Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Bhutan : His Majesty the King grants audience to new IMTRAT Commandant

December 29: His Majesty the King granted an audience to the new Commandant of IMTRAT at the Tashichhodzong this morning.

Major General Gyan Bhushan took office as the new IMTRAT Commandant from December 22.

Prior to his new appointment, the General Officer was working as the JC Wing Commander of MHOW in Madhya Pradesh, India.

Major General Gyan Bhushan has an M.Phil in Defense Studies and Management and is an alumnus of the National Defense College.

Major General Gyan Bhushan is also a recipient of the Vishist Seva and the Ati Vishist Seva medals.


Sunday, 28 December 2008

Bhutan : National interest above all else

27 December, 2008 - Although they represented different constituencies and dzongkhags, parliamentarians must deliberate on all issues with the goal of safeguarding the interests of the people in all 20 dzongkhags and the nation, His Majesty the King advised the opening session of parliament on December 24. “In the end, we are one small family,” His Majesty said.

His Majesty said that he was pleased to see the politicians and all the other players in the Bhutanese political system carrying out their responsibilities. Despite the challenge of instituting a new democracy, His Majesty said that the country was filled with a sense of quiet assurance and such a confident start was a source of optimism.

“It is also a reminder that, in order for democracy to fulfill our objective of further strengthening our nation, we must realise first that there is much work to be done,” His Majesty said. “And then, we must carry out this work with dedication and in the right spirit.”

In an opening ceremony, that was steeped in tradition, His Majesty the King was received by members of the National Assembly and the National Council and escorted to the Assembly Hall in a chipdrel procession. The session was inaugurated with the marchang and zhugdrel ceremonies.

The prime minister and members of the parliament pledged to fulfil the aspirations of His Majesty the King. Lyonchhoen Jigmi Y Thinley said that whatever success the new government had achieved thus far had been inspired by the guidance of His Majesty the King.

Highlighting events of a year, dominated by nationwide celebrations, the prime minister said that the Ta Dzong museum in Trongsa, which was dedicated to the Wangchuck dynasty, the Changlimithang national stadium, Tendrel Thang, Centennial park, the expanded Dechenphu complex, and renovation of the National Memorial Chhorten complex were some of the important monuments that would commemorate this historic year.

He added that the government would not measure success in terms of the strength of the party but in terms of the success of democracy.

The National Assembly Speaker, Tshogpoen Jigme Tshultim, said that some of the issues prioritised in the 10th Plan will include the reduction of unemployment and poverty alleviation; construction of roads in all the gewog centres, supply of electricity to rural Bhutan, and setting up of one-stop centres were other important goals.

Responding to the opposition leader’s call for the government to present broader policy issues, the speaker said that issues were important and would be discussed when the 10th Plan is tabled.

By Passang Norbu


Friday, 26 December 2008

Bhutan : 109-year-old man receives Centenary Citizen award

December 26: Recognized as the oldest person alive in Bhutan, Agay Lethro, a 109-year-old man in Sarpang received the Centenary Citizen award from the Citizens' Initiative for Coronation and Centenary Celebrations (CICCC).

The award includes a cash prize of Nu 25,000 and a certificate.

Like many senior citizens of Bhutan, Agay Lethro is a kidu recipient of His Majesty the King. His award was received by the Office of the Gyapoi Zimpon on his behalf on December 17.

The Office of the Gyalpoi Zimpon handed over the award to the Sarpang Dzongkhag and the Sarpang Dzongda Sangay Thinley delivered it to Agay Lethro at his residence in Jigmechoeling yesterday. The Sarpang Dzongda was accompanied by Dzongkhag officials and representatives of the Office of the Gyalpoi Zimpon.

In a voice shaking with emotion, Agay Lethro thanked His Majesty the King for the award.

Agay Lethro lives with his paternal grand son, Tenzin Wangdi- as he has no child of his own. He weaves bamboo baskets, local hats made from bamboo and other products.

Despite his age, Agay Lethro keeps himself busy in the kitchen garden.

Agay Lethro is the eldest of seven children. As a young man he married a woman from Berti village in Zhemgang. Unfortunately they did not have any children. His wife passed away at the age of 70.

Agay Lethro vividly remembers how he traveled on foot to Thimphu where he worked on the construction of the Tashichhodzong and the construction of Thimphu-Phuentsholing highway.

When asked about the secret to his longevity, Agay Lethro said as a young man he never touched alcohol or tobacco. That and a physically active life have allowed him to live a long health life.


Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Bhutan : Move over steel, tourism’s sick too

24 December, 2008 - The sick steel industry’s hope of help from the government is set to face a serious setback with tourist operators asking for a similar aid. The operator’s contention: the financial calamity has hurt their business too.

If the government is ready to shore up the steel industry, then it’s only fair that it provide the same support to tourism, according to the association of Bhutanese tour operators (ABTO), which is planning to approach the government this week.

ABTO’s general secretary Sonam Dorji said that, already, more than 1,500 tourists have cancelled their trip to Bhutan in 2009 following the international credit crunch. More bad new may be in store. In 2007, during the initial period of recession, only 250 operators out of 400 got business.

“Even the ones coming in do not or will not stay long,” said Sonam Dorji.

The United Nations world tourism organisation has also come out with a very bleak forecast, said Sonam Dorji. It said that the credit crisis will injure Asia’s tourism more than any others, because of its distance from source, the western countries.

Besides being beneficial to communities and service industries, such as hotels, tourism employs 3,000 regular staff and about 2,500 every tourist season. In 2008, it generated US$ 40 million in royalty to the government.

ABTO is requesting “interim measures,” such as deferment of the planned tariff revision in 2009 from US$ 200 to US$ 250 till things normalise, and concession on the royalty amount and Druk Air tickets. It also wants hotels to keep a lid on their annual tariff increase.

Observers, however, think ABTO’s plan may face difficulties. Tourism is not an intensive investment business, not for the operators anyway. At any rate, said the observer, it is a more superior revenue-generating business than most, not only for the government, but also for the operators themselves, from comparably less investment.

“Our tourism industry have had it good for a long time, they should be able to ride this storm, which too will pass,” said an observer, who did not want to be named.

What about steel?
Which is not to say that there is general consensus among the officials, or even the public, that the sick steel industries should be rescued.

The Nu 1.3B steel factories in Pasakha, following the international financial crisis that led to a dip in demand for steel in the Indian market, approached the government recently for aid. They asked for additional working capital, interest rate of their loans to be reduced, interest and principal of their loans to be deferred for one year, and power and lease rates to be frozen till they recovered.

Stakeholders economic affairs ministry, finance ministry, Bhutan power corporation limited (BPC), the national environment commission (NEC), and the country’s two banks are studying the situation.

The private steel industries in Pasakha, which sell their products to India, reap the benefits of the difference in tax and cost of power, which are lower in Bhutan. BPC charges Nu 1.51 per unit to the industries, and a higher Nu 2 per unit to India.

Steel industries are power intensive. BPC has built a substation with a capacity of 189 MVA near Pasakha solely for the industries there. There are nine (operational) industries, out of which five are steel. Lhaki steel is sanctioned 20 MW of power.

“We’ve spent Nu 540 million for the substation, I don’t think we can further approve the steel industries’ proposal,” said a power official.

If BPC sold the 189 MVA of power, it would earn not less than Nu 3 million every year. From the total power sanctioned to the industries, only 40 MVA is known to be used, the rest is not withdrawn, say BPC officials. BPC recently fined five Pasakha industries Nu 11 million for not drawing power. Lhaki Steel was charged Nu 3.24 million.

Pasakha industries were also fined for exceeding the pollution standard set by NEC. The steel industry is also a heavy polluter. Besides emitting sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, they also contaminate water with slag (thick sootlike material), say NEC officials.

Revenue and customs officials say Pasakha industries do not have to pay corporate income tax and business tax for three years. They are also exempted from duty on import of raw materials.

“With various incentives provided, there is now no space for any fiscal measures,” say a customs official.

Record maintained by the employment department show that the five private steel industries employed 186 nationals and 296 non-nationals. The figures were given by the industries and not confirmed.

Meanwhile, Lhaki steels managing director, Tashi Wangdi, in a letter to Kuensel wrote: “The failure of the manufacturing companies in Bhutan will have a negative impact on BPC, financial institutions, present and potential employment opportunities, indirect employment derived from direct employment opportunities and trading sector in Bhutan who supplies to manufacturing sector.”

By Passang Norbu


Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Japanese support for immunization programme in Bhutan

December 22: The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Ministry of Health signed a technical cooperation support for the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) in Bhutan today.

The agreement was signed this morning by the Health Secretary Dasho Dr. Gado Tshering, the Resident Representative of JICA Tetsuo Yabe and Head of Development Cooperation Division of the GNH Commission, Thinley Namgyel.

The three-year project will see Japanese assistance in supply of vaccines and vaccine storage equipment called cold chain equipment. Under the project Japanese technical advisers will also train Bhutanese health workers.

The Health Secretary expressed gratitude to JICA for its assistance to Bhutan including support in the Health sector. Japan’s support to the immunization programme in Bhutan started in 1995.


Monday, 22 December 2008

Bhutan : Six honoured for service to nation

20 December, 2008 - “As King it is my duty to recognise people, who have served their fellow countrymen and nation in an exceptional way. It does not matter who you are, whether you are from rural or urban Bhutan or from the private sector or government. In the end all that matters is your love and service for our people and country. It is my hope that, henceforth, every one of you will strive to merit these awards.”

For six Bhutanese citizens, December 17, 2008 turned out to be an unforgettable day. In a surprise announcement, during the royal National Day address, His Majesty the King awarded the Druk Wangyal medal to the prime minister, Lyonchhoen Jigmi Y. Thinley, and the chief justice, Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye.

“Jigmi Thinley and Sonam Tobgye, throughout their careers, have been motivated by service to the nation, regardless of what responsibilities they held,” His Majesty said. “They have excelled in carrying out their duties in each position and their devotion to the country is exemplary. Even today, under a new democratic system, they continue to serve the nation in important positions, that they have earned through their own merit.”

Lyonchhoen Jigmi Thinley said that he was greatly honoured and humbled. “If I have pleased His Majesty and the government, it is because of the opportunities I’ve been bestowed by them,” he said. “I accept this not only as His Majesty’s recognition of my services but also collectively on behalf of my colleagues, the new government. I recognise this honour as His Majesty’s expectations, the kind of service that he expects from every government employee. Therefore, I think it’s also with expectations of similar service hereafter.”

Chief Justice Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye said that it was a legitimate aspiration for every person to work for recognition but the Druk Wangyal “elated, inspired, and humbled” him. “It is my lifetime achievement that His Majesty most graciously recognised and my family will always cherish this honour,” he said. “I had many doubts and difficulties and His Majesty through this medal redeemed my doubts and encouraged me to do more. It is my belief that the royal government of Bhutan is not deaf and blind, particularly His Majesty will always see through his compassionate eyes the services rendered by every person in the country, regardless of his or her status, background or place.”

His Majesty awarded four Druk Thuksey medals.

Dasho Kunzang Wangdi, Chief Election Commissioner, received the Druk Thuksey for his “personal integrity and hard work and for the combined effort of the officials of the Election Commission of Bhutan, various government agencies, local government and the armed forces in preparing for and conducting successful general elections at the start of democracy.”

Neten Zangmo, Chairperson of the Anti-Corruption Commission was granted the Druk Thuksey for “carrying out her duties as head of the Anti-Corruption Commission without fear or favour.” His Majesty said that, at this phase in the growth of democracy, the ACC must work to prevent the spread of one of the biggest threats to Bhutan’s success. His Majesty pledged his own wholehearted support to the ACC. Neten Zangmo will receive the Red Scarf from His Majesty.

Dasho Pema Wangchuk, International Boundaries Secretary, was awarded the Druk Thuksey for his “long, consistent and fruitful service during the reign of two kings with sincerity, dedication and humility.”

Dasho Pema Wangchen, Secretary to the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, received the Druk Thuksey for his “commitment and dedication with which he had served a special King as he led the nation over 34 years.”

Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said the medal reaffirmed that the election commission had lived up to the expectations of the Fourth King in conducting the elections successfully. “We are honored by the faith and trust of His Majesty the fifth King on the officials to conduct the future elections more professionally.”

“I consider myself very lucky because my humble contributions to the nation were appreciated on such a great day, when we were celebrating 100 years of monarchy and people were rejoicing the coronation of the Fifth King,” he said. “It was an appreciation for past effort but, with this medal, there’s a challenge ahead of me and my colleagues to fulfill the expectations of His Majesty for future elections.”

Dasho Pema Wangchuk, who received the Red Scarf from the third Druk Gyalpo, said that, when His Majesty commended his consistent service, it was the biggest compliment for him. “I nearly cried.”

“The medal means a lot to me,” he said, “because it’s a reward for my 36 years of service with the royal government, that is, 10 years with the late Majesty, 34 years with the fourth Druk Gyalpo, and now two years with the fifth Druk Gyalpo. “I always gave my best, serving with a clear conscience, as the King is always for the people.”

Dasho Pema Wangchen, the secretary of fourth Druk Gyalpo, joined the royal service in 1970. “The honour bestowed upon me by the Druk Gyalpo on the Centenary National Day was totally unexpected and took me by surprise,” he said. “I was deeply overwhelmed when my name was announced and I was commanded by His Majesty the King to come to the podium to receive the medal in front of the nation. I consider myself very fortunate for the privilege I have had to serve such a great King.”

For Neten Zangmo, it was a “very, very, big, big, big, big surprise!”. “It symbolised the beginning of the end of corruption,” she told Kuensel. “This is a very strong message that His Majesty is sending to every Bhutanese, to every corner of this country - that corruption has to be fought resolutely and that corruption cannot be tolerated.”

“The medal is a great motivation and inspiration for ACC and myself. We’ll continue to work harder … As far as we are concerned, we’ll fight corruption no matter whoever is in it.” Referring to the retroactive law used against various ACC cases, she said: “Why is that an issue when big people are involved and not when small people are involved?”

Her message to politicians and bureaucrats: “Stop talking and start practising. Even when a new government has come up, it’s business as usual and things aren’t changing at all, as they should. The culture of indifference persists.”

His Majesty said that, while awards went to individuals, it did not mean that the rest had not served their country. He said that, in fact, the people of Bhutan were united in their love of country and such awards were meant precisely to preserve this unique strength of Bhutan.



Friday, 19 December 2008

Bhutan : Bhutan celebrates Centenary National Day

December 18: A blessed Kingdom with a fortunate people ruled by enlightened monarchs, under the leadership of a caring and compassionate Druk Gyalpo who inspires his people, Bhutan celebrated the historic Centenary National Day yesterday.

With His Majesty at the celebrations in Changlimethang, the people of Thimphu and nearby areas came in their Tshechu best to soak in the celebrations of a historic day. The celebration was broadcast LIVE on BBS TV and Radio.

His Majesty the King and the statue of Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck were escorted to the celebration ground in an elaborate chipdrel procession. The sky was without a whisper of clouds as the December sun brought warmth to an auspicious and historic day. His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, Their Majesties the Queen Mothers and the members of the royal family, cabinet ministers, representatives of the clergy, the armed forces, parliamentarians, students and the international community joined the celebrations. After His Majesty’s arrival at the celebrations ground, the national flag was hoisted and a guard of honour was presented.

This was followed by the Jibi Pao and a Marchhang Ceremony.

Thousands of Bhutanese across the Kingdom, who were watching and listening to the LIVE coverage of the celebrations on BBS TV and Radio waited to listen to His Majesty the King’s Centenary National Day address.

Addressing the nation, His Majesty the King said we have all together, as one small family, celebrated 100 years of Monarchy, the start of Democracy and His Majesty’s Coronation. His Majesty said the success of these celebrations and in fact the success of our nation over the last 100 years owes so much to the prayers and hard work of our people.

His Majesty offered His gratitude to the people of the 20 dzongkhags for the kindness and love shown by the people during His Majesty’s Coronation. Following His Majesty’s address, it was time for the student scouts from schools of the Thimphu valley to present the March Past. The staff of various ministries, agencies and corporations also performed cultural programme.

The Centenary National Day assumes profound significance as 2008 saw Bhutan celebrate the Coronation of His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the Centenary of the Monarchy and the successful and peaceful transition to democracy. From far flung hamlets of rural Bhutan to the sprawling urban centres, the Centenary National Day is an opportune time for Bhutanese to pay tribute to our Monarchs, an auspicious occasion to pray for the Long Life of His Majesty the King, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo and for continued peace, prosperity and happiness in the Kingdom.

At the Changlimethang ground, where Bhutanese from all walks of life came to celebrate the historic Centenary National Day, many were blessed by the privilege of an audience with His Majesty the King.

As a moving Tashi Lebay started, it was time to pause and reflect, to go back 100 years when with the coming of the Wangchuck dynasty, the sun of happiness has been shining, bringing unprecedented peace, prosperity and happiness in the Kingdom.

As 2008 comes to a close, it is with immense satisfaction and pride that we celebrate the successful transition to democracy, the Centenary of our Monarchy, the institution that binds us as a people and a nation, the Coronation of His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the protector of the people, the embodiment of our hopes and aspirations and the guardian of our well being.


Monday, 15 December 2008

Bhutan : New complex of JDWNRH inaugurated

December 14: The new Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital Complex was inaugurated today by Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Tshering Pem Wangchuck.

Her Majesty was escorted to the new hospital complex in a traditional chibdrel ceremony. Her Majesty was accompanied by Her Royal Highness Ashi Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck.

Following the inaugural ceremony, Her Majesty made visited the new complex. The Health Minster Lyonpo Zangley Drukpa in his address said the new complex equipped with the state of art and latest equipments clearly manifests the level of socio-economic development that Bhutan has reached.
The Health Minister attributed Bhutan’s socio-economic development to the dynamic and enlightened leadership of our Kings.

Lyonpo also highlighted some of the challenges confronting the health sector. Acute shortage of medical professionals at all levels and inadequate budgetary provisions were pointed out as the two major constraints.

He said the ministry has taken interim measures to solve the human resource problem by recruiting doctors and specialists from outside. The 350-bed new hospital was constructed with financial assistance from the government of India.

Describing the project as a symbol of Indo-Bhutan friendship, India’s Ambassador Sudhir Vyas said the new hospital complex will enhance the country’s health care services and capacity.

The inauguration was also attended by cabinet ministers, the opposition leader, senior government officials and representatives of the international agencies.


Friday, 12 December 2008

Bhutan : His Majesty inaugurates the Trongsa Ta Dzong Museum

December 11: His Majesty the King inaugurated the Trongsa Ta Dzong Museum yesterday. The museum is dedicated to the monarchs of the kingdom.

Their Royal Highnesses Ashi Sonam Dechan Wangchuck and Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuck were also present at the inauguration.

Though it was a cold morning, His Majesty the King and their Royal Highnesses Ashi Sonam Dechan Wangchuck and Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuck walked from the Thruepang Palace to the Trongsa Ta Dzong museum.

Along the way, thousands of people waited in line burning aromatic herbs and incense, holding flowers and waving the national flag. His Majesty the King interacted with the people stopping every now and then to talk to the people or hold their hands.

From the Trongsa dzong, His Majesty the King was led to the Ta Dzong in traditional chipdrel procession. His Majesty the King and the Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley unveiled the dedication plaque at the entrance gate. Also present at the opening, Christian Mazal and Mrs Marie Christine Weinberger from the Austrian Coordination Office.

At the north tower, His Majesty the King was offered marchang and zhudrel. His Majesty the King then visited the museum galleries along with their royal highnesses, the Prime Minister, members of the parliament and other senior government officials.

The inauguration was also attended by Dzongkhag officials from Trongsa, Bumthang, Zhemgang and hundreds of people from Mangde Tsho Zhi including students.

Following the inauguration His Majesty visited the Trongsa Chhoeste Dzong. His Majesty the King also hosted a tokha for the people of Mangde-Tsho-Zhi.

Situated strategically above the Trongsa dzong, the Ta Dzong served as the watch tower for centuries. It was built by Choeje Minjur Tempa in 1652.

The museum will focus on the history of the monarchy, which had its cradle in Trongsa and the history of the Trongsa dzong.

The museum is equipped with state of the art technology and includes a media room where visitors can watch a documentary programme on the history of the monarchy.

The Ta Dzong was renovated and converted as a museum at a cost of Nu. 97 millions with funds from the Austrian government. The museum is dedicated to the coronation and centenary celebrations.

Rare and precious artifacts on display

The Ta Dzong or the Tower of Trongsa Museum was renovated as state of the art museum dedicated to the Monarchs of Bhutan. The museum has total of eleven galleries styled along the National Museum in Paro. One gallery is fully dedicated to the history of Kings of the Wangchuck dynasty.

There is also a gallery which showcases the history and the religious significance of Trongsa Chhoetse Dzong.

The 300-year-old monument will showcase some of the rare and priceless artifacts of the Kingdom. These include the statues built in the 17th century to Bhutan’s rare royal possessions.

On display were the first King’s Namza, the Raven Crown and Sword of Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyel and the 3rd King. A Radio presented by an American businessman to the 3rd King in the 1950s is also on display.

One of the galleries has the robe of Yongzin Ngagi Wangchuk with his Drilbu and Dorjee from the 16th century. The museum will show case over 200 artifacts which are centuries old.

The museum has total of 11 galleries styled along the National Museum in Paro.

The Ta-Dzong has two Lhakhangs – one for the legendary Gesar of Ling and the other houses the future Buddha Maitriya.

According to the Museum curator, the Ta Dzong, will serve as the educational institution through display of artifacts and exhibitions.


Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Bhutan : A tribute in appreciation

10 December, 2008 - The serrated ridges around Trongsa form a vast rim from where hill slopes run sharply to the valley floor. The slopes are covered by a lush forest of evergreen and seasonal colours. Numerous white waterfalls streak the hillsides and drop into the Mangdue Chhu, which rushes down to the great plains of India. At the centre of this massive natural cradle sits the majestic Trongsa Dzong, crafted from a vision of Palden Lhamo.

This was where Bhutan’s Monarchy was born. For centuries the dzong was a centre of religious and political evolution and now stands as one of the greatest monuments in the land.

High above the valley, at a strategic vantage point over Trongsa Dzong, rises its watchtower, the Ta Dzong. This “tower of Trongsa” now tells the stories of the dzong and the valley that it has watched over for centuries.

His Majesty the King inaugurates the Ta Dzong today as a museum dedicated to the Wangchuck dynasty, landmarking yet another significant event as the nation celebrates 100 years of the Monarchy.

The Ta Dzong, a cylindrical stone structure rising five storeys, was built in 1652 by Chogyal Minjur Tempa, a task entrusted to him by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. After more than 350 years, it has been resurrected into a classy museum, that represents a tasteful blend of tradition and modernity.

The central Utse structure is connected to two four-storey towers by multi-floor wings. A total of 11 galleries sit comfortably at split-levels over five floors to a rooftop that functions as a viewing gallery. Overall, the tower, that kept enemies at bay, exudes a feel of history as well as a sense of change.

At the heart of the museum sits the Raven Crown worn by Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck. The Crown symbolises the triumph of the Bhutanese Monarchy and the supreme protector role of the Druk Gyalpo. The third floor of the Utse is dedicated to the Wangchuck dynasty, with ceremonial and personal belongings of the Kings and Queens of Bhutan. The displays include Jigme Namgyel’s sword, Gongsar Ugyen Wanghcuck’s gho, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck’s wine flask and radio, and a full dress set of the fourth Druk Gyalpo His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck.

There are 224 items on display. They include a sacred image of Sung Joenma Dorji Chang (self spoken Vajradharna), a bronze statue of Pema Lingpa, made by himself, and a number of centuries-old treasures like dance and ritual costumes and objects, ancient prayer books, paintings and scrolls, and textiles.

The Ta Dzong is a living museum and the main lhakhang in the Utse is dedicated to the Maitreya Buddha (Gyaltsab Jampa), also known as the Future Buddha). A Khesar Lhakhang is dedicated to Khesar of Ling. The tower has always been a place of retreat and there are hermits in practice, including two yogis, who are in life long meditation.

Marie Christine Weinberger, the former counsellor of the Austrian development cooperation office (ACO) in Bhutan, became a familiar figure in Trongsa through the project. It was her last project before she retired and she said that her satisfaction came from being able to help create a world class museum, that would make Trongsa, and Bhutan, more valuable and attractive for visitors.

The present counsellor, Christian Mazal, said that ACO was deeply honoured that His Majesty the King himself was inaugurating the Ta Dzong Museum. He described the museum as “a new landmark in Austria-Bhutan relations”, a project that was completed after the restoration of Trongsa Dzong. The Nu 120 million project included the improvement of the foot trail across the river to the dzong along with the Bazam foot bridge. Apart from being a place of prayer for the people, he said it would play an important role in educating the people on culture and religion, and contribute to Bhutan’s economic development as a tourist attraction.

The museum, which has been designed and rebuilt under the supervision of professional architects and restorers from Austria, is a state-of-the-art monument. Veteran Bhutanese culturists say that it is a good example for Bhutanese restorers, who have to take up similar work in future.

With the inauguration ceremony, an important element of Bhutan’s past comes alive and merges with the present to provide lessons for the future.

Lyonchoen Jigmi Y Thinley said that the restoration of the unique Ta Dzong into a museum was a tribute to five successive great Kings of Bhutan’s Monarchy. “Bhutanese officials and people have always wanted to express our deep appreciation to the dynasty, that has made all of us proud to be Bhutanese,” he said. “We’re confident of continued peace and prosperity in the knowledge that the royal dynasty will always be with us.”

Expressing his appreciation to the government of Austria for helping the people of Bhutan offer this tribute to their Kings, the prime minister said that the restoration of the Ta Dzong was also a tribute to the great builders of the past, “who were our ancestors”. “It symbolises our determination to preserve and protect our cultural heritage and our unique identity. We must not just look at creating wealth but at recognising our cultural wealth and consolidating our assets.”

The Ta Dzong is the only structure, that has been restored specifically to tribute the Wangchuck dynasty as Bhutan celebrates the centenary of the Monarchy.

By Kinley Dorji & Rinzin Wangchuk


Monday, 8 December 2008

Weighing up WTO versus GNH

8 December, 2008 - Free trade, an economist once remarked, means that a great product from a small country can succeed in global competition. Free trade means that poor countries can sell their products, for instance textiles, to the rich world without facing punitive tariffs.

WTO is a living embodiment of that free trade. That the multilateral trading system, for more than half a century, has underpinned global prosperity is a given. World Bank studies maintain that because of free trade the world economy has been growing at its fastest and more countries are sharing in that growth than ever before. WTO has 153 members and represents more than 95 percent of total world trade.

But - despite the spectacular rise in living standards that has occurred as barriers between nations have fallen, and despite the resulting escape from poverty by hundreds of millions of people in those places that have joined the world economy - it is hard to convince politicians of the merits of free trade. Today, just as Bhutan is ready to join WTO, there is a queue forming in the country to denounce such an attempt. Never mind that the denouncers are emerging after nine lengthy years since the start of negotiations of Bhutan’s accession to WTO.

The argument against WTO is that it contradicts GNH - Bhutan’s unique development guide. But, aside from such one line rhetoric, no official, not even the government leading the charge, has given us anything that would lead us to believe that WTO is harmful to GNH. Egged on by a bevy of bureaucrats, some politicians are getting carried away by the thrill of saying no. We would like our politicians and so-called think tanks to explain to us why WTO is not good for Bhutan. Simply saying it’s bad is not good enough.

A paper written by Professor Mark Mancall of Stanford University - ‘Bhutan’s quadrilemma: To join or not to join the WTO’- provides some perspectives. He argues that Bhutan’s decision to join WTO strikes at the very heart of GNH. His point is this - GNH being the responsibility of the state is to create an enabling environment where citizens can seek and find happiness: thus GNH requires that the state manage the economy. WTO, on the other hand, works on a free market based economy meaning that under it the economy is independent and self-regulatory.

He adds: “GNH posits the preservation and development of the national culture as both a purpose and an instrument for the preservation of national sovereignty. Minimally controlled international trade, however, which is the immediate goal of WTO, may require allowing the importation of goods that will have a severe impact on the national culture.”

If not WTO then what?
Can’t say one can intensely disagree with Professor Mark Mancall. If that’s the case, is there a GNH-based model of economic development, that would contribute to a stronger and better Bhutanese economy as leaders and people of this country dream and speak of. Without taking advantage of free trade, it is hard to imagine that a country could have one.

Is dependence on one country for trade and the survival of one’s economy good in the long run? SAFTA is a long shot away from becoming reality. As long as India and Pakistan have problems, this body will never see the light of day. BIMSTEC lacks leadership, is slow and will take time. In any case, these deals are known to be tame agreements, knocking down barriers between countries with little to lose, but also little to gain, from freeing two-way trade in most sectors.

What is a GNH economy anyway? State controlled economy has never worked, that’s why India has opened and liberalised its economy and that’s why it’s an emerging economic giant today. State controlled economy is protectionism and is the enemy of the poor, because it puts up the price of basic consumer goods, not to mention fuel, through lack of choice in the market. Druk Air tickets are dearer and away from the reach of many precisely because of this reason.

It makes sense that the government makes not a mockery of GNH by joining WTO, if the two appear to differ in principle and in workings, but it needs to give us citizens an alternative model to a stronger, better economy - one that would liberate our economy from the narrowness of our domestic market and open it up to the broader opportunities of world commerce.

(Comments are welcome and will be printed. E-mail them to kencho@kuensel.com.bt)

By Kencho Wangdi


Wednesday, 3 December 2008

US Senator John McCain visits Bhutan

December 3: A 15 member US Congressional Delegation led by Senator John McCain arrives in the country on a three day visit today. The delegation also includes Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

A news release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says the congressional delegation is interested in observing the recent political changes that have taken place in the country, the coronation of His Majesty the King and Bhutan’s pristine environment.

The delegation will receive an audience with His Majesty the King.

The delegation will also be calling on the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice. They will also be visiting places of historical and cultural interests in the Kingdom.

Senator John McCain contested the US Presidential elections in November as the Republican candidate and lost to Democrat Barack Obama.

The Foreign Ministry says the visit will contribute towards strengthening the growing linkages between Bhutan and the USA.


Monday, 1 December 2008

Bhutan : Royal Thimphu College to open July 2009

1 December, 2008 - By the next academic session, Bhutanese class XII graduates can look forward to study in the country’s first private college. The Royal Thimphu College is all set to open in July 2009 with more options in terms of seats and courses.

Spread over a 25-acre area in Nagbephu, about 10 km from Thimphu town, Royal Thimphu College will accommodate 300 students in the first year. The chief executive of the college, Tenzin Younten, said that the college will offer courses in computer applications, business administration, commerce and, art degrees ranging from English and environmental studies to sociology and political science.

The college is one of the constituent colleges of the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB) after a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by the RUB, department of education and the promoter, Her Royal Highness Ashi Kezang Wangmo Wangchuck on May 11, 2007.

An education official said that, though RUB is expanding, it is under a lot of pressure to increase its intake with the increasing number of students graduating high school every year. He said that such private participation would definitely ease the pressure.

Tenzin Younten said that admissions for the college would start soon after the declaration of Class XII results in early 2009. The faculty recruitment for Bhutanese teachers will begin in December, while recruitment of foreign teachers will start in January. He also said that the college aims at having about 70 highly qualified and experienced national and international faculty members.

“The first phase of the construction of the college facilities is complete and we’re very much on track to open the college in July,” he said. He said that, when fully constructed, the campus would have 34 buildings, which include a library and IT centre, eight residential hostels for 500 students, football ground, multipurpose hall and other facilities. “We are planning to accommodate 900 students by 2011,” he said.

Asked about the admission fees, the chief executive said that they have submitted a range to the education ministry to consider. “We’re targeting comparable colleges in India, especially the south Indian colleges,” he said.

Tenzin Younten said that they had submitted their interest to the education ministry in 2006, followed by a detailed project proposal in February 2007.

“The physical aspect of the college is done and now we’re working on curriculum and institutional development,” he said.

By Phuntsho Choden