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Lack of investment in value addition slackens agri marketing

ཕུར།, 07/29/2020 - 11:11

Choki Wangmo 

While tonnes of raw agricultural products are stranded at various auction yards which were procured through Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited’s (FCBL) buyback scheme, the agriculture ministry is yet to implement the value addition processes.

Since June 18, FCBL started buying 24 agriculture produce from farmers at government-approved rates ranging between Nu 4 and Nu 48. To avoid such lapses in marketing the farm products, value addition is at the centre of agribusiness plans.

This, however, has received little attention in implementation.

The officials in the ministry said that value addition had huge potential for a small country like Bhutan to create income and employment opportunities but the country should have an impact-investment model. But the government should take risks to invest in niche products for a niche market. It requires one-off investment in developing technology and human resource.

“Although outsiders prefer Brand Bhutan, we cannot supply because the market linkage is lost. There is no enough investment in agriculture marketing and value addition. Value addition of agri products has never received the attention it requires, therefore, there is no growth,” he said.

For example, Bhutanese exports potatoes and buy it in value added forms like chips from India at a higher cost. To reach wider markets through value addition, the products should meet international quality standards, certification and consistency in production, which again requires investment.

To achieve that private sector engagement is a way forward, which again needs the government’s support to create proper channels for interested entrepreneurs which can be made possible only if impact investment is implemented.

The production should be demand-driven to avoid overflow of products in the market, said the official. He said that if Bhutan could produce turmeric powder for Indian markets and sell at high market value of Nu 5,000 per kilogram, there would not be a lack of market.

“We are not doing it because we lost our focus,” he added.

Since Bhutan’s cost of production is comparatively higher than that of the neighbouring countries, farmers could never sell products with the market price at par with India, he said. “But we are not without options—identify target consumers and create a market for the product. For instance, Bhutanese red rice has a high demand in the US sold at a premium price.”

Currently, the farmers and entrepreneurs do not have a proper market. Creating price gap system instead of buyback scheme was the key, said the official. “Buyback scheme is unsustainable and makes people dependent on the government.”

To create price gap system, farmers can be asked to grow pulses for school feeding programmes instead of importing from India but the government should cover Nu 5-10 difference to encourage growers. It would save money on logistics, supply system, surplus management, and also bring growth in the agriculture industry. This is the ministry’s future plan.

The official said that villagers brought farm produce at the main market in the capital and sold their products at a throwaway price to wholesalers. “As an institution, the market should be transparent which requires investment in market logistics and market system. If 15 wholesalers control the market, price control is in their hands.”

To strengthen the agriculture sector, the agriculture ministry has been allocated a budget of Nu 7.17 billion for the financial year, which is an addition of about 10 percent of the total budget appropriation.

Some of the major activities are land development, construction of cold storage facilities, installation of input supply infrastructure facilities, enterprise development programmes, and development of the livestock sector.

Invest in skills development

ཕུར།, 07/29/2020 - 10:53

Technical and Vocational Education and Training, otherwise called TVET, has the real potential to solve a lot of problems facing the country today—lack of skilled manpower in the many sectors and the rising youth unemployment in particular.

The labour ministry’s multi-cohort tracer survey has found that there is demand-supply mismatch—there is a steady flow of TVET graduates every year but no takers.

This has always been the case. In a society where civil service jobs are made more attractive, now with political parties promising salary rise for civil service employees, such a reality is bound to take root in the system.

What are the immediate and long-term implications?

With an ever-increasing need for skilled workers, so the shortage. It has become all too convenient for many agencies and organisations in the country to blame Covid-19 for their failure to deliver the services they ought to, by right and responsibility.

Data gathered from the two cohorts (2016-2018 and 2013-2015), the graduates were asked to rate the relevance of the TVET training programmes in the labour market on four scales—poor, fair, good, and very good. Clarity or intelligibility is one thing. Viewed from a better-perched vantage point, it means the survey could have been a little more informative and unconventional.

This is the picture of complacency that is taking root in the system. How this is finding a fecund ground to grow is a different matter altogether. Failing to chart a vision of development—short-, medium-, and long-term—will invite a serious problem in the near future. That’s the real danger.

But then, that we even have a reading from a tracer survey will do us many good.

Self-sufficiency is a national dream; it has been since the first day of the five-year plan in 1961. Why is it still a dream?

There are two things that we need to achieve urgently as we look forward—skills (hard and soft) development and agriculture. Achieving these two national dreams, we are secure.

So long as TVET is placed way down low, we will continue to face the same problem. So with agriculture. But what is by far more important is that such vitally important national dreams should find sound footing. What’s holding us back?

TVET has to be the lead because it has the potential to address the urgent needs of the country. We have a lot to more to do to bring our soul and role together. This whole affair, sometimes, is called nation-building.

Are we investing in it enough?

Another poor show at Yartsa Genbub auction

ཕུར།, 07/29/2020 - 10:52

Collectors not happy with price offered at Dangchu auction

Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

Days and weeks spent looking for cordyceps in the mountains of Tangchulay, Yango and Metha-Chutha this year had disappointed villagers of Dangchu gewog in Wangdue as the fungi they collected couldn’t be sold or price were poor at auctions.

At the auctions held in Dangchu on July 27 and 28, the poor price bidders offered left cordyceps collectors worried. A seller, Chogyel Wangmo sold her 150 pieces of the fungi for Nu 3,000. The same amount of fungi would have fetched her Nu 20,000 last year, she said. “I am really sad with the price. I am worried about this year’s expenditure.”

On July 27, the auction saw 51 sellers and six bidders. All bidders were people from Dangchu gewog, mostly from Nobding. Yesterday, there were over 40 sellers and 10 bidders.

If not for the Covid-19 restrictions on travel and export, Gyeltshen, a collector, said that exporters also took part in the auctions. At yesterday’s auction, Gyeltshen sold his 250 grams of class I category A (IA) fungi. IA category is the top quality cordyceps as rated by Common Standards of Quality for Cordyceps in 2019.

The standard rates fungi into class I to XI, with I being the best and XI the worst. In each class, the fungi are categorised into A, B and C depending on the colour of the fungi.

Gyeltshen said that his IA quality fungi would have fetched him a minimum of Nu 1.4 million (M) per kg in last year’s market. This year, he sold it for Nu 1.02M per kg.  “My 250 grams fetched me Nu 255,000 this year,” he said.

Buyers from the locality said that they were hesitant to buy the cordyceps as there were not many exporters. A local who participated as a bidder at the auction, Tashi Penjor, said that without the market ensured, buying the cordyceps were risky. “The buyers here are also not sure if they can risk buying the cordyceps. What if we can’t sell it?” he said.

Seeing the poor price, many sellers at the auction withdrew. On July 27, six collectors withdrew from the auction after hearing the price.

Others resorted to auctioning only a small quantity of their collection. Hoping to get a better price, the collectors are planning to take part in the next auctions, which will be held in Sephu and Gangtey gewogs in Wangdue.

Covid-19 impact on Bhutanese in Kuwait

ཕུར།, 07/29/2020 - 10:52

Yeshey Lhadon

Many Bhutanese have returned from Kuwait, but there are still others who have decided to stay back.

The Government of Kuwait has decided to restore normal life and reopen economy; lifting lockdown; and relaxing curfew hours. Bhutanese in Kuwait have started to work again.

Covid-19 is no longer seen as a threat in Kuwait.

Leki Wangmo, a Bhutanese working for Americana Quality, said that she never thought about returning to Bhutan.

She said: “I am happy here, in Kuwait. We may be few in number but we can support each other in the foreign land and motivate each other,” she added.

The Bhutanese in Kuwait have experienced three months of lockdown and partial curfews amidst the increasing Covid-19 cases.

Tashi Yangzom works for Krispy Kreme in Farwaniya, governorate is the most populous of the six governorates of Kuwait. She said: “I wish I experienced lockdown.” Tashi and her friends have been making and packing doughnuts for export during lockdown.

She considers herself lucky to receive full salary and believes that her work place is safe because she only deals with her colleagues, not outsiders.

Five of Tashi’s colleagues returned home after lockdown. She chose to stay behind because returning home for her would mean facing with the situation of joblessness.

Lokindra, who also works for Krispy Kreme, said that the pandemic did not affected his job. He said: “I didn’t feel the pinch of the pandemic, but not everyone is as lucky as I am. I am scared of getting exposed to Covid-19 but I have to keep working to get paid.”

Another Bhutanese in Kuwait said that she never imagined that Covid-19 case would get that serious. “I thought of Covid-19 as some sort of flu or cough and cold from the start,” she said. She started panicking when she heard that some of her friends returning to Bhutan tested positive. She even registered with the Bhutanese Embassy in Kuwait to return home once.

Choki Gyeltshen works as a cook at Joy Café and Restaurant in Kuwait. He didn’t have much work to do during the lockdown and survived on food allowance provided by the company he works with. He said: “I am excited and worried at the same time as people are now more relaxed and activities normal have resumed.”

His company entertains walkaway guests, takeaways, and home delivery. The risk of getting infected is less for him because he is mostly in the kitchen. “I will stay in Kuwait as long as my Bhutanese friends are here. If they choose to leave, I will return also,” he said.

Some Bhutanese still wishes to return home but their companies have been holding them back.

A Bhutanese working in Kuwait shared how tired, bored and lazy he felt, as he had no work for more than six months. He recently started working with KFC store in Mahboula. He said: “I was so tired of sleeping, to the extent that my rib cage started hurting.”

He said that he faced hard times to survive without income. “If one of my roommates got infected, I would have also even as I shut myself in,” he said.

He wanted to return home to Bhutan but he was scared of testing positive. He said: “I didn’t want Bhutanese people to panic because the Bhutanese returning home from the Middle East were testing positive.”

“If the company allows, many Bhutanese would still want to return home,” he said.

BBS’s importance undermined: Chairman

ཕུར།, 07/29/2020 - 10:46

The board opts for open competition to lead BBSCL

Yangchen C Rinzin

The Bhutan Broadcasting Service Corporation Limited (BBSCL) on July 25 announced the vacancy for the post of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) putting rumours to rest that the government would appoint a candidate of their choice.

The current CEO’s tenure ends in September, but rumours were rife that the former BBS’s current affair producer and a Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s member, Dawa would be the CEO of BBS.

Meanwhile, this is the first time that the post of the national television’s CEO was announced for open competition.

BBS’s Chairman of the board of directors, Dasho Kinley Dorji said that the vacancy announcement is proof that the rumours are not true. “I’m not surprised because ours is an oral society where gossip and rumour can be a powerful force,” the chairman said. “There used to be a joke in the civil service that, if you want a promotion or even a Red Scarf, start a rumour to remind the authorities.”

The vacancy announcement specified that a candidate should have Bachelor’s degree and preferably Master’s Degree with at least 10 years work experience along with two years at leadership or management. “We hope that there will be many applicants to choose from and have someone capable to manage BBS,” said the chairman.

On the qualification criteria, Dasho Kinley Dorji also said that he tried to raise the profile of CEO so that it would also raise the profile of BBS and the Bhutanese media by raising the minimum criteria. The Chairman explained that BBS, as the only national television service as well as being a leading radio and multimedia news organisation, is being somewhat undermined and its importance is not fully appreciated.

BBS earlier announced that a candidate would be at a director’s level and should have 15 years of work experience but later changed it to 10 years. The corporate governance guidelines, it was learnt, did not allow BBS to do that.

Stressing on the importance of BBS, the chairman said that BBS influences every person as nearly every Bhutanese citizen watches BBS from youngest to the oldest in rural and urban areas. “This is why the CEO is important and so are the potential candidates,” the chairman said. “Bhutanese society as a whole must understand that the CEO of BBS is not just a job, but an important responsibility.”

It is important for the CEO, not necessarily to be a journalist, but to really understand the impact of the media on society, according to the chairman. “Just think about the reach, the influence, and implications, not to speak about the sensitivities in our multiparty political environment.”

“In a way, it is critical that the CEO, like all media professionals, is fair and objective and clearly outside of politics. In fact, in the media world, we say that if people complain about your work you are probably doing something right.”

Coming from a journalism background and known for his scathing criticisms of established systems, Dasho Kinley Dorji said that he is against the categorisation of state-owned enterprises (SoE). BBS is a B category SOE. 

“How do you compare a bank, a media organisation, an industry, municipality, a government department or division, or even a ministry? I actually think that placing a social service organisation below a profit-making organisation is antithetical to GNH,” he said.

BBS had been trying to become a public sector broadcaster (PSB). The corporation has also drafted a Bill to change its status to a PSB station.

Restored irrigation canal revives paddy cultivation in Ngatshang 

ཕུར།, 07/29/2020 - 10:45

Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

After remaining fallow for over a decade, around 35 acres of paddy fields in Wobkhar, a few kilometres below Yadi town along the Sherimoong gewog road is cultivating paddy again.

More than 30 households of Yekhar and Pelshuphu chiwogs in Ngatshang gewog, Mongar are reviving the paddy cultivation in the place.

It is just about half of 100 households of two chiwogs in the area. The other landowners are yet to start.  

Farmers decided to revive the fields after the gewog maintained the irrigation canal. Plenty of rain this summer helped.

Farmers said that lack of adequate irrigation forced them to leave their fields fallow. The irrigation canal drawing water from the small brook nearby his village, which was the main source, was washed away by landslide 12 years ago.

Since then Yeshi Tshewang from Yekhar chiwog left his two langdos of wetland fallow.

“The harvest used to be sufficient for my six-member family but we had to give up growing paddy for there was no water,” he said.

Another farmer, Phuntsho Namgay, from Bumpazor village said if adjacent fields were  left fallow then there won’t be sufficient  yield to harvest due to predation  by wild animals.

“We’ll insist rest of the landowners to join us and cultivate their fields compulsorily.”

The gewog supported with pipes to maintain the irrigation canal and tap the spring water.

The farmers are also getting a permanent irrigation canal soon after the ongoing new 9-km irrigation channel from Jabari, Chaskhar gewog is complete.

Ngatshang gup, Dorji Leki, said the project was expected to complete towards the end of this year or early next year.   A farm road was constructed in 2017.

Farmers are also planning to grow commercial winter vegetables once their perennial water problem is solved.

TVET graduates need a qualification pathway 

ལྷག, 07/28/2020 - 11:22

Yangchen C Rinzin

Most Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) graduates were deprived of the opportunity to upgrade their skills and knowledge in the absence of a qualification pathway.

Among the TVET graduates from 2016-2018 and 2013-2015 cohorts, only 30 percent had upgraded their TVET qualification while 70 percent did not, which lead to “dead-end learning”. This, according to the TVET Graduate Study, was mainly because of limited experience by graduates and most current TVET courses were unattractive.

The report is the result of a multi-cohort online tracer survey of Technical Training Institutes (TTI) and Institutes of Zorig Chusum (IZCs) launched yesterday.

Most of the 30 percent, who up-gradated their qualification, had completed the National Certificate level. Few (7-14%) studied further to obtain a diploma. Only 1-3 percent of these graduates managed to upgrade to university level through the formal education system.

“It showed that the most common pathway for qualification up-grade was through the government-funded national certificate level courses within the country,” the report stated. “The second highest was through self-financed.”

The number of TVET graduates who upgraded through the funding support from employers was insignificant, it indicated that employers rarely support up-gradation of qualification.

“Most employers were not keen to support skills up-gradation and education improvement of their employees,” the report stated. “This also indicates that employers expect the government and donors to support their human resources development programmes.”

However, TTIs and IZCs do not provide self-financed courses.

This is why about 5-10 percent of the TVET graduates had managed to study diploma, degree, and class XII programmes in the colleges and private TVET institutions on private funding.

Many TVET graduates during the survey expressed their aspirations to up-grade their qualifications even in the absence of a clear education pathway.

‘While the result is encouraging, the question is whether they will get the opportunities to do so,” the report stated. “The lack of clear TVET routes seems to be the reason why TVET system is not able to attract high-achieving learners and mentally prepared youth.”

When asked what qualification up-gradation the graduates aspire, many desired for diploma and degree. However, about 1,200 graduates wished not to seek any up-gradation because qualification up-gradation will not lead to any improvement in their job position.

Some shared that they might have to quit their present jobs and that their employers may not approve the proposals for further studies or training. A few also said that up-grading was useless, as they would not get training-related jobs while some said there won’t be any difference in the income.

The report also revealed that more than 50 percent of female graduates found it difficult to get jobs compared to their male counterparts, as most employers prefer male graduates.

The report recommended that TVET reform must revisit Bhutan Vocational Qualification Framework to give a clear path to up-gradation, make public TVET system agile to allow up-skilling, and rationalise technical job structure and position, pay, incentives and career progressions.

Meanwhile, the labour ministry also launched annual TVET Statistics of Bhutan.

It was to address issues related to inconsistent data collection which has led to unreliable data, duplication, gap and data fatigue among data providers and no effort was made to collect data from other public training providers (OTTPs). Most of the private training providers had weak data system.

The first annual statistics report contains comprehensive TVET statistics from 2003 until October 2019.

“TVET sector assessment had called for the need to improve TVET data management and its use for strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation in 2016,” the statistics report states. “However, it never materialised until this year.”

But this report is not exhaustive. Data were collected from eight TTIs and IZCs and 67 OTTPs, seven OTTPs did not resubmit the data after review, 17 OTTPs refused to submit any data, while three training providers were new, and seven were closed. Of the 115, 64 training providers are based in Thimphu.

The report was produced to serve as the baseline information for policymakers, planners, and managers of various institutions, government organisations, donors, private, NGO and corporate stakeholders and research agencies for TVET development and promote TVET research.

Some of the key proposals made are modernisation and overhauling existing data system in the TVET system like data cataloguing, need for data policy for data collection, and requirement of dedicated people with sufficient statistical knowledge and skills are to manage the TVET data system.

“Currently, there is no proper way of tracking the trainees after graduation, which is why decentralisation of the data collection system is required,” the report states. “Dropout and repetition data were not consistent and complete in both TTIs and IZCs and OTTPs.”

Training providers are also suggested to maintain the age records of their trainees so that official TVET age can be determined in the future.

Consumer prices rise amid Covid-19

ལྷག, 07/28/2020 - 11:22

MB Subba 

Consumer prices rose sharply from March to May in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) published recently by the National Statistics Bureau (NSB).

The year-on-year consumer price index (CPI) in May increased by 4.17 percent from May 2019. This means that on average, the consumers are paying 4.17 percent more than what they paid in May 2019 for goods and services.

The average inflation rate during the six months before the country detected its first Covid-19 case on March 5 had remained slightly over 2 percent.

The CPI is a measure of average price changes in the basket of goods and services purchased by households over time. It shows how much, on average, prices of goods and services have increased or decreased from a particular reference period.

The CPI rose sharply from 2.46 percent in February to 3.26 and 4.55 percent in March and April respectively.

As a result of the price increase in the economy, the Purchasing Power of Ngultrum (PPN) dropped by 5.6 percent in the past 12 months from May 2019 to May 2020, the NSB report states.

According to the statistics, the purchasing power as measured by CPI was Nu 66.9 as of May 2020.   

This means, Nu 100 in May 2020 is worth only Nu 66.9 at December 2012 price.

Among all the goods and services, food prices saw the highest increase in the wake of the pandemic. The percentage increase in the prices of food for the months of March, April and May were 6.53, 9.24 and 8.76 percent respectively.

The prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages also rose by 8.99 percent in May. In the same month, the prices of alcoholic beverages and betel nuts increased by 5.73 percent.

However, non-food goods saw a low inflation of 0.42 only. Similarly, the inflation in May was 3.14 percent for clothing and footwear, and 1.23 percent for housing and utilities.

Overall, transport, communication, recreation, and restaurants and hotels saw negative inflation.  Furnishings, household equipment and routine household maintenance recorded a price rise of less than 2 percent.

The statistics show that the education CPI increased by 3.78 percent.

According to NSB, the CPI covers the goods and services consumed by the households and a sample of goods and services are selected using the household expenditure data to measure the inflation experienced by the households.

Prices of the sampled goods and services are collected from urban areas in 20 dzongkhags on monthly, quarterly and annual frequency depending on the price volatility of the items.

Wangdigang bypass road to open today 

ལྷག, 07/28/2020 - 11:20

Nima | Gelephu

The major roadblock at Wangdigang bypass road along the Gelephu-Trongsa highway is expected to be cleared by today evening, according to Department of Roads (DoR) officials in Zhemgang.

The road remained closed for the past four days following a massive rockslide that buried over 180 metres of the road on July 23.

DoR’s chief engineer at Tingtibi, Zhemgang, CB Mongar said several overhanging rocks had hampered the excavation works. Two excavators were deployed to clear the block.

Only about 30 metres of the road was left to clear as of yesterday.

The traffic was diverted towards Tingtibi-Zhemgang-Wangdigang secondary national highway.

With the bypass road still closed, the distance between Trongsa Gelephu has increased almost by 40 kilometres.

DoR officials said major roadblocks were reported along Panbang-Tingtibi highway and Gelephu Trongsa highway.

Over 10 roadblocks were reported within 10 km along the Gelephu Trongsa highway last week.

Representatives of Chaling and Shongphu appeal to court

ལྷག, 07/28/2020 - 11:19

Over the Merak GC road issue

Neten Dorji | Trashigang

There is a new twist to the now controversial issue of blacktopping the Merak gewog centre (GC) road.

Yesterday, representatives of Shongphu and Chaling chiwogs appealed to the Trashigang court to investigate if the government’s decision to blacktop the road from Khardung has violated the Dzongkhag Tshogdu’s (DT) decision.

The DT last September decided to blacktop the GC road from Chaling in Shongphu gewog.

Led by two chiwog tshogpas, four people appealed to the court yesterday insisting that the road should be blacktopped from Chaling as per the DT resolution.   “Instead of upholding the DT decision, the government has intervened and overturned a DT decision,” said Chaling Tshogpa, Lobzang Dawa. “DT is the highest decision making body in the dzongkhag to promote balanced social economic development in the dzongkhag.”

He said that DT has decided twice to blacktop the Merak GC road via Chaling considering it would benefit about 300 households and the road via Khardung is expected to benefit only 80 households.  “We don’t even need a local government in the country, if the government overtakes the decisions of local governments.”

Tshogpa Nima Dorji of Shongphu chiwog said that the Prime minister told them to blacktop the road till Sheteymey from Merak and then the government would decide. “But the order from the secretary of the work and human settlement ministry is completely different,” he said. The secretary earlier this month wrote to the Trashigang dzongdag to stick to the government’s stand and directed the dzongdag to blacktop the road via Khardung at the earliest.

The representatives also alleged that the government has favoured the ruling MP’s constituency. Khardung falls in the constituency of the works and human settlement minister, Dorji Tshering. “It’s clear for anyone to see. Khardung village falls in the Radhi- Sakteng constituency and Shongphu constituency belongs to the opposition MP Passang Dorji (PhD),” a representative, Sonam Dorji said.

“The ministry has ordered the blacktopping of the Merak GC road from Khardung. We are not happy with the decision of the government,” the appeal letter stated.

Another representative, Jigme Thinley from Shongphu said most Merak residents use the route from Chaling because it shortened the distance to the dzongkhag by 5km. “The immediate beneficiaries would be highlanders, but it also would help people of three chiwogs, Tongling chiwog of Radhi, Chaling and Shongphu.”

Representatives are also picking on the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s slogan of ‘narrowing the gap.’ “How would the government narrow the gap if they select a few people over many? How will governments eradicate poverty and solve the rural-urban migration problem, if the government don’t look for longer term benefits,” said Jigme Thinley.

He added that the government’s stand was on a limited budget and length of the road. “We are not saying the whole road should be blacktopped this year.”

Last week, officials of the Gross National Happiness clarified on the government’s decision. The GNHC secretary, Thinley Namgyel, told Kuensel that the Merak gewog blacktopping project was being undertaken with the common minimum infrastructure (CMI) budget, which is over and above the funds allocated to local governments as per the resource allocation formula.

The purpose of the GC road, GNHC officials said, was to provide the shortest route between the dzongkhag headquarters and the gewog. The road, they said, was initially supposed to go via Khardung and that blacktopping budget was allocated accordingly.

On the number of households expected to benefit if the blacktopping was done from Chaling, GNHC officials had said that the idea about blacktopping the GC road is not so much about the population coverage but facilitating the shortest distance between the gewog and the dzongkhag headquarters.

The GNHC secretary had said that the budget belonged to Merak gewog and that the people of Merak should decide which road should be blacktopped.

Dropping out of school

ལྷག, 07/28/2020 - 11:18

Had it not been for the glasses he wears, Kesang, 19, would have discontinued his studies. The 19-year-old student wanted to join the armed forces. He applied and was disqualified. Aware of his poor eyesight, Kesang didn’t apply for his school-leaving certificate unlike his friends.

The exact numbers are not known, but there are reports of many students dropping out or wanting to discontinue schooling. This is happening during the long break forced by the Covid-19 pandemic. Although no studies were done to blame the pandemic, a report and analysis would clear the air.

The education ministry had done all it could in its capacity to keep students engaged during the school closure. On the command of His Majesty The King, the government is spending millions in developing study materials, reprioritising teaching and curriculum and teachers are walking to far-flung villages to distribute the self- instruction materials.  This is besides the online education, the subsidy on internet charges and lessons on television and the radio.

Children have dropped out of school even before the Covid-19 pandemic. Dropping out of school is not new in Bhutan. The annual education statistics, 2018 shows a declining dropout rate, but still, a dropout rate of 8.2 percent at Class VII and 4.7 percent at Class IX level was observed.

During normal times, a decreasing dropout rate indicates the efficiency of the education system. It would be unfair to say the same if we are finding a higher rate of dropout this year.  However, the pandemic could provide the opportunity to see what is happening in the education system.

The pandemic has opened a lot of openings for engagement if not employment. The various programmes of the government to help people affected by the pandemic have lured many young ones. The shortage of both skilled and unskilled workers, the skilling and reskilling programmes and other initiatives like the Build Bhutan Project and focus on agriculture, are too good to not attract students, especially those in the dzongkhags.

Officials, Kuensel learnt, are after school principals for sharing information. It would be more productive if we can channelise that energy and time to find out why students are dropping out of school. On the one hand, we have an unemployment problem, on the other, if students are dropping out to look for jobs, there is something amiss. If university graduates are returning to farms or joining the police as constables, if a Class XII graduate is applying for jobs meant for a Class VI graduate and if graduates from the technical institutes are not finding jobs, there is something wrong.

Many go to school with an aim to find a job and make a living. Finding jobs is getting difficult even with a university degree. Meanwhile, Kesang’s sisters convinced him to finish Class X, the minimum academic qualification needed even to get a driving job.

Preservation of Luetshokha tsho completes

ལྷག, 07/28/2020 - 11:17

Phurpa Lhamo  | Wangdue

In an effort to preserve the Luetshokha tsho in Samtengang, Wangdue, cleaning, construction of footpaths and plantation of trees has been completed.

The preservation project began in May this year.

Concerns were raised in the past regarding the drying of the lake. Today, water to the lake is sourced from the Ganjab-Samtengang irrigation channel. The channel and the lake are around 800 metres apart.

Nyisho Gup Dorji Dorji said that the pipeline from the source to the lake was renovated. “Earlier, the pipeline was underground and it was damaged. Now it has been brought on the surface to make it easy to work and fix it if there are issues.”

The gewog received Nu 1.4 million (M) from the European Union (EU) to execute preservation activities.

“The EU has also ensured us the budget for future if the work is as per their mandate,” said Gup Dorji Dorji.

Around 150 DeSuups also helped clean the area. Nearly 400 trees were planted around the lake.

Preservation works were also done in 2016. Bhutan Trust Fund had funded the cleaning of the lake and its periphery, which was invaded by weeds.

Luetshokha tsho is one of the oldest lakes in Samtengang.

It is believed that current lake area was first used by a man for dry land cultivation.

“One day a man found that the mermaid had already settled at the area. He was furious. Being an extraordinary man himself, he took a spade to remove the water from the area,” Dorji Dorji said.

It is believed that the mermaid then promised blessings for generations to come if she was given the land to settle.

This complicated relation is significant in the traditional belief system.

“So, it is said that the villagers never got close to the lake. However, that changed when a highlander visited the lake while she was spinning yarn on spindle,” Dorji Dorji said.

When the mermaid became furious and started to attack her, the woman is said to have blinded the mermaid with the metal spindle.

“Today, the lake is peaceful,” Dorji Dorji said.

Located near the Samtengang Central School, the lake covers around 31 hectares of land. The lake is around 20km away from Bajo town.

Remote Naro getting closer

ལྷག, 07/28/2020 - 11:16

Thinley Namgay 

The formation cutting of the Naro gewog centre (GC) road in Thimphu will complete soon. Only 3.5 kilometres (km) of work is left to reach Barshong, where the gewog is currently located.

The construction of the 29km GC road from Dodeyna began in 2008.

Department of Roads (DoR) Director-General, Tenzin, said that the formation cutting would be completed next month. “The blacktopping will be done by the dzongkhag after the formation cutting.”

Naro’s Gup Wangchuk said that the work was supposed to completed early this year. However, he said that the challenging geographical terrain, financial constraints, and lack of capable labourers made it difficult to meet the dateline for many years.

DoR is constructing the road with a budget of Nu 40 million. Wangchuk said that the work was not delayed amid the Covid-19 pandemic. “Four excavators are deployed at the site.”

It was the Thimphu Thromde who first carried out the work during the tenure of the first government. However, it was handed to the DoR during the PDP government.

After completing the road, Naro’s 75 households with a population of 310 will reap the benefit. Moreover, cheaper transportation of goods will also take place within the nearby northern highland gewogs such as Lingzhi and Soe where peoples depend on livestock and collection of herbs like Naro.

Currently, people of these highland gewogs are transporting goods from the capital with the help of horses and mule in a harsh climatic condition, especially in winter.

First batch of DeSuups completes month-long duty

ལྷག, 07/28/2020 - 11:15

The first batch of 400 DeSuups who were deputed to the south to support the various agencies patrolling along the borders, have completed their month-long duty period. They were serving in Samtse, Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrupjongkhar.

The DeSuups who volunteered for this exercise were mostly from the 38th, 39th, and 40th batches (the accelerated training programme). A new batch of 400 DeSuups have replaced those who completed the programme.

The RBA, RBP, and DeSuups have been patrolling the borders with the help of volunteers from the National Land Commission, Department of Immigration, forest rangers, community volunteers, and various other organisations since the borders were  closed in March as a preventive measure against Covid-19.  A press release from the De-Suung Office stated that DeSuups have been actively working with different agencies across the country to help prevent Covid-19 and address issues due to the global pandemic.

The 400 De-Suung volunteers were deputed to provide reinforcement and relieve those who have been working round the clock for months along the border. The workload on the people working at the borders has increased over time as people continue to try to covertly cross the border, endangering themselves, their community and the country, according to the press release.

A total of 95 positive cases of Covid-19 have been detected in the country so far, and all of them have been found in people in quarantine through the established protocol for Covid-19 management. Security at the borders and quarantine centres have played an important part in preventing community outbreak.

Since April, 8,391 volunteers were trained during the accelerated De-Suung Training Programme. 1,997 volunteers are being trained for the 41st Batch in nine different locations around the country at the moment. With this, 14,845 DeSuups will have been trained since the Programme started in 2011.

Quarantine in Tshongzom village lifted

ལྷག, 07/28/2020 - 11:15

Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing

After 87 villagers, including the primary contacts,  tested negative for Covid-19 yesterday, the home ministry lifted the community quarantine restrictions placed on Tshongzom in Samtse gewog, Samtse.

The village was placed under community quarantine on July 15 after a resident who was working in Jaigaon had entered the village without informing authorities on July 5. The quarantine period ended yesterday.

There were 53 households in the village that were placed under the community quarantine. About nine of the total households had contact with the person.

Movement of people and vehicles in and out of the community were restricted, except for security vehicles and those transporting essentials. Yesterday, the mandatory quarantine duration for the suspected person was completed and his RTD test came out negative.

Samtse dzongdag Sonam Wangyel said that the community yesterday showed a feeling of “regret and remorse.”

“We have explained to them the importance of reporting,” he said. “If there is a magical word for Covid-19, it is to report.”

Whether people are sure or not, they have to report to the authorities and then the authorities will validate, the dzongdag said.

Although the official entry points are open, Samtse has a herculean task of controlling the countless informal and illegal points of entry ever since the borders were sealed on March 23 as a national pandemic response.

Including the main entry points, there are more than 40 informal entry points. DeSuups, police, forest, gewog officials, civil servants, and local volunteers are monitoring the areas day and night.

Dzongdag Sonam Wangyel said that communities in the border areas have the responsibility to communicate and cooperate.

“They have to do it actively,” he said. “They have to do it unconditionally. It is for their own benefit.”

Gewogs also have people appointed for villagers to report in respective villages, who will inform the gewog administration and further on to higher authorities.

Sonam Wangyel said that the expenses increase due to such carelessness and lapses. Helping with the right information and communication will benefit people and country.

“It also means more people entering legally and fewer people being convicted,” he said.

“They will also have a good place to stay for 21 days. They will have proper health checkups.”

Meanwhile, a Bolero pickup driver from Phongmey, Trashigang was arrested at around 10:30pm at the Chukha checkpoint on July 26, trying to transport five foreign workers from Paro, without following Covid-19 protocol.

According to a press release from the Covid-19 Task Force in Phuentsholing, the foreign workers were worked at a construction company, Noryang, in Paro. The workers were hidden under a tarpaulin sheet at the back, the press release stated.

A preliminary investigation has found that the Bolero driver had agreed to transport the foreign workers for Nu 1,700 each.

Bhutan improves on the new e-Government Development Index

མིག, 07/27/2020 - 11:22

… much needs to be done, says the international report 

Younten Tshedup 

Bhutan has advanced from the medium E-Government Development Index (EGDI) in 2018 to a high-level EGDI group this year according to the United Nations (UN) latest E-Government survey.

Rising 23 places on the index, Bhutan is ranked 103 among the 193 UN member states. Bhutan was ranked 126 and 133 in the last two surveys in 2018 and 2016 respectively.

With the new standings, Bhutan is now listed as one of the leaders in digital government development among the 47 least-developed countries (LDCs) according to the report launched early this month.

The achievement is attributed to the recent improvements in the telecommunications infrastructure that has connected government offices, schools and hospitals, among others.

Also enabling internet connectivity and access to online services including business licenses and customs and trade approvals made up for the major leap in its position.

Officials from the Department of IT and Telecom (DITT) said that the digital skills for government officials and teachers through digital platforms,   international and regional cooperation, which resulted in the deployment of various e-Government systems also contributed to the higher ranking this year.

The UN E-Government Survey is conducted every two years to assess the e-government development status of the member states.

According to a press release from DITT, the report serves as the standard for member states to reflect on their efforts in driving the digital transformation of governance and public administration and also helps them understand what needs to improve.

The report highlighted that despite limited resources and geographical challenges, Bhutan displayed a higher online service index (OSI) level compared to the human capital index (HCI) and telecommunication infrastructure index (TII) levels. These are some of the parameters that every member states are assessed on for the overall EGDI.

The country also maintained a high level of E-Participation Index (EPI) ranking of 82, an improvement from 111 in 2018.

Officials said that one of the key aspects considered during the survey was the incorporation of e-participation features in government portals and websites as vital components of many interaction mechanisms.

Lessons and way  forward 

Officials said that although the country has consistently improved its e-Government ranking over the past surveys, there were many things to reflect and learn from other countries.

The report highlighted that in most of the developing countries there was a high digital skills gap. Because the e-Government initiatives benefit mainly the literate population, governments are advised to prioritise digital skills to bridge the skill gap.

It was found that the leading countries in the EGDI – Denmark, South Korea, Estonia and Finland – have adopted a legal framework for open government to regulate data sharing in open and machine-readable formats within the framework of data protection and privacy legislation.

Most of these countries have also drawn specific strategies for modern technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and deep machine learning to reap their potential benefits.

These countries were also found to be proactive in seeking feedback on the quality of services, collecting e-Government service usage statistics and publishing and sharing them. Citizens were also able to access real-time information on public services.

The report states that Bhutan including other member states have to invest in human capital development with an emphasis on high-level human capital development and public spending in education as it correlates positively with the e-government development index.

The survey also found a gap in the legal and policy framework for electronic transfers, data protection and information privacy including cybercrime prevention that needed to be bridged.

The report stated that a strong inter-regional digital cooperation is encouraged to tackle global challenges, as has been the case with the Covid-19 response strategy worldwide.

“Digital governance is not an end but a means to improve public service delivery and to increase people’s engagement towards enhancing transparency, accountability and inclusion,” the report states.

Audit reminds RBP on its lapses in the construction area

མིག, 07/27/2020 - 11:21

Yangchen C Rinzin 

Not enforcing contract terms, accepting poor quality or defective work and several cases of excess payments are what the Royal Audit Authority found with the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) in its 2019 audit report.

This has lead to huge portion of the Nu 46.183 million (M) irregularities. 

Constructions at the head office in Thimphu alone amounts to Nu 5.409M worth in irregularities. The RBP had accepted various defective works from the construction of four-unit quarters for the deputy chiefs.

Defective works includes road and parking area starting to develop major cracks after completion, partition and retaining walls developing cracks and construction using second-class brick among others. 

The RBP also paid Nu 3.379M for the construction of G+4 storied officers’ quarter despite a difference in the actual work done at the site and the work claimed in the bill by the contractor. RBP accepted defective works and paid Nu 0.260M to the contractor, according to the report. 

 “The RBP also accepted defective works in the blacktopping of internal roads at the prison services division in Chamgang. Grass was found growing on the road indicating a defective work.”

The RBP also accepted works worth Nu 0.616M even when it was not carried out as per specifications. It was also found that the fire service division of RBP in Thimphu also carried out development and construction of building without obtaining permit.

“Apart from carrying out work without permit, the RBP had made several payments against various works that were not carried out as per the specifications.”

The RBP also made inadmissible payments to contractors for various constructions ranging from Nu 0.160M to Nu 7.769M for not carrying work at the site as specified in the bill or payments made for works that was not carried out at the site at all.

Outside Thimphu

The RBP did not enforce terms of contract upon termination of a contractor for breach of contract where the contractor was involved in the construction of integrated academic block at RBP training institute, Jigmeling. 

The RBP Training institute, Jigmeling failed to recover liquidated damages of Nu 3.492M from the same contractor. The RBP was supposed to recover the liquidated damages, as per the contract agreement for not completing work on time. 

The RBP also retained Nu 2.239M to avoid fund lapses, which the audit pointed was in direct contravention to Finance Rules and Regulations 2016. Similarly, the RBP, Trashigang also retained Nu 3M to avoid fund lapses since the construction of officers’ quarters at Phomshing was not completed on time.

“The RBP despite knowing it was a breach of contract for not completing on time, the contractor was not terminated,” the report pointed out. “The work was supposed to complete on August 31 2017, it was incomplete even at the time of audit in January 2019.”

In another case, Nu 2.339M worth liquidated damages was not levied against a contractor for not completing the construction of prison block at Lungzor, Trashigang. Although the contractor was given three-month extension, the record for completion was not recorded. 

The RBP, Trongsa also accepted defective works from a contractor for construction of fire station and garage. The defective works included lapses in retaining wall and plinth protection works. “These had occurred due to inadequate monitoring, assessment and poor workmanship,” the report stated. 

Meanwhile, the RAA had issued 18 audit reports of the home ministry and two reports were issued with “qualified” opinion, there were 85 observations amounting to Nu 58.015M of which Nu 3.794M were resolved as of January 31 2020.

As meat price rises, no one knows who should walk in to control

མིག, 07/27/2020 - 11:20

Yeshey Lhadon

There is a shortage of meat in the market. If it is available, it is beyond the reach of many. This is because without a body to regulate the price, the market force has made meat expensive.

The price of local beef and pork, today, is Nu 450 and Nu 500 respectively. The price of frozen boneless beef ranges from Nu 370 to Nu 450. Beef with bones is Nu 350, Nu 300 for a kilogram of fish, Nu 250 for a kilogram of chicken, and Nu 700 for mutton.

Some shops don’t have the price display board. In one shop, the old rate board says Nu 250 for beef with bone, 350 for boneless beef, Nu 250 for pork, Nu 280 for fish, Nu 450 for sikkam, Nu 220 for frozen chicken, and Nu 250 for local chicken.

Who is responsible for regulating meat price?

The Bhutan Chambers of Commerce and Industries (BCCI) says while it represents the private sector, it does not fix price. While consumers are of the view that the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) monitors meat price, officials said that fixing meat price was not their responsibility.

A member of the now defunct Meat Vendors’ Association, Asalman Rai, said they consult the BCCI every year to fix rates in collaboration with the OCP and the department of trade. The meat price was officially last revised in 2017. The association, according to Asalman Rai, wrote several times to BCCI, requesting for price revision including one last year. “They couldn’t take any action,” he said.

Members of the association said that without authorities responding to their requests, vendors started fixing their own price. “Now the meat vendors no longer listen to their Tshogpa,” said Asalman Rai.

Thimphu has 56 meat vendors. Most shops are selling imported fish, frozen beef and packaged chicken. A few shops sell local meat like beef, pork and mutton. Harka Maya, another vendor blames the price on irregular supply. She used to sell boneless beef for Nu 300.  It is now Nu 400. She said that the prices supplier charge vendors were high. “We make a profit of Nu 50 a kilogram,” she said.

 Another vendor, Sharaj Subba said that he bought pork at Nu 500 per kilogram. He has stopped selling local pork because of the high rate. “I have now begun rearing piglets instead.” Sharaj Subba added that beef prices are high because consumers prefer local beef to frozen beef from India. “We cannot bring down the price,” he said adding that allowing meat-processing facilities would be a sensible approach to address the increasing price.

Meanwhile, consumers keep calling the OCP requesting for intervention.

 OCP’s chief programme officer, Jigme Dorji said his office is carrying out a nationwide study on meat prices and factors leading to price rise. He said the OCP collects market price information (MPI) on essential commodities on a daily basis to keep track of price movement in the market. “If any abnormal increase in the prices come to notice, they make necessary interventions,” he said.

“It’s not that we are going to fix the price. We want to make necessary recommendations to relevant stakeholders to address the issue,” said Jigme Dorji.

Jigme Dorji said that fixing prices was impossible. “But when someone is taking advantage of situations such as the current pandemic, cheating consumers through collusions, unfair means, price rigging, exorbitant rates, we intervene to protect the consumers,” he said.

MPI is published for public use so that the consumers can make informed purchases. The MPIs so far have not reflected meat as an essential commodity.

Our rescue operations must go beyond numbers

མིག, 07/27/2020 - 11:19

Monsoon brings many problems to the rugged Himalayan terrain. When communication lines are disturbed, consequences are far-reaching. Disaster preparedness, however, remains a major problem for the country.

Landslides and roadblocks continue to occur and monsoon has just about begun, which means we will continue to hear about such incidences until towards the tail end of the year. In the Covid-19 days, such disruptions can have a serious impact on the people and businesses.

Constant and uninterrupted supply of essential items is critically important. Many shops in Thimphu have run out of stock. Although the supply of essential items is guaranteed and managed well between the two countries even as borders are closed due to Covid-19 scare, it is important that we ensure that incidences such as roadblocks do not cut the supply chains.

The recent Maochhu incident where four solders of the Royal Bhutan Army lost their lives while saving the lives of people caught in the flash flood is a reminder that we need beef up our disaster preparedness. We haven’t forgotten the Chukha incident where the Wangchhu washed seven boys away. Even after 13 hours, the rescue mission failed.

What with climate change and fragile topography, we will experience more such incidences in the coming days. But how much have we invested in disaster preparedness?

We are a lot better today than we were a decade ago in terms of disaster preparedness but we can and must do a lot more. Raising the level of competence and efficiency is critically important. Otherwise, we would just be adding numbers when we talk about rescue—we now have DeSuup besides the Royal Bhutan Police, Royal Bhutan Army, and forestry officials.

Our rescue operations must go beyond numbers.

However, as monsoon begins to rage, some common sense will do us good. Flash floods and landslides could occur anytime anywhere. If you must travel, ask around for information. The Royal Bhutan Police keeps updating the news of roadblocks. Avoid going near streams and rivers. These simple things can save many unnecessary deaths and pains.

Urban agriculture products face no dearth of market

མིག, 07/27/2020 - 11:18

Choki Wangmo 

While farmers across the country are facing difficulties to find a market for their agricultural products, members of the urban and peri-urban agriculture initiative in Thimphu are confident in marketing their products.

Some of the groups have already started selling vegetables in their locality, DeSuup training programme and dratshangs, among others.

The initiative which rolled out in May has 26 acres of fallow land converted to agricultural land across different areas like Begana, Bebeyna, Kushuchen, Changtagang and thromde areas in the capital. There are 34 groups, mostly laid-off workers from the hospitality sector due to Covid-19.

Jinpa Phuntsho and his group have cultivated more than an acre of land in Begana, from which 18 kilogrammes of cabbage, broccoli, spinach, lettuce, and other crops were sold last month. He said that they grew more varieties to reduce the risk of market non-availability.

Due to newly developed land, he said that the group faced challenges with uncontrolled weed. However, mulching methods helped. “Out of 10 plots of land, six percent wasn’t mulched. The crops which were mulched didn’t need intensive care.”

Jinpa Phuntsho said, “But we did not face a problem with the market. Often, buyers came to the garden.”

Pema Dorji has a tour company and a restaurant in Thimphu. After the pandemic, he cultivated 65 decimals in Begana. Eight of his workers take turns to run the restaurant and work in the garden.

He plans to use his product in the restaurant. 

The chillies and cabbages, however, were attacked by pest and diseases. The agriculture ministry provided natural neem oil to contain the disease outbreak.

Chief coordinator of urban agriculture initiative, BB Rai, said that marketing was at the centre of the initiative. He said that growers were encouraged to cultivate marketable crops with longer shelf life and those which can be processed into byproducts.

Most of the members cultivated chilli, which has commercial value and can be processed into pickles or dried.

The groups were also trained in post-harvest technology in collaboration with National Post-harvest Centre. 

BB Rai said the unsold products could be processed into kimchi, gundurug, carrot candy and other delicacies.

“We also encouraged them to sell the products as they harvest instead of waiting for bulk sales and also keep records,” he said.

The diversity of crops, according to him would ensure nutrition and food security within the family and country at large.

Chilli, cabbage and carrot are major crops grown.

As a part of Covid-19 contingency plan, the initiative was funded by Food and Agriculture Organisation.  The agriculture department is working with dzongkhag officials in Punakha, Bumthang and Sarpang to roll out similar peri-urban agriculture projects in these dzongkhags.

The programme, however, is not without challenges. Few groups have abandoned their plots. The initiative is a new concept in the country which is why it was difficult to reach people.

BB Rai said that the country had no demarcated area for urban agriculture and in the future there was a need for the thromde to identify government and private fallow lands.

Once the impact of the pandemic improves, there is a fear of how the initiative would sustain.

“Conflict with stray animals is rampant even in urban areas,” he said.

“But we are hopeful that the initiative would teach our youths that agriculture is a viable profession,” he added.

ཤོག་ལེབ་ཚུ།