Kuensel Feed

Subscribe to Kuensel Feed feed
Bhutan's Daily Newspaper
ཡུ་ཨར་ཨེལ: https://kuenselonline.com
དུས་མཐུན་བཟོ་ཡོད: 2 hours 55 min གི་ཧེ་མ།

Property Act required to address urban tax issues

ཉིམ།, 06/25/2022 - 15:35

Nima Wangdi

For several years now, peri-urban residents in numerous dzongkhags have been paying higher taxes meant for urban dwellers without receiving any urban facilities or access to amenities. Residents, over the years, have written repeatedly to various authorities and representatives to resolve the issue.

Mongar’s Member of Parliament (MP) Karma Lhamo raised the issue at the National Assembly for the residents of Naling, which is next to Mongar town but does not have any urban amenities except for a farm road.

Karma Lhamo said that levying urban tax on the residents who don’t have proper drinking water supply or plotting and demarcations has become a problem. “The village partly falls under Throm.”

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
She said, “The residents said its unfair to impose an urban tax on them.”

In 2016, the works and human settlement ministry issued an executive order that exempted the people in this village from the urban tax. “However, the urban tax was again imposed after two years,” Karma Lhamo said.

She asked the Finance Minister, Namgay Tshering during the question hours yesterday at the National Assembly for a response from the government on the issues.

Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said that the problem started with the first government in 2010.

“Since then, governments initiated temporary measures to these problems. But the problems worsened during the second government’s tenure in 2015,” Lyonpo said.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that previous elected governments had different plans for declaring different townships. They did not consider if the old tax system would be applicable. “The question has been asked for three years in the house for now and it is an important issue.”

He said that Lhayulkha in Haa, Jalikhar in Bumthang, Dewathang in Samdrupjongkhar and Pasakha in Phuntsholing have the same problem. “There is no Act for properly tax but to this day, we have been following the Revised Taxation Policy, 1992.”

Lyonpo said that the government can’t focus on addressing the problem only in Mongar and that it would work to solve problems in all the dzongkhags together. “For now, although the tax should be imposed in uniform, different dzongkhags have different systems.”

“Having a dedicated property tax Act should be the permanent solution to this problem,” Lyonpo said.

The government has been discussing it for three years and the outcome is expected soon, the minister said.

BBP engages 4,000 youth

ཉིམ།, 06/25/2022 - 15:33

Yangyel Lhaden

Build Bhutan Project (BBP), which would end next month, has engaged about 4,000 youth in construction sector.

The number of youth engaged is more than half of its target to engage 7,000 youth within two years.

Labour Minister Karma Dorji shared the figures during the first hour of National Assembly, yesterday.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
He was answering the question from Khar-Yurung Member of Parliament (MP), Tshering Chhoden, who asked the status of BBP and its way forward as the project comes to an end next month.

She questioned if BBP was able to provide youth skills-related jobs. “I am doubtful if BBP could have addressed youth unemployment because the overall unemployment rate is 4.8 percent and youth unemployment is 20.9 percent.”

Lyonpo Karma Dorji said that in two years, BBP engaged 1,739 youth in specialised firm, private construction, and hydropower projects and 2,121 youth were trained in various skilling programmes such as masonry, carpentry, electrical, painting, and welding.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
He said that although the project’s aim was to engage 7,000 youth by skilling them and creating jobs, the project couldn’t engage more than 4,000 youths. “We couldn’t meet the target though we gave them opportunity because many youths are not interested in taking construction-related jobs.”

Lyonpo Karma Dorji said that although the project was coming to an end next month, labour ministry would continue to provide construction-related skilling programmes through the ministry’s skills development programme and village skills development programme.

He said that there are 49 specialised firms established through BBP, which would also continue to provide jobs to jobseekers in construction sector. “In collaboration with Ministry of Work and Human Settlement we have initiated certified builder through which youth would be provided skilling and they will get opportunity to construct private buildings.

Zham village residents in Lhuentse wait for water project to complete

ཉིམ།, 06/25/2022 - 15:32

Tshering Namgyal | Lhuentse

The DeSuung water project in Zham village of Minjey gewog, Lhuentse, which was scheduled to complete four months ago, would complete in two months.

Launched in August 2021, the project was initially targeted to complete in six months, but it delayed due to the pandemic, maintenance of the approach road followed by frequent breakdown of machines at the site.

With the tractor road size formation cutting of 5.7 kilometres of 6km length from the source to the main outlet near the community temple completed, project officials said about 75 percent of the work has been progressed as of now.

Officials said only about 200 to 300 metres towards the source, which is mostly cliff, is left.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
“As of date, the construction of end chamber and 3.8km pipe joining has been completed,” an official said. “Pipe laying in 4.2km stretch is done. All pipes are shifted halfway of the stretch for laying.”

However, intake reservoir construction will be possible only after the formation cutting reaches the source.

Officials said the pipe joining work was stalled after the generator got broke down. “We are yet to get a new one,” an official said. “We are following up with the supplier.”

Officials said they would finish the work in two months if monsoon favours. There are 29 deSuups in the field today although there are 84 when it first commenced.

Meanwhile, the project would cater water from Longorchu stream that runs via Gulibi between Zham and Tongling villages.

The project is expected to benefit 42 households by irrigating nearly 400 acres of arable dry land and wetland in the village which remained fallow because of lack of irrigation water.

Farmers of Zham are happy that the ongoing irrigation water project would complete soon.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
A farmer with the highest land holding in the village, Kelzangla, said he is planning to cultivate paddy in all nine acres of field once the water is connected.

“As of now, we depend on rainwater to supplement the existing small stream and could cultivate only half of the paddy field,” he said.

He said the small irrigation water from Amdrangchu which was serving the purpose in the olden days for few households in farming was not sufficient with increasing population over the years.

“We are in dire need of water and we are grateful to His Majesty The King and the government.”

Kezangla said his family could also sell about 800 dre of rice and generate income once water reach the field.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
Amdrangchhu-Zham tshogpa, Thinley Gyatsho, said residents faced acute shortage of irrigation water problem and farmers fight and quarrel for water during cultivation season.

He said farmers guard their fields at night and they had to introduce a lucky dip system. “But this is unfair for those who get their turn last because by the time their turn comes, some seedlings also die and hamper the production.”

According to the tshogpa, the water project would help farmers carry out cultivation on time.

Minjey gup, Jigme Tenzin Zangpo, said although 80 percent of land in Zham village is wetland, about 40 percent was left fallow due to water shortage. “The water project would benefit them immensely.”

The 32M worth project is being implemented by the government in collaboration with armed forces and DeSuups. After completion, the beneficiaries will take care of its operation and minor maintenance.

Only two buildings in Jomotsangkha town

ཉིམ།, 06/25/2022 - 15:31

.. drungkhag asks landowners to start construction soon

Kelzang Wangchuk | Jomotshangkha

Of more than 100 landowners in Jomotsangkha town who got lagthram since 2018, only two constructed buildings in the town today.

Another building is under construction and the drungkhag administration approved another.

Most landowners in the town said they have no plans to start the construction because of fewer business opportunities.

A landowner, Tashi, said he has no plan to construct a building in the town at the moment as he has no money. “It would be difficult for us to build as he has no income.”

Another landowner, Sushila Damala, said since the drungkhag has less population, there won’t be tenants. “There are also government houses.”

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
She said bank interest rates are high. “We wouldn’t be able to pay the loans.”

A landowner, Chimi, said it would help if drungkhag could allow them to construct two-storey buildings instead of three-storey buildings in the town.

Landowners, however, said the drungkhag has potential to become a tourist attraction for regional tourists as it is located near two Indian states of Assam in the south and Arunachal Pradesh in the north.

Jomotshangkha drungpa, Lamdra Wangdi, said the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement (MoWHS) approved the local area plan (LAP) in 2016 and issued lagthram to the landowners in 2018.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
He said as per the development control regulations (DCR), landowners should complete the constructions within five years after issuing the lagthram.

The drungpa said the drungkhag administration had been encouraging landowners to start the construction phase-wise if they cannot construct three-storey building at once.

“We told the landowners to start constructing the ground floor and then continue with the remaining floors whenever they get money. We do not force them to construct three-storey buildings at once,” he said.

The drungkhag provided water supply and electricity connection and constructed roads in the town. Internal road and sewerage would be constructed soon.

Pound women keeping the roads open and safe

ཉིམ།, 06/25/2022 - 15:30

 Yangyel Lhaden

 At Ngangshing, nineteen kilometres towards Samdrupjongkhar from Wamrong. It is early morning. The mountains are still very dark and dense.

The day before, a heavy rain had wreaked havoc along the highway. Vehicles are stranded; from both ends, there is a long line of vehicles. And many are joining the line from night-halt in Wamrong. The queue is growing by the hour.

There is a group of women walking along the roads. They are taking it easy. There are multiple blocks along the road; it is not their responsibility to clear them all.

Gaily one walks in to announce her wish. “The longer it takes to clear the road [from the other side], we have some respite to enjoy. These are Bhutanese women keeping the highways clear and clean. One can easily strike a conversation with these women, but who are they, really?

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
The women are working with Project DANTAK. When Indian workers left home in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the country faced a serious shortage of worker. For many in the villages along the highway, there was a new opportunity.

There are about 20 road workers between Ngangshing and Narphung. If the block is cleared before lunchtime, their task for the day is to remove rocks on road, clear the drain, mix cement and help with the construction of wall, and also trim the grass along road above Narphung—pretty light going by their daily experience.

Chogyal Wangmo, a mother of four, got in touch with Project DANTAK and landed a job. “When there is job opportunity hitting at the door, why not take it? For us, in the villages, it’s a big thing.”

All the women working on road have similar stories to share—they want extra income to support their family and children’s education. Many come from disadvantaged family backgrounds.

Chogyal Wangmo said that with cost of living getting expensive by the day, her husband’s lone income was not enough to support her family. “My children are aware of what I go through every day. They tell me not to work, but that does not help. I want my children to rub shoulders with their mates and do well.”

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
Chimi Wangmo, 23, is a mother of a five-year-old girl. Her husband died two years ago. She wakes up at 5:30am every morning and drops her daughter to community Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centre. And then she reports to work. By then, it is already at 7:00am.

Her daughter is the first to arrive in ECCD and last to leave.

Chimi Wangmo said that the instructors in ECCD have been taking care of her daughter. She is grateful.

Chimi Wangmo started working with Project DANTAK two years ago. She had to leave for Drametse, Mongar to perform rituals for her late husband. Without better options, she has returned. “I came back to work here because I had debt to clear.” Her alcoholic husband left her and the child with a heavy load debt to clear.

Now Chimi, being the eldest sibling, has to educate her brothers and sisters. She was not a bad student herself and wanted to become a doctor.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
Another roadside worker, Sonam Zangmo, said that the pay is not all that bad. “ If we work regularly, we earn Nu 14,000 a month.” She earns around Nu 9,000 a month.

Nidup Zangmo would not have any source of income had she not decided to work under Project DANTAK. The sole provider in the family, she takes care of her ageing father and school-going daughter.

A single mother of an 11-year-old girl, Nidup used to work in Coca-Cola factory in Phuntsholing. She did not return back to Phuntsholing after she found a job with Project DANTAK. Her husband was a driver who passed away when she was four month pregnant. She used to live with her uncle in Phuntsholing and financially supported her daughter who lives in Ngangshing with her parents. “ My mother passed away two years ago and my father is also getting old. I had to stay back.”

The women here, along the highway, say that although they were satisfied with their work they are looked down upon. “What they think of us doesn’t matter. Probably we would think the same if they were in our shoes. It’s hard work we are doing to keep the roads open and we are proud of our ourselves.”

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
Nidup, the brightest of the group and the most vocal, said schemes like provided fund would be of great value for the roadside workers like her. “It is only because of pandemic we are recruited by Project DANTAK. Social security is important. Having that, we would not be talking about shortage of manpower in any sector.”

Past 11:45am, there is sign of the blocks getting cleared. The women sit on a pile of pebbles and open their packed lunch. However, happiness such as this moment is short-lived. Barely have they unfolded their simple ema datshi when news comes that there is clearing work to do.

The women climb on the back of a tripper truck and head towards Narphung.

Dzongkhag administration ready to continue Selela farm road: FM

ཉིམ།, 06/25/2022 - 15:28

Nima Wangdi

Finance Minister Namgay Tshering, during the question hour at the National Assembly yesterday, said that both the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement and Haa Dzongkhag Administration have surveyed and investigated the Selela farm road and the Dzongkhag administration is ready to continue the work if the alignment is finalized.

He said the people of Samar Gewog objected to the road construction at Etichito. They wanted the road to be constructed from Thangdokha to Setena instead of Selela to Setena. “We only need to decide which location the road to be built through. The Dzongkhag Administration is ready to build through either location, provided it benefits the people of both the gewogs equally.”

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
Sombaykha’s MP, Dorjee Wangmo, said that the road construction was discontinued after the second government built 11km-stretch. The road from the two far-flung chiwogs of Samar, Setena and Phentena till Samar gewog via Selela, would be 35 Kilometres.

She said the two chiwogs currently are being connected with a farm road to Haa-Samtse highway. People travelling to Haa through this road have to travel 140 kilometers. “People want the farm road constructed at the earliest since it would cut the distance of travel to Haa significantly and benefit the public,” she said.

Dorjee Wangmo also said that the people of four chiwogs of Samar Gewog also own acres of lands in Setena and Phentena, which are being left fallow presently. “The farm road construction would help in recultivating the land left fallow.”

Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that there was audit memo for the road construction.

Are petrol and diesel becoming dearer?

ཉིམ།, 06/25/2022 - 15:27

Gayleena Pradhan | Intern

Runaway price of fuel, especially diesel, has become the talk of the time. But are petrol and diesel becoming dearer? Are we paying the highest price?

The fuel price has jumped by about 90 percent compared to last June, but Bhutan is not the most fuel-expensive country. Petrol price is now Nu 100.34 per litre and diesel Nu 115.73 in the capital. At this price, it costs about Nu 3,511 to fill a family’s petrol Alto car with a 35-litre tank capacity and Nu 4,050 with diesel.

Among the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation countries, fuel is cheaper here compared with Nepal. Nepal has the highest fuel prices in the SAARC region at Nu 124 per litre, 199 Nepali Rupee for petrol and Nu 119 for diesel as of June 23 which is 192 Nepali Rupee. Petrol is cheaper in Thimphu than in Mumbai, India, where a litre cost Nu 111.35. 

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
Sri Lanka is in an economic crisis where fuel is in short supply. But petrol at Nu 91.05 and diesel at Nu 86.71 is cheaper in the island nation. Both petrol and diesel are also cheaper in Bangladesh.  A litre of petrol yesterday in Dhaka, Bangladesh was Nu 91.58 and diesel Nu 80.36 

In war-torn Afghanistan, petrol is at the 2020 Thimphu price with a litre costing only Nu 74.43 and diesel Nu 77.56 

Among the oil-producing countries, Iran (petrol- Nu 4.14, diesel- Nu 0.86) has the cheapest price followed by Kuwait (petrol- Nu 26.59, Diesel- 29.33) and Kazakhstan (petrol- Nu 31, diesel- 41)

It cost Nu 202 for a litre of both petrol and diesel in Norway. Norway has the most expensive fuel price among the oil-exporting countries followed by Ukraine (petrol-Nu134, diesel- 148) and the United States of America (petrol-107, diesel- 118). 

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
Russia is currently selling fuel to its citizens at Nu 72 and Nu 75 for petrol and diesel respectively. Saudi Arabia is selling fuel at an even cheaper rate than that. That is Nu 48 and Nu 13 for petrol and diesel respectively.

Hong Kongers are paying the highest price in the world. It cost Nu 223 for a litre of petrol and Nu 216 for diesel.  This means it would typically cost Nu 10,035 to fill up a car with a 35-litre capacity. The fuel quality is also better in developed countries.

Cheaper than  bottled water

On the other extreme, Venezuela offers fuel to its citizens for less than the price of bottled water. A litre of petrol is Nu 2.34 and diesel Nu 1.716. Venezuela has the cheapest rate of fuel since it is home to some of the biggest oil reserves in the world.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
Even though the price of fuel changes constantly in other countries, Bhutan’s price changes bi-monthly as per the memorandum of understanding between Bhutan and India.

There are differences in the fuel price across the country due to the transportation charges. Bumthang has the highest fuel price (petrol – Nu 103.16, diesel- Nu 118.47) and Samtse has the lowest (petrol- Nu 97, diesel- Nu 112.59).

In comparison to February this year there has been a rise of Nu 21 and Nu 37 in petrol and diesel respectively.

Bhutanese swimmers exit FINA World Championship

ཉིམ།, 06/25/2022 - 15:23

Thinley Namgay   

Sangay Tenzin and Kinley Lhendup represented Bhutan in the ongoing 19th edition of the FINA World Championship 2022 in Budapest, Hungary.

Of the 209 FINA member nations, 184 are contesting in the championship that began on June 17.

Sangay Tenzin, 18, featured in the  100 metres (m) and 200m freestyle. Kinley Lhendup, also 18, took part in the 100m butterfly and 200m Individual Medley.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
In the 100m butterfly on June 23, Kinley Lhendup stood last among nine participants in the heat (group).  He completed it in 1 minute (min) and 4 seconds (secs). However, his performance was better in the 200m Individual Medley on June 21. He came sixth by finishing in 2 mins and 29 secs among nine swimmers.

Kinley Lhendup from Thimphu said, “I want to train hard to perform better.”

“Now, I need to focus on the upcoming Asian Games to at least get a medal and take aquatic culture of Bhutan to next level,” he said.

Meanwhile, on June 21, Sangay Tenzin came seventh in the 100m freestyle out of the eight swimmers in the heat. He finished the race in 57.6 secs.

In the 200m freestyle on June 19, Sangay Tenzin was last among eight participants. He completed the swim in 2 mins and 8 secs.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
Sangay Tenzin from Sarpang said: “It wasn’t a great competition for me.  I couldn’t  achieve my target but things cannot always go the way we want.”

“After the Olympics, I took a break and came back to Thailand to resume my training for this competition. I need to be more technical,” Sangay Tenzin said.

Sangay Tenzin and Kinley Lhendup participated in the 18th FINA World Championship in South Korea and the FINA Swimming World Cup in Russia in 2019.  They are training in Thailand through the support of FINA.

The FINA World Championship 2022 will end on July 3.

FCBL to close farm shops by this month

སྤེན།, 06/24/2022 - 10:22

Chhimi Dema

Thimphu dzongkhag tshogdu recently decided to write to the agriculture ministry after gups from highland communities expressed concerns about the closure of sanam tshongkhangs (farm shops).

Gups said the farm shops benefitted the highlanders access essential food items.

DT members said they will write to the agriculture ministry through their Member of Parliament (MP).

However, the Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) decided to close the 101 farms in the country by this month.

The farm shops were established in 2014 to provide buy-back facilities to the farmers and sell essential food items at affordable prices.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

According to FCBL’s annual report 2021, FCBL incurred a loss of Nu 91.17 million (M) in the past three years.

“The operating expenses are significantly high compared to the revenue generated by the farm shops,” it stated.

In 2021, FCBL spent Nu 36.90M on farm shops and incurred Nu 27.09M loss. FCBL incurred Nu 28.46M loss in 2020, and Nu 35.62M loss in 2019.

A report from the company stated that although the farm shop operation benefitted rural residents, its poor financial returns over the past six years incurred a loss of Nu 134M.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

“The recent review by an external expert also strongly recommended to close the farm shops that are not commercially viable,” it stated.

There are 119 operators in the farm shops, who were offered the option to take up the farm shop operation either on a franchise or in private retailing mode. Some shops had two operators.

The reports stated that 33 operators opted for franchise mode and two operators opted for private retailing.

The farm shop operators were provided with all entitled benefits and two months’ basic salary.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

FCBL’s chief executive officer, Naiten Wangchuk, said that the corporation, agriculture ministry and other relevant agencies studied the operation of the farm shops several times.

He said that considering the shops’ benefits to the rural communities, they were kept in operation for the two years of the pandemic. “We are looking into other ways to provide this service to the rural communities.”

More jobs less takers in Phuentsholing 

སྤེན།, 06/24/2022 - 10:19

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

The Gowa program, the regional labour office in Phuentsholing conducted on June 22 brought together 22 companies and job seekers.

There were 299 jobs available but only 106 jobseekers turned up.

Of the 22 companies, 16 companies wanted to recruit “on the spot.” However, only four were recruited on the spot. Another 80 jobseekers were shortlisted for further interviews.

Labour officials said more than 90 percent of them will get jobs.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Companies from Pasakha industrial estate, other manufacturing units and service providers floated salaries ranging from Nu 5,000 to Nu 24,000 a month. However, some companies had difficulty finding job seekers for recruitment.

Lhaki Cement advertised to recruit an electrician. However, most who came to inquire went back after they learned the workstation was in Gomtu. 

Empty chairs: 106 job seekers met with employers

“Only one came,” an official said.

The regional director of the labour office, Sonam Tenzin said it was a paradoxical situation.

“It is not that there are no jobs. There are jobs,” he said, explaining that youths have to take up those jobs.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Most manufacturing companies look for skilled workers, mainly Technical Training Institute (TTI) graduates. A TTI graduate, Prem Kumar Gurung, 24 said he would take any job. The plumber was shortlisted.

Kezang Dawa, 26, is among those who were recruited. The class 10 graduate has been jobless for a year. He got a job with five others at Perfect Composite. 

“I am very happy.”

Kezang Dawa, who worked at a resort, lost his job due to the pandemic. He worked at the Mini Dry Port and construction sites.

A human resource official said they have been advertising to recruit for a long time. 

“We advertised so many times,” he said, adding nobody had come. “Today, we were able to recruit because we were able to interact and explain to them about the jobs.”

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Phuentsholing Thrompon Uttar Kumar Rai urged the jobseekers to take whatever jobs were available.

“We have to start small. That’s the first step to bigger successes,” he said.

NC19TF considering removing five-day quarantine 

སྤེན།, 06/24/2022 - 10:18

Nima Wangdi  

With the Covid-19 pandemic cases reducing, many say that there is no need for the five-day mandatory quarantine for those entering the country.

They said that the quarantine has become a burden for both government and the individuals.

A corporate employee, who recently returned from a week-long trip to India, said that the five-day quarantine is not needed. He said his expenses of Nu 1,800 a night and Nu 3,000 for two tests were borne by his office and the government. Yet he still felt it was unnecessary given the situation.

“If not for the Monkey Pox and some other Covid-19 variants that are drawing close to the country, quarantine is not required,” he said. The quarantine for those travelling within the country was discontinued a few months ago.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

The government pays the quarantine bills and test charges for those who are returning from medical treatment, and regular studies; those who travel for biometrics and the International English Language Testing System tests. People travelling for personal work have to pay for quarantine and the tests.

People arriving in Bhutan can choose either home quarantine or facility quarantine. Those who have unvaccinated family members at home go for facility quarantine while others choose home quarantine. Some also choose home quarantine since they can’t afford it or don’t want to spend on hotels.

Sonam Yangden, 30, who recently returned from Europe opted for home quarantine at her sister’s place in Thimphu. “Officials come for tests when we call them but no one comes to monitor me at home.”

She said that if those who are supposed to be quarantined at home are roaming around, the whole purpose of having the protocol in place is defeated.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

She said that the individuals should responsibly complete the home quarantine period with due diligence. “However, with the Covid-19 fading from memory, many don’t follow quarantine protocols seriously.”

There are talks going around about the government planning to do away with the five-day quarantine for the arrivals soon.

A medical doctor said that from the medical point of view the quarantine is unnecessary at this time.

National Covid-19 taskforce’s Chairperson, Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that they are deliberating on the matter but there is no definite time as to when to do it. “We are looking at the data at the moment.”

Alcohol and Bhutan

སྤེན།, 06/24/2022 - 10:17

Now that the Cabinet has decided to allow restaurants to serve wine and liquor without requiring a separate bar licence, questions at the National Council put Health Minister Dechen Wangmo in a tight spot.

Lyonpo’s justification was at best threadbare.  While she said that the health ministry was concerned about the rising cases and financial burden due to alcohol liver diseases, it is hard to establish a link between easy access to alcohol and increased consumption. The argument does not hold water.

Our relationship with alcohol has been complicated. Addressing the problems and challenges related to alcohol so has at best appeared tentative. Some have even called for a total ban on alcohol in the country, which, unfortunately, won’t work. There are cultural aspects of alcohol to be considered. But that ought not to give us the excuse to not do something significant so that there is a sensible and much-needed regulation.

 Alcohol may be part of our culture but alcoholism and problems related to alcohol are not. They have never been. It is precisely this new and growing reality that should worry us. Implications, in the long run, will be costly. The direct cost of treating one alcoholic patient is estimated at Nu 122,000, contributing to the escalation of health care costs. And it is growing—with it social and economic costs.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Because alcohol is one of the killers in the country, there is an urgent need to look at the destructive side of alcohol. We simply do not need more bars and alcohol outlets.

It’s a small consolation that studies and surveys will be carried out regularly which will give us a clear picture of the damage of alcohol to Bhutanese lives. Our hope is that politicians will rethink and rue their mistakes.

According to well-placed global research, people with alcoholism are up to 120 times more likely to commit suicide than those not dependent on alcohol—someone commits suicide every 40 seconds. This is also a serious problem facing the country today.

A recent survey found that in eastern Bhutan more than 58 percent of the respondents were alcoholics. In Thimphu, of the 36.4 percent of the adults who had consumed alcoholic beverages in the past year, 10.5 percent engaged in binge drinking. In rural areas, as much as 50 percent of the grain harvest of each household is used to brew alcohol each year. Underage drinking is also a serious problem.

Elimination of alcohol products altogether will not be possible. Our only hope lies in being able to limit or minimise consumption. This can be done.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

A research project to aid in policy decisions

སྤེན།, 06/24/2022 - 10:16

Chhimi Dema

A project, Bhutanese Knowledge for Indigenous Development (B-KIND), will begin in three focused dzongkhags to document and study the impacts of climate change faced by Bhutanese communities and find adaption strategies in consultation with policy-makers to benefit the communities.

The dzongkhags are Gasa, Punakha, and Wangdue.

B-KIND’s programme coordinator, Ritu Verma (PhD), said that the project carried out in rural communities would showcase people’s stories and everyday life experiences of climate change in systematic evidence-based research.

She said that the project would hold community consultations and document people’s needs.

After studying the socio-cultural practices and the biophysical conditions–based on meteorological data and other climate vulnerability assessments–the project would establish the impacts of climate change in these localities.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Ritu Verma said that the project’s aim is to deepen capacities for evidence-based policymaking.

“If its [decision is] based on strong data and evidence, then it could benefit communities because it is based on their realities, which are double-checked through evidence,” she said.

The research project will provide training based on the community’s requirements and small action research projects.

The project held its inception workshop from June 16 to 17 to share project documents such as the research and data management plan; research ethics; monitoring, and evaluation of the project.

Ritu Verma said that the inception workshop allows the team from the two partner organisations, the Tarayana Foundation and the College of Natural Resources to share the status of the various themes of the project.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

The research project will focus on themes such as sustainable agriculture, climate change adaptation, gender equality and transformative change, indigenous knowledge, rural and international development, wellbeing and Gross National Happiness, and holistic food systems.

Ritu Verma said that the workshop assessed the project’s impact on communities and how the public can increase their knowledge about issues in these communities.

The project was launched on August 17 last year.

After its launch, Ritu Verma said, the project started setting up social media handles, buying equipment, and students who received scholarships through the project started their course work.

The project team conducted field visits and held community consultations with the farmers.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

In the coming months, the researchers with the project will make field visits to collect data and two students will leave in September to study in Canada.

Ritu Verma said that the project’s outputs range from researching and publishing articles in academic international peer-reviewed journals; hosting photo exhibitions, workshops and training; and making policy briefs.

The programme received a grant of approximately USD one million from the Government of Canada through the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

Power tillers lying idle in remote Langchenphu gewog

སྤེན།, 06/24/2022 - 10:16

Kelzang Wangchuk | Jomotshangkha

Six power tillers issued by the then government, which are supposed to be busy in the fields at this time of the year, are lying idle at Langchenphu gewog in Jomotshangkha, Samdrupjongkhar.

The power tillers have been defunct for more than two years now.

This is because the gewog administration could not replace some parts of the power tiller.

A farmer, Kelzang Dorji, 66, said the power tillers helped the farmers for about three years during the paddy cultivation.

He said they didn’t even know what happened to the power tillers. “We reported the matter to an operator.”

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Another farmer, Tandin Wangmo, 40, said they hire the private power tillers during paddy cultivation at the moment because the gewog administration could not fix the government power tillers.

She said hiring private power tillers is expensive as they have to pay about Nu 1,500 to Nu 2,000 a day. “It would help us if concerned authorities could repair the power tillers.”

Villagers said although the power tillers were provided for public service, they could not reap much benefits.

“We don’t know whose responsibility it is to maintain and repair the power tillers?” a villager said. “Either the gewog administration or the Farm Machinery Corporation Limited should repair it.”

He said keeping the power tillers idle is a waste of state funds.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Langchenphu gup, Guman Singh Gaylal, said they could not fix the power tillers because of the ownership issue. “The ownership is with FMCL and not with the gewog administration.”

He said the gewog administration tried to repair and fix the defunct power tillers but could not as they didn’t get the spare parts. “We have informed the FMCL to repair those power tillers.”

The gup said the gewog administration has no separate budget for the power tiller maintenance but only to monitor them. “It would help manage the budget if the FMCL could give us the ownership.”

FMCL officials, however, said two power tillers were beyond repair and lifted from the gewog and kept at one of the villagers’ houses.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

According to officials four power tillers were functional and deployed in the fields.

Officials said that they could not repair those two power tillers as they could not get the spare parts during the lockdown. “We would give the ownership to the gewogs if they want but under some terms and conditions. We would also provide additional power tillers if it’s required.”

NA to pass Tourism Levy Bill 2022 today

སྤེན།, 06/24/2022 - 10:15

… the money Bill after NA’s adoption today will be tabled at National Council this session

Tshering Palden 

The National Assembly yesterday agreed to all the provisions in the Tourism Levy Bill 2022. The House will vote and adopt the Bill today morning, which remains only a formality.

The members deliberated on the recommendations from the economic and finance committee, which was tasked to review the Bill after the first and second hearings on June 20.

The Economic and finance committee chairperson, Kinga Penjor reported that there was overwhelming support for the reform from across the sectors. “We consulted with many stakeholders and what became obvious was the support to the intent and the principles behind this reform,” he said.

Other members of the committee, and some from the Opposition Party echoed similar views.

The committee tabled only one recommendation, the other two being clerical changes.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Section 6 of the Bill states, “Notwithstanding Section 4 of this Act, a tourist who had paid and confirmed the tour under the Tourism  Levy Act of Bhutan 2020 on or before 20th June 2022  shall continue to benefit subject to conditions imposed under Tourism Levy Act of Bhutan 2020 and Rules  thereof.”

The committee recommended that this consideration be extended from June 20 until December 31, 2022.

Kinga Penjor said that stakeholders in the tourism sector raised the issue of readiness in terms of resources and facilities. “Some even requested for an extension of two years which would be adequate for them to prepare and the resources to be ready,” he said.

He said that according to figures obtained from those in the tourism industry of 5,000 guides 3,115 were active.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

“Between September last year and this month, 27,266 tourists have booked their tours and many hotels and restaurants have availed of loans amounting to around Nu 48 billion,” he said.

He said that the committee after going through the evidence presented to them, mostly by those in the industry since the Tourism Council of Bhutan could not present any data, decided to recommend the change to the section.

Almost suddenly, the session that began with cordial bows and fist bumps erupted into a heated argument.

Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi supported the recommendation. He said with the extension the hotels and tour operators would get some work while the government puts together necessary preparations and facilities. “Otherwise, the small window opportunity these businesses could be lost and hurting their livelihoods.”

Kinga Penjor said that those in the tourism sector told the committee that the TCB has not consulted the Bill with them.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

TCB board chairperson and Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said the TCB has been working for the past year on this reform.

“Guides have been trained and are still being trained. VISA approval would be done within a week and banking is also being eased to facilitate seamless transactions,” he said. “We’re ready to begin this September.”

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the Bill has taken into consideration the concerns of the stakeholders in the industry raised during the previous consultation meetings. “This Bill has the answers.”

Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that giving an extension until December 31, 2022 would mean having two Acts, the Tourism Levy Act 2020 and the Tourism Levy Act 2022, in effect at the same time which is not lawful.

More than a dozen MPs spoke for and against the committee’s recommendation. In the end, Speaker asked the floor to vote on the committee’s recommendation. The recommendation was rejected with only 13 MPs in favour of the extension.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Bartsham-Shongphu MP Passang Dorji proposed a change to Section 8 of the Bill.

The section reads: “The Competent Authority may provide for an exemption or concessionary levy rate on the applicable Sustainable Development Fee, subject to any conditions prescribed in the Rules..”

He said that the authority to change levy or anything related to money was only given to the Parliament of which the executive is a branch.

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that since the Act would be passed by the Parliament the competent authority would derive that power from the Act. “If one looks at it from another perspective, there is no need for every such change to be routed through the Parliament.”

The House passed all five chapters of the Bill as tabled by the Finance Minister.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Wangchuk Namgyel commended the committee for investing adequate time and scrutinising the Bill after exhaustive consultations.

He gave opportunity until the last MP who registered to speak and extended the session way past the time allotted to its deliberations and the tea break.

Other aspects of the Bill 

A tourist shall be liable to pay a tourism levy known as the Sustainable Development Fee of USD 200 per night, which may be revised by the Competent Authority from time to time.

The government will identify an apex agency as the custodian of the tourism policy which shall be responsible for the development, promotion and regulation of tourism in Bhutan.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

The increase in the SDF is also in line with Bhutan’s ‘High Value, Low Volume’ tourism policy. The SDF, however, has exemption on day tourists, who do not travel beyond the first designated point, five-year-olds and below, and children between six and 12 years would receive the concessionary levy rate of 50 percent.

The competent authority shall implement the provisions of this Act; license, register or certify tourism service providers; and regulate and monitor the quality of tourism services including hotels.  The authority has access to information, documents and the places of business of tourism service providers at all reasonable time by providing prior written notice to the service provider as may be required. It will also determine, promulgate and enforce requirements and code of conduct for all tourism service providers.

The Act will supersede all previous notifications, circulars, guidelines, rules and regulations on tourism to the extent they are inconsistent with the provisions of the Act.

Pandemic-affected project completion dates to be rescheduled

པ།, 06/23/2022 - 11:46

Dechen Dolkar  

Following requests from contractors, the Ministry of Finance (MoF) has approved the rescheduling of the completion dates for ongoing construction works affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Construction Association of Bhutan (CAB) requested the government to consider re-scheduling the completion date for ongoing construction works.

Due to the pandemic, the import of construction materials and labourers was a challenging task, which led to delays in executing the projects.

The procuring agencies have been considering time extensions based on the contract document, however, the lack of evidentiary documents has impaired the extension of contracts beyond the contract agreement.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

The executive director of CAB, Tshering Younten, said that they had requested the government to consider rescheduling the date of the ongoing projects and not to impose a penalty on the liquidated damages (LD) for those projects that were already completed during the pandemic period.

The government has considered only the ongoing projects. “This consideration will benefit the ongoing projects and the big contractors. However, small contractors are not happy since the government has not considered the removal of penalty,” said the ED.  

In February this year, when they submitted the request to the government there were about 75 projects that were ongoing.

Tshering Younten said that now most of the construction must have been completed.

The ministry in its notification issued on June 21 stated that there are projects that are already behind schedule and are on the verge of failure.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Therefore, the MoF recognising these unprecedented challenges and with the objective of normalising the present situation issued guidance to the procuring agencies for re-scheduling of the intended completion date for ongoing construction works.

The ministry asked to review all ongoing projects as per the present situation and determine if the existing duration is sufficient or not to complete the project.

However, for projects that are either not affected or the agreed duration is sufficient to complete the project, the contract duration will be retained as per the existing contract.

The ministry also notified that even if a project has entered the liquidated period (LD), it will be subject to review and eligible for a time extension.

During the rescheduled period, LD will not be imposed, however, once the rescheduled period completes imposition of LD will continue.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

The rescheduling will be one time for all the ongoing projects and any further time extension will be as per the contract documents.

The contractors after the time extension will ensure that there is strict compliance to ensure that contractual obligations are performed and penalties will be levied thereafter without exception as per the contract documents.

The notification was issued on June 21 and it will be effective from the date of issuance of the notification.

Tshering Younten also said that they have also requested the government for the cost escalation of the projects.

He said that the contractors are running into losses, especially those working on roads.

“During the tendering, the cost of a barrel of bitumen was Nu 6,000 and now it is Nu 11,000 to reach a site,” he said.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Govt.’s focus to be on treatment and service provision: Health Minister

པ།, 06/23/2022 - 11:44

Nima Wangdi

The Cabinet approved the issuance of bar licences to all the hotels after “numerous and detailed deliberation”, said Health Minister Dechen Wangmo. A task force, she said, was formed and stakeholders consulted.

Lyonpo submitted this during the question hour at the National Council (NC) yesterday.

MP Kesang Chuki Dorjee said that Bhutan is one of the countries with the highest per capita alcohol consumption.

NC raised concerns about making the alcohol easily available and recommendations were submitted to the government.

Lyonpo said that ministry also conducted a number of studies to establish whether the ban would help reduction in alcohol consumption.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Lyonpo said that the alcohol liver disease problem is on the rise and the ministry is concerned about it. “There is no dedicated organisation to take care of the alcohol addicts; a number of relevant organisations share responsibilities.”

“We will not be empowering citizens by imposing the ban on alcohol. We should now focus more on treatment and services for alcohol dependents, which we don’t have currently,” Lyonpo said.

She said that with the recent change in the alcohol policy, the number of bars but there is no evidence to prove that more bars have contributed to increased alcohol consumption.

According to Lyonpo, the issuance of bar licence was banned from 2015 until 2020. In the meanwhile, even grocery shops started selling alcohol and the volume of local-brewed ara remained the same.

Alcohol control strategy 2015-2020 was not implemented as it was not comprehensive enough.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Lyonpo said the ministry now has a big opportunity to enhance proper addiction services. “This time it is alcohol; tobacco could be the next. We will deal with the same model. It is very important that we have service provision for the consumers.

“[Alcoholism] is not a disease that can be treated immediately with a medicine but it is related to mental health and requires repeated counselling.”

Returning to High Value, Low Volume

པ།, 06/23/2022 - 11:43

Director General of Tourism Council of Bhutan Dorji Dhradhul speaks about the transformation in the tourism sector. 

Why is the change in tourism happening?

The tourism transformation must be viewed within the larger context of national transformation. It is about the larger vision to prepare Bhutan for a new and resilient future. It is about the role of tourism as a strategic national asset that brings benefit to all Bhutanese and especially our future generation.

The transformation is a return to our root policy of high value, low volume and a renewed commitment to pursue this goal. It will reposition Bhutan as a high value, exclusive destination for discerning tourists. This also translates to raising our standard of infrastructure and service, re-skilling and up-skilling our service providers and providing meaningful and well-paying jobs that ultimately enhance the quality of life of all Bhutanese people.

 Is this the right time for the tourism transformation? 

The pandemic has exposed our vulnerabilities and has been a wake-up call to reflect and recalibrate. We want to emerge stronger out of the pandemic and make our tourism sector stronger and more resilient, by ensuring better incomes for all, so this is the right time.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

The proposed SDF seems to be very high. Will this not result in a decreased number of tourists?  

The current SDF was implemented since 1991 and has not been increased for the last two decades, and does not reflect inflation, rising purchasing power and growth of tourism pressure on the environment and society. The proposed SDF reflects our position as a high value, exclusive destination defined by the result of carefully crafted policies that have placed sustainability at the forefront. The SDF will address the rising negative externalities such as the carbon footprint of visitors and also uplift the quality of our infrastructure and services.

The luxury tourism market is one of the growing segments of the tourism industry, projected to grow to USD 45 billion by 2027 (Global Market Insight). Therefore, we have huge potential to tap into this market, which entails shifts in the customer segment for Bhutan.

What are the plans to make Bhutan a high value destination?

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Reinforcing high value, low volume tourism will result in a major facelift in the quality of infrastructure, services and experiences that will benefit not only the tourists but ourselves as well. Additionally, the overall transformation will provide the opportunity for service providers and stakeholders to innovate and grow.

Bhutan will re-brand itself and at the national level, the Government will invest heavily in branding, promotion, and marketing.

What are opportunities from the tourism transformation?

Under the current system, a tourist has not been able to fully exercise individual choice and subsequently, Bhutanese service providers have not had the incentives to innovate. The transformation provides huge opportunities for Bhutanese to innovate a range of diverse and authentic Bhutanese products and experiences.

As we provide high value services, Bhutanese people will also enjoy the high value infrastructure and services developed for tourism.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

While tourism will continue to be an important economic sector, given Bhutan’s long-term strategy of developing talent in areas such as IT, banking and finance, engineering, biotechnology etc, the scale of tourism is also being strategically calibrated. We must keep in mind that we only have a limited pool of youth in the country. If current practice continues, all our youth can be easily absorbed by tourism. Since the sector in its current set-up does not require much skills, it also becomes an easy employment option and an easy way to make money. This would however be a grave injustice to our youth.  

The transformation therefore places our youth at the center and is aimed to ensure that the economic gains trickle down to our youth in the form of higher skills and remuneration and youth will be highly trained, skilled and specialized in their fields of operation, also making their work more meaningful and fulfilling.

To be continued ….

Mongar, Gelephu hospitals to perform overseas Visa health screening

པ།, 06/23/2022 - 11:42

Nima Wangdi  

For the convenience of the people wishing to travel abroad, two more regional hospitals, Mongar and Gelephu will facilitate health examinations for overseas Visa purposes from next month provided the ministry of foreign affairs approves it.

This is expected to reduce the workload at the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH). Only JDWNRH is recognised to perform health examinations for overseas Visa purposes and it led to a large number of backlog cases.

Having received some cases of people travelling all the way from places like Trashigang to Thimphu for the health examination and not being able to get appointments, regional hospitals starting the service should help.

Health ministry officials said the ministry proposed foreign affairs ministry to allow the two regional hospitals to perform the task. This is in view of the increase in demand from the people. The foreign affairs ministry would approve it in consultation with the receiving countries.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

The official said if needed the service may also be started in some cluster hospitals with approval from the foreign affairs ministry in future. “Board of doctors are also being constituted in the cluster hospitals in Tsirang, Wangdue, Samtse, Bumthang, Trashigang, Dewathang and Phuentsholing.”

An MoH official said, JDWNRH currently is working hard to clear the backlog. “It is expected to complete in about two weeks.”

JDWNRH’s officiating medical superintendent, Dr Norbu said that the hospital was working hard to clear all the backlog so that people can apply in time for July admission. “We have increased the number of daily cases from eight to some 40 today including weekends.”

Dr Norbu said, with the backlog and the pressure from the people, the JDWNRH administration requested doctors and other professionals to work for free. “We are doing this following the order from the Ministry of Health.”

Change approach to fight drugs

པ།, 06/23/2022 - 11:40

When the Royal Bhutan Police embarked on its fight against drugs in December 2013, they claimed the nationwide drug crackdown would make the society drug-free.

Almost nine years later, the fight is still on. Offences related to controlled substances are a major issue in the country today.  The number of drug peddlers has not reduced. Police publish their photos on social media almost every other day.

During the peak of the pandemic, controlled substances and tobacco products were some of the most trafficked items from across the border. In 2020 alone, even when movements were restricted, there were 455 cases of drugs, which included substance abuse by minors.

After the nationwide drug crackdown began, more than 7,000 people have gone behind the bars. Records state 712 people were arrested in 2014 for offences related to drugs, followed by 515 in 2014. In 2017, 555 people were arrested for the offence and in 2018, 620 people were arrested.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

What is clear from the figures is that the number of people involved in drugs did not decrease after the crackdown. And with drugs penetrating the borders as it did before the crackdown, the fight did not meet its intended purpose.

This makes us question the mode of the operation. Many are asking if our police are catching the small fish and leaving the drug lords or the main people who are supplying the controlled substances. But there is a good news. Thimphu police claimed one of the main dealers was arrested from Jungshina recently. We are yet to know the details.

However, with the illegal drug trade continuing, if not flourishing, isn’t it time to find some effective drug control mechanism? Isn’t it time to focus on treatment, awareness and sensitisation?

We need a rationale drug control programme that includes everyone, not just law enforcers and penalties. Educating society on the adverse impacts of pharmaceutical drugs and substance abuse on youth is necessary.

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});

Society is failing miserably when we dump our youth, who experimented marijuana and abused it, together with hard core criminals.

We also have to streamline the application of laws on drugs.

While our law enforcers and nodal agency for matters related to narcotics drugs, psychotropic substances and substance abuse, close their eye on a firm that produces and sells hemp extracts in Thimphu, they raid homes and farms to curb the distribution of marijuana. Like farmers of Baelangdra in Wangduephodrang and Shingkhar Lauri in Samdrupjongkhar, 100s of people go behind bars for possession and trafficking of cannabis.   

We need a society free of drugs, but we also need rationale laws and their application.