Friday, 30 January 2009

Bhutan : Government to take in 277 graduates

January 29: Graduates who managed to obtain 50% and above in the Civil Service Common Examination (CSCE) gathered in the capital today for placements in various government agencies.

The Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) said 35 will be absorbed for the Post Graduate Diploma in Administration, 34 for the Post Graduate Diploma in Financial Management, 160 in Teaching, 22 as Assistant Lecturers and 26 for Post Graduate Diploma in National Law.

Excluding the Technical graduates, the government is taking in 277 graduates.

The Technical graduates will be placed directly in the civil service. RCSC officials said they will get their job appointments by next week.

The graduates who had come for the placement briefing said they are excited and looking forward to serving the government.

A total of 806 candidates appeared for the examination. Of that 594 sat for the General Graduates examination, 186 in Technical and 26 in Dzongkha.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Bhutan : Television: changing lives of rural Bhutanese

January 25: Many people now have access to television with the installation of television sets in 172 geogs. It has not only helped to keep them updated on the happenings in the country but also enabled them to watch live broadcast of important events like the election, coronation and the recent Parliament discussion. The television sets were installed under a UNDP project funded by the Japanese government.

One of the beneficiaries of the UNDP project, institutional and human capacity building of the Election Commission of Bhutan is Dechhenling geog in Pemagatshel. Under the project television sets were installed in 172 geogs to disseminate information on election and democracy through TV. The remaining geogs have cable connections.

Our reporter in Samdrupjongkhar Pema Samdrup says the people are reaping the benefits of the project. One example is the live coverage of the recent parliament session on BBS. He said people from nearby villages come to the geog center, where the Television set is installed, to witness the Parliament discussions which was broadcast live on BBS TV.

Some people told our reporter that they felt as if they were actually present in the National Assembly and Council halls as the discussion were taking place. They said in the past they could only listen to the discussions but now they can also watch the discussions in the two houses.

The Gup of the geog said during the coronation the small room geog center was packed with people. He said people living in far off places came with pack lunch. He said they are now building a multipurpose hall and the TV set will be moved there to accommodate more people.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Bhutan : Saving the White-bellied Heron

24 January, 2009 - The rare and endangered White-bellied Heron, spotted mainly along the Punatsangchhu basin in Punakha, might, after all, have a protected home.

With major developmental activities taking place along the Punatshangchhu area to generate 10,000 MW by 2020, there was a concern among nature conservationists that the activities and growing population in the area would severely alter or destroy the habitat for the birds. And although the upper Phochhu area was declared protected for White-bellied Herons in 2007, the Natural Resources Development Corporation Ltd. (NRDCL) recently asked the government to lift the ban on quarrying operations in the area to meet the growing demand for sand.

The environmentalists seemed to be losing out in what observers saw as a clash between them and the power sector over which received priority. But today, the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), Punatsangchhu-I Hydroelectric Project Authority, Nature Conservation Division (NCD) and forest officials are teaming up to save the birds.

RSPN ornithologist, Rebecca Pradhan, said that they were in the process of creating artificial habitat for the Herons, such as making ponds in the other areas of the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. “We are also looking at other mitigation strategies on how we are going to save this bird as it is a critically endangered species in the world,” she said. “We also need to do a proper research on whether these artificial habitats would work.”

Rebecca said that the concerned agencies have pledged to assist RSPN in educating the community and workers on the endangered species. “Both hydropower and environment is important for the country and we had to meet the concerned agencies to solve the issue.”

The White-Bellied Heron is one of the 50 rarest birds in the world, considered endangered in the Birdlife International Red Data Book because of its small and declining population and lack of data. There are just about 200 White-bellied Herons worldwide and Bhutan has 31 of them, about 15 percent of the total.

White-bellied heron can be identified from their long legs for wading, grayish slender body with long head and neck, and huge thick bill. Its colour camouflages it in the surroundings making it difficult to spot. It was sighted in Bhutan as early as 1975, say RSPN.

Rebecca Pradhan said that rock extraction and other activities along the river shores would disturb the habitat of the heron. Nature conservationists said that destruction of forest and tall grassland, and reclamation of wetlands was harmful for the heron.

However, nature conservationists said that with more developmental works planned for the years ahead, Bhutan would face growing challenges of having to balance between biological diversity and economic activity.

By Phuntsho Choden

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Bhutan : Civil Servants to get 35% pay hike as proposed

January 19: The National Assembly has decided to keep the 35% pay hike for civil servants as it is. While some members debated for a further increase, most said the 35% increment is more than enough considering the financial situation of the country and the global economic recession.

The house opened the floor for discussion after the Finance Minister presented the government’s pay hike proposal.

Some of the members asked the house to look into the possibility of increasing slightly from the proposed 35% for civil servants given the escalating food price.

The member from Gasa Damcho Dorji said though the salary was increased by 45% in 2005, the people continued to struggle because the raise could not keep up with the escalating price of commodities. He said if the pay raise this time could be made higher, it will not be necessary for the government to consider another pay raise in the next few years.

His view was supported by the National Assembly member from Gelephu Prem Kumar and the Opposition Leader Tshering Tobgay. The Opposition Leader said the government’s proposal of 35% for civil servants is not satisfactory. He said most people have been expecting an increase of over 40% after calculations by the Pay Commission of 40%-70% was made.

As deliberations continued, most members said the 35% pay hike should be kept as it is, given the fund constraints and also taking into account the global economic situation.

The Opposition Leader said it is unrealistic to expect and demand for more raise if there is budget constraint. He however said it is likely that the government has enough funds according to calculations made by the Pay Commission report. He said the government should take into account the increased earnings from taxes as a result of the pay hike.

The house however decided to keep the discussions short and keep the 35% pay hike for the civil servants as it is.

Continuing discussion on the pay hike proposal, the National Assembly decided that the Prime Minister’s salary should also be reworked. Members said the Prime Minister should be paid more than the cabinet ministers.

The Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley said it is important for the Prime Minister to receive a higher salary given his responsibilities and workload. But he said given the shortage of funds, the Prime Minister’s salary could be re-worked towards the end of the present government’s five year term.

The house decided that the revision should be looked into while discussing the Lhengye Zhungtshog Chatrim.

The house also decided to increase the salary of constitutional post holders. Most members said the constitutional post holders have immense responsibilities. They stay in office only for five years. Considering this, members said the increase should be made. The Finance Minister supported the view and said that the Ministry will re-work the salary of the constitutional post holders. The Opposition Leader also supported the proposal.

As an interim measure, the constitutional post holders will be paid 35% increment as proposed.

The members also discussed the pay structure of local government functionaries, the elementary service personnel, Non-Formal Education (NFE) Instructors, temporary recruits and Royal Academy of Performing Arts (RAPA) artists.

They also discussed the post service benefits and decided to keep it as proposed by the government. Discussing the subject of allowances, members said housing benefits should also be considered for other secretaries apart from the ministry secretaries. The house directed the Cabinet to re-look into the proposal by the members of the National Assembly.

Discussions were also made on the teaching and medical allowances.

The Assembly completed discussions on the 20 page proposal by the government in the day long sitting today. The report will now be discussed in the National Council.

The government says the pay hike will be implemented from January 2009.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Bhutan : Media Impact Study reveals significant change in which Bhutanese view media

January 14: According to Media Impact Study 2008, Bhutanese now see media as source of entertainment. This was not the case five years ago. Bhutanese viewed media as source of information then.

There has been a significant change in which Bhutanese people view media today compared to 2003. According to the draft report of the Media Impact Study 2008, media is now seen as source of entertainment. Back then it was seen as a source of information. Siok Sian Pek Dorji, a MedaiComm Consultant said this poses a huge challenge for Bhutanese media.

The other significant change is that Bhutanese have adjusted their lives around TV viewing.

The study concludes that apart from being a source of news and information, the media is now seen as critical player in the political process in an emerging democracy.

The study revealed the growing awareness among the public, the possibility and need to involve, engage and question through media.

The study stated that there is a lack of content for children. Bhutanese children are dependent on global TV meaning that they are exposed to global culture more than Bhutanese. It says that Media is not just a watchdog of society but is among the forces that changes the society itself. It says media is constructing new realities and values.

The study found that media is changing the way people work, live and think. Other influences of media are in dress, culture, language and behavior.

In terms of language, respondents said the media has promoted Dzongkha, particularly since the election debates. Conservatives expressed concerns on emergence of Dzonglish, a mixture of Dzongkha and English. They pointed that the future generation will speak neither English nor Dzongkha well.

BBS Radio tops as the main source of news followed by BBS TV and then Kuensel. In terms of entertainment, Kuzoo FM is the main source followed by international TV and then BBS TV.

BBS TV and Radio are seen as more credible compared to private radio stations and international Television channels. In terms of press, Bhutanese newspapers enjoy more credibility than international papers.

The study stated that competition in the media sector has made people question accuracy and credibility.

People generally thought youth are portrayed negatively, gender stereotyped, some media becoming tabloid, political and critic of nation. Respondents felt a need to balance rural-urban stories and wanted more coverage on marriage, citizenship, policies and security clearance. Rural Bhutanese said media is urban-biased.

The study emphasizes that the media content must be more Bhutanese and not just imported ideas. And the media must be recognized as a viable industry that has strong impact on society. The study was conducted by the Centre for Media and Democracy with financial support from UNDP.

Five Dzongkhags representing east, west, south and the central regions were covered during the study. There were 1,191 respondents.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Bhutan’s Permanent Representative to the UN presents his credentials to the UN Secretary General

January 12: The new Permanent Representative of Bhutan to the United Nations in New York presented his credentials to the UN Secretary General last week.

Ambassador Lhatu Wangchuk conveyed good wishes of Their Majesties the 4th and 5th Kings and the government to Ban Ki-moon.

The two discussed the visionary changes that have taken place in Bhutan in 2008. The Secretary General said he is impressed with the successful elections and adoption of the Constitution.

Ban Ki-moon also highlighted the visionary roles of Their Majesties the Kings in guiding the peaceful transition to Democratic Constitutional Monarchy.

He also conveyed his greetings to Their Majesties the Kings and the government. The UN Secretary General said he looks forward to visiting Bhutan in the future.

Ambassador Lhatu Wangchuk took over as the new Permanent Representative of Bhutan to the UN on December 31, 2008.

Bhutan became a member of the United Nations on September 21, 1971.

Bhutan : The commercialisation of culture

12 January, 2009 - Thankas (painted scrolls) as wall decorations, religious figures on calendars and T-shirts, and düngs (religious trumpets) as door handles — Bhutanese religious artifacts have found novel functions today.

While these roles are admired and gel well with the cultural diversity of Bhutan, Bhutanese cultural experts believe that these religious artifacts should be kept in appropriate places.

According to experts, the only place for religious icons like thankas and düngs is the altar room. “Of course, the düng is a musical instrument, but using it for decoration is not appropriate nor is hanging thanka everywhere. You should respect it as it’s only used for religious purposes,” says the culture secretary Dasho Sangay Wangchug.

But using religious figures on calendars, says the secretary, has both pros and cons. He said that it’s good as it makes people understand better, but bad when the calendars are dumped after their use is over.

Do we commercialise culture by using religious icons as decorative pieces?

Observers feel that, although cultures do evolve over time in response to the needs of the time, the political will and popular determination to preserve culture should adequately curb cultural dilution.

“It’s in our hands to preserve the sanctity of our religious art, which we know has no connection with individual expression but rather is guided by religious regulations and considered sacred,” says a Thimphu resident, Tshering Dolkar.

“However, if we choose to commercialise it, we’re to blame if it’s abused by buyers, who may not necessarily share our sentiments but view the items as beautiful aesthetic pieces for decoration.”

Says another observer, who works in an international organisation, “I’m hurt when religious icons are used in the wrong place with the wrong connotation. Using them in public places is one way of promoting it, but I still feel there is some need of restriction required.”

A corporate employee feels that the value of religious figures diminishes when used in calendars. “It may be effective, but once they see it everywhere, you stop feeling the sacredness of these symbols.”

What we need at this time, say observers and culture officials, is an intervention by the government. “There are no rules and regulations in place now. We need to have some guidance in place to direct people, to make people aware that religion should be respected and to consult if they don’t know,” says Dasho Sangay Wangchug.

By Sonam Pelden

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Bhutan : NA discusses appointment of geog caretakers

January 7: The National Assembly discussed whether to appoint caretakers in the geog offices or not. While some members felt that it is necessary to appoint new geog caretakers to strengthen the local government, some felt that it is not necessary keeping in mind the policy of small, compact and efficient civil service.

The Member of Parliament from Dremitse-Ngatshang constituency, Ugyen Wangdi, said till date Chipoens in the villages have been looking after geog offices without any remunerations or wages besides their work.

He said a Chipoen main responsibility is to reach out information to the villagers.

He said he supports the proposal for providing remuneration to Chipoens. He said instead of recruiting new geog caretakers, it is better to keep the Chipoens by providing wages for the extra responsibility.

Supporting his view, the Member of Parliament from Phuentsholing Chencho Dorji said remunerations should be given to the Chipoens and village Tshogpas if funds are available. However, some members felt that it is necessary to recruit new caretakers for the geog offices.

The Home and Cultural Affairs Minister Lyonpo Minjur Dorji said recruiting more people in the geogs would mean adding problem to the housing crunch in the geogs. However, he said the issue can be discussed in the next session of the parliament.

The National Assembly member from Goenkhatoe-Laya constituency in Gasa Damcho Dorji said it would be difficult to strengthen the local government without appointing new geog caretakers.

The Agriculture Minister said it would be suitable to appoint caretakers from the villages itself.

Lyonpo Dr. Pema Gyamtsho said villagers can also provide wages to the appointees from the village taxes.

The house then decided that the issue will be thoroughly discussed after discussions with Dzongkhag and geog officials.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Bhutan : Global economic recession hits the Bhutanese tourism industry

January 6: The global economic recession has hit the Bhutanese tourism industry. More than 1,500 tourists have cancelled their trip to Bhutan in 2009.

2008 was a good year for the Bhutanese tourism industry. The Coronation and Centenary celebrations also attracted a good number of tourists taking the official record to close to 28,000 compared to a little over 21,000 in 2007. But the prospects in 2009 look bleak for the tourism sector. Tour operators are now worried that more tourists may cancel their visit to Bhutan because of the global economic downturn.

So far, more than 1,500 tourists have cancelled their trips to Bhutan for this year. March and April is a peak tourist season for Bhutan but some tour operators said they will have only a few tourists coming to Bhutan through them. They are also worried that more tourists may cancel their trip for September and October, another peak tourist season.

Tshewang Rinzin from Sakten Tours and Travels says about 200 of his clients have cancelled their trip.

Likewise, other tour operators have seen similar cancellations. Some tourists are keeping their travel plans on hold.

As an interim measure, the tour operators along with the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) have requested the Tourism Council of Bhutan to keep its plan to increase the tariff to 250 dollars on hold. Tour operators fear that the new revision will lead to further cancellations.

The Tourism Council of Bhutan has decided to increase the tariff to 250 dollars, an increase of $50, from July 1. The tour operators have requested the tourism council to keep the plan on hold till the global economic situation improves.

The Tourism Council of Bhutan says they are working with ABTO, the Druk Air and the hoteliers to address the problem. The Council has also had discussions with stakeholders and their recommendations have been put up to the government for approval.

ABTO and the Tourism Council are also working on tourism promotion strategies. This month, around twelve tour companies from Bhutan will participate in an International Travel Fare in Spain while nine other tour operators will take part in one of the World’s Biggest Travel fare in Germany in March.

ABTO and the Tourism Council are also requesting the Druk Air and the hoteliers to keep the tariff low at least for this year.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Bhutan : Enough is enough, say South Thimphu farmers

5 January, 2009 - Farmers in south Thimphu are frustrated. And with good reason.

It’s been four years since they stopped cultivation, after the government promised to develop their land into the model town planning. Farmers pooled land towards the plan and awaited developments. Four years down the line, farmers are still waiting and their wait will have to be longer.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and World Bank project, which agreed to fund the development, needs the signatures of landowners, saying that they agree to voluntary land contribution (land pool) for the plan, in other words, that the plan is not forced upon them. Except for few, all farmers have signed the agreement.

In the meantime, Thimphu city corporation (TCC) is after the few landowners, who have not signed. “We couldn’t trace them because they’re either abroad or in other parts of the country,” said a town planner.

TCC chief urban planner Tshering Phuntsho said, “The ADB project is through but we require signatures from all the landowners. Only then will ADB release the fund for development.”

Many farmers, on being informed of the City’s justification for not starting the plan because of their being unable to trace a few landowners, expressed their concerns. “How can TCC come up with a reason like that?” said a farmer. “These unsigned landowners are rich people, who can wait because they have other sources of income.”

Another farmer said, “The reason stated by TCC is not at all valid. Even if these landowners aren’t around, there must be people who pay the land tax in their absence. Why can’t TCC contact them?”

Farmers said that their livelihood had been affected, after the government stopped them from cultivating their land. The local area plan was developed in 2003 for five zones in South Thimphu - Lungtenphu, Chang Bangdu, Semtokha, Babesa and Serbithang. Following this, landowners in these areas had to contribute up to 29 percent of their holdings for the development.

Many farmers, Kuensel met, were apprehensive of the government’s policy. They said that, with the rising cost of material, every farmer would not be able to build houses if the matter drags on.

After years of procedural delays and negotiations with TCC, farmers like Gyeltshen, 57, have lost all hope. “It affects farmers like us, who are totally dependent on whatever we’ve inherited from our ancestors.” Said Gyeltshen, “Today, the only option I’m left with is to sell some of my land. But again that’s not a solution altogether, since I have many children and must think of their future.”

Tshering Bidha, 42, a farmer, said that the wait is getting longer than they had expected. “Instead of further delays, they should at least, start demarcating roads so that farmers can start building.”

“Even if they can’t provide electricity and water supply immediately, we would go ahead with the construction,” said Tshering, adding that they would proceed with temporary arrangements.

Another farmer, Karma, 42, is doubtful if the scene will ever change. “During the political campaigns, politicians agreed to look into the issue and we voted accordingly. And now, even with the new government, there has been no conclusive decision as yet.”

Speaking to Kuensel, the minister for works and human settlement, Lyonpo Yeshi Zimba, said, “I’m very concerned, not just as the south Thimphu representative but as a part of the government. And now I’ll personally intervene in the matter.”

Lyonpo Yeshi Zimba also said that talks with ADB and World Bank are at an advanced stage. Once the matter is settled, everything will be carried out in a transparent manner.

When asked about the reason cited by TCC for the delay so far, Lyonpo Yeshi Zimba said, “It shouldn’t be impossible to trace these individuals. Just because of a few individuals, we can’t hold back things.”

Meanwhile, the farmers say that TCC is taking advantage of the limited options available to landowners. “The whole planning process is questionable,” said farmer Gyeltshen’s son in law, a civil servant. “If they thought it would take four years, they should have allowed farmers to cultivate.”

By Kinga Dema

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Bhutan : Sonam Yangden bags the Bhutan Star title

January 1: Sonam Yangden from Trashigang took the title of the first ever Bhutan Star or Druk Ghi Sungkey Dhendur. She took home a Maruti Swift Car and a yearlong music contract worth Nu. 100,000 with Jigdrel Trophel. The results were declared last evening at the CICCC Ground in Thimphu.

The five finalists sang a favourite song each. Some 20 popular Bhutanese singers like Ap Doupel and Aum Thinlem were present at the finals.

Sonam Yangden told BBS that she is proud to be selected as the first Bhutan Star.

The first runners up Karma Phuntsho from Trashigang received Nu. 150,000 and a yearlong music contract. He told BBS that he expected to take the title.

Meanwhile the rest of the finalist were given Nu. 50,000 each. The contestants competed in Zhungdra, Boedra and Rigsar. They were evaluated on 40% marks by judges and 60% through votes.

The winner bagged a total of 44,108 votes for the final round. While the first runners up got 18,420 votes.

Aspiring singers from all over the country took part in the competition held over a period of nine months. The organizer Nguldrub Dorjiks of Jigdrel Entertainment said from next year the show will be an annual event.