Thursday, March 5th, 2015 - 10:05 AM
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Mountain Echoes speaker list taking shape

Lit fest: Filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani, known for directing recent Bollywood hits such as Three Idiots and PK, will be at this year’s Mountain Echoes literary festival.

This year’s festival will be dedicated to the 60th birth anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.

According to an Indian media report, some of the other speakers that could be attending the literary festival include bestselling author and entrepreneur Ashwin Sanghi, journalist Bahar Dutt who is also the sister of journalist Burkha Dutt, actor Kalki Koechin, columnist Suhel Seth, and even the mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

“This is a just a teaser,” said an organiser of the event, Mita Kapur, in reference to the speakers.

From the Bhutanese side, the confirmed speakers for this year’s event include the director of the language and culture institute, lopen Lungtaen Gyatso, academic and historian Dr Karma Phuntsho, photographer and writer Yeshey Dorji, and photographer Pawo Choyning Dorji.

Other speakers include former secretary of the Dzongkha Development Commission, Dasho Sherub Gyeltshen, researcher Dr Yonten Dargye, historian khenpo Phuntsok Tashi, and wildlife enthusiast and conservationist Tshering Tempa.

One of the local organisers, Siok-Sian Pek Dorji, said that a final list of speakers will be compiled by a committee by the end of this month.

It was also pointed out that new and emerging writers will also be featured in this year’s festival. Like previous years, the festival will also serve as a platform to launch new books, both local and Indian.

Given its popularity, a poetry reading session will also be included for both English and Dzongkha poems.

It is also planned to have at least one-two sessions in Dzongkha.

This year’s Mountain Echoes festival will be held from August 19-22. An initiative of the India-Bhutan foundation in association with Siyahi, this will be the sixth edition of the literary festival.

By Gyalsten K Dorji

INR reserve at 20B

Though scaling new heights, it does not reflect any radical improvement in the economy 

Rupee: The country’s rupee reserve has increased by Rs 4.5B between October and November last year, taking the total INR reserve to Rs 20.27B.

This was the highest INR reserve with the country since 2009, according to the central bank’s monthly statistical bulletin.

However, there is nothing to rejoice about the improved situation.  The reserve didn’t increase, for instance, from improved earning of exports.  It increased mostly because of hydropower funds, composed of grants and loans that came in from India for the ongoing projects.

Finance minister Namgay Dorji said INR reserve might increase and decrease any time.  For instance, if funds for some project come in today, it would increase the reserve.  Similarly, the reserve would experience a decline, when huge amounts of debt need to be serviced in INR, or when imports increase.

Hydropower funds also comprise most corporate deposits with the financial institutions.

While the central bank, in its annual report, claimed that banks have excess funds of more than Nu 19B, the finance minister said, excluding the corporate deposits, it comes to about Nu 5B.

“Corporate deposits could be withdrawn any time and it’s not safe for any bank to lend such deposits,” he said.

On the flipside, the INR debt has soared to about Rs 75B, as of September last year, of which about 83 percent accounted for the hydropower projects.

Officials said the rupee shortage in 2012 forced the central bank to enter into costly borrowing deals from commercial banks in India that charge interest rates above 10 percent.  But as of now, all costly borrowings made from commercial banks in India have been paid off.

But some economists said that INR remittances from hydropower earnings are used systematically in the economy for budgetary and other imports, without any earmarked fund being set aside to liquidate related repayment obligations.  As a result, the central bank has limited flexibility in repaying the INR loans, which may lead to additional borrowing or selling hard currency.

Meanwhile, the USD reserve increased by about only USD 9M to USD 869.5M between October and November.

Officials said that majority of the foreign earnings are on account of project funding from international organisations and tourism earnings, which recorded an all time high of USD 73.2M, last year.

By Tshering Dorji


Picture story

Ground breaking ceremonies for a 11.2 km farm road in Khenkhar gewog and 8.1km farm road in Jurmey gewog was held in Mongar yesterday. The 11.2km road will connect Khengkhar – Magola –Neykolof – Oloki villages, benefitting 136 households while the 8.1km farm road for Mutangkhar and Serlam chiwog will benefit 170 households.
A budget of Nu 22.5M has been allotted for the road in Khenkhar and Nu 21M for the Mutangkhar and Serlam chiwog road funded under the small development grant prorgamme. Kengkhar Weringla MP Rinzin Jamtsho joined dzongkhag and gewog officials at the ceremony.


Druk Phuensum Tshogpa members leave in droves

PDP and DNT gain from DPT’s loss

Politics: While there is a mass exodus of members from two political parties – Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT) – the other three parties have gained, at least in terms of number of registered members, after the 2013 general election.

Five political parties together have 1,824 registered members across the country today. This is a drop by 617 members in just one year.  There were 2,441 members in 2013. With the current trend, there are only about two registered members per 1,000 people or 39 persons per constituency.

Records with the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) show that DPT is the biggest loser of the post election exodus of members. Over the last one and half years, DPT’s membership fell by 90 percent from 799 in 2013 to just 75 this month.

DPT had the highest number of members during the election period in 2013.

However, membership of People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) and Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) has increased.

While PDP’s membership has grown from 242 in 2013 to 309, BKP saw 16 new members, from 413 to 429.

DNT made the biggest gain of about 200 members after the election period and is the biggest party in terms of membership with 634 members. BKP comes second and DCT third with 377 members.

DPT general secretary Ugyen Dorji said that people told them that they could support the part without becoming members. “Going on a membership drive would be a waste of time. People don’t get preferential treatment for being party members.”

The general secretary said though the exodus of members does not necessarily indicate the support base of a party, it does affect the financial strength of parties. Ugyen Dorji also said the number also does not translate into votes. “PDP had more members than us in 2008 but we won the election,” he said.

Ugyen Dorji said it was however not worrisome for the party as “one way or the other we are in the limelight”. “Parties outside the Parliament will have to keep doing something to remain in the limelight.”

DCT president Lily Wangchuk said the trend of people leaving political parties is “a serious concern” for democracy. She said it is difficult for political parties to keep the number because the laws are “not supportive.”

“What political parties are for democracy, a strong membership base is for political parties. But there are more disadvantages than advantages of being a member of a political party,” she said.  “We need strong membership bases for parties.” Lily Wangchuk said most of her party members come from villages.

PDP general secretary Sonam Jatso said many party members resigned to take part in the 2016 local government elections. PDP’s members contribute 10 percent of their salaries to the party fund.

However, DNT general secretary Tenzin Lekphel said the number of members indicates the support base of a political party. He said that the numbers indicate that the DNT enjoys the largest support base. “The strength of the party lies in the strength of its members and their diverse background.”

He said there is a lot of interest for new members while a few members have resigned to be able to contest in the 2016 local government elections. “However, we are happy to see that DNT is seeing an increase in membership.”

Tenzin Lekphel warned that members would leave if parties that win election were only bothered to look after themselves – like raising their own salary and fighting for their unfair vehicle quota system. “People have the right to abandon the party.”

BKP President Sonam Tobgay said the number is an indicator of a party’s support base. “We keep in touch with people over phone, meet the sick and try to help our constituents within our capacity,” he said.

Chief election commissioner (CEC) Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said, “The numbers with all the parties except DPT are reasonable”. In the recent months, few members were deregistering for employment, studies, and interest to contest local government elections in 2016, he said.

The CEC said that in any dynamic political system, movement of people between political parties particularly among the general membership and younger lot is expected as they understand and grow up in partisan politics and thoughts. “As such there are few members quitting each party for good or to switch alliances.”

“As to new membership we feel the momentum will pick up only preceding the next parliamentary elections, which is due in 2018,” he said.

Dasho Kunzang said while the number as such is not significant, it is still good for the health of a party. In fact, parties are motivated and have collectively committed to work together as “Bhutanese First” to support democratic governance and culture through various activities they are initiating under the Bhutan Democracy Dialogue (BDD). BDD is a platform jointly formed under their joint initiative of the political parties.

Under BDD senior executives of political parties will soon be making visits to the dzongkhags to meet with electorates and supporters and undertake meaningful dialogue with the public. ECB also recently completed nationwide training for party coordinators, jabchorpas and leyjeypas on the roles and responsibilities of political parties.

“Therefore, a number of meaningful activities pertaining to political parties are underway. The registration status of political parties remains unchanged as of date,” Dasho said.


By MB Subba

Mathematics and science – the usual suspects

The blame for the poor class X results has been laid at the door of these two subjects

 BCSEA: The students’ poor performance in mathematics is mostly to blame for the worst class X results the country has seen in the past eight years, according to the Bhutan council for school examination and assessment officials.

About 30 percent of the students failed in mathematics, by far the most in recent years.  The previous year, in 2013, only about four percent failed in the subject, and the mean score, which reflects the quality of the students’ performance, was 55.79.

The mean score in mathematics in the 2014 board examinations dropped to 51.42, the lowest among the subjects.

Among the students, boys did better than girls.  Seventy three percent of 5,307 boy students passed the subject, while the percentage for girls was 66.93.  In the mean score, boys got 53.56 and girls scored 49.54.

Students also performed poorly in science, with 74.65 percent students passing the subject, with mean marks hanging low at 51.52.

Teachers said the question paper’s difficulty level was moderate, and that there were equal number of students who performed extremely well.

“While some did very well in the subject, there were others who failed miserably, so it’s difficult to point the problem,” a mathematics teacher said.

Pelkhil HSS principal, who also teaches mathematics, Umesh Kumar, said Bhutanese students have to overcome the fear of the subject.

“If the students prepare systematically, they can score higher marks in mathematics than other subjects,” he said.

Another teacher in a private school said the content of the subject too needed some redoing.  “What we find is that the problems solved in the textbook and the paper are mostly essay or analytical and don’t develop the numerical ability of the students,” the mathematics teacher said.

Mathematics is one of the main subjects to qualify for admission in to class XI.  Students opting for the science stream must have a minimum of 40 percent in mathematics and 55 percent in science, with pass marks in biology, chemistry and physics.  Merit order listing will be based on the sum of science and mathematics.

The merit order for students opting for commerce would be based on their marks in mathematics, and each student should have a minimum of 40 percent.

The poor performance has hampered many students from qualifying for class XI.

“The poor performance cost dearly to some students, as they’d have qualified had it not been for the mathematics marks,” a teacher from higher secondary school in Trashigang said.

Some 5,972 students missed the 61 percent cut-off point that the education ministry set for admission into government schools this year.   The national pass percentage also fell by 2.2 percent in 2013 to 93.73 percent.

While the private schools would take in about 3,000 students, the rest would have to enter the job market.

By Tshering Palden

Picture story

On track: Amid controversy, the lhakhang Karpo conservation project has achieved 75 percent physical progress. On the command of His Majesty the King, the construction work began on January 13, 2010 and is expected to be completed by June 2016.


Local healers: A dubious practice, at best

DSC01382Som Jemo shows the scars from the cuts a local healer made on her to cure a stomachache

Yet they’re the first port of call for sick patients, especially, but not only, in rural areas

Medical: About two months ago, Som Jemo, 81, started getting severe stomachache.  But instead of consulting a medical professional, she chose to be cut around her belly with a blade.

“It makes the pain go away and I feel a lot better,” she said, showing her stomach that has multiple scars. “We didn’t have doctors those days and we were treated either by the local healers or at home.”

After visiting the hospital, she was diagnosed with gallstones and is currently admitted at the Trashigang general hospital.

One in every 10 patients, who walk into the hospital every day, comes with similar scars and wounds left behind by the local healers.  Most of them are from rural places, although a fair number of urban dwellers also seek traditional healers for cure.

Health officials said the local healers usually used blades to make a cut on the skin and suck the blood out.  Some also bite into the skin of the patient.

“Other than the infection, local healing could transmit communicable diseases, like hepatitis A, B, C and even HIV,” Trashigang’s dzongkhag health officer (DHO) Tshewang Dorji said. “The transmission could be from one patient to another, or from the healer to a patient.”

The DHO said that, in the process of people seeking the services of a local healer, patients were getting delayed for medical treatment.

Recently, a young patient had to amputate his arm after a local healer first treated his fracture.  The healer had tightly wrapped bamboo sticks around the joint. “Because of the tight grip, blood circulation had stopped, and the patient had to eventually cut off his arm,” the DHO said.

In 2012, health officials conducted awareness programs in Khaling and Radhi, where traditional healers comprising local healers and shamans (pows/pams) were informed of safe practices.

Health officials said the presence of these healers, faith and convenience were key reasons why most villagers preferred them as their first contact in times of sickness.

Trashigang dungtsho, (physician), Tshewang Dorji, said almost 50 percent of the patients he sees have a history of seeing a traditional healer.

“It’s only after the local healing doesn’t work that people visit the hospitals,” he said. “By then, most cases would have become complicated.”

A few years ago, the dungtsho said, patients admitted at hospitals would be seen getting treatments from local healers within the hospital compound.  The practice was later restricted.

“Unless people completely understand the harmful effects of local healing, it will be difficult to control the practice,” he said.

Health minister, Tandin Wangchuk, said the issue of local healers has become a challenge for the ministry. “It’s not that we don’t want these people to practise their trade, but it’s a concern when there are negative implications on people’s health,” he said.

Meanwhile, every week, about three people visit 62-year old Gajey, who claims to have been healing people for the past 30 years.

“I ask my patients to come with blades and dispose it after using them, and I use specialised equipment with cups to suck the blood,” he said, adding that this ensured that there were no chances of diseases getting transmitted. “I’m getting old and want to stop the practice, but people won’t let me; they even come knocking on my door late in the night.”

Tshering Wangdi, Trashigang

Picture story

Lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay met the Ambassador of the Republic of Kazakhstan to India, Bulat Sarsenbayev, yesterday in Thimphu.
Lyonchhoen and Ambassador Sarsenbayev discussed exploring tourism opportunities through people-to-people contact, promoting student exchange programmes and combating climate change. The Prime Minister also proposed acquiring Kazakhstan’s assistance in building cycling trails around Thimphu, which could be used for commuting as well as for sporting activities.


Healers sans Hippocratic oath

Sonam sprained two fingers at a football match in Changlimithang on Saturday.  As he was being substituted, his friends brought out the names of at least three local healers he should immediately visit.

The nearest was the national referral hospital with x-ray machines, orthopedists and painkillers available all round the clock.  But Sonam went to see a school caretaker, reputed for fixing sprains and fractures.  Yesterday, he had to go to the referral hospital, as one finger was not fixed.

This is in the capital city among the so-called educated lot.  So, when we hear that one in 10 patients visiting Trashigang hospital had visited a traditional healer first, it is not surprising.

But what transpires after getting treated by a local healer is worrying.

Sometimes local healers can get it completely wrong.  A classic case is the woman diagnosed with gallstones, which the healer tried to suck from a small cut in her stomach.  Local healers are popular.  That’s why they outnumber trained doctors, health assistants, menpas and nurses.  As of today, there are 1,683 of them in the country, far more than trained health officials, including doctors and specialists, whose number as of 2012 was 1,471.

Local or traditional healers were helpful and common when hospitals were few and trained people fewer.  Today, we have almost one basic health unit in every gewog, and most gewogs are connected with roads.  Yet villagers prefer to seek local healers’ help.  In urban areas, the numbers are few and related only to a few cases like fractures.  Statistics show that about six percent of the population consulted a traditional practitioner in 2007.

Seeking the help of these practitioners is deeply engrained in our minds and even with the most sophisticated health system, they will be around.  There is a strong connection with the pows and pams (shaman), astrologers and traditional healers.  From rituals to preventing illness to treating them, they have become a part of the Bhutanese psyche.

If their role can be restricted to prevention by performing ritual, there will be no complications that doctors can complain of.  But they will continue to be the first to contact during illness in the backwaters.  What we can do is bring them along on board.  Training them on basic safety measures – like sterilising a blade before use.  Shamans might be good at treating ailments that are related to the mind or psychology, like possession.  But beyond that it is safer for them to refer patients to hospitals or BHUs.

There are awareness campaigns and some training.  These should be enhanced.  It would be easier to target 2,000 local healers than thousands of villagers across the country.  For a change, we should target and discourage local healers from treating patients, if they feel it is beyond their capacity.  Honesty among healers would help achieve this, rather than banking on ego.

Some illness, like appendicitis, could get complicated if medical help is delayed.  Not all stomach problems are thribkham (a strong belief that eating something from strangers makes you sick).

Market capitalisation increases to Nu 22.5B in 2014

Stock exchange: Market capitalisation or the total value of shares in the market as of last year was Nu 22.49B, an increase of about Nu 2.5B compared to the previous year.

This was in accordance with the draft annual report of the Royal Securities Exchange of Bhutan (RSEBL).

Market capitalisation also determines the worth of 21 listed companies in the country from an investor’s perspective.

RSEBL CEO Dorji Phuntsho attributed this to infusion of new shares in the market and increase in price of securities besides bonus and rights issues of shares.

Market capitalisation is derived by multiplying total number of shares by prevailing share price. “So, either the size of the share or the price should go up.”

Last year alone, 50M new shares worth Nu 500M were listed, the majority of which  were on account of reinsurance company GIC Bhutan Re ltd.

However, the number of shareholders’ accounts with the central depository last year stood at 62,991, an increase of 304 compared with the previous year.

Since one individual may hold more than one account with different companies, the CEO said it was difficult to determine the exact number of shareholders.

A banker said when companies float additional shares as rights issue, it leaves room for the shareholders to sell some of the shares.

For instance, a company wants to repay its debt or raise more money and when they have limited options, it offers rights. Rights issue, is an offer the company makes to its existing shareholders to purchase more shares at less than market price.  In such cases, a shareholder has the option to sell some shares to someone else.

In 2013, market capitalisation increased by Nu 2.3B, from Nu 17.6B in 2012 to Nu 19.9B. But the number of shareholders’ account increased from 48,077 in 2012 to 62,687.

This was largely attributed to initial public offering of Dungsam Polymers ltd (DPL), and subscription to the employee stock purchase plan issued by T-bank and Druk PNB.

DPL floated 48.7 percent of its paid up capital shares to public, which was oversubscribed by 244 percent.

Employee stock purchase plan is a means by which employees of a company can purchase their own company’s stock at a discount.

Meanwhile, Nu 4.8B corporate debts were listed through bonds. Last year Dungsam Cement Corporation limited issued two series of bonds and RICBL and Bhutan Airlines (Tashi Air pvt ltd) issued one each.

By Tshering Dorji