Saturday, 30 May 2009

Bhutan : His Majesty the King returns from a weeklong tour to the south

May 29: His Majesty the King returned yesterday to Thimphu following a weeklong tour of Southern Bhutan. During the days of unusually heavy rainfall His Majesty was visiting on foot and studying various affected villages, rivers, services and infrastructure.

His Majesty walked from Umling to Manas area in Gelephu, surveying the Maochhu, Taklaichhu, Lhag-khar-chhu, and other rivers and villages in between the two areas.

After that, His Majesty moved through Panbang across the Drang-mey-chhu and visited Tung-ku-demba, Gerong, Rebati and other villages. After crossing the Changar zam over the Mangdechhu, His Majesty toured the valley and camped along the Darang-chhu. His Majesty proceeded up to Shilangtoe village where His Majesty met the students and villagers of Tashibi and other settlements.

Throughout, His Majesty visited homes, reassured the people and granted Kidu.

Enroute to Thimphu, His Majesty visited the Sunkosh Township in Dagana and flood affected people in Wangduephodrang and Punakha.

His Majesty will proceed to Monggar for the Cadastral Resurvey discussions with the people as soon as study of Kidu measures for people badly affected by the recent rains is completed.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Bhutan : Tourism to come to Merak-Sakteng

27 May, 2009 - The brokpas (highlanders) of remote Merak and Sakteng will see more chilips (foreigners) and could possibly earn a few dollars with the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) identifying it as a tourist destination.

On the directives of the Cabinet, which, in principle, approved a proposal to open up the remote community to tourism, the council carried out a study recently. “Merak and Sakteng fit positively in TCB’s policy of ‘high quality, low volume’ tourism,” said the council’s director general, Kezang Wangdi.

“By diversifying the product to nature from culture, there’s potential for tourism in the east, with seasonality and inevitable geographic impact also addressed,” he said.

He said that there would be regional balanced socio-economic development, controlled rural-urban migration and employment opportunities created in the country through it. “If we oversell culture, there’s great danger of destroying the cultural products,” he said. “There is good potential for nature-based tourism, such as trekking, rafting, bird watching, rock climbing and village walks in the east.”

The senior management team, during the trip to 7 dzongkhags in the east, interacted with local people, hoteliers and dzongkhag officials on their doubts, ideas and products, mainly focusing on how to promote tourism.

Close to the border with India’s Arunachal Pradesh, Merak and Sakteng are located about 50 miles east of Trashigang at an altitude of 3,000 m above sea level. From the nearest road, it takes two days to reach Merak, while Sakteng is a day’s walk.

With the domestic airstrip at Yonphula in Trashigang to be constructed by October, the journey to Merak and Sakteng, which takes about 6 days, will be shorter and take the tourists only 2 days to reach. “An airport at Yonphula is a complementary action for promoting tourism in the east,” said Kezang Wangdi, adding that, with the airstrip and the Guwahati trade route opened, Merak and Sakteng are accessible to tourism.

By Passang Norbu

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Bhutan : Central Monastic Body arrives in Tashichhodzong, their summer residence

May 25: His Holiness the Je Khenpo and the monks of the Central Monastic Body have arrived in Tashichhodzong, their summer residence. The tradition of maintaining a summer and a winter residence goes back 400 years to the time of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.

Upon arrival in Thimphu this morning, His Holiness the Je Khenpo and the Central Monastic Body were received by His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck at the Lingkana Palace. His Royal Highness also offered Soelja Dresi to His Holiness the Je Khenpo and monks of the Zhung Dratshang.

Also present were Their Royal Highnesses Ashi Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck, Ashi Sonam Dechan Wangchuck and Ashi Kezang Choden Wangchuck and the Chairman of the Royal Privy Council Chenkyab Dorji.

Following a brief stop at the Lingkana Palace, His Holiness and the central monastic body proceeded towards the Tashichhodzong.

At the Tashichhodzong, His Holiness was received by the Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley, the Opposition Leader Tshering Tobgay, the National Assembly Speaker Jigme Tshultim, the Chairman of the National Council Namgay Penjore, cabinet ministers, and parliamentarians.

His Holiness the Je Khenpo and the Central Monastic Body left the Puna-Dewa-Chenpoi-Phodrang yesterday making a night halt at the Simtokha dzong in keeping with the age old tradition. En-route to Tashichhodzong this morning, thousands of people lined along the way to receive blessings from His Holiness and the sacred relics.

The tradition of maintaining a summer and winter residence was introduced by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the founding father of Bhutan in the early 17th century.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Bhutan : Central Monastic Body arrives in Simtokha

May 24: His Holiness the Je Khenpo and the monks of the Central Monastic Body will be arriving in the Tashichhodzong, their summer residence tomorrow. They left the Puna-Dewa-Chenpoi-Phodrang this morning. They will be making a night halt in the Simtokha dzong tonight in keeping with the tradition.

En route to Thimphu this morning, His Holiness the Je Khenpo and the monks of the Central Monastic Body visited the Druk Wangyel Lhakhang in Dochula and performed prayers.

As the monk body proceeded to Thimphu, hundreds of people waited at different places all along way from Hongtsho and Yusipang to the Simtokha Dzong to offer their prayers and receive blessings.

On the way to the Simtokha Dzong, His Holiness the Je Khenpo gave blessings to the people and students of the Institute of Language and Cultural studies. Devotees believe that the blessings from His Holiness and the monk body will ward off ill luck.

From the gate to the Simtokha Dzong, His Holiness the Je Khenpo was ushered in to the Dzong in elaborate chipdrel ceremony.

People also received blessings from the scared relics accompanying the monk body.

His Holiness and the monk body will spend the night at Simtokha Dzong and proceed to the Tashichhodzong tomorrow.

The tradition of maintaining a summer and winter residence was introduced by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the founding father of Bhutan in the early 17th century.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Bhutan : Bumthang’s new town takes shape

22 May, 2009 - The much-awaited Dekiling new town site in Bumthang is ready. Six years after planners targeted to hand over plots to Bumthang businessmen, infrastructure like electricity, drainage, waste dumpyard, internal road network and bus terminal were completed for the centrally located town site in the first phase of the relocation project.

However, the 75 businessmen, awarded plots, will have to wait for two more months before they can develop them. The dzongkhag engineer, Langa Dorji, said that the dzongkhag was ready to allot plots, but the government asked them to wait for another two months. “The new government would probably be looking into better prospects for Chamkhar town, as Dekiling town looks so small,” he said.

Meanwhile, there are about 136 business license holders in Chamkhar town, who will eventually move to Dekiling.

The 61 remaining businessmen will stay in the present Chamkhar town, but all the facilities, including the bus terminal, will be shifted to Dekiling once the town is ready, according to the dzongkhag officials.

About 13.20 acres of land has been acquired for this phase I of the relocation project. Another 30 acres of land will be acquired in the second phase.

The new town will have all the basic urban amenities and all buildings will be up to three storied, as agreed in the past DYT and with officials of the department of urban development and housing.

Dekiling town is about 1.7 km from Chamkhar towards Kurje lhakhang.

By Nima Wangdi

Monday, 18 May 2009

Bhutan : Prices of Boneless beef and dried pork fixed

May 17: The meat price regulating committee and meat vendors in the capital met again on Friday. This time the meeting was held to fix the price for boneless beef and dried pork.

Last Monday, the meat price regulating committee and meat vendors in Thimphu met and fixed the price for beef, pork, and one variety of fish.

However, the meeting did not fix the price for boneless beef, dried pork, and other varieties of fish. It was left to free market forces.

Meat vendors were not happy. Before the meeting was convened, they could charge any price they deemed fit for any meat. The meeting not only fixed the price of beef, pork, and one variety of fish, it decided that anybody found charging more than the fixed price would be fined. But they found a loophole.

Since the price of boneless beef and dried pork were not fixed, they increased the price. Not only that, they converted most of their supply of pork into dried pork and beef into boneless beef.

The price of boneless beef rose overnight from Nu. 160-200, an increase of Nu. 40 a kilogram.

The price of dried pork shot up by Nu. 200-500 per kilogram.

This prompted the meat price regulating committee to call for another meeting yesterday.

The meeting fixed the price of dried pork at Nu. 300 a kilogram and that of beef at Nu. 160 a kilogram.

The department of trade said the new price will remain in force till the beginning of the fourth Bhutanese month during which the sale of meat is banned. In the meantime, trade officials will meet meat suppliers in Jaigon, India to discuss and finalize the price.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Bhutan : TSC introduces token system

May 15: The Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) and the Taxi Service Centre (TSC) in Thimphu have introduced a coupon system for taxi drivers. Under the system, taxi drivers will have to get a coupon the first thing they arrive for work in the morning. Passengers who come to the parking area will be allotted to the taxi drivers based on the coupon numbers.

The coupon system which was introduced today came as a surprise to most of the cab drivers. While the new system is supposed to streamline the whole process, it has created a rift among the cab drivers themselves. The rift is mainly between small taxis and those with bigger sitting capacity. Drivers of small taxis said the new coupon system does not make any sense to them.

But some cab drives said the system will bring some discipline in this line of business.

The TSC said the system was introduced so that all the drivers will get equal opportunities. It said there will be teething problems initially.

The Director of the RSTA Tashi Norbu said the new system was put in place so that all the drivers will get a fair share of the income. It will also prevent arguments over passengers.

The TSC said it is not mandatory for cab drivers to collect coupons. This announcement seemed to ease the tension. But before long they realized that taxi drivers who do not get the coupon will not be allowed to use the taxi parking area.

Cab drivers said it was grossly unfair and asked where cab drivers who do not accept the system will park their cabs. The situation remains unresolved at the moment and whether the new rule will work remains to be seen.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Bhutan : NEC: Most mines do not meet terms and conditions of mine plan and the environment management plan

May 15: The National Environment Commission (NEC) says most of the mines do not meet terms and conditions specified in the mine plan and the environment management Plan. This was pointed out at a meeting between officials from the NEC and mine representatives. Officials from the Department of Geology and Mines also attended the two day meeting.

The meeting was held to present the findings of an inspection carried out by the NEC early this year.

It was found that almost all the mines do not have any provision for storing top soil. NEC says instead of displacing top soil downhill, it should be stored and preserved in separate location. It should be later spread over the mined area.

The restoration work is mainly focused on the construction of check dams only.

NEC says restoration activities should be extended to mined-out areas also.
Safety measures for workers at the mine sites were found to be poor. Workers were provided helmets only. NEC says the workers should be provided with other protective gears like gloves, face masks and protective shoes.

Lack of environmental safety awareness among the workers was cited as another short coming.

The environmental unit in the mining companies was found to be a mere formality and non-existent in some cases. NEC asked the mining companies to activate the environmental units immediately.

The Deputy Minister of environment Dasho Nado Rinchen said it is the responsibility of mining companies to ensure that the ill-effects are minimal.

The mining companies have been given a timeframe to implement the recommendations proposed by the NEC. The meeting also discussed the problems facing the mining companies.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Bhutan : New Indian Ambassador to Bhutan presents his credentials to His Majesty the King

May 12: India’s new Ambassador to Bhutan Pavan K Varma presented his credentials to His Majesty the King at the Tashichhodzong this morning.

Ambassador Pavan K. Varma was escorted to the Tashichhodzong in traditional Chipdrel ceremony.

He was then ushered into the throne room where he presented his credentials to His Majesty the King.

Ambassador Pavan K Varma graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history from St. Stephen’s college in New Delhi. He joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1976. He has served as Press Secretary to the President of India, the Spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs, High Commissioner of India in Cyprus, director of the Nehru centre in London and director general of the Indian Council for cultural relations in New Delhi.

A well-established writer Ambassador Pavan K. Varma has written over a dozen books. His first book on a contemporary subject was the Great Indian Middle Class which was followed by Being Indian; The Truth About Why the 21st Century Will Be India’s. The first book is being translated into French. The second has been translated into several languages including Japanese, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian.

His last published work is a translated collection of poems on Gulzar, one of India’s best known poets.

For his contributions in the fields on diplomacy, literature, culture and aesthetics, Ambassador Pavan K Varma received an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Indianapolis in 2005.

His Majesty also hosted a lunch for the ambassador Pavan K. Varma at the Dechencholing Palace today.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Bhutan : Celebrating cricket’s century

11 May, 2009 - Cricket is an emerging game in Bhutan, and its popularity is fast spreading. This was evident from the number of cricket fans, who gathered at the Cricket Carnival organised by Bhutan Cricket at Changlimithang stadium yesterday. About 600 students participated in the carnival, which was hosted by the Bhutan cricket council board (BCCB). As a member of the international cricket council (ICC), BCCB joined the 104-member body to commemorate a century of international cricket.

With the theme “Catch the Spirit,” the ICC’s centenary year of 2009 will be a global celebration, with events taking place around the world to reflect all that is great about the game.

National players with coaches conducted the event with cricketing games and taught students its fundamentals.

“I love the game and I want to become a national player one day,” said Tshering Tobgay, a Changangkha student.

“It’s really imposing to see a large number of enthusiastic youth and really encouraging for the cricket board,” said national coach, Damber Singh Gurung. Bhutan Cricket will be hosting a school tournament in May to celebrate 100 years of cricket.

ByPhuntsho Wangdi

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Bhutan : Employee wins case vs. company

“This has resulted in an outright abridgement of the individual right to be assessed...”

8 May, 2009 - A Bhutan Power Corporation employee, who was terminated by his management last year on the grounds of “unsatisfactory” performance, has won the case he filed against the company.

The court yesterday ordered the BPC management to compensate the employee by paying him his salary from the time of termination till the court’s judgment, from June 2008 to May 2009.

The employee, working as a deputy manager in the human resource and administration department (HRAD), was rated ‘unsatisfactory’, after completion of his probation, by the officiating general manager.

The employee alleged that the rating was unjust and aimed to ruin his career, despite his outmost sincerity, punctuality and dedication.

He said that, during his tenure under the former general manager, Namgye Penjore, the present chairperson of the National Council, he was rated as a sincere, honest, responsible and hardworking officer, who carried out his responsibilities satisfactorily.

But after the general manager resigned to join politics, the officiating general manager, with whom the employee had less contact, without any discussion rated him unsatisfactory, according to his statement to the court.

The employee told court that the officiating general manager had a personal grudge against him, adding that women employees were given outstanding assessments even though they didn’t perform.

However, since the employee couldn’t prove his allegations, the court overruled them. The court decided that the management had failed blatantly to abide by its own PMS rules (performance management system). “This has resulted in an outright abridgement of the individual right to be assessed as per the given procedure,” stated the judgment.

The company’s performance management system states, “The supervisor must discuss the rating personally with the employee, going over each competency individually. Any documentation, if used in support of the rating, must be furnished to the employee during the discussion.”

By Passang Norbu

Bhutan : Druk Air nearly collides with military aircraft

May 8: On Thursday, the national airline Druk Air nearly collided with a military aircraft over Bangladesh. The plane had taken off from Dhaka en route to Bangkok with about 120 passengers on board.

Speaking to BBS the CEO of Druk Air Tandin Jamtsho said the plane had just taken off from Dhaka when the pilot received a warning from Traffic Alert & Collision Avoidance System (TCAS). The Bangladeshi military aircraft was flying over the Druk Air plane.

He said the air controller at the Zia international airport had not informed the Druk Air pilot that the military aircraft was flying over the Druk Air plane.

Military and commercial airlines in Bangladesh share the same runway.

The Druk Air CEO said they have already filed a report with the Department of Civil Aviation asking it to take up the matter with the Bangladeshi Aviation Authority. They have also filed a report with the Bangladeshi aviation authorities.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Bhutan : Bhutan Telecom initiates voluntary retirement scheme

May 7: Some of the Bhutan Telecom staff in Samtse say they are being pressurized to apply for voluntary retirement scheme. They said they have been given till 3 pm today to apply for the voluntary retirement scheme.

Some of the employees said the management is threatening to send them on compulsory retirement if they do not apply for the voluntary retirement scheme. Those who are sent on compulsory retirement stand to lose 35 percent of their retirement benefits.

They said the scheme is not fair because it is targeted at employees in the lower rung.

The management of Bhutan Telecom has denied this.

An official said the voluntary retirement scheme is open to everybody and the management has not forced any one to apply for the scheme. He said the scheme was initiated to downsize the staff.

The deadline to apply for the scheme is May 12.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Bhutan : Cleaning up the dirty money trail

RMA unit will make it harder to launder money
4 May, 2009- The Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) is planning to set up a financial intelligence unit (FIU), which will track the flow of money from corruption scams, financial crimes, money laundering, fronting and other illegal activities, both within and outside the country.

The unit will also keep a close eye on financial transactions that may be used to finance terrorism, prostitution and narcotics trades in Bhutan, the region or globally.

Agencies like the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), Royal Audit Authority (RAA) and Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) currently do not any have expert capacity to track such funds.

The unit will be given legal backing by the financial services Act, which has, in principle, recent Cabinet approval.

Currently even ACC requires a court order to look at financial assets, but FIU will give direct and unlimited access to information on financial assets and transactions in banks and other financial institutions in Bhutan.

“Financial institutions like banks are legally obliged to send FIU any information on any suspicious transactions, otherwise there would be quite large penalties involved,” said head of RMA’s financial institutions supervision division, Eden Dema.

“Once set, any person can approach FIU if they know about someone engaging in suspicious activity and then FIU will track the person’s financial assets and transactions,” said Eden Dema.

However, unlike ACC, the unit will not go into uncovering corruption but keep track of the money trail to prevent its conversion into white money, Eden Dema said.

RBP, revenue and customs, the foreign ministry, ACC and RAA will be a part of the unit’s information-sharing system.

“We’re doing this because the repercussions of money laundering are very bad for a country’s economy,” said Eden. She said that the practice facilitates corruption and crime, weakens the financial sector, reduces productivity, threatens the financial liquidity of institutions and affects investments.

Under Asian Development Bank assistance, the unit’s framework is scheduled to be ready by 2010.

Tenzing Lamsang

Friday, 1 May 2009

Bhutan : Punakha residents return home after the flood

April 30: Life has once again become normal in Punakha. The people have moved back into their house, schools have re-opened and offices have resumed work.

But yesterday, the scenario was different. In the early hours of the morning, people living along the Punatsangchu had to move hastily out of their homes after they were warned that a lake below the Thorthomi Lake in Lunana had breached its banks. Schools and offices were closed.

Even by evening, people were reluctant to move into their house even though the situation had by then been declared out of danger. The muddy Pho Chu River is also slowly regaining its original colour. Dzongkhag officials who have been constantly monitoring the situation said there is no risk of flooding for now.

The Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley who also rushed to Punakha yesterday described it as a low intensity flood and said it should not be regarded as a false alarm. The Prime Minister however said it is worrying to see people rushing towards the river to watch the scene instead of moving to safer places.

The Punakha Dzongda Dawala said he had to make frequent trips between Khuruthang and Punakha to alert the people and pursue them to move away from the river.

The Punakha Dzongda said a proper mock drill may have to be carried out to create better understanding among the public.

Dzongkhag officials and concerned agencies are now identifying safe zones where people could move in the event of another flood.