Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Bhutan : Her Majesty the Queen receives EMA award

Her Majesty Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck has been awarded Excellence in Mental Awareness certificate by National Board for Certified Counselors and Affiliates (NBCC), world’s largest counseling organization based in the USA, in recognition of Her Majesty’s advocacy for mental health care in Bhutan. The award was presented on September 21 by the leaders of NBCC, who travelled to Bhutan specifically for that purpose.

According to a press release from NBCC, the award was presented in acknowledgement of Her Majesty’s dedication and innovation in recognising and taking action to prevent mental health problems in the lives of women, girls and all the people of Bhutan. The press release noted that many of Her Majesty’s efforts involve REWA (Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women).

At the award presentation ceremony in Thimphu, Dr Kraus from NBCC said, “Never have we seen a country whose leaders, policymakers, and mental health professionals understand and support counseling as a means of help for so many people.” He also noted “the unprecedented attention that Bhutan’s leaders, particularly Her Majesty, were giving to the profession of counseling”. Dr Faster, another NBCC leader, said, “Her Majesty’s dedication to the empowerment of women serves as a wonderful model for women in leadership positions.”

NBCC also awarded a special bronze NCC certificate to Tshering Dolkar from RENEW, Bhutan’s first National Certified Counselor, honouring her “extraordinary efforts to qualify for the most prestigious credential in counseling”.

During the presentation ceremony, Dr Clawson from NBCC announced three NBCC-supported initiatives in Bhutan. NBCC will train trainers for Mental Health Facilitator (MHF) programme. Under RENEW’s auspices, MHF trainers will teach basic mental health concepts and help develop skills tailored to the needs and customs of Bhutan.

In the second initiative, NBCC will use its extensive professional resources to help the Ministry of Education and the Royal University of Bhutan to create a degree programme in counseling. NBCC will also facilitate exchanges of counseling professors and internships for students in Bhutanese schools and clinics.

Based in Greensboro, NBCC currently works with some 400 US universities that offer advanced degrees in counseling. More than 42,000 masters degree-level professionals hold NBCC’s National Certified Counselor certificates.


Monday, 29 September 2008

Bhutan : Addressing Bhutan Telecom’s employee discontent

29 September, 2008 - The chairperson of the board of Bhutan Telecom (BT), Dasho Dr Sonam Tenzin, told Kuensel that BT employees have failed to understand the intention behind the creation of the company’s core group.

Dasho Dr Sonam Tenzin made this observation after BT’s board of directors examined the appeal of some BT employees, who were unhappy at the organisation for promoting 11 of its members as the company’s core group recently.

The board met the 26 BT employees to settle the matter internally on September 25.

The appeal letter stated that the grievances were from 97 percent of BT employees but the chairperson said that the figure was “presumptuous”. He said that there were only 26 people, who had submitted the appeal letter, and, of them, seven had not signed.

During the meeting, employees expressed their disagreement over the so-called “core group” picked by the management. “The workers said that, instead of motivating employees, it has demotivated workers across the management,” said Dasho Dr Sonam Tenzin.

“We, however, let them know and understand that the concept of core group employees was pushed more strongly by the BT board than the BT management to restrategise its core business and be competitive in the market,” said Dasho Dr. Sonam Tenzin. “This group of people are experienced professionals, who would be given heavy responsibilities.”

But the board admitted to certain lapses when the management set the criteria to select these people, according to the chairperson. “It wasn’t transparent and the procedures weren’t very clear,” he said. “But, when we looked in to it and asked these employees, there was no evidence of corruption in the selection, as mentioned in the letter.”

The other complaint of the employees during the meeting was the unequal allowances given to them. The chairperson said that the board would look in to it.

The appeal letter included many things such as names of some general managers to be “rooted out”, as they had a hand in manipulating and picking their favourites as the “indispensable” employees. To this, the board pointed out that they had taken a wrong route in expressing their grievances and by personally attacking some managers. “If they had problems, they should have gone to the management or the board members because there are systematic procedures laid out,” said Dasho Dr Sonam Tenzin.

By Phuntsho Choden and
Tenzin Namgyel


Sunday, 28 September 2008

Bhutan : Minister-Bureaucrat balance of power

27 September, 2008 - The present government was elected for the delivery of certain commitments to voters but there is a growing concern over how much control the new government has over the ‘mechanism of delivery’ - which is the civil service.

Bhutan may be the only democracy in the world where politicians have no direct hand in the termination, demotion, transfer and promotion of civil servants. That decision rests with the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC).

There is also no clear delineation of functions between the minister and the secretary, with both having overlapping powers. Though most ministers describe their function as that of ‘policy and plan making’ and that of the secretary as ‘implementation’, the RCSC manual describes one of the main functions of the secretary as being to ‘direct and oversee the formulation of policies and plans of the ministry’.

RCSC also says that the secretary is to receive only ‘minimum supervision’ from the ministers, cabinet, and government and that he or she should work ‘independently’.

The secretary, apart from being in-charge of administrative functions of the ministry, is also the chairman of the tender committee and the human resource committee where the minister is not involved. The secretaries also sit on several vital inter-ministerial committees and company boards making vital decisions.

As of now, the ministers or the cabinet can only make recommendations, but it is RCSC who makes the final decision.

On the unclear delineation of functions, the finance secretary Lam Dorji said: “In future, if there’s a new set of ministers, probably things may become difficult, but just now things are moving, which is important.”

Lam Dorji said that, in future, if the minister and the secretary do not get along, the secretary as head of the ministry can stop all papers at his level, which could have significant implications for the government. But he also said that the bureaucracy and the politicians could not work independently of each other. They have to work together and the secretary was accountable to his minister, he said.

On the role of politicians and secretary, the officiating prime minister Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba said: “In a democracy, the ministers are accountable to the people and the civil service is the instrument of the government to serve the people.” On the cabinet’s powers over the civil service he said: “Going by the Constitution and civil service rules, there are very serious limitations and we can’t do much by the existing system.”

The Draft Civil Service Act will be tabled in the coming November National Assembly session. Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba said that the act would undergo change. “How the civil service should function and how it should act with the government are yet to be determined.”

Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba said that that, at present, it was not a serious problem, but added that, if it was not resolved at the earliest, it could become serious in the future. The minister, however, also clarified that his party Druk Phuensum Tshogpa did not see the need for drastic change and that, at the end of the day, the system should ensure that there was no negative political influence.

ACC Chairperson Neten Zangmo said: “Independence of the civil service doesn’t mean that they totally distance themselves. Otherwise how will the system function?”

On the Draft Civil Service Act, Chief Justice Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye said that RCSC was very powerful and that parliament needed to closely look into it to ensure the interest of the people, civil service and the country.

“There’s a concentration of powers with RCSC because they have the power to make rules and regulations with no separation of policies, execution, implementation and review,” said Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye.

The chief justice said that the minister had an obligation and mandate to the people, who elected them, and that being apolitical for civil servant meant not to get involved in political affairs, but they must however follow the policies and plans of the executive.

“As per article 20 of the Constitution, the executive power shall be vested with the cabinet, headed by the Prime Minister, and as the executive they’re the political masters, not others”.

By Tenzing Lamsang


Saturday, 27 September 2008

Ashi Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck inaugurates the Coronation Park

September 26:Her Royal Highness Ashi Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck inaugurated the Coronation Park yesterday. The inaugural ceremony was attended by the Works and Human Settlement Minister Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba, the Finance Minister Lyonpo Wangdi Norbu, senior government officials and members from the international community.

Located between Changlimithang ground and Wangchu River the Coronation Park is a new space for families in the city to rest and relax.

During the inauguration, the Works and Human Settlement Minister Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba highlighted the significance of the Park and its benefit to the people.

Built on an area of 5.6 acres of land along the bank of Wanchu River, the park has a multitude of facilities. A well built footpath, gazebos and benches dot the Coronation Park.

While for many the park will be
a place to rest and relax, the park also facilities for children. Parents can bring their children for a host of activities with the park equipped with a half basketball court, a mini football ground, sea-saws, swings and slides.

The park has more than sixty species of plants and trees that have broght from different parts of the kingdom. Gyeltshen Dukpa, the chief environmental officer of Thimphu City Corporation, says this can be useful for students as they learn about the flora.

Park users will also notice that the facility is well lit in the evenings. The management of the park will be taken care by Thimphu City Corporation.

Around 10 people have been deployed to look after the park. People can visit the park free of charge until the City Corporation comes up with an entry fee.

The construction of the park was funded by the government. The park was constructed over a period of about two years.


Thursday, 25 September 2008

Bhutan : Jaigaon medical shops: Initiative to cut drug supply at source

25 September, 2008 - With most of the 20 or more medical shops in Jaigaon selling prescription drugs, the source of most drug-related cases in Bhutan are traced there.

Bottled and unbottled drugs, as well as marijuana, which most users describe as “herbal” are easily available through peddlers and medical shops. A high school drop out drug user said that drugs such as Relipen, Spasmoproxylon and cough syrups were easily available in Jaigaon in most medical shops. “Sometimes I pay the peddlers, who buy the drugs in Jaigaon and walk across the main gate for me,” he said.

But this easy availability of drugs from shop counters will be short lived if authorities on both sides of the Phuentsholing gate come together to crack down on both sellers and peddlers.

An initiative has begun with a non-government organisation in Jaigaon, Umeed Foundation, creating awareness on the ills of drug abuse in Jaigaon last week.

The chairman of the foundation, Dr Nag, said that drug abuse is a problem for both governments and needs cooperation from both high and grass-root levels to solve the problem. “The foundation sent several letters to stakeholders in Jaigaon to discuss the issue and also to seek cooperation from our Bhutanese counterparts,” he said.

Jaigaon police last week raided medical shops and three of them were caught selling drugs. The officer in charge of Jaigaon Police, A Gupta, said that a few medical shops running without a license were also closed and drug peddlers detained and interrogated.

As per the Indian Drugs and Cosmetics Act, all schedule-H drugs should be sold with proper medical prescription, but that remains only on paper. “Drug cases are all registered under the NDPS act and dealt with strictly,” he said.

Locals in Jaigaon said that most customers were young Bhutanese, a majority of whom purchased marijuana in huge quantities. “Marijuana is available mostly from small shops with prices ranging between Nu 10 to Nu 200,” said a regular user of marijuana.

The Umeed Foundation’s initiative may be a beginning but observers feel that cooperation from both governments could root out the source of the drugs. “If the source is banned, a huge chunk of the problem is already solved,” said a civil servant.

Another observer said that drug users openly say that they buy drugs from across the border in Jaigaon, but not much has been done to stop it. “The flow of cash overshadows the chemist’s social responsibility, with most of them selling drugs without asking for prescriptions,” he said. “India and Bhutan enjoy good relations, this shouldn’t be a problem.”

The executive director of Bhutan narcotics control authority (BNCA), Kinlay Dorji, said that they are aware of the situation and working on the possibilities.

By Passang Norbu


Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Bhutan : PM meets Bhutanese community in New York

September 24: The Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley and the members of the delegation including the Foreign Minister, Cabinet Secretary, GNH Commission Secretary and the National Assembly member Karma Rangdol met with Bhutanese community in New York at a lunch reception hosted by the Bhutan Mission on Sunday.

A news release from the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Bhutan to the United Nations says over a hundred Bhutanese were in attendance.

Mission personnel and others offered thridar and Tashi Delek to the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and the National Assembly member Karma Rangdol.

In what was an open discussion with the Prime Minister, the community exchanged and shared views on their lives in New York, the political changes taking place in Bhutan and their role in the future of democracy and development in Bhutan.

On Sunday afternoon, the UNDP Administrator and senior officials from the UNDP called on the Prime Minister Lyoncchen Jigmi Y Thinley.

Also present at the meeting were the Permanent Representative, Kutshab Daw Penjor and members of the Bhutanese delegation and the Chairman of Foreign Relations Committee.

The UNDP Administrator emphasized that Bhutan holds a special place of regard within the UNDP as a model of development practices.


Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Bhutan : Old trail to be restored for tourists

23 September, 2008 - A beaten trail, that passed through Ura to Gayzamchu in Bumthang, was once trodden by villagers from the east to transport goods offered as taxes to local chieftains resident in Bumthang, Trongsa, and Punakha. In the ‘50s, the people of Ura used the path as a mule track to barter butter, betel nuts, and clothes.

When the lateral highway emerged, about four decades ago, the path was used only by occasional mushroom collectors and cattle herders.

Today, the diverse ecosystem along the trail, including mushrooms like Matsutake growing under the pines, and different animal and bird species of the region, will change the purpose of the trail altogether.

The nine-kilometre stretch, which took approximately four and half hours on foot, will soon be serving as a trekking route for tourists.

Thrumshingla national park (TNP) in Ura will be carrying out development work along the trail before formally opening it to walkabouts.

“It’ll be handed over to the local committee, comprising of villagers in the Matsutake business, in the near future,” a park official told Kuensel.

The park’s assistant forest officer, Jigme Dorji, said that they were creating camps along the trail, similar to the ones used by herders in the past.

A TNP publication stated that the walking trail was dedicated to “our visionary and compassionate monarchs and would recognise the ingenuity and sacrifice of our Bhutanese forefathers”.

“The idea that our ancestors trod this path, carrying loads and singing songs, will add charm to the trek,” said a source, adding that the absence of any steep ascents would make the trek pleasant for tourists.

Tshulthrim Wangmo, an Ura resident, told Kuensel that she walked the trail all the way to Zhongar (Mongar), when she was in her twenties. “I used to sing traditional songs in the company of my friends and horses and it was fun,” she said.

By Nima Wangdi


Monday, 22 September 2008

Bhutan : The North East nexus ‘twixt SAARC and ASEAN

22 September, 2008 - Bhutan and Assam could explore their vast potential in the field of trade and commerce, according to the Bhutanese Ambassador to India, former minister, Lyonpo Dago Tshering.

The ambassador, speaking at the 4th North East Business Summit, which concluded on September 16, said the north-eastern states of India and Bhutan share many areas of common interest in which both could cooperate, like in the field of tourism, energy, agro food processing and handloom and cottage industry products.

“We’re glad that the government of India, the state governments of the North East and Indian business and industry are placing major emphasis on the development of the region,” he said.

“The people of the region, working together for a prosperous future, could create an environment of peace, security and progress in the region. Promoting good relations with the neighbouring states of India is a priority policy of our government.”

The two-day high-level summit showcased the potential of the NE States to promote private sector investments. The summit focused on sectors such as tourism, food processing, power, infrastructure, information technology, handloom and cottage industries, especially in the context of the “Look East Policy” on trade and investment linkages between ASEAN and SAARC countries.

A special session on “North East on Fast Track - Building International Partnership” with special reference to Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia and Philippines to discuss mutual cooperation was the main attraction of the summit.

Bhutan shares borders with Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal and Sikkim. But, according to Ambassador Dago Tshering, it was the people who shared close cultural and social affinities, that linked the North East sister states closer to Bhutan.

“We appreciate the state government of Assam for the cooperation in improving road connectivity from Pathshala to Nganglam for the construction of the Dungsum Cement Project in Bhutan,” said Dago Tshering. “The beneficiaries will be the local people of Assam in Pathshala as most of the work force would be from the vicinity.”

The Ambassador informed the summit that Bhutan was drafting an economic policy and reviewing its Foreign Direct Investment policy in order to make it more investor-friendly, particularly for those from India. “We hope to encourage investments in information technology, medical tourism, high end educational facilities, organic agro products, herbal medicine and high end tourist resorts,” he said.

“There is much opportunity ahead to work together. ”


Sunday, 21 September 2008

Bhutan : No Car Tax Now

home 20 September, 2008 - The Ministry of Finance has announced that the ministry has no proposal to increase car tax. The finance secretary, in an interview with Bhutan Observer, said, “There’s nothing going on for the car sales tax but we’ll do something later about it”.

Finance minister, Lyonpo Wangdi Norbu, said that the announcement has been made to prevent speculation in the market.

However, a revision of taxes and fees on vehicles according to sizes is proposed in the surface transport master plan made by the Road Safety and Transport Authority under the Ministry of Information and Communications. The plan, which will soon be presented, to the cabinet, also proposes a green tax on older vehicles, to phase out old polluting vehicles.

Lyonpo Wangdi Norbu said that the proposal was yet to reach him officially. “Any such tax proposal has to be cleared by the Cabinet and the Ministry of Finance,” he said.

The main aim of the transport master plan was to decongest traffic in urban areas and provide better public transport in both urban and rural areas for reducing dependence on private cars and improving accessibility.

Earlier, Lyonpos Nandalal Rai and Yeshey Zimba had said that the issue of tax on cars had been raised in cabinet meetings. Lyonpo Zimba later clarified that the issue had not been discussed in detail.

Increasing purchase of cars over the years has contributed to rupee shortage, negative balance of payment, congestion and environmental pollution, generating concern among the people and the government.

By Tenzing Lamsang


Saturday, 20 September 2008

Bhutan : His Majesty returns from tour

20 September, 2008 - His Majesty The King was received by the people of Choekhor gewog in Bumthang this week after a comprehensive tour of the northern regions that began on August 7 from Gasa.

His Majesty traversed over 300 km, in the northern most areas of Gasa, Wangdiphodrang, Punakha, Bumthang and Lhuentse. His Majesty met the people in remote villages, schools and yak herders’ camps scattered across the region. His Majesty also studied the potential and opportunities for bringing greater socio-economic benefits to this region. His Majesty granted various Kidu to the poorest villagers and students.

His Majesty visited places of historical and spiritual significance as well as community lhakhangs. He stressed the need to preserve these important monuments and also commanded the renovation of some of the important community lhakhangs.

Soon His Majesty will leave on a final tour before the traditional Coronation. From the historic birthplace of Jigme Namgyel in Dungkhar, Lhuentse, His Majesty will travel to different dzongkhags to meet the people. His Majesty will visit dzongs and important spiritual sites to pray for the happiness and well being of the people and for the continued peace, prosperity, and security of Bhutan..


Friday, 19 September 2008

Bhutan ; New thongdroel for Gangteng Goenpa

19 September, 2008 - The people of Phobjikha celebrated the unfurling of an elaborate new Sampa Lhuendrup Thongdroel at the Gangteng Sang Ngag Choiling monastery on September 14.

The first Sampa Lhuendrup Thongdroel was commissioned by the ninth Gangteng Trulku, Pema Namgyel, for Gangteng Goenpa. The thongdroel, 45 feet high and 59 feet wide, depicts the 13 images of Sampa Lhuendrup with Padmasambhava in the centre surrounded by the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoché in an inner ring.

The thongdroel is studded with precious stones, including turquoise, dzi, and pearl, contributed by devotees. Gangteng Trulku funded the thongdroel at a cost of Nu 2.3 million, excluding the precious stones and other trappings.

“It took nine artists more than 16 months to construct this unique thongdroel,” said embroidery master Ugyen, who supervised the construction.

According to the Gangteng Trulku, the thongdroel will be unfurled annually during the Gangteng Tshechu in early October, coinciding with the Thimphu Tshechu. “This thongdroel was constructed as a part of a major restoration work carried out on the 395-year old Gangteng monastery,” he told Kuensel.

Both the restored monastery and thongdroel will be consecrated by the three incarnations of Pema Lingpa - Thukse Rinpoche, Sungtrul Rinpoche, and Gangteng Trulku in a grand ceremony on October 9-11.

“This unique thongdroel is an “invaluable treasure” for our monastery, which is expected to bring further peace and happiness in Gangteng and Phobjikha valley,” said Gem Lhamo, 50, of Gangteng village. “This thongdroel will bless us and liberate us from all obstacles.”

By Rinzin Wangchuk


Thursday, 18 September 2008

Bhutan : The other Jaigaon – in Zhemgang

18 September, 2008 - To most Bhutanese, the name ‘Jaigaon’ conjures up the image of a busy town across the border to Phuentsholing.

But there’s a Jaigaon too in Zhemgang. Only that the one here is a picturesque cluster of huts on a gentle slope.

Located between the Zhemgang dzong and its higher secondary school, this ‘Jaigaon’ houses 11 private huts of the dzongkhag’s sweepers, gardeners, peons, dratshang cook and daily wage earners. However, nobody remembers how it got its name.

A group of low-income dzongkhag staff had built these huts on lands leased by Trong residents, paying a monthly rent of Nu 100.

Tashi, 59, from Kheng Salambi in Mongar, is one of the oldest residents of Zhemgang’s Jaigaon. He was in his 20’s when he first came to Zhemgang as a carpenter working for the dzongkhag administration and became the dzongkhag peon later.

The father of five said his family rented a house in Trong in 1986 before the landowner advised him to shift to the present location. “It came as a blessing. My family was struggling to make ends meet with my meagre salary,” said Tashi.

Soon his neighbours followed.

Phuntsho, 50, who looks after her paralysed son, is happy to be in Jaigaon. “We’ve developed a close bond among ourselves,” he said. The closeness was witnessed on Sunday when most Jaigaon residents gathered at Tashi house to watch the finals of the Yangphel archery tournament over bangchang and ara (locally brewed alcohol). “Our Jaigaon is a small community of low income but happy people,” said a resident, gulping down his brew.

Town residents say that, although Jaigaon residents are all low-income people, they had many advantages. “They’re saving from cheap rent and grow their own vegetables,” said a town resident.

But Jaigaon is also not spared from the water shortage the small Zhemgang township faces frequently. “We have to live without water for weeks and endure drinking muddy water during the monsoon,” said a Zhemgang Jaigaon resident. But for now their biggest worry is the landowners. “We’re concerned that they might ask us to move,” said Tashi. “The rent was raised to Nu 150 a month but we’ll be happy to pay that if they allow us to stay here only,” he said.

By Tashi Dema


Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Bhutan : Final countdown for workshop relocation

15 September, 2008 The longstanding dispute over the Changzamtog automobile workshops has finally come to an end with some workshop owners moving to the new location in Olakha even before the September 30 deadline.

An official from Thimphu city corporation’s (TCC), Tshering Younten, said that the workshop would be completely relocated to Olakha by the end of the month. “The last work left is blacktopping, which we’ll complete within a week,” he said.

Tshering Younten said that the black topping of roads was delayed because of heavy rain. “We wanted to do things properly so that in future no one will be given occasion to complain.”

The first notification to relocate the workshop was deadlined March this year, which was postponed to April. The relocation was delayed after workshop owners complained about the incomplete infrastructure at Olakha, including blacktopping of road.

Despite a succession of lapsed deadlines, the relocation was further delayed when workshop owners demanded that access roads be blacktopped, and a proper drainage system and waste disposal site be constructed. Workshop owners and building owners also differed on the fixation of rents.

The matter was put before work and human settlement minister, Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba, and after a long discussion on May 7 the final deadline was agreed for September 30.

This time TCC is bent on seeing the workshops relocated. “If they fail to meet the deadline, we’ll be left with no choice but to send our demolition team to bulldoze the area,” said Tshering Younten.

Meanwhile, workshop owners already face a problem at the new location. According to workshop owners, some people without automobile workshop licenses have moved into the new location. ‘

The new location will have four large workshops for heavy vehicles, 28 medium workshops for light four-wheel vehicles, and 14 workshops for two wheelers and tyre services. The present workshop area will be developed as a residential area since the area belongs to private individuals.

As per the Thimphu structural plan, the present workshop area is to be developed into a residential area.

By Tandin Wangchuk


Monday, 15 September 2008

Bhutan : Land compensation multiplied

home 13 September, 2008 - Starting this month, compensation for crops on land acquired by the government will increase by 400 percent for fruit bearing trees and by 300 percent for non-fruit bearing trees.

The government announced the revised compensation rates, which varies for cash crops, fruit trees, and other crops, earlier this week.

Orchard owners, with one-year old apple trees, would be paid Nu 784 per tree under the revised rated, compared with Nu 196 earlier, according to a government press release. For fruit bearing apple trees, the owner will be paid Nu 4,105 a tree, unlike the previous rate where owners were compensated with Nu 821 per tree. A tree is considered fruit bearing in its fifth year.

The revised rate also includes compensation for annual crops like paddy, wheat and chilis. The government will pay about Nu 12,600 to the owner for acquiring an acre of paddy, while for an acre of wheat, about Nu 3,000 will be paid. The owner will be paid about Nu 48,000 for an acre of chilis.

The new rates were a requirement of the revised Land Act, which was endorsed by the 86th National Assembly in 2007. Finance Minister Lyonpo Wangdi Norbu at a press conference on September 5 said that the government would come up with similar revised land compensation rates.

He said that the government is working on the land compensation rates, which would soon be submitted to the cabinet.

By Phuntsho Choden


Saturday, 13 September 2008

Bhutan : New Thongdroel consecrated for Jaba Jangchu Choling Goenpa

September 12: The Venerable Tshugla Lopen of the Zhungdratsang consecrated a new Thongdroel at the Jaba Jangchu Choling Goenpa in Paro on Wednesday, September 10.

The Thongdroel of Lam Drakpa Jamtsho the founder of the Jaba Jangchu Choling Goenpa was consecrated by the Venerable Tshugla Lopen of the Zhung Dratshang. Later, the Thongdroel was unfurled for public veneration.

Lam Ugyen Dorji of Jaba Goenpa said the Thongdroel was made with contributions from the people. He said the Thongdroel is dedicated to the Centenary Celebrations of the Monarchy and the Coronation of His Majesty the King.

Hundreds of devotees came to witness the Thongdroel and receive blessings. Mask dances were performance by the monks.

Prior to the unfurling of the Thongdroel and the performance of the mask Wednesday, a week long annual mani recitation was held at the Goenpa.

Jaba Jangchu Choling Goenpa was founded by lam Drakpa Jamtsho in the 1600s.


Thursday, 11 September 2008

Bhutan : Red faces in scholarship selection snafu

11 September, 2008 - The recent selection interview for Australian Development Scholarship (ADS) 2009 masters in business management (MBA) - global business, corporate strategy and human resource management - has left some engineers questioning the selection process.

Sixteen Bhutan power corporation engineers applied for the courses. While a few got short-listed in the first and second rounds, none made it through to the final round.

While labour ministry officials reasoned that the courses were not relevant to their current job description, applicants pointed out that the first announcement on the scholarship was not clear. “It didn’t mention who all could apply for certain courses and this created confusion among the applicants,” said one.

One of the engineers said that the selection committee has not been fair because last year it was based on academics. “We don’t understand why suddenly new criteria were set up this year. It just shows that they’re incompetent and inconsistent.”

Further confusion was created when three different shortlists appeared on the ministry’s website. Applicants said that, when the first list was posted, some of them had made it. It was soon removed and a second list posted where some of the short listed applicants in the first list went missing.

One of the ministry’s short-listing committee members, Deki Wangmo, said that the committee had first prepared two lists, one based on academics and the other on relevancy.

“It was a mistake on our part. We uploaded the wrong list by mistake so we had to take it out and upload the right one.

This “mistake” made some applicants based outside Thimphu start their journey as early as 3:00 am to make it for the interview scheduled for the next day.

Norbu Tshering, BPC’s manager of electrical services division in Pemagasthel, rushed to Thimphu right after he heard that he’d been short-listed. “When I reached Wamrong, I contacted my friends to inform them that I’d be a little late for my interview but they told me that a new list has been posted and my name wasn’t there.”

Director of the department of human resources and also a member of the short-listing committee, Sonam Rinchen, said that the donor representative had some reservations when the first short list was based on academics alone. “The representative was not happy because those short listed were not relevant for the program. He advised the committee to do a second short-listing based on relevancy.”

The director explained that relevancy meant shortlisted candidates should have worked for some time in that particular post they are currently holding and that the program they would pursue in Australia should be relevant to their present job portfolio.

“Last year the shortlisting was done on academics and the ADS never raised this issue,” said the director. He said that the difference was last year the donor representative came as an observer and this time as a panelist. “We didn’t expect the donor representative to come up with this issue. That was our drawback in the sense that it was beyond our control.”

The director also said that the human resources development guideline for private and corporate sector clearly explains that the training should be relevant to the job responsibility of the nominee and HRD needs of the organization.

The director however said that the engineers were right when they said that MBA was relevant to them. “I know that it’s relevant for engineers, in fact, engineering and MBA is a better combination. But the selection committee has to go as per guidelines.”

An AusAid official in Canberra, Australia, Ms Sophie, said in an e-mail interview that applicants can apply for any field of study at a post-graduate level (MBA included) but will have to consider what the selection panel is looking for. “There are a lot of things taken into account during selection, and if it’s decided that the MBA will not benefit the country, then it’s not likely that the applicant will be selected.”

Meanwhile, the labour ministry is proposing a Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) to shortlist candidates for MBA in future.

By Sonam Pelden


Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Bhutan : Call centres caving in under business slump

10 September, 2008 - Two call centres entered Bhutan with much optimism two years ago. But today Paro’s TST system has closed down for want of business and Drukonnet is under pressure from its agents for nonpayment.

The call centres’ proprietors claim their losses have run into millions. They partly blame the government for their failures.

There was not only lack of proper framework in place for call centre operations in the country, the proprietors said, but also the help the government had promised did not come through.

Drukonnet said that the government had shown keen interest in the beginning but, at the time, neither government nor private operator was fully aware of how call centres functioned. “Moreover, the government promised to supply connectivity and equipment and we planned our business accordingly,” said a proprietor.

Plans were laid to start with voice-based business for which there was need for very good connectivity but the government did not provide it. This caused the company to switch to non-voice business which fetched less income.

“Business is available but we can afford to bring in only low end jobs, owing to our poor technology and competency of human resources,” said the proprietor.

Tshering Wangchuk, a co-proprietor of TST system, whose operations were suspended since January this year, said that they were trying to get business from abroad.

“We had contacts with the Indian vendors but there were misunderstandings and now we’re looking for direct contact abroad or with some big-timers in India,” he said, adding that they had started with telemarketing, which was not a big income generator.

Meanwhile, department of information technology (DIT) officials said that they were in the process of negotiating the connectivity tariff, which was taking time.

“The tariff is comparatively high and we’re working towards bringing it down,” said the deputy chief ICT officer, Sonam Dukda, adding that they had already signed a memorandum of understanding with a company in India. “It’s not a couple of months’ job.”

Sonam Dukda gave an assurance that connectivity would be provided before the end of this year.

Assistant programme officer of the department of human resources, Kunzang Wangmo, told Kuensel that the department had supported call centres in training the agents and also provided funds through a pre-employment programme, when one of the call centres suffered a financial crisis. The department had seen the call centres as avenues for job creation.

“They did create employment but not as we much as we expected because there was always some problem,” said Kunzang Wangmo, adding that they now had plans to frame guidelines to draw the line on how much support the government should extend to call centres.

By Kesang Dema


Bhutan : Care providers – Overloaded and undervalued

9 September, 2008, - It’s not rare to find Bhutanese, who visit the Thimphu national referral hospital, return with grievances. Their list of complaints includes long lines outside the doctors’ chambers and harsh treatment from health staff. Be that as it may, doctors say there is always the other side to a story.

Shortage of doctors and nurses in the country and long hours of work to make up for it could be the source of their sorely tried patience.

A Thimphu doctor starts duty at 9:00 am. He goes to the wards for his routine checks and arrives two hours later at his chamber. By then a chain of patients will be waiting outside. He barely finishes attending half the queue when the clock strikes 3:00 pm. If he is lucky he gets to go home but there are almost always emergencies and surgeries that need his attention. The next day, whether he had late night emergencies or not, his routine begins at the same time, 9:00 am.

“Doctors are human beings and we have our limitations,” said Urologist Dr Lotay Tshering.

Dr Lotay Tshering said that, to give a detailed examination, it required at least 20 minutes for a patient. But after the ward round doctors are left with about four hours, which is just enough to see about 15 patients only. He says he has more than 50 patients waiting outside his chambers daily.

“If I’m to see 15 patients and I didn’t give them adequate time and attention, then it’s my fault,” said Dr Lotay. “But we need clear directives whether to make all 50 patients happy or choose 15 genuine cases.”

Then there are those who try to rush through the formalities in an hour or two requesting for faster doctor services. Dr Lotay said there were times when a doctor’s patience were put to the test. “I might be the first doctor the patient is seeing but, to me, he is the 31st patient and, after answering and instructing the same queries, we lose our patience.”

Dr Lotay also said that half their time was spent in non-surgical work. “We need an adequate administrative support with a good set of office and assistants, who’ll handle the paperwork.”

Medical director, Dr Ngawang Tenzin, said that ideally there should be a set of teams in the outpatient department (OPD), operation theatre, and the wards but, because of an acute shortage of manpower, a doctor was looking after everything.

Thimphu national referral hospital has 34 doctor specialists, excluding the three from RBA and three on contract, plus eight general duty medical officers.

Dr Ngawang Tenzin said that crowding in the referral hospital could be avoided if people followed the system - from BHU to district hospitals to regional hospitals, which were also well equipped.

“But most prefer to come here even if their cases could be handled by district hospitals,” he said, adding that, if people utilised district services, the case load, especially the OPD ones, would go down.

The services in the new 350-bedded hospital, which was expected to be complete soon, would also be opened as per the manpower available, said Dr Ngawang.

The Ministry of Health’s chief planning officer, Sonam Dorji, said that, to avoid queue-jumping, a token system was introduced. “There is crowding because there’s one waiting room for reception, laboratory, pharmacy and doctors’ chambers. With the new hospital, hopefully, that will be solved.

“We’ve initiated recruitment on contract the nursing assistants so that skilled nurses have time to give better nursing care,” said Sonam Dorji, adding that intake of students at the Royal Institute of Health Sciences was also raised.

By Kesang Dema


Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Bhutan : Dappa making becomes popular

September 8: With the onset of dappa or wooden bowl making season, dappa makers in and around Trashiyangtse are busy at work to meet the increasing demand. Dappa makers say, the business has been lucrative over the past few years and they hope for a better season this year.

Dappa making is practiced mostly in Trashiyangtse. It is a profession that has been passed from generations to generations. Some of the farmers take up the job during the off season when they have no work in the field.

Pema Rinchen from Bimkhar village in Trashiyangtse is one of the skilled dappa makers of his village. He has been working as Shazo or wood carver for seven years before he took up dappa making, a skill that he inherited from his family. Though dappa making is profitable, it has its own share of problems. Pema Rinchen says it is difficult to get the raw materials.

In the past dappa makers said they used traditional machines like Mathem, Miring and Kaypang. With the passage of time, traditional machines are being replaced by modern equipments like the electric motors which power the tools to carve and produce wooden bowls. They say this consumes less time and the output is double of what was possible with the old method. However when the power supply is disrupted work comes to a stop since the motor operates on electricity.

Apart from traditional products like dappa, duphor, japhop, gophu, ema tsiku and padappa, dappa makers have also diversified their products. These include plates, cups, soup bowls, wine cups and dinner sets depending on the nature of the demand. These products make their way not only into the houses and restaurants in Bhutan but are also popular with tourists.

With the business becoming lucrative every year, more people are taking up dappa making as a full time profession. 28-years-old Tshering Dorji from Bartsham in Trashigang is one of them. Tshering Dorji underwent a four years training course in Shazo from the Zorig Chusum institute in Trashiyangtse. It has been two years since he started making dappa after completing his training.

He also participated in the Smithsonian Folk life festival at Washington DC in the United States this year.

The local craftsmen collect the raw materials from Wangduephodrang and Trongsa where it is found in plenty.

Today a dappa can cost anywhere between Nu. 500 to several thousand ngultrums depending on the size and quality of the materials. For instance, a dapa made out of Bou and Za can fetch a very high price.


Sunday, 7 September 2008

Bhutan : Drukair set to spread its wings

4 September, 2008 - As Drukair celebrated its Silver Jubilee on Monday, September 1, the national airline has plans to soar higher by including more routes and destinations.

Managing director Tandin Jamso said that Drukair will start its Paro-Bagdora-Bangkok route from mid 2009, while it is looking into the possibility of flying to the USA by using partner airlines from Bangkok.

“We’re also planning to increase our routes by improving interline agreements with our airline partners so that any Bhutanese passenger can go to any other destination besides what Drukair offers today,” said Tandin Jamso. Today Drukair’s interline partners are Thai airways, Bangkok air, Bangladesh air, Delhi air and Kathmandu airways.

“At the moment our airline’s not compatible with other airlines such as Thai. We need to have interline booking system,” said Tandin Jamso.

Drukair’s plan to launch a service from Katmandu to Bombay last year was shelved because of increases in fuel price and airport charges in Bombay. Drukair also slashed its flight frequency to Bangkok, but Tandin Jamso said that, by October this year, Druk Air will have seven flights a week to Bangkok.

Commending the services of the national airline, His Royal Highness, Dasho Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck, in his keynote address, said that Druk Air has played a pivotal role in the nation’s development. “It opened landlocked Bhutan’s doors to air transportation, which has not only benefited our economy, but also strengthened our sovereignty,” he said.

“The benefits of urgent travel will continue to matter tremendously to a landlocked population for whom washed-out roads, mule trails and walking for hours to school remain a reality. For landlocked Bhutan, the air transportation link is a vital necessity that can’t be compromised for economic considerations alone.”

His Royal Highness also awarded certificates to former managing directors and other staff, including an Indian luggage loader based in Kolkata, who has served Druk Air since it started in 1983. The new dress for cabin crew was also launched during the celebration.

Cabinet ministers, senior government officials, the chairperson of the Druk Holding and Investment, and senior members of the armed forces joined the celebration on Monday. From its modest start in 1983, Drukair has ferried about 130,000 passengers in 2007 compared to 3,000 in 1983.

The change in the country’s only airline is best described by loader Saltu Choudhary, who came to collect his award. “From a dozen bags in 1983, I handle hundreds of baggage every time Drukair lands in Kolkata,” he said.

Druk Air was founded in 1981 by a Royal Proclamation.

By Tenzin Namgyel


Saturday, 6 September 2008

Bhutan : Logo fee frightens potential users

4 September, 2008 - More than a year after the centenary and coronation logo was franchised, most private and corporate agencies have resisted using the logo because of the high fee imposed by the government.

An official of the construction association of Bhutan (CAB) said that the office wanted to use the logo on their website and on the letter head but was surprised when a finance ministry letter asked them to pay Nu 0.5 million. “Though we want to contribute and celebrate the occasion by using the logo, the amount is just too much and the office simply can’t afford it,” he said.

A tour company proprietor based in Thimphu said that he wanted to use the logo, which will be used this year only, but resisted because of the size of the fee being imposed for it.

There are also many agencies, which are still unaware that a certain fee would have to be paid to the finance ministry for using the centenary and coronation logo.

However, finance officials said that the fee varies from agency to agency. “We charge ranging from Nu 0.1 million, 0.5 million and 1 million, depending on the strength and the size of the agency,” he said.

Media organizations are exempted from paying the fee only if the logo is used in the newspaper.

On the other hand, an official of the steering committee said that all private individuals and companies should be well aware of the fees because it was already explained during the launch of the logo.

The logo was franchised in June 2007.

Observers reason that the logo is a good way of informing people of the celebrations taking place in the country this year but the fee is deterring them from using it. “The logo has to be used and promoted as much as possible and this isn’t the best way to do it,” said 40-year-old Karma, a private employee.

An official of the finance ministry and of the steering committee said that the fees collected from the use of the logo will support the celebrations.

As of May this year, the finance ministry has been able to license only seven of the 50 items that the coronation and centenary logo can be used on. The various items, on which the logo could be used, include T-shirts, khadar, caps, banners, badges, calendars, passport covers, bags, mugs, stationery, stickers, posters, watches and clocks, balloons and post-cards.

By Phuntsho Choden


Thursday, 4 September 2008

Bhutan : Druk Air celebrates its silver jubilee

September 2: 25 years ago, in 1983, the first 18 seater Dornier took off from Paro opening the gates of Bhutan to the outside world. In February 1983, the Royal Bhutan Airlines started its first operation with one aircraft flying to the Indian city of Kolkatta twice a week.

Two and half decades down the line, Druk Air flies to several destinations including Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkatta, Dhaka, Bodh Gaya and Nepal with two 319 air buses.

As 2008 marks the 25 years of operation for Druk Air, a function was organized here in the capital to mark the event.

His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck was the Guest of Honour.

Speaking at the gathering, Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck said under the wise leadership of His Majesty the King, air transportation has played a pivotal role in the development of the nation.

Druk Holding and Investments (DHI) is the parent organization for Druk Air. The Chairman of DHI Om Pradhan in his inaugural address said that Druk Air has also contributed to revenue generation of the country by bringing in more tourists.

In 1983, Dasho Sonam Tshering who was then working as an engineer with the Druk Air in Kolkatta recollects going to receive the passengers at the Kolkatta airport. He said only about two or three passengers would get out of the 18 seater aircraft. There would be around 20 people receiving them at the airport. In a year only about three thousand will fly by Druk Air.

This was the situation then. But today, about 130,000 passengers fly by the national airline annually.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Druk Air credits the growth to government support, better aircrafts and increased frequency of flights.

Talking about the financial aspect, the CEO Tandin Jamtso said the Druk Air is doing well and is able to meet the operational costs at the moment. He said they are however still running under loss because of accumulative costs.

The CEO said in order to make full utilization of the aircrafts, Druk Air besides its regular flights also leases out the aircraft during night halts in Bangkok.

Also as part of the celebrations, His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck gave away certificates of appreciation to past Chairmen and Managing Directors of Druk Air. Certificates were also awarded to the senior staff of Druk Air.

Druk Air has also plans to introduce flights to Bangkok via Bagdora in India. It has also plans to introduce direct flights to destinations like the US not necessarily via Druk Air but through partner airlines in other countries.


Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Bhutan : Prized Prados’ price dearer

1 September, 2008 - Senior government officials, eligible for foreign vehicle import quota, will have to pay the 35 percent import tax if they wish to buy Toyota Prados.

This is in line with the ban on the quota imposed in May this year, according to the managing director of state trading corporation of Bhutan (STCBL), Samdrup K Thinley.

“The ban on Prado was to reduce the depletion of foreign exchange reserve,” said the managing director. A Prado costs about 13 million Japanese yen, which has to be paid in dollars. The 35 percent tax levied on a Prado includes 15 percent Bhutan sales tax and 20 percent import duty.

The quota is also being banned because ministers have downgraded their vehicle to Prados from Land Cruisers. “With the ministers driving Prados, even directors and director generals will not get Prados,” said the managing director.

Import of Toyota Prados has increased every year in Bhutan. Bhutan imported 225 Prados since the beginning of the year. Last year, Bhutan imported 111 Prados out of the 265 Toyota vehicles imported from Japan.

The managing director said that 47 more Prados will arrive in September. Of the 47, 18 are for members of parliament, five for private individuals and the rest for the government, including the ministers’ Prados.

About 70 percent of the customers are from Thimphu alone and the rest from Phuentsholing and other dzongkhags. The managing director said that the increase in the demand for Prados could be because of the festival season related to the Coronation. “People are buying Prados to hire out during the Coronation and Centenary celebrations in the coming months,” he said.

Meanwhile, STCBL generated Nu 840 million ngultrums from the sale of Toyota vehicles in 2007. This year, the company expects over one billion ngultrums.

“We’re expecting about a 50 percent increase,” said Samdrup K Thinley.

By Tenzing Lamsang


Bhutan : Institutionalising the institutes

1 September, 2008 - For years, the two Zorig Chusum institutes in the country have been training apprentices in various crafts through different traditional means, mainly oral culture. This will change.

The institutes will soon have a curriculum for the crafts and they are starting with tshemdru (embroidery).

“We’re starting with one of the simplest trades so that, when we go further, it will be easier,” said Karma Dorji, programme officer of human resources department, who conducted the curriculum workshop that ended today in Khuruthang.

The two institutes offer about six trades namely lhadrip (mural painting), jinzoe (sculpture), troezoe (silver smith), shazoe (woodturning), tshemsoe (tailoring and embroidery), and patta (wood carving).

Karma Dorji said that, without a proper curriculum, the institutes had been delivering training through in-house syllabus and practices without any documents. “It had mostly been like the delivery of skills from father to son,” he said.

He said that there was also not much interaction between the two institutes and having a curriculum would ensure that training delivered at both institutes would be the same.

Meanwhile, the curriculum on tshemdru will drive the institutes to tackle one of the biggest challenges of competing with foreign products.

Karma Dorji said that they were trying to mimimise the time required for tshemdru products and, at the same time, ensure that products going to market were sold without compromising on quality. “We’ll also adopt innovative measures to sell the products,” he said.

Officiating principal of Trashiyangtse Zorig Chusum institute, Jigme Dorji, said that they even had plans to mechanise the craft, by introducing sewing machines, in order to compete with mass-produced foreign goods that come at cheaper rates.

“The traditional method took time and cost a minimum of Nu 6,000 while similar foreign machine-made goods cost no more than Nu 3,000,” he said, adding that mechanising the trade would not contradict traditional practice but would instead improve quality and delivery.

“We won’t compromise with the drawing and will stick to traditional designs and, if required, we’ll handpick the intricate designs,” he said.

Meanwhile, the curriculum, which is being prepared in line with the occupational profile, is also expected to set a standard to test vocational training. Woodcarving and silver smith could be the two trades to follow embroidery with their occupational profiles already in place.

By Kesang Dema