that a proposal seeking funds and technical support was submitted to the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, the Gross National Happiness Commission, and donors a few weeks ago.

The ponds, resting area, choeten, a room for persons with disabilities, and vegetable stalls were washed away in August this year. The source of the tshachu remains buried.

Tandin Dorji said that work to divert the river would begin this week, which was previously prevented by continuous rainfall and the swollen river. “Now the water levels have significantly subsided.”

Maintenance of an excavator which was stuck on the other side of the river is also underway.

“As soon as the maintenance work is done, diversion work will begin,” Tandin Dorji said.

The work will be executed with a budget from the dzongkhag.

Tandin Dorji said that designs and cost estimates will be worked out after studying the water source.

The tshachhu generated revenue of Nu 1.9M despite the pandemic in the 2019-2020 financial year. Between 2018-2019, the tshachhu generated Nu 2.2M.

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Efforts to improve milk quality in Gelephu underway

མིག, 10/18/2021 - 12:00

Nima | Gelephu

To ensure quality milk collection and enhance management practices, two chiller machines will be installed at Pelrithang and Zomlingthang in Gelephu gewog, Sarpang.

The work to install the chiller machines will begin early next year after the construction of an ice cream plant in the gewog is completed in February 2022.

Gelephu Gup Ugyen Wangchuk said that the gewog is preparing to set up an ice cream plant in lower Pelrithang, Gelephu.

“There were people who used to add water to the milk in the past. Now we have on-the-spot testing to ensure that quality milk reaches the collection point. We reduce the payment if the milk has a higher water content,” he said.

The gup said that the ice cream plant would also be able to take in surplus milk from nearby gewogs in the future. “We were struggling to sell milk. Livestock farming was not profitable without a secure market. The ice cream plant will benefit the farmers,” Ugyen Wangchuk said.

The gewog encouraged the group, Gelephu Omdetshen, which is the largest milk producer in the gewog, to ensure quality of milk to a certain standard as they prepare to supply milk to the plant. The group was established by 25 farmers in 2007 and currently has 133.

The chairperson of the group, Tenzin Norbu said that only 60 percent of milk collected is sold every day. “The remaining 40 percent, close to 300 litres, we have to make into byproducts and sell,” he said.

He added that the ice cream plant will help the group sell surplus milk on time.

“But we are not sure whether we’ll be able to maintain the quality of the milk. The fat percentage should be high. There is also no proper monitoring in place when the milk is collected. Quality might get compromised,” said Tenzin Norbu.

The chairperson said that the milk tests in the past could not determine the quality meant for the ice cream plant. “We might need training to prepare ourselves accordingly,” he said.

A microbial and composition quality test conducted in the gewog in 2019 when the gewog and dzongkhag were planning the ice cream plant showed poor results.

The screening for subclinical mastitis also showed significant mastitis prevalence in herds.

Supplying milk of poor quality for the production of dairy products will result in low quality products with a very short shelf life that would also pose a health risk, according to a report.

An official from the dzongkhag livestock sector said that farmers were encouraged to practice improved hygiene and sanitation while milking, and to avoid using plastic containers to store milk.

Dzongkhag livestock officer Dorji Wangchuk said milk contamination and the risk of milk spoiling were high when the sampling was done.

“The technical team recommended changes to the milking process and practising improved hygiene and sanitation. We have identified two places to set up chilling plants. This will help reduce the risk of contamination and spoilage,” he said.

He added that the livestock sector will be doing the milk quality assessment again, with support from the thromde veterinary laboratory, when the plant is fully set up.

The dzongkhag livestock sector supported the establishment of the ice cream plant, as the farmers have been finding it difficult to find a market, despite using the excess milk to produce cheese and butter.

The ice cream plant is expected to be ready by early next year. The construction of the structure cost Nu 7.63 million.

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For focused planning

མིག, 10/18/2021 - 12:00

Plans are based on dreams, on aspirations and vision, as in mental image of figuring out where we are and, by the same token, how far and fast we need to run to get somewhere, which in the language of development may be called “progress”. Without dreams, or plans, there is every chance that we could end up losing the excitement of the many possibilities. We’ve had it then.

Ever since Bhutan started to open up and decided to embark on the journey of “modernisation”, the country’s development has been guided by the five-year development planning system. It served us well. For a country that started “development” quite late in the last century and had to race full throttle to catch up with the rest of the world, a five-year planning system made sense; we could include both our short- and long-term vision.

But time has changed and with it our needs and priorities. Going by the history of our development, however, changes have occurred only in proportions, not in priorities themselves. Health, education and connectivity remain as important as they were in the first stages of the country’s development journey some 60 years ago.  And they will continue to be in the years and ages to come with increasing levels of sophistication in the society.

It is in this perspective that we should see and understand as to whether we should keep or do away with the five-year planning system. But more important, we should have a plan – whether it is a three-year, 10-year, or 15-year development plan. It would have been a different story if we had resources enough to fund and execute our own development projects and activities. Even then, we would need worthwhile plans to work and spend on.

 Sadly, however, a major chunk of development support comes from donor countries. That means without a clearly stated plan with sound objectives, funds will be hard to come by.

The current debate about keeping or doing away with the five-year planning system so is missing the point. The focus of the discourse has to be why there isn’t anything concrete yet about the 13th Plan. The government has just about two years to bow out and we still don’t have a clear sense of what five years after 2023 is going to look like.

The Gross National Happiness Commission’s mandate is to present and help the country achieve its development goals. At a time when the country should have at least a draft development plan ready as to what is coming after the present government’s term, squandering away time and resources in thinking whether to keep or do away with five-year planning is an effort painfully in vain.

By failing to prepare, we may be preparing to fail. As in Koyenikanian wisdom: “Opportunity does not waste time with those who are unprepared.”

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The ruined Dzong called Dzongsa 

མིག, 10/18/2021 - 11:59

History blurs with the mystery at a stunning cliff amongst the disappearing ruins of an ancient dzong located at Dzongsa commonly known as Jumsa, around 15 kilometres towards Tendu from Tashichhoeling (Sipsu) town in Samtse. The ruin is located about 80 meters away from the road. The name of the place, Jumsa, is a distorted derivation from Dzongsa. However, the roadside distance indicator gives back the original name to the place.

Some old maps indicate a dzong here, but one can afford to be sceptical until the unassuming ruin stands right in front of a visitor. Moreover, unlike the other famous towering ruined Dzongs, this ruin and the central tower is accelerating toward complete disappearance and can be easily mistaken for a heap of undergrowth locally known as amlisho, broom plant, and tithopati, Artemisia, during the rainy season. The remains of the random rubble masonry wall are further strangled by the roots of a tree that have flourished and tower over the ruins and it is only speculative to date the construction of the dzong. Some sources say that the Dzong was known as Damsang Dzong and it was built during Desi Tenzin Rabgye’s time but in the absence of any written records, it is difficult to get details on the history of the Dzong.

A closer visual survey of the ruins reveals stone wall foundations all around the five-meter-tall ruins which might have been the central tower of the dzong. Was it a complete dzong with courtyards and festivals or just a garrison or a place for tax collection in ancient times? No one knows for sure. Or was it a dzong connecting Sombe Dzong in Haa to Pedong and Kalimpong across the Jaldhaka River which was part of Bhutan before the 1865 Duar Wars?

The books on Ashley Eden who camped at Sipsu on his mission to Punakha don’t refer to any such structure.

The restoration of the dzong appeared in the manifesto of its first elected MP Durga Prasad Chettri during the 2008 elections and sadly it remained only on paper and the walls, and the ruins are waiting for local leaders, authorities, historians, and restoration experts to bring into the light the story of a dzong that once proudly stood at a visually thrilling cliff above the confluence of three rivers and above the Bindu barrage and the Jaldakha hydel project. Its restoration might give the Dzongsa Dzong and the ruins an appropriate place in the modern history of Bhutan and bring a sense of belonging and pride to the community and Dungkhang of Tashichoeling.

Only if the walls could speak, the stones in the disappearing Dzongsa Dzong ruins would have the original story to tell.

Contributed by  Dhrubaraj Sharma

QUT Design Lab 

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GNHC revisiting planning system 

མིག, 10/18/2021 - 11:58

… CS shares it’s time to tweak the planning system 

Yangchen C Rinzin 

While the drafting of the 13th Plan will begin in January 2022, the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) Secretariat has started revisiting the planning system of the five-year plans.

Revisiting the planning system, according to the GNHC, does not necessarily mean there will be no draft Plan or that they are doing away with the planning system.

GNHC officiating secretary, Rinchen Wangdi, said that there will be a draft 13th Plan, because to bring developments, there is a need for a plan to base it on. “We’ll be drafting the Plan as per the planning process, as it has been happening over the years,” he said. “It’s GNHC’s mandate to plan so, we’ll draft the Plan.”

However, he said, GNHC is revisiting the planning system to review to see should the current five-year plan continue or how best can they change or adopt a new planning system, including designing a strategic plan.

“Although we’ve just started revisiting the planning system, we’re yet to decide on whether we really need the five-year plan system or what the  shape and form the 13th Plan would  be,” Rinchen Wangdi said. “What government wants is to review the planning system, review in terms of operation.”

The first meeting to revisit the planning system took place on October 8 with the Prime Minister, who is also a chairperson of GNHC.

Rinchen Wangdi said that while Lyonchhen has shared on the need to review the planning system, formal communication and first briefing session on the revision have just begun.

  Apart from referring to various research or world’s best practices, GNHC is also exploring whether to have a three-year plan or short term plans like an annual plan, vision document or a strategic document.

“If at all there are changes, the review must ensure to look for the best plan towards innovative and effective planning system to match the 21st century needs,” Rinchen Wangdi said. “Maybe, this time, going forward we could review to see how best can we plan based on the 21st Century Economic Roadmap that would guide the plan like a vision document.”

Beginning in 1961, the Bhutanese economy was based on the concept of planning, carried through the five-year plans developed by the then Planning Commission.

GNHC is also working on the concept note for the 13th Plan. The commission will then develop the guideline and start the formulation of the Plan following consultations with various agencies including the local government.

“We’ve to ensure there is a continuity in planning. It is important because we need to mobilise resources and also for the donors who donate funds depending on our plans and targets,” a GNHC official said.

Earlier there were concerns that there would be a vacuum between the two Plan periods, after a government ends its term and the beginning of the successor’s term, hampering implementation even if the Plan periods were aligned with the government’s tenure.

The GNHC official said that once the draft plan is ready, it is left for the next government to endorse the Plan. The government of the day has the prerogative to change and align some of the activities with their pledges.

“The government is given room to change. The draft Plan is also shared with contesting political parties to give them an idea about the plans and accordingly they could pledge,” the official said. The GNHC also refers to the parties’ pledges.

Although the Opposition Party emphasised, in a press release, the need for a draft Plan by this time, theGNHC officials claimed that it was not late and that they were on track. The official said that the 13th Plan will be ready before the government’s tenure ends.


What other says?

Many said it was time the GNHC should change the planning system after consulting various stakeholders to gather their feedback and ideas.

Many civil servants agreed that whether it is a short or long term plan, a plan document is necessary.

“It’s up to the government if they want to change that is if they have a better idea. If it’s better than the current practice, we must go ahead with the change,” a civil servant said.

Another civil servant said that like civil service and education reforms, it was time to revisit the Bhutanese planning system.

Some said that there has to be an economic roadmap based on which, the GNHC should develop medium or short term plans preferably a three-year plan.

A few suggested that the GNHC could be a division under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) until an Economic Development Board under PMO is established.

An official from the local government said if the current planning is to stay then the right time to start drafting the plan would be after the local government election so that they would also have an idea of what are the plans at the local level.

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Around 60 participate in the 2021 Gyalsey Tennis Championship 

མིག, 10/18/2021 - 11:58

Thinley Namgay 

Tandin Wangchuk beat Tenzin Singye Dorji 2-1 to lift the 4th Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel National Open Tennis Championship trophy in the men’s singles category at the Changlimithang tennis ground in Thimphu yesterday.

Despite the strong opposition from Tenzin Singye Dorji, the 2019 South Asian Games bronze medallist, Tandin Wangchuk won the first set 7-5.

In the best-of-three match, Tandin Wangchuk cruised to an easy win in the second set, winning it 7-1. Both of them are national players.

A 27-year-old pilot with Druk Air, Tandin Wangchuk was awarded a cash prize of Nu 25,000. Tenzin Singye Dorji received Nu 15,000.

Tandin Wangchuk from Thimphu said that despite limited practice, he was able to perform well in the tournament. “I was glad that my opponent in the final was Tenzin Singye Dorji. He is a good player.”

He said parental support is one of the essential components to engage youth in tennis. “Parents must take the initiative. For instance, my parents encouraged me. Besides an interest in tennis from an early age, I also play football.”

A second-year student at Gedu College of Business Studies, Tenzin Singye Dorji, said that he took leave for a week to play in the tournament.

He said that he couldn’t play tennis for two years. “I came to the tournament without practice, but I did my best. I will work hard to make my mother proud.”

The other categories in the tournament that started on October 9 were women’s singles, veteran’s singles, and men’s lucky mixed doubles.

Sushila Rai won the women’s singles category and received a cash prize of Nu 18,000. It was the third consecutive win for Sushila Rai. The Executive Director of the Bhutan Cancer Society, Sonam Yangchen, who came second, got Nu 10,000.

In the veteran’s singles, Lieutenant (Lt) Colonel Sonam Gyeltshen of the Royal Bhutan Army beat Doshing Lepcha to grab the first prize of Nu 10,000.  Doshing Lepcha got Nu 7,000.

In the lucky doubles category, Lt Colonel Sonam Gyeltshen and Tenzin Singye Dorji defeated Birman Rai and Thinley Samdrup. The winners were awarded Nu 8,000 each, and runners-up got Nu 5,000 each.

Her Royal Highness Princess Dechan Yangzom Wangchuck awarded the prizes.

Around 60 participants between 16-65 years, mostly from Thimphu, participated in the tournament organised by the Bhutan Tennis Federation (BTF).

The tournament is an annual BTF event to celebrate the birth anniversary of His Royal Highness The Gyalsey.

BTF General Secretary, Tshering Namgay, said that the tournament was the first tournament organised by the federation after 18 months amid the pandemic. “The people from other dzongkhags were unable to take part, due to the ongoing pandemic.”

BTF’s Vice President Tshewang Jurmi said that the tennis competition has potential as a platform to address the growing youth-related issues by providing them with an opportunity to engage and exhibit their talents.

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Picture story

མིག, 10/18/2021 - 11:57

Nineteen civil servants from 12 ministries and constitutional offices concluded a six-day Sorig Zhiney and Luejong training yesterday. The training was organised by Department of Traditional Medicine Services in collaboration with Royal Civil Service Commission.

Focus point

ཉིམ།, 10/16/2021 - 16:06

Picture story

ཉིམ།, 10/16/2021 - 16:06

 The Mongar-Bumthang highway will remain closed to traffic for at least three days due to a huge roadblock at Namling. The continuous mass sliding has hampered the road clearing efforts.

Radiation treatment at JDWNRH not benefited patients

ཉིམ།, 10/16/2021 - 16:05

Investigations found poor outcome for patients with deep-seated tumours

Younten Tshedup  

An investigation carried out on the radiotherapy services at the Thimphu national referral hospital (JDWNRH) has found that the radiation treatment offered at the hospital has not benefited patients with deep-seated tumours, resulting in poor treatment outcome.

A preliminary clinical report written on the investigation looked into the effectiveness of the service. According to the report, it was noticed that patients with deep-seated Stage III rectal tumours who were sent for tumour downsizing in preparation for surgery were not obtaining the optimal response normally seen after radiation. This was first observed in 2019 in 12 rectal cancer patients almost one year after the introduction of the services.

Earlier this March, the hospital management was informed of the increasing mortality (death) among cervical cancer patients after the start of radiotherapy services at the hospital.

The issue 

Concerns regarding the quality of radiotherapy service at JDWNRH were first raised to Care Australia, an international aid organisation operating the radiotherapy services at JDWNRH, in February 2018. However, Care Australia made assurances at the time that the service was as per international standards.

Following the high mortality rate among cervical cancer patients, despite receiving radiotherapy treatments, the oncology department conducted a three-day mortality data analysis in June 2021. The inquiry found out that the existing radiotherapy machine needed upgrading.

Several other issues were found when the Ministry of Health and JDWNRH reviewed the service agreement between Care Australia and the hospital management on the introduction of radiotherapy services.

As per the investigative report, basic requirements for the establishment of new technology in the country were not followed. Section 8.4 of the National Health Policy 2011 states that no new health technology will be allowed until assessment and evaluation for its safety, efficacy, quality, indication, and cost effectiveness have been conducted by the health technology assessment panel.

It was also found that due process for executing any memorandum of understanding or agreement with external agencies in line with the Rule of Treaty Making Procedure 2016 was not conducted. They also lacked due diligence as per the Procurement Rules and Regulation.


A possible scam?

In principle, the approval to introduce radiation therapy service at JDWNRH was given in May 2016. Prior to the approval, a doctor from Care Australia made a comprehensive presentation on the modality of setting up the radiation therapy service at the hospital.

A team comprising senior officials from the Ministry of Health, JDWNRH, and Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan (KGUMSB) reviewed the service agreement. Following the review, the service agreement was signed on June 17, 2016 with no feedback from the board.


More issues      

The investigation found that the health technology assessment (HTA) was not conducted during the pre-installation phase as there were no records of it. Local technical experts found during a detailed analysis of the radiation therapy machine that the machine was producing only single photon energy with low energy, which caused suboptimal outcomes when treating deep-seated tumours.

It was also found that the machine did not produce the level of electron energies required for treating superficial cancers. The technical investigation found the need to upgrade the radiation therapy machine at JDWNRH.

Meanwhile, since August of this year, all cancer patients are now referred to India for radiation except for palliative patients. In a meeting held last month, chaired by the health minister, they decided to keep the radiation services on hold (both curative and palliative treatment).

It was learnt that a notification was issued to Care Australia on September 21 this year communicating the issues. JDWNRH received a response from the company on October 1. Kuensel was not given access to the report.

Meanwhile, Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that a presentation on the issue was due last week but could not take place. 

Kuensel learnt that a preliminary report  of the investigation was presented to the health minister. The team from JDWNRH is expected to present the findings to the ministry’s high level committee which will deliberate and propose recommendations before submitting the report to the Cabinet. 

Polakha farmers struggling to sell dolley pickles

ཉིམ།, 10/16/2021 - 16:04

Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

Months before the red dolley pickles are bottled and sent to the market, 15 men and women of the Palokha Sonam Yargay Khenphen Tshogpa grow the red dolley chilies on their 20-decimals of land in Palokha in Ruebisa, Wangdue.

After harvest, the chilies are soaked in plastic jars with brine solution for three weeks. After three weeks of fermentation, mustard oil and preservatives are added.

The processed dolley pickles are then shipped to the market for sale.

According to the tshogpa’s chairperson, Sonam Dhendup, the tshogpa was initiated in 2005 and ventured into dolley pickle business in 2012.The dzongkhag administration provided the team with training and equipment such as an induction bottle sealing machine, aluminum foil, PVC sleeves, an electric blower, and product containers in 2018.

However, the tshogpa has not been able to capture the market.

“We completely stopped work last year because gatherings weren’t allowed due to the pandemic,” said Sonam Dhendup.

Sonam Dhendup said that the dolley bottles had to be divided among the members. “We don’t know how to sell the product. It was sold in Paro, Punakha, Wangdue, and Thimphu but demand is not stable.”

The 15 members of the tshogpa even started door-to-door marketing.

Ruebisa gewog agriculture extension officer, Tika Ram Bhandari, said that the farmers sold the chilies (not pickles) to farmers from Tsirang who made dolley pickles too.

However, with a recent round of training on a new way of processing dolley chilies, the tshogpa hopes to improve sales.

With support from the Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives (DAMC), the team recently received training on two-day dolley processing in September. Farmers in the group made around 120kg of dolley pickles in the last two days.

Sonam Dhendup said that the tshogpa would double production if the market situation improves.

“We certainly need to hone our advertising and marketing skills.”

A bottle of dolley pickles is sold for Nu 120 to the wholesalers.

“I hope that the dzongkhag would help us market the products. They have given us training and equipment in the past too.”

The tshogpa currently has a Nu 1.7 million (M) fund, which has been loaned to the farmers in the village. The tshogpa was started with a fee collection of Nu 100 per member, per month.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

ACC investigates possible collusion in waste management project

ཉིམ།, 10/16/2021 - 16:03

Four consultancy licenses suspended as investigations continue

Rinzin Wangchuk 

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) suspended the licenses of four consultancy firms in Thimphu after finding a prima facie case of corruption in connection with the waste management project being implemented by the Waste Management Division of the National Environment Commission (NEC).

In a public notification issued on October 12, the ACC notified all public agencies to refrain from entering into any contractual relations with four consultancy firms: ChhimiD Consultancy, United Consultancy, K.L Consulting and Services, and Professional Property Services.

The notification signed by ACC’s chairperson stated that the suspension of four licenses will remain in force unless otherwise rescinded by the commission or until the completion of legal proceedings and adjudication by the court.

However, the suspension will not affect work currently being handled with the firms.

The four licenses were suspended after the commission found some evidence of corruption to substantiate the case. The four firms are suspected of colluding in providing consultancy services to NEC’s waste management division. Three firms are alleged to have sub-contracted their consultancy services to ChimmiD Consultancy.

However, the commission refused to share further details about the case, saying that it is still a “premature case”.

The ACC, Kuensel learnt, is reportedly looking into how the waste management project in question, funded by the Green Technology Center (GTC), Korea, was allegedly mismanaged.

The waste management project started as a pilot project in September 2019 with the support of the GTC. It was supposed to upgrade the waste drop-off centre located below Kelki School in Thimphu into a high-tech waste segregation and recycling unit. The project kicked off with a joint seminar between the GTC, the NEC, and Thimphu Thromde on September 25, 2019.

According to the project plan, conveyor belts, magnetic separators, and collection bins were supposed to be installed at the drop-off centre to make the collection, transportation, and recycling of different types of wastes more convenient. The cost of the project was Nu 6 million and was expected to be completed in May of last year.

Bhutan signed a Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with the government of Korea to promote climate technology to achieve low carbon waste management in the respective countries.

Kuensel contacted the NEC secretary to confirm whether the project was being investigated by the ACC, but he was not available for comment.

Edited by Tshering Palden

Building leadership capacity of women LG aspirants

ཉིམ།, 10/16/2021 - 16:02

Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

Thirty-two women who are aspiring to contest in the upcoming local government (LG) election from Mongar and Lhuentse are attending a leadership training in Mongar.

Conducted by Bhutan Network of Empowering Women (BNEW), in collaboration with National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC), women are practising public speaking skills and learning to deliver campaign speeches during the three-day workshop. The trainer provides feedback and recommendations.

Of the 32 women, six are aspiring candidates for gup, 10 for mangmi and 16 for tshogpa in the upcoming LG election.

An aspiring mangmi candidate of Tsamang gewog, Deki Pelden, said the workshop has helped boost her confidence. “Initially, I was timid and couldn’t speak confidently. I can feel the difference now.”

The workshop mainly focuses on public speaking skills, such as maintaining body gestures to eye contact to content development, which are essential skills for election campaigning.

A resource person, Kuenley Gyeltshen, who is the proprietor of Language and Culture Institute, said good communication skills are a must to connect with voters.”

BNEW’s programme officer, Ugyen Choki, said women representation in national leadership is less compared to men. “It’s the same even in local government, and we’re working towards increasing the number of women in leadership positions in local government.”

She said that in the last LG election, only two women were elected as gup, and 24 as mangmi, from 205 gewogs.

Ugyen Choki also said women gain confidence once they master the art of public speaking. “This workshop is aimed at building a good network among the women candidates so that they can help each other.”

BNEW will conduct similar workshops in Trashigang for aspiring candidates from Trashigang and Trashiyangtse.

Ugyen Choki said they will conduct the workshop in all dzongkhags before LG elections begin.

Edited by Tashi Dema

Fire engulfs 500 acres of forest in Lhuentse

ཉིམ།, 10/16/2021 - 16:02

Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

The first forest fire of the year in Lhuentse broke out early morning on October 12 in Menbi gewog and engulfed more than 500 acres of lemongrass and chir pine trees.

While the fire is yet to be contained, a firefighting team constituting foresters, de-suups, police personnel, Tangmachu HSS students, monks of Takila monastery, and a few villagers with the help of a fire engine could save Tangmachu HSS, two houses in the new settlement below a giant Guru statue, and a Tashi Cell tower, according to forest officials.

However, steep and rocky terrain is hampering the firefighting efforts.

A senior ranger of the Lhuentse Range Office, Jamtsho said the fire has descended and reached Kurichhu river as of last night. It is expected to be naturally kept at a boundary when it falls along the river banks.

The cause of the fire is suspected to be an electric short circuit. Eyewitnesses from a point opposite Manjabi village told forest officials that the fire began at around 2am, near a lone house in Tungkhar village below Tangmachu HSS.

Jamtsho said though the area is forest fire-prone, it’s been about seven years since the last fire incident.

Too many contractual documents, too few experts

ཉིམ།, 10/16/2021 - 16:01

Nikachu Hydropower Project got extended like other hydropower projects in the country. Hydropower brings highest revenue for the nation. Hydropower also makes our largest public debt, in billions, and any delay has a ripple effect, doubling or tripling the initially projected expenditure.  Poor negotiation of contractual terms and conditions, particularly dispute settlement mechanism, is suspected to be a major contributing factor in losing our money, as it is often Bhutan who bears the loss and not the other party. Unless we make a radical change in building Bhutanese contract law experts, we may continue to lose even more money as more joint ventures and an increasing number of Forest Direct Investments (FDI) are getting established in the country.

Today, Bhutan has over 200 private lawyers and few hundreds working in the civil service and corporate sector. Yet we don’t have a single Bhutanese lawyer who is globally recognised as competent enough on negotiation and contract drafting. We are used to a copy-paste template in contract drafting and negotiation is often ignored. Going by the reports, every contract we negotiate for big projects such as hydropower projects are drafted by other party and our bureaucrats’ sign without much idea of its future consequences.

Our senior bureaucrats, corporates and other senior officers who take decisions on behalf of Bhutan in numerous hydropower and now FDIs in the country hardly take cognizance of the importance of guidance and support of contract law experts. The contract drafting process is a very complex and tedious job, requiring enormous skills as it involves both drafting skills and thorough knowledge of the law and negotiation.  Further, every contract is prone to breach for various reasons whether deliberate or otherwise as a contract is about the future endeavor.

Therefore, the ability to draft a comprehensive contract on mechanisms to deal with breach of contracts, particularly the dispute settlement mechanism and ability to negotiate that the forum for dispute settlement to be in Bhutan, is paramount to Bhutan’s interest. Arbitration is often the most preferred method of dispute settlements in commercial and business contracts. It is cheaper, takes less time and allows the parties the ability to negotiate how the arbitration will be done including choice of arbitrators, forum and waivers and rights. All these must be included in the contract itself as an arbitration clause or an arbitration agreement in addition to the subject matter contract.

However, any form of upskilling, including academic qualification in any area including legal expertise in Bhutan are often disincentivised. They lose years in the promotion, allowances and other opportunities.  They face unreasonable study obligations and are treated like bonded employees. The government hardly revises stipends for those studying in other countries. The stipend for current government scholarships is many times less than minimum daily wages of those countries when Bhutanese are sent to study.

Such system needs urgent review and change. To upskill contract expertise, the institutions such as the government, Druk Green Power Corporation, Druk Holding and Investments must invest in upskilling Bhutanese legal experts in these areas, including emerging technologies. The return for such investment would be in billions.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.

Exports not earning expected INR value in Gelephu

ཉིམ།, 10/16/2021 - 16:01

 INR earned from export items are exchanged at Dathgari

Nima | Gelephu

The export of riverbed materials from Gelephu to Assam in India is expected to help Bhutan earn Indian currency.

Over 5,000 truckloads of riverbed materials (worth more than Nu 100 million) were exported to India in the past nine months despite the pandemic and extortions along the Indian highways hampering the trade.

Boulders and aggregates worth Nu 116 million have been exported to India. Betelnuts worth Nu 141 million were exported between January 2020 and September 2021, according to records with the Regional Revenue and Customs Office in Gelephu.

However, INR earnings from the export items have not been reaching Bhutanese exporters, as the transactions were done in cash. The INR earned from the export are exchanged across the border and the Bhutanese exporters paid in ngultrum, according to sources.

Ngultrum has devalued by almost 12 percent at Dathgari. The importers from India and those thriving on ngultrum trade across the border work together to block incoming INR.

Sources said that the illegal trading of currency picked up in 2018 when Gelephu started exporting boulders and aggregates to India and Bangladesh.

Officials from the Bhutan Chamber for Commerce and Industry (BCCI) in Gelephu said that there is a risk of counterfeit notes entering the country with cash payments and devaluation continuing unabated.

The BCCI Regional Secretary, Kelzang, said that this type of illegal business thrives when there is not enough INR held in supply for import and export trade.

“We need an RMA regional office here. It would also cater to six central dzongkhags. There are people exiting via Gelephu for health, studies, and pilgrimage,” he said.

He added that the export transactions from Gelephu have increased by more than twofold after the export of riverbed materials began in 2018.

“The INR-earning opportunities from export are huge now. We need to have facilities in place. The risk of counterfeit money entering our country and devaluation of the currency can be stopped. We need to encourage online payment transactions,” said Kelzang.

Officials said that people preferred buying INR from across the border when it is not readily available here. “Exporters can earn INR themselves. We need to promote payment transactions online,” said an official.

Two officials from the Royal Monetary Authority studied the need to set up a regional office in Gelephu in 2018.

The Bank of Bhutan provides Rs 15,000 for exporters after the exporters produce the required documents, which is mainly meant to meet transportation expenses.

A programme officer with Bhutan Export Association (BEA) in Gelephu, Guru Wangchuk, said that they removed the cash-quarantine box at the border gate after currency devaluation. “Now they are forced to do all payment transactions online. No transactions related to exports are done in cash.”

He added that the number of people doing export business from Gelephu has increased. “It takes time when applying for INR through banks.”

Exporter Raju Upreti said the shortage of INR is the main reason behind currency devaluation. “The main players are traders who receive payment partially from the bank and partially in cash. The illegal trading of currency devalues our currency. The practice also accelerates fronting.”

He added that transactions for incoming currency should be done through RTGS or other banking tools.

“However, exporters receive cash and it’s exchanged with the commission, which is extra income for exporters. This practice should be stopped,” said Raju Upreti.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

Thimphu has become overly expensive, say residents

ཉིམ།, 10/16/2021 - 16:00

Nima Wangdi 

In a matter of months, residents in the capital city say everything has become more expensive, and that many of them were cutting corners to eke out a living.

Working at an eatery in Thimphu, Pasang earns Nu 8,000 a month. With a school-going daughter and an ailing mother to look after, her expenses exceed her income, forcing her to borrow from others to make ends meet.

She pays Nu 3,000 in house rent, which is 38 percent of her monthly income, and spends Nu 4,000 on groceries. She is left with only Nu 500 after paying for the utilities.

She says she can’t return to her village because her mother needs to visit the hospital frequently and she wants to send her daughter to a good school. “For low-income people like me, living in Thimphu is difficult but I don’t have many options,” she said.

There are many in Thimphu who, like Pasang, pay almost half their monthly salary in house rent. They say living in the city has become increasingly expensive over the years with house rents and prices of goods soaring rapidly.

A corporate employee, Tshering, said his father pays half the rent. He spends Nu 10,000 a month on groceries and then helps his siblings who go to school. “I manage to save Nu 1,000 a month at least, in case there are any emergencies in the family,” he said. He said he wouldn’t be able to survive in Thimphu on his salary if he had to live alone.

Another corporate employee, Karma, said the prices of commodities have increased recently. She cited an example: the price of a five-litre bottle of oil that used to cost Nu 750 has increased to Nu 1,200 today. She said it was more comfortable for families with two income earners.

Karma said she buys groceries on credit and pays at the end of the month. “My salary does not last for a week; forget about saving it,” she said. Another employee said he wished there were huts with cheaper rent to live in.

A civil servant, who lives alone, said the prices of goods have increased, even for vegetables. Eggs, beer, and fuel prices are prominent examples. He earns Nu 26,000 a month but cannot save any of it.

He has to help his siblings and also sends money to his parents in the village. “I can hardly save any money, as I have to buy groceries and fuel for my car,” he said. “Living in Thimphu is expensive.”

He said, going by the present rate of inflation, prices of commodities and house rents need close monitoring and regulation. “This could land us in serious trouble if authorities do not act now,” the civil servant said. “It is evident that some people are suffering while some take advantage of this pandemic.”

Langa, an employee of a private company, said that if pricing is not regulated starting now, there will come a time when young people will be forced to go overseas to work as they can’t survive in the country with what they earn.

Tshomo, 24, works for one of the financial institutions. She said the increase in rent is neglected as if it is no one’s responsibility. “Some house owners tend to increase rent beyond what is allowed, while some tenants are not at all aware of the Tenancy Act.”

A grocery shopkeeper in Taba said that the pricing of essential commodities has increased from the source, with increased transportation costs due to Covid-19 restrictions and protocols.

“The two-litre refined oil that we used to sell at Nu 125 has increased to Nu 280, which is more than twofold.” He said the prices of commodities are contingent on the increased fossil fuel prices.

The chief trade officer of the Office of Consumer Protection, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Gopal Pradhan, said that there has been a slight increase in commodity prices due to the pandemic but it’s being closely monitored in the market. “People lodge complaints on unfair trade practices, mostly on issues of overpricing, and we address them accordingly.”

In an earlier interview, a psychiatrist at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral hospital, Dr Damber K Nirola said that people not being able to get a job, or not earning enough even after getting a job, impacts them mentally.

Edited by Tshering Palden