Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Job fair to offer about 350 posts

29 April, 2008 - About 225 jobless youth who completed Class X could find employment this summer after 17 agencies announced their vacancies before the job fair scheduled for next month.

Representatives of companies and corporations declared about 350 job vacancies in all to the labour and human resource ministry in a meeting held in Thimphu on April 23.

Druk green power corporation (DGPC) offered 41 slots, followed by Penden cement authority ltd with 27 job vacancies. Bhutan power corporation ltd will recruit 40, including 20 engineers this year.

However, most of the company representatives complained of acute shortages of professionals like engineers and legal officers. For instance, DGPC has 18 vacancies for engineers and most of the companies present at the meeting did not have a single legal officer. Representatives said that there was a shortage of experts too.

“DHI’s actual requirement is 30 people but we’re working with 18 staff at the moment because of the lack of qualified people,” said DHI’s executive director, Damber S Kharka.

The secretary for the labour ministry, Dasho (Dr) Sonam Tenzin, said that the private sector and the government should work in close consultation to create a successful labour force. “Earlier, the budget for human resource development in the private sector could not be used effectively mainly because there was no proper coordination between private and government agencies,” said the secretary.

The president of the hotel association of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuk said that the hotel industry had a lot of employment opportunities, but there was a shortage of skilled or trained human resources. “There is a lack of training institutes in the country and the hotel industry can’t move ahead because of the lack of skilled manpower,” he said.

Ministry officials will soon meet with officials from the hotel association and the construction association to chalk out a proper human resource development action plan to start immediately. Dasho (Dr) Sonam Tenzin emphasized that they must go about immediately improving conditions in the private sector.

The ministry is extending an invitation to all potential employers, private sector and corporate, to participate in the forthcoming job fair in May.

The five job fairs held so far have employed 1,070 job seekers.

Yet another success story by the trainees of the Bhutan centre of excellence (BCE), a private firm in Thimphu.

Of the 29 trainees, who left a month ago for Delhi to attend interviews, 25 are now comfortably employed and reaping the fruits of the 6-month training at the centre. The director of BCE, Singhey Gyamtsho, said that the remaining four would be placed very soon.

All of them are placed in Tier 1 and two companies such as WIPRO-Delhi (2), American express (1), I energiser (7), Inox Global (3), Navigant technologies (6) and Excelsior (6).

They are paid in between Nu 7,500 to 11,000 per month, working five days a week, with benefits like health and life insurance, and accidental coverage.

87 trainees completed training from the centre and some established their own businesses or joined the service industry.

The centre is currently enrolling its second batch.

Film industry in decline

29 April, 2008 - Bhutanese film producers say that the biggest bottlenecks for the rapidly evolving local film industry are a lack of venues to screen productions and screening restrictions in the districts.

With just one cinema hall in the capital (the Chang Jiji hall is nearing completion) and one each in the major towns of Paro, Phuentsholing, Samdrupjongkhar and Gelephu, producers have to wait for months to screen movies. Thimphu is the best place to screen as it allows a recovery of 60 percent of investments.

In 2006, when film making in the country was at a peak, 22 films were produced and 1,100 people directly benefitted from the film industry. This year, production has shrunk to eight films and just 112 people are directly involved in the business.

Film producers say filmmaking has a huge market for employment and the same potency to sustain culture and language. “People are getting laid off and it’s disheartening to see a lot them loitering the streets,” said Dorji Wangchuk of Chenzig media.

The motion pictures chairman, Sherub Gyeltshen, said that the government should look into and support the crumbling Bhutanese film industry. Presently, there are 78 registered members, with the motion pictures association of Bhutan (MPAB). There are also 14 production houses allied with 12 recording studios.

Starting from the first film, Gasa Lamai Singye, in 1988, a total of 112 films and 370 music albums have been produced so far.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

World Intellectual Property Day observed

April 28: Bhutan celebrated World Intellectual Property Day On Saturday.

The function held at the clock tower in Thimphu included cultural performances. It was organized by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Motion Pictures Association.

Paying tribute to the artists in the country and their noteworthy contributions, the Minister of Economic Affairs Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk on World Intellectual Property Day assured full support to them and to provide protection to right owners.

The secretary of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Dasho Sonam Tshering said to promote Intellectual Property (IP), the Ministry has initiated the adoption of laws and set up registries for grant of IP rights and titles. He said intellectual property is now an integral part of our development strategy encompassing all areas especially business and industry where intellectual property hold huge latent promise for gain.

“To take an example of trademarks, without much effort, the IPD has now received 8216 applications for registration of trademarks of which 3390 marks have been registered. Of this figure only 71 trademarks are local Bhutanese trademarks, the rest are foreign trademarks being protected in Bhutan. Hence this type of IP still remains virtually untapped by our business to build up their competitive position in the market,” said Dasho Sonam Tshering.

A website developed by the Ministry, was also launched. Users can find information including practical advice, laws and rules, downloadable forms and excerpts from official datatbases maintained by the Intellectual Property Division of the Ministry.

The function also saw two Bhutanese authors, Kunzang Thinley and Kunzang Choden Roder recieving certificates of recognition from the Minister of Economic Affairs.

Present at the celebration were Cabinet Ministers, senior government officials, representatives of the international community including the WIPO.

The evening’s program continued with cultural performances by students and artists.

Samdrup Jongkhar residents wait for the low income housing to be complete

April 28: The construction of low income housing in Samdrup Jongkhar initiated by National Housing Development Corporation (NHDC) was supposed to be completed by June 2007. But as our correspondent Pema Samdrup reports, the constructions are yet to be completed.

The construction of 54 units housing colony initiated by the NHDC is expected to ease the acute housing problem that civil servants have been facing for so many years. But for residents of Samdrup Jongkhar, civil servants who are staying with their friends and relatives, it has been a long wait.

Our reporter Pema Samdrup says the housing colony is not yet ready. Started in 2005, the construction was due for completion in June last year. It is now running out of the 10 month time extension as well. The construction of infrastructure like parking, electrification and water supply are yet to be done.

Druk Choklay Construction Company, a private company is undertaking the construction works. The site engineer P.K Gupta told BBS that the delay in the works has been caused by many factors. He said frequent strikes in the Indian State of Assam hindered transport of construction materials from India. This was pointed out as one of the major hindrance.

Shortage of workers was cited as another hurdle. According to a site engineer with the NHDC, Rinchen, the construction company will have to pay penalty for not being able the complete the constructions on time.

Meanwhile, about 100 applicants have applied for the 54 unit quarters. The Dzongkhag Administration says the allocation will be done on a first come first serve basis.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Bhutanese film industry shrinking, say film makers

April 25: Bhutanese film producers say the film industry is shrinking and the number of film produced is falling.

They said lack of funds and shortage of movie theatres is hampering the growth of the fledgling Bhutanese film industry Within the short span of its existence, the Bhutanese film industry has built a large clientele of diehard fans.

The Bhutanese films have completely replaced Hindi Bollywood and Hollywood movies at the capital’s movie theatre. Bhutanese movie fans said they do not miss any new release. But to their disappointment, new releases have been few and far between. Films like Sergyel and Chorten Kora which were released a year ago are being re-screened at the movie theatre.

In 2006 the Bhutanese film industry released about 22 films. The number dropped to 18 last year. This year the association expects only about seven films.

Sherub Gyeltshen, the General Secretary of Motion Pictures Association of Bhutan (MPAB) said lack of funds and shortage of proper cinema halls are restraining the growth of local film industry. He said it is difficult to procure loans for producing films.

Film makers say loans should be made available for producing films, building more movie theatres and tax exemption on film making equipment can help revive the dying film industry.

Road dividers raise safety concerns

April 25: The road dividers used along the widened Doebum Lam which stretches from the memorial chorten to Chubachu is raising concerns.

Residents in the capital said the huge concrete blocks which are used as road dividers lack aesthetic beauty.

The Doebum Lam known as the swimming pool road has been widened. The work is not complete but it is already one of busiest roads in the capital. Huge concrete blocks have been placed along the road as road dividers. This has raised concern among the public. They say the concrete blocks are ugly.

The project engineer M.B. Gurung said the project is not complete. He said the dividers were chosen for their durability and mobility. He said in the past they have used other dividers which were easily knocked down by drivers.

There are approximately 1,500 blocks along the Doebum lam. Each concrete block costs about Nu. 4,500.

There are no traffic rules along the road. Motorists drive in either direction on either side of the dividers. This, residents said could cause accidents.

A spokesperson from traffic police said every month about three minor accidents occur along the Doebum Lam. He said once the road is complete, they will implement traffic rules. He said while there are no traffic rules now, they send traffic police personnel to check every now and then.

The project is expected to complete by the end of this month. The project engineer said except for the street lights and the footpath, the work has been completed. The project cost about Nu. 120 million.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Sacred lhakhang consecrated

26 April, 2008 - His Majesty the King, His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo and members of the royal family attended a quiet and sacred ceremony to consecrate the Lungchu-tse monastery above Dochu-la pass, which has been expanded and completely restored.

The former Machhen Zimpon, Lam Kado, who led the consecration ceremony on April 25, offered the trashi-dzey-gye to His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo and the Kusung Thugten Mendrel to His Majesty the King. The entire gathering joined the circumambulation of the lhakhang during the ceremony.

The Lungchu-tse monastery, a fine example of Bhutan’s spiritual and artistic traditions, is perched on a strategic and scenic ridge, 3,656 metres above sea level. The site enjoys a magnificent vista of endless undulating ridges that roll down to the great plains of India.

The monastery is surrounded by a verdant mixed forest that changes colours through the seasons. It is dominated by tall rhododendron trees and, in spring, the entire area is a galaxy of rhododendron flowers of all shades. A variety of wildlife inhabits the pristine forests throughout the year.

Lungchu-tse is the seat of Terton Drukda Dorji, who is believed to have prophesized the birth of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo two and a half centuries ago. According to the Tensoi Lapon, Dasho Zoepon Wangchuk, the Terton had prophesized that a King would be born in the year of the Wood Sheep in a place called Wamtang, the former name for Dechenchholing.

The head lama, Lopon Karma Gyeltshen, said that the monastery carried special historical significance. The main nangten of the lhakhang is a giant image of Guru Padmasambhava and the inner temples house sacred images that have been preserved through the ages.

The restoration was initiated and funded by Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck as a tribute to His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. It is a dedication of love and reverence for the Druk Gyalpo and the Bhutanese Monarchy.

Not too late nor early either

26 April, 2008 - Settlements and infrastructure along a 147-km stretch, from Punatsangchu to Lhamoizingkha (Kalikhola) in the southern foothills, will feel the impact of 53 million cubic metres of water thundering down the mountainside if the Thorthormi and Raphstreng glacial lakes in Lunana merge and burst its banks.

This is a worst-case scenario, but with signs of a merger already visible at the lakes, officials of the geology and mines have mapped out the hazard zones to work on mitigation measures.

The hazard zones are marked red, yellow and blue, with red for high risk to lives of people, whether within or outside their homes, and destruction to structures; yellow indicating danger to people outside their homes and damage or possible destruction to structures; and blue, low or no danger to people and structures.

Geology and mines officials have identified 117 buildings, 362 people, 58 livestock, 16 historical monuments, a bridge and 5.22 km of road under the red zone (see box).

One mitigation measure, which will begin this year, is to dig a channel at the outlet to reduce water volume in the lake by five metres each time it rises because of glacial melt.

Geologist Karma Toeb said that they only had four working months for four years, between June and September. For the rest of the year, the passes were closed by snow.

The main work of reducing the impact of GLOF downstream, installing early warning systems (EWS), is yet to begin.

Although a manual system, using wireless communication, already exists, geologists suggest that an automatic EWS was a must since the appetite for destruction of the expected GLOF was unfathomable. The project manager of DGM-UNDPGEF, Dowchu Dukpa, said that the manual system would be used along with the automatic.

He said that, during the 1994 flood in Punakha, which occurred in the early hours of a weekend, the manual EWS failed because people in Lunana, while trying to contact and inform those in Punakha of a GLOF gushing their way, found nobody to receive the information.

“Today we’ll install fully automatic systems, but we’ll also use the manual as a back-up,” said Dowchu Dukpa. According to him, they intend to plant early warning systems with three different types of sensors, one that picks up signals of GLOF from water pressure, another from water levels and a third through ground vibrations.

The sensors, which will be planted at different intervals upstream, will first pick up signals in case of a GLOF outbreak, send the signal to the data logger, which will then be transferred to a communication system and eventually hit the different towers all together, which will instantly sound the alarm.

A sensor each will be planted, one 13 km upstream of Samdingkha, a second at Khuruthang, which is about 11 km from Samdingkha, and the third at Wangdue-Bajothang about 19 km from Samdingkha. Each of these places will have two alarm towers erected.

Based on calculations derived from the 1994 flood, geology and mines officials calculate that should a GLOF occur, it would first hit Samdingkha, which will leave about 54 minutes for people downstream to run to safety, followed by Khuruthang, where people will have about an hour and 40 minutes, and Wangdue-Bajothang will have about 2 hours and 14 minutes.

“Between Lunana and Punakha, there is about 100 km, which the floods in 1994 took about seven hours to reach Punakha from Lunana,” said Dowchu Dukpa.

But Karma Toeb added that, if a GLOF should occur, it would reach Punakha in a much shorter time because the 1994 flood had cleared all natural barriers that existed.

Pacifying people’s concern over the damage the GLOF could do to the upcoming Punatsangchu project, the secretary of economics affairs ministry, Dasho Sonam Tshering, said that the dams of the plant were designed to handle 11,500 cubic metres of water a second.

“The speed of the 1994 flood was recorded at 2,000 cubic metres a second,” said Dasho Sonam Tshering. “If Lunana lets out about 53 million cubic metres of water, it can pass through Punatsangchu gate within an hour and a half.”

He said that the dams had several gates, which opened in the event of a flood to allow the floodwater to pass through without damaging the plant.

“But, to do that, we need proper early warning systems in place,” Dasho Sonam Tshering said. “It’ll take almost two hours to open the dam gates totally because of the pressure.”

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Unemployment in the era of imported labour

25 April, 2008 - As the day gives way to dusk, Kunzang Thinley’s mood starts to take on the colour of the darkening sky.

It’s time for him to head back to his sister’s place, something that he resents doing with each passing day.

The thought of his brother-in-law’s bitter looks and resentful attitude makes him feel miserable. He just hates the idea of being seen as useless and an additional burden on his sister’s family of five, which includes two school-going children.

Several months ago, his sister’s family in Thimphu had welcomed Kunzang Thinley to stay with them while he sought admission to college. But the welcome soon turned sour, as Kunzang Thinley’s stay lengthened into months.

“I expected at least to qualify for the Gedu college,” he said, sharing his experience with Kuensel. That never happened. Then he began applying for jobs announced in the media. He hasn’t received any response so far.

Every sunrise brings some rays of hope, as he visit offices, though quite often he ends up in a bar playing snooker with friends. Some of his friends, including some degree holders, do not go home for days.

Between 2003 and 2007, the unemployment rate in the country rose from 1.8 percent to 3.7 percent. In 2007, there were more than 10,600 unemployed people. This trend of rising unemployment is expected to continue for some time.

“The already heaving public sector and the small and underdeveloped private sector can only absorb so many,” said the labour and human resources secretary, Dasho Dr Sonam Tenzin, adding that the main reason for this growing problem was youth’s high expectation of better desk jobs against what the market has to offer.

“Almost everybody wants to become an officer,” the secretary said. “Their attitudes need to change if we are to build a better labour force in the country.”

The other cause for exacerbating the already growing unemployment problem, ministry officials point out, was rural-urban migration. The current education system, they say was not favouring these youth either who after schooling find themselves least equipped for the job market.

“Our education system has to improve and be geared more towards giving students the necessary tools, so that they are prepared for any kind of work,” the secretary said.

The four departments in the ministry are working closely to create and promote employment and ensure quality services. It has also adopted strategies to create employment, improve the working environment and ensure labour welfare with strong regulations from the ministry.

“Our strategy for gainful employment and reduction of unemployment is multi-pronged, the impacts of which will not be visible instantly,” said the secretary.

Some ministry officials opined that there was a gap between human resource planning and labour market information.

In the tenth plan, the ministry will build eight vocational training institutes and two zorig chusum institutes. “These institutes will offer different courses, including specialisation of skills required in the labour market,” said the director of employment, Karma Tshering, who in the course of the interview received a call from the labour minister about three youth looking for jobs. “We’re still looking for a suitable opportunity, la,” he answered, keeping his voice low, and answering several other queries, that took over five minutes. “We’re proposing many things to the new government to address the issues,” he said, after the conversation.

The ministry would also hold a dzongkhag- and sector-wise jobs fair, so that the job seekers need not travel to Thimphu for jobs. The last three job fairs employed more than 500 jobs seekers in the private and corporate sectors.

The ministry also has a proposal to start a pre-employment engagement programme, and restart the system of national service for graduates before their employment. “The students will go to rural places and work there,” he said. “They’ll be given grades, which will help them in interviews for jobs and trainings,” the official said. “We will ensure that the youth do not go wasted, by taking care of them until they find jobs,” a senior labour official said.

The apprentice training program (ATP) started in 2000, initially for class ten students, has started recruiting class XII completed students for the past two years. It has so far employed about 790 students, who directly join companies and acquire the skills for the job. “The programme is doing well. Interested students have to register with department through on line registration or through their offices,” said the program officer, Tandin Dorji.

The ministry has 12 new programmes awaiting endorsement by the new government to address employment issues.

“It’s tragic irony that so many of our youth are unemployed while, at the same time, we have more than 37,000 expatriates working here,” said Dasho Sonam Tenzin. In the next five years, ministry officials estimate 8,000 educated youth to be without jobs.

Ministry officials will meet with private sector and corporations to collect information on vacancies and review past job fairs to prepare for the one coming later in May this year.

Thimphu’s dry season

24 April, 2008 - Every year, around this time of the year, at least one third of the city residents in Thimphu suffer from an acute shortage of water supply.

This year, too, the story is the same.

As people are seen carrying jerry cans in hands and in cars fetching water, residents are bitterly complaining that the Thimphu city corporation should have a proper water supply to the capital city.

Hotelier Dorji Phuntsho at the heart of town said that the water problem would get better if the city corporation finds additional sources, builds reserve tanks and multiplies plumbers. “As the city grows, water will still be a problem in future and the city corporation ought to have a responsibility not to make it worse,” he said.

In Changzamtog, a densely populated area in the city, the water problem has been very insistent and periodic. “About four households in a building vacated because of the water problem,” said a building supervisor, Sonam Phuntsho. “The irony is that Bhutan is known to be a country with rich water sources and forest but, in the midst of this abundance, we still face a acute water shortage.”

Durga Lal Dalal of Mid Point restaurant said that he had to close down the restaurant, as there was no water for one whole day. “This is the tourist season and we have so many customers but, without water, it’s difficult to manage the kitchen,” he said.

“We can’t just do with dirty toilets and unclean places for customers. We even had to borrow water from a neighbour who is not happy as we always go there,” he added.

The shopkeepers in Zangdopelri complex also raised concerns on how they had to fight with the management regarding water. “We sometimes go till Dechenphodrang to fetch water for our restaurant,” said a restaurant owner. “Paying high bills for water is not a problem, but what we really need is service.”

The officials from the water supply division of city corporation said that water shortage at this time of year is a natural phenomenon. “The shortage of water supply is mainly because of less yield at water sources,” said the head of water supply Nakphey. “While long term plans are in place, it demands a big investment and we can only advise water users to make best use of a limited resource.”

Friday, 25 April 2008

Book of Bhutanese birds

24 April, 2008 - Bhutan is an ornithologistís paradise with over 640 bird species of which 16 species have been identified as being globally threatened, according to Bird Life International, the eastern and the central part of the kingdom like Zhemgang are reputed to be among the best birding spots in Asia.

An impressive variety of these birds have been captured by photographer Yeshey Dorji who released a pictorial book called ìBhutan Birdsî in Thimphu on April 19. The book, published by a local company, You-2 Publishers and printed in India by a company called Pragati Offset, comprises 130 full-page colour photographs of birds found in Bhutan.

“Photography always interested me,” said Yeshey Dorji. “I traveled to almost all the places in Bhutan and it took me long five years to compile these pictures. This book is a tribute to His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.”

He said that taking pictures of the White Bellied Heron and its chicks in the nest was his best amongst his photographs. Its global population is estimated at anywhere from 50 to 250 and records indiacate that Bhutan alone has 24 of these rare birds.

The publishers told Kuensel that they published about 3,000 books at a cost of about Nu 5.00 million. It sells for Nu. 2,500 a copy.

Their Majesties Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck and Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck launched the book at a ceremony attended by dignitaries from the government and civil sector.

His Holiness the Je Khenpo conscrates Chenrizig Thongdrol

April 24: His Holiness the Je Khenpo consecrated a Chenrizig Thongdrol at Nyenzergang Lhakhang in Wangdue Phodrang on Sunday.

The Thongdrol was built under less than a year by 11 local embroiders. More than Nu. 1.2 million were spent in building the Thongdrol. The money was donated by Wangdue Dzongkhag staff, private individuals and well wishers.

The Thongdrol which is about the size of a three storied building has Chenrizig or Avalo-ke-stesh-vara as the main figure.

Lam Lotay Singye who supervised the work on the Thongdrol said it was built to celebrate 100 years of monarchy, the transition to the democracy and the enthronement of the Fifth Druk Gyalpo.

During the consecration, His Holiness also conducted Mikwang and gave mani initiation to the people who had come to the Domche festival. The Thongdrol will be displayed to the public every year during the annual Domche.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Dieback not dying

23 April, 2008 - The wilting tops of thousands of pine trees, starkly visible along the Thimphu-Paro highway, did not mean the forests were dying, say forestry officials.

“They’re not infected by any disease but withering from natural climatic conditions and changing seasons,” said the renewable natural resource research centre (RNR) programme director in Yusipang, Dr Lungten Norbu.

RNR officials explained this occurrence as a periodic “dieback”, a condition in trees where treetops or their peripheral parts die, due to climatic conditions. The phenomenon was first observed along the Wangchu-Pachu valley in 1994.

RNR officials in Yusipang, who have been studying this phenomenon among blue pine and cupressus pine species planted along this particular belt since 1994, said that the leaves of these trees turned brown because the soil on which they were planted did not favour their survival.

Visible symptoms of dieback, they explained, appeared between March and May and disappeared during the monsoon.

“It’s seen along the dry slopes of Babesa, Khasadrapchu, Chunzom along Wangchu and Jangsa along Pachu at altitudes between 2,100-2,300 metres above sea level,” said the centre’s entomologist, D B Chhetri, adding that the entire belt of trees was hit by a similar die-back in 1996, 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2008.

The entire Thimphu-Paro stretch (497 hectares), according to ecologist, Dr Pema Wangda, was barren, including the hill above Samaizingkha in Thimphu. “These trees were planted in the early 80s,” he said, adding that then more than 50 percent of those planted trees died. The forestry department replanted them.

While RNR officials are yet to establish a definite cause, they pointed out a few possibilities out of many for these trees wilting.

D B Chhetri said that the problem was confined to south, southeast and southwest facing slopes along the Wangchu-Pachu valley, which are affected by solar radiation, temperature, precipitation and soil formation.

“These affected sites have a superficial soil layer, which are sandy or rocky, affecting the trees’ ability to hold water,” said D B Chhetri, adding that rocks beneath prevented primary roots from penetrating into the earth, leading the roots to spread on the surface.

Under such circumstances, during cold dry weather, abrasion from wind-blown ice crystals removed the wax coating from the needle-like leaves of the pine trees, and the frost chilled the soil and the moisture within.

As a result, certain parts of the tree died from excessive transpiration, while the roots struggled for moisture from the frozen soil and failed to replace the lost moisture.

“In the first place, the tree species planted by the forestry department were not checked whether or not they would survive the adverse affects of the weather in that area,” said D B Chhetri. “Many were saplings found in the country’s different zones and a few were exotic trees brought from outside the country.” Some trees, he added, were those that required about 1,000 mm of rain annually.

RNR officials also found that only the trees on the peripheries were hit by dieback, while those in the interiors were unaffected because they were protected from direct exposure to cold wind and solar radiation.

While the RNR officials are still studying the ring growth of some of the sample trees to find out if they could correlate past climatic patterns with the present and monitoring extreme climate conditions in the affected sites, they said it was better to let nature take its own course to mend these affected sites.

The surviving branches below the wilted treetops, they said, rejuvenated and grew up to form the tree’s crown again.

Dr Lungten Norbu pointed out that the stretch lay on a solid rock foundation and since there had been no landslides or erosion, it would best be left untouched.

“There’s no point in planting new trees which entails heavy expenses,” said Dr Lungten Norbu. “Rather leave the area on its own and free from grazing. Should the soil improve, it will allow some natural growth.”

To serve without fear or favour

23 April, 2008 - In the presence of a kusung thugten (symbol of body, speech, and mind), that was placed on the Golden Throne to symbolize the blessing of His Majesty the King, Bhutan’s prime minister and cabinet ministers, the speaker and deputy speaker of the National Assembly, and members of the Assembly took an oath of affirmation of office on April 21.

Administered by the Chief Justice, Lyonpo Sonam
Tobgye, in the National Assembly hall, the parliamentarians pledged to uphold the sovereignty and integrity of Bhutan, conscientiously discharge their duties in the service of the tsa-wa-sum (country, king, people) and perform the duties of their office without fear or favour, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution.

The prime minister, cabinet ministers, speaker and deputy speaker took a separate affirmation of secrecy, that they would not directly or indirectly communicate or reveal to any person any matter brought for their consideration or made known to them as minister or speaker, except when required for the discharge of their duties.

The National Assembly elected its speaker and deputy speaker on the same day. The members endorsed the nomination of Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s candidate from Radhi-Sakteng constituency in Trashigang, Jigme Tshultim, as the speaker and Yangkhu Tshering Sherpa of Kikhorthang-Mendrelgang constituency in Tsirang as deputy speaker.

A proposal by the opposition leader, Tshering Tobgay, to nominate his PDP colleague, Damcho Dorji, as the deputy speaker was voted out by the members.

Members of the ruling party said that, if Damcho Dorji was elected as the deputy speaker, there would not be an opposition member to raise or deliberate issues. Damcho Dorji withdrew his nomination and supported Yangku Tshering Sherpa.

“It was unfortunate that nobody shared my opinion,” Tshering Tobgay told Kuensel after the election.

According to the National Assembly secretary, Nima Tshering, the role of speaker would differ from the past. In the new system, the speaker’s role would be to maintain the decorum of the National Assembly, conduct the sessions, and grant leave to members. “The speaker cannot take his own decisions, based on two or three submissions,” he told Kuensel. “Decisions will be based on consensus.”

The members of the National Assembly received an audience with His Majesty the King after the ceremony.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

National Assembly elects Speaker and Deputy Speaker

April 22: Jigme Tshultim has been elected as the National Assembly Speaker and Yangkhu Tshering Sherpa has been elected as the Deputy Speaker.

They were elected through a secret ballot in the National Assembly yesterday. Jigme Tshultim secured 46 yes votes and one no vote. Yangkhu Tshering Sherpa got 47 yes votes.

Jigme Tshultim graduated with a bachelor’s degree in arts from St. Joseph College in Darjeeling, India. He underwent post graduate studies in Public Administration at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom.

Over a career spanning 32 years, he has served as the Managing Director of Tourism Corporation, Dzongda in Paro, Samtse, and Monger, Chief of Protocol in the Foreign Affairs Ministry and Ambassador of Bhutan to Bangladesh.

Yangkhu Tshering Sherpa graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Dzongkha from Sherubtse College in Kanglung. He served as a Dzongkha teacher for more than 15 years before he resigned to join politics.

Between 1992 and 1996, he taught in Trashigang and admitted himself to Sherubtse College for graduation.

Preliminary hearing for RICBL case begins

April 21: Chhukha Dzongkhag court began the preliminary hearing on the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Ltd. (RICBL) case from April 7.

On 12th March last year, the Office of the Attorney General filed a case against 68 RICBL employees with the Phuentsholing Dungkhag court following an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission.

The 68 employees were accused of forgery, official misconduct, and not submitting the original bills while claiming reimbursement. However the Dungkhag court acquitted the RICBL employees saying that the charges could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

The Dungkhag court also said the RICB rules do not say that the original bills will have to be submitted while making claims.

The Office of the Attorney General re-appealed the case to the Chhukha Dzongkhag court.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Rapid Response Engineering Challenge

21 April, 2008 - A local town has been hit by a hurricane and you have been sent there as a disaster relief engineer. How do you respond, given time and budget constraints?

Thirty five civil engineering students of the College of Science and Technology (CST) in Kharbandi were placed in just such a scenario at a day-long “Rapid Response Engineering Challenge” event organized by SNV on April 16.

Divided into groups, students were made to play the role of registered engineers in restoring a disaster struck area: “Hurricane Mitch in Honduras”.

Each group had to build a pipe work system to carry water to refugees across a stretch of ground in a simulated disaster situation. Students coordinating within their group had to plan and design their ideas on worksheets and maps within a given time period.

Equipped with basic material, such as plastic sheets, poles, paper and string, a water tower, bridge and shelter were made which was later analyzed. Competing against each other, a prize was awarded to the winning team, along with individual certificates to participants. CST lecturers also participated in the programme conducted by experts invited from UK.

“The event makes students think differently while solving a disaster scenario,” said Shirilin Barakzai, road sector development specialist with SNV. “It’s more like learning through practice, different from the usual classroom lectures and being carried out for the first time in Bhutan.”

According to Ugyen Dorji, lecturer in CST, the programme not only educated young engineers to tackle both natural and man-made disasters but also taught them leadership qualities, professionalism, time management, team-work and financial management. “This event had been a good opportunity for students to be prepared in tackling realistic scenarios in the event of disasters in future,” he said.

Rinchen, a participant, said that the event was educative and advantageous. “I’ve learned that engineering is essential for survival and that any error can have many fatal consequences,” he said.

The daylong challenge was also held at the Jigme Namgyel Polytechnic in Dewathang on April 10.

Construction in Bajo town to begin by the end of this year

April 21: The old Wangdue town wears a cramped and dusty look under the midday sun. It will soon be abandoned and shopkeepers will move to the new Bajothang town.

The plan to move to the new town was made as far back as 2002. It was held back by the controversy surrounding the land allocation in the new town of Bajothang. The land allocation has now been resolved and preparations are underway to shift to the new town.

Dzongda Kinzang Wangdi said they took a long time drawing up the plan so that the town will be structurally sound.

"We have been advised by the government that township should be a model township because I think there has been a lot of hard tales over the township in Khuruthang and else where, where everything has come up in a bland way. So we have been advised and accordingly we have been requested by the Ministry of Works and Human Settlements to give us some designs from which the people can choose the type of houses that should be build and we have been promised that in another two months time, they would be able to provide four or five different facades of the types of houses that the people could go for," said the Dzongda.

Dzongda Kinzang Wangdi said the construction will begin once the design of the town is finalized by the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement.

He said it will take another two months to get the designs. Following that he said people will have to go for structural designs and have their buildings and structural designs in place before giving the permission to go ahead with the construction works.

"I would hope that by the end of this year people will be able start the constructions in the township here," said Dzongda Kinzang Dorji.

There are 138 plots in the new township. Of that 131 have been allotted to business people from the old Wangdue town.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Refugees warn of Bhutan's new tide of ethnic expulsions

The small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is hailed as the last Shangri-la in a region plagued by conflict and poverty. Attracted by its policy of Gross National Happiness, Western media have held up the country's apparently peaceful transition to democracy as a model of wise governance by a Buddhist regime protecting its culture from the ravages of consumerism.

But behind its facade of otherworldly charm, Bhutan holds a secret. Twenty years ago, its monarchy, threatened by an increase in Bhutan's ethnic Nepalese population, hit on a simple solution: ethnic cleansing. Families who had been living in Bhutan for generations were stripped of their citizenship. One hundred thousand Hindu Bhutanese - around one sixth of the country's entire population - were driven into exile and their land redistributed among the Drukpas, Bhutan's Buddhist elite.

Now a combination of divisions among the refugees, renewed tension inside Bhutan and the surprise election victory by Maoists in Nepal, is threatening a plan that finally gives hope to 107,000 refugees who have been languishing in camps in eastern Nepal for the last 17 years. Tens of thousands of unregistered refugees are living stateless and in abject poverty in Nepal and India.

There are also fears among exiled Bhutanese leaders that a new wave of expulsions from the remaining ethnic Nepalese population, called Lhotshampas, is imminent. 'The process is happening already,' said Ratan Gazmere, a leading human rights activist and a refugee himself. 'But I cannot convince the international community of that.'

Gazmere, who was tortured and jailed for two years in the capital Thimpu, said widespread discrimination continues inside the country.

Lhotshampas are denied education and in the last census, held in 2005, around 13 per cent of the whole population of Bhutan, most of them Nepalese, were classified as 'non-nationals'. As a result, 82,000 Bhutanese were denied a vote in last month's first-ever general election. Non-nationals, lacking an identity card, are not allowed freedom of movement or to start a business.

Paradoxically, it is a potential solution to the crisis that seems to have tipped the Lhotshampa community into fresh uncertainty. In 2006, with the international community facing an apparently endless bill for maintaining the refugee camps, an agreement was reached whereby some refugees would be resettled in the West while others would stay in Nepal and pressure would be brought on the Bhutanese government to allow others to return.

The US assistant secretary of state Ellen Sauerbrey said her country would offer citizenship to 60,000 of the refugees. Other countries, including Canada, have stepped in with similar offers.

With the prospect of around half of the refugees leaving the camps, leaders fear pressure on Bhutan to allow the rest home will evaporate. Put simply, they say, the government of Bhutan will be rewarded for its ethnic cleansing.

Extremists in the camps, including a new Maoist organisation, have allegedly threatened refugees not to apply to leave for the US. Gazmere echoes human rights groups who say refugees must be allowed to make up their own minds. 'My concern is that the refugees should not suffer more than they already have,' he said.

Disaffected young Lhotshampas who have grown up in the camps or suffered discrimination in southern Bhutan are turning to violence. Several bombs exploded in Bhutan in January, including one in Thimpu. Although no one was killed, the escalation resulted in Bhutanese security forces shooting dead five men they described as Maoists.

Now Bhutanese leaders in exile are adjusting to the prospect of a Maoist government in Katmandu that may not welcome what it regards as American interference in the region. The US still classifies the Maoists as a terrorist organisation.

'The Maoists will try to destabilise the resettlement process,' said Gazmere, 'because Americans are involved.' Other Bhutanese leaders disagreed, arguing that Maoist leaders in Nepal have warned them not to expect support.

The question remains how Bhutan got away with such a large-scale expulsion of its own citizens. A recent report by the Norwegian Refugee Council blames the world's media for helping 'perpetuate the myth of an exotic land of happiness. However, what we have before us is a silent tragedy occurring in a media-created Shangri-la.'

Ratan Gazmere said Bhutan's close relationship with India was critical. India had shielded Bhutan in return for access to hydro-power and timber.The Bhutanese had shut down camps in the south hat were used by the United Liberation Front of Assam to launch attacks across the border. 'India doesn't want to push Bhutan too hard,' Gazmere said.

Plan dovetails with manifesto

19 April, 2008 - Development priorities in the 10th Plan will not change when the new government takes over, according to the prime minister, Lyonchhen Jigmi Thinley. Economic development will be the main driver and poverty reduction, the main focus.

“The general observation by the cabinet ministers was that there is near total consistency and coherence between the DPT manifesto and the plan,” said Lyonchhen Jigmi Thinley who pointed out that the Plan was initiated by many of the ministers, who had been involved as members of the previous planning commission.

After a day-long discussion on the draft plan on April 18, political leaders and bureaucrats agree that there would be some adjustments needed when it came to details. Such adjustments were needed mostly in the main priorities like electricity and roads.

The secretary of the ministry for economic affairs, Dasho Sonam Tshering, said that the differences between the draft plan and the DPT manifesto were visible in terms of the size and targets. The main consideration would be the resources.

“For example, according to our old plan, we expect to achieve electricity to all by 2020,” he said. “For our plan of rural electrification, our total fund requirement is US$ 40 million. I think they are looking at achieving this goal by 2013. If we need to finish the entire country within the 10th plan, I think the resource requirements will be quite huge. We might require almost double of what has been identified for rural electrification.”

The hydropower goals of the DPT manifesto are ambitious. “We’re saying that, by 2020, we should add another 5,000 MW but, in the manifesto, they are thinking of 10,000 MW, which is almost double,” said the secretary. “Do we have both the manpower and resources to achieve these targets? This will definitely be an issue to look at, but perhaps we may need to look at more innovative ways to achieve these targets.”

According to the director of roads, Phuntsho Wangdi, the 20-year road master plan would guide the construction of roads in the country, and what the DPT has promised might not feature in the plan. “Some of the promises they have made for the next five years might not even fall in our 20-year plan,” he said. “A good number of promises will not be fulfilled.”

He said that a lot of prioritization has to be done at the national level, because of the limitations made by resources available.

The officiating secretary of the agriculture ministry, Tenzin Dhendup, said that a lot of synchronization of the 10th Plan and the DPT manifesto had to be made. He said that what the DPT candidates promised was just a wish list of the people. “As an implementing agency, we’ll prioritize and match the plan with the resources available,” he said.

Agriculture director, Chencho Norbu, added that the decision of resource allocation would be based on ground realities supported by facts, figures, and studies, and not on promises. “We’ll see which activity is feasible, beneficial and which will pay back,” he said. “Now’s the time to face reality. They (the DPT government) will have to compromise even if they have resources, because we have to prioritize activities in line with the 10th Plan.”

The prime minister explained that most of the promises had been made in response to the requests of the people and that these would have to be incorporated into the plan. “We don’t want to lie to the public,” he said, “We will keep our promises. We’ll devise ways and means to integrate those promises and those pledges, which may not be a part of the 10th plan.”

The secretary of the GNH Commission, Karma Tshetum, said that the draft 10th Plan was similar to the DPT manifesto because both were built on the concept of GNH and continuity.

“As we move forward with more in-depth discussions, there could be changes at the sectoral level, but it’s up to the new government on how they might want to bring changes to the draft plan,” he told Kuensel. “The government must first adopt the draft Plan as their own. The ball is in their court on how they might want to go about it.”

As the GNH Commission presented the draft 10th Plan to the Cabinet and senior bureaucrats, there was also a consensus that the government had to answer to the people. The key question now was the substantial budget deficit currently estimated at Nu 13.2 billion, out of a total of Nu 141.69 billion estimated for the 10th Plan.

According to the prime minister this would now be the focus of the government’s discussions. “We’re concerned over this,” he said.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Bhutan to participate in the AFC President's Cup

April 19: Bhutan will participate in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President’s Cup to be held in Sri Lanka on April 25.

Bhutan will be represented by Transport United Football Club, the defending champion of the National league. The team left for Sri Lanka yesterday.

The AFC President’s Cup is divided into four groups. The matches will be played simultaneously in Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. A winner each from the four groups will enter the finals.

Bhutan will take on Sri Lanka on April 23, followed by a match with Turkministan and Myanmar.

A total of 11 teams from Bhutan, Nepal, Srilanka, Pakistan, Cambodia, Tajakistan, Kirgistan, Chiense Taipei, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Turkemnistan are participating in the AFC President’s Cup.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

India lifts ban on the import of rice for Bhutan

April 18: The recent ban on the import of popular rice brands including, BN20, basmati and boiled rice to Bhutan has been lifted by the government of India.

The news release says that this special gesture is being considered only to Bhutan in view of the cordial and friendly relations between the two countries.

The release adds that while the Ministry of Agriculture acknowledges the recent temporary surge in the food prices, the Ministry would like to reassure the general public that there is no reason to panic.

According to the news release, the Ministry says that hoarding of essential commodities like rice is strictly prohibited and requests all hoarders to release their stock in the market immediately.

His Majesty grants audience to National Council members

April 17: The National Council members assembled together for the first time as His Majesty The King granted them an audience at the Tashichhodzong yesterday.

His Majesty the King highlighted the roles and responsibilities of the National Council and the critical role of the National Council within Bhutan’s first democratic parliament, in ensuring a successful democracy. The National Council consists of 25 members.

Speaking to BBS after the Royal audience, the National Council members described the day as one of the happiest and the most significant moments in their lives and reaffirmed their pledge to serve the King, country and the people with loyalty and dedication.

Members of Parliament will wear Blue Kabney without frills and without the ceremonial Sword. These entitlements comes as per the the parliamentary entitlement bill.

However the five eminent members nominated by the Druk Gyalpo, can wear the same Kabney that they have been wearing before the nomination, if the kabney was awarded by His Majesty the King. But this clause will not be applicable to the Cabinet Ministers.

The bill further states that Members of Parliament, the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Chairperson of the National Council shall not wear the official Kabney once their term as the Member of Parliament expires.

Salary, allowances, benefits and other emoluments of the Speaker of the National Assembly, Chairperson of the National Council and the Leader of the Opposition will be equivalent to that of a Cabinet Minister.

The Members of Parliament will be paid Nu. 30,000 per month as salary. According to the bill, Members of Parliament shall be entitled to a sitting fees of Nu. 800 per day. They will also be entitled to the use of executive lounges while traveling in and abroad.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Inflation hits the heights

17 April, 2008 - Pushed by rising prices of food items, inflation in the first quarter of 2008 could cross six percent, one of the highest rates in recent years, say officials of the National Statistical Bureau.

“Rising food prices are here to stay for some time,” said the NSB director, Kuenga Tshering. “It’s happening the world over.”

Bhutan imports 90 percent of its consumables from India, where inflation has hit a record 6.6 percent. Bhutan has imported vegetable fats and oils worth Nu 4,258,648 and cereals worth Nu 602,964,087, according to the Bhutan trade statistics in 2006.

A shopkeeper in Chubachu, Thimphu, told Kuensel that the rise in price of rice, edible oils and dairy products has led to a few misunderstandings with some consumers. Tshering Lhamo, a wholesaler at Chorten Lam, said food prices have been steadily going up for the past year.

In the past few months, the price of edible oils has gone up by Nu 4-10 a litre, a 50 kg bag of rice, of the 551 brand, has risen from Nu 700 to Nu 800, dal is up from Nu 45 to Nu 50 a kg, Amul cheese is up from Nu 165 to Nu 175 a kg, Koka noodles (a carton) is now Nu 290 from Nu 270. Other high quality products like Basmati, Jasmine and Bog rice has seen an increase of Nu 10-70 varying from shop to shop.

Local eggs have also gone up from Nu 300 to Nu 375 a tray (36 eggs), but this has got more to do with the current ban on import of poultry items from India.

The surge in the price of food items also brought changes in consumption trends. Previously, the Dramchen agency in Thimphu used to get soya refined oils from Jemini, a registered manufacturing company in India, but for now they have switched to a locally produced brand called Joker.

The NSB director, Kuenga Tshering, said that there were several reasons for the global increase in food prices. Global population was rising but agricultural productivity has not kept pace. Meanwhile, vast swathes of agricultural land in the United States and Brazil are being converted towards bio fuel production to counter rising prices and fast depletion of crude oil. Global agriculture production has also dwindled because of freak climatic conditions.

Closer to home, living standards are rising in the booming economies of India and China and more agricultural land is being lost to industries. “Higher living standards means higher demand for meat, so more grain is being diverted to rear cattle,” said Kuenga Tshering.

At a micro level, a slight shortage in supply often leads to hoarding, leading to further increases in prices, according to the director. “Add to this, rising fuel prices and cost of transportation.”

Families in Thimphu spend on an average Nu 3,000 to Nu 5,000 on food every month.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Nation observes Zhabdrung Kuchoe

April 16: Zhabdrung Kuchoe, the death anniversary of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel is observed on the 10th day of the third Bhutanese month every year.

At the Puna-Dewa-Chenpoi-Phodrang yesterday, the monks of the central monastic body led by His Holiness the Je Khenpo performed an elaborate sungchoed known as the lam Choebi sungchoed.

The ceremony was graced by His Majesty the King. Their Royal Highnesses the Princes Dasho Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck and Dasho Jigme Dorji Wangchuck also attended the ceremony.

Speaking to BBS the Tshengay Lopen of the central monastic body said the lam Choebi sungchoed was initiated by Lam Dupthob Lingchen Repa. He said Zhabdrung Kuchoe is an important day in the Bhutanese calendar.

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel is revered as the founding father of Bhutan. In addition to unifying the country, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel also introduced a distinctly Bhutanese cultural identity and established the dual system of government under which the control of the country was shared between a spiritual leader and an administrative leader.

Here in the capital, residents visited Lhakhangs and goendeys including the national memorial chorten and the Changangkha Lhakhang as the nation observed Zhabdrung Kuchoe.

Government offices and schools in the kingdom remained closed for the day to observe the death Anniversary of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. In Thimphu, hundreds of people were seen visiting lhakhangs and circumambulating Chorten as a way to pay homage to Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. Changangkha Lhakhang saw a huge crowd of people, most of them new parents.

In Semtokha, the sheydra performed Lam choep and Geonpo chamdrel sum Tshokor to mark the day. Simtokha Dzong is one of the first dzongs built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in the 16th century. The dzong today houses a sheydra and the institute for language and cultural studies. The Simtokha dzong is also getting a major face lift after it was last renovated by choejay Minjur Tempa.

Hunt for the first Bhutanese Idol begins

April 16: The hunt for the first ever Bhutanese Idol has began from the capital.

About 70 music enthusiasts from Thimphu have registered for the audition.

According to the Nidup Dorji, the organizer from Jigdrel Trophel, the preliminary round will have three sections of singing in Zhungdra, Boedra and Rigsar.

After Thimphu, the selection team along with the judges will head to the rest of the 19 Dzongkhags.

The Bhutanese Idol will be awarded a Maruti Swift sponsored by the Zimdra Automobiles with a year long music contract while the runners up will be given Nu. 150,000 with a year long music contract.

His Majesty the King of Bhutan was in Punakha yesterday

16 April, 2008 - His Majesty King Jigme Khesar meets with devotees who had come to offer prayers on Zhabdrung Kuchoe at the Puna-Dewa-Chenpoi Phodrang yesterday.

His Majesty the King was in Punakha yesterday to attend the special religious ceremony performed by His Holiness the Je Khenpo and the monks of the Central Monk Body at the Kuenrey of the Punakha dzong.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

First steps of the government

16 April, 2008 - The first sitting of the Bhutanese parliament, scheduled to begin in early May, will adopt the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan. The parliament will enact the Election Bill and the Parliamentary Entitlements bill.

This was decided at the first Cabinet meeting of the new government on Monday April 14.

The Cabinet had a preliminary discussion on the 10th Five Year Plan and it was decided that the GNH Commission would present the draft 10th Five Year Plan, prepared by the previous government, to the Cabinet on Thursday, April 17.

According to a press release from the Cabinet office, the ministers were asked to update themselves on the function, responsibilities, plans and programmes of their ministries. They also looked at the roles and functions of the prime minister and the ministers.

The prime minister, Lyonchhen Jigmi Thinley, will resume the chairmanship of the Coronation and Centenary Celebration Committee.

Lyonchhen Jigmi Thinley also met with the DPT parliament members on April 15 to discuss the formation of parliamentary committees.