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Friday, March 6th, 2015 - 6:35 PM
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Record USD 73.2M earned from int’l tourist arrivals

Since 2009 to date, the number of dollar-paying footfalls has more than doubled

Tourism: The 29 percent increase in international or dollar paying tourist arrivals last year against the previous year, earned the industry revenue of USD 73.2 million (M), the highest so far.

Since 2009, the tourism sector recorded a steady increase in revenue from dollar-paying tourists, along with the increase in visitors, annually, a recent Royal Monetary Authority bulletin shows.  Tourism earnings in 2010 stood at USD 35M that increased to USD 47.7M and USD 62.8M in the following years.  In 2013, tourism earnings stood at USD 63.5M.

Similarly from 23,480 international tourists in 2009, arrivals increased to 58,022 last year, the bulletin states.  The international tourists pay a daily minimum tariff of USD 250 and USD 200 during the peak and lean seasons respectively.

Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) officials attributed the increase in revenue mainly to the increase in arrivals, while tour operators said the dollar exchange rate also attributed to it.

“The exchange rate determines how much money the tourism sector makes,” a tour operator said. “The resilient exchange rate in the recent years helped the sector.”

Some attributed it to the change in the daily minimum tariff since 2012, which was revised from USD 200 and USD 180 for peak and lean seasons respectively.

Records with TCB show about 68,081 international visitors last year, who include visitors for meeting, incentives, conferences and exhibitions (MICE) and media familarisation tours.

Thai tourists topped the list of international source market with 12,105 visitors last year with the Bhutan-Thailand friendship offer.  They are followed by 8,111 Chinese, 7,291 Americans and 2,971 Germans tourists.

In 2013, Americans dominated the international arrivals segment with 6,927 visitors.  It was in the same year that Chinese emerged as the second major source market with 4,764. Thais came next with 3,494 visitors, while 2,753 German visitors were recorded in the same year.

The country usually records the highest arrivals from the US followed by Japan.  In 2010, Germany saw an increase of about 42 percent in arrivals, overtaking UK that saw a decline in visitors that year.

China made it to the top five major markets for the first time in 2010, with an increase of about 30 percent in arrivals from 2009.  Since then, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Bhutan has been on the rise.

Despite the increase in arrivals from neighbouring Asian countries every year, records with TCB indicate longer visit period of Americans, contributing to higher revenue, followed by countries like UK and Germany.

Last year, during the lean season months of June, July and August, when the Bhutan-Thailand friendship offer for Thai tourists was on, the country recorded earnings of about USD 9M.  During the same time in 2013, the revenue stood at USD 6.1M.

As a part of the offer, Thai nationals and others with proof of residency in Thailand didn’t pay the mandatory minimum daily tariff of USD 200 for the lean summer months.  Instead they were levied the daily royalty of USD 65, while tour operators had to compete to develop attractive packages.

The national airlines, Drukair and Bhutan Airlines also offered about 50 percent discount on airfare, while hotels provided up to 50 percent concession on the rates.

Meanwhile, regional tourist arrivals recorded a slight increase from the previous year with 65,399 visitors, of which 62,129 were Indians.  In 2013, 63,426 regional tourists visited the country.

Visitors from India, Maldives, and Bangladesh are known as regional visitors and exempt from the daily minimum tariff.

By Kinga Dema

Finding a cure for the ‘number’ phobia

This year’s board exam results give us reasons to celebrate.  At the same time, we are compelled to engage ourselves in some deep soul-searching.  We had the best class XII result in eight years with a pass percentage of 89.38.  But this year’s class X result is the worst in eight years.  About 30 percent of the students failed in mathematics, which means some 5,972 students missed the 61 percent cut-off point.

While there is a small comfort that there are many private schools, they have their limitations too.  Not all 5,972 students, who did not make the 61 percent pass aggregate, will find seats in private higher secondary schools in the country, which means that many will have to enter the job market at a time when youth unemployment is close to 10 percent.  This is an expensive affair for many parents and students.

Among the subjects, Mathematics has always been a problem with Bhutanese students.  It would be interesting and worth our while to find out why students find this subject particularly difficult.  Mathematics is one of the key subjects that students need to do well in to qualify for higher secondary education, which is why we need to get to the root and bone of the problem.

Teachers say that fear of the subject among many students is one of the main reasons that affect their performance.  Mathematical anxiety, feelings of tension and anxiety that interfere with manipulation of numbers and solving of numerical problems, is found to be widely prevalent among Bhutanese students.

But fear or anxiety of a subject just don’t arise and lodge in a student’s mind.  It has to come from somewhere.  Researchers have found that students develop mathematical anxiety in school, often as a result of learning from teachers.  If teachers are themselves anxious about their mathematical abilities, his or her fears and lack of understanding naturally get passed to students.

Also, the way Mathematics is taught in our classrooms should take the blame.  Mathematics instruction should provide opportunities for concept building, reasoning and problem solving, among others.  It should give the learners a bird’s eye view of problems and concepts.  Perhaps the problems arise and the subject become difficult because students are taught a “right” way to solve a problem, and that all other approaches are “wrong”.

We have seen the trend.  There must be something going about that makes the subject difficult and fearful for students.  We need to find out and think about new adjustments that will encourage our children to embrace the subject and excel in it.

 

RUB and Kansai University discuss areas of collaboration

Meanwhile, 17 cherry blossom saplings will be planted on the RUB campus tomorrow

MoU: Japan’s Kansai University and the Royal University of Bhutan will soon sign a basic  agreement document, followed by the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for collaboration in various academic areas.

The areas of collaboration between the two universities were discussed in a meeting  yesterday in Thimphu.

Director of Jigme Namgyel polytechnic (JNP) in Deothang, (Dr) Andu Dukpa, said  that, although technical institutes in the country offered various courses, lack of  professionals to teach the subject remained a challenge.

JNP began offering diploma course in survey and, given the demand for power engineers at various hydropower projects in the country, it would start offering a power–engineering course.

“It’s difficult for us to find people to teach these subjects,” he said. “In our collaboration, we could look at possibilities of experts coming to our institutes as part of faculty or staff exchange programme.”

Another area of collaboration, he shared, was sending undergraduate lecturers from various colleges under RUB to Kansai University for master’s or PhD programmes, who, on their return, could teach. This, he said, would help transfer technology.

RUB’s director general for academic affairs, Yangka, said the idea behind this collaboration was to seek Japan’s help in human resource development. It was to build capacity of Bhutanese research, which was new in the country and faced with challenges.

“To begin, we’ll start with exchange programme or visiting lecturer programme with one of the RUB colleges,” he said.

While visiting lecturer or student exchange programmes would have huge cost implications, Japan International Cooperation Agency’s (JICA) chief representative, Yumiko Asakuma, suggested that Kasai University approach JICA domestic office in Japan for funding assistance.

Associate professor of Kansai University, Junichi Kurata, said that, after completing the basic agreement of collaboration, the two universities needed to set conditions for research and student exchange programmes.

Although he did not commit anything yet, he said he would discuss with the vice-president of the university.

RUB’s planning and resource director, (Dr) Samdrup Rigyal, said, one of the challenges the university was currently facing was expanding infrastructure in various colleges.

With increasing number of students and programmes, there was a need for infrastructure to expand. For which, proper planning was required for future development. “We aren’t in a capacity to design master plans for each of our colleges,” he said.

Meanwhile, RUB officials and delegates from Japan will plant about 17 cherry blossom saplings at the RUB campus tomorrow morning. Japan gifted a total of 50 saplings last August, when the first international conference on engineering, science, technology, education and history was held.

The remaining saplings will be planted in the campus of colleges, depending on suitability of weather.

According to a pamphlet from Shinjuku imperial garden of Japan, the cherry trees originated in Bhutan and Nepal. When they reached Japan, they were differentiated into various breeds for the four seasons.

With the plantation today, the cherry trees return home.

By Nirmala Pokhrel

 

Villagers wait for farm road

IMG_20150125_090816Long journey home: Mani prepares for his trip back home from the gewog centre

The 25km road started in 2012 may finally be completed next year

Connectivity: After walking for three days, Mani, 68, from Lopokha-Phaktakha chiwog, Athang gewog finally reached the gewog center in Dogayphu.

He came with two horses to receive his nephew and family and also to collect necessities for the winter Lochoe.

The family will take two days to reach their village. For the first night they will hold in a small cave in Hokona.

This is the routine for villagers of the two chiwogs of Athang gewog: Lopokha phaktakha and Kagolamtshokha.

Villagers said it is difficult during winter Lochoe especially when they have to visit the hospital.

The gewog centre at Dogayphu is about seven kilometres from Jarogang on the Wangdue-Tsirang highway.

“Few local people also cover the distance in between nine-12 hours of walking  during emergencies but it is exhausting and difficult,” a local said.

However, with a farm road to the chiwogs planned, Mani is hopeful that soon he will not have to spend hours walking.

Athang gup Khandu Dorji said that the two chiwogs are the least developed in Wangdue and were connected to electricity only in 2012. There are 57 households in the two chiwogs.

The chiwogs had one primary school between them, but it has now been  downsized to an extended classroom. Access to better facilities and better telecommunications network was another problem  villagers pointed out.

Although work to construct a 25km farm road started in 2012, slow progress has been made given lack of funding.

Khandu Dorji said the gewog has constructed only seven kilometres of the 25km farm road. Four kilometres was completed during the 10th Plan with government funding of Nu 4M in 2012-2013. This was followed by three kilometres in 2013-2014 with a gewog development grant of Nu 1.6M.

He said more than 12 km is expected to be completed by mid-2016 through the small development programme which the Indian government is funding. The work is expected to start by March. “We are also hopeful to cover the remaining six kilometres within 2016, if we could get some additional funding,” said Khandu Dorji.

A villager, Sangay said that despite having fertile land and good water sources, the villagers can’t make use of their agriculture produce and vegetables. The villagers therefore grow paddy, vegetables and fruits only for self-consumption.

“As of now we don’t have any income source but now we are hopeful to reach our agriculture produce to the market,” said Sangay.

The gewog’s gup, Khandu Dorji also said with the help of the tourism industry, people have started to earn a minimal income through hosting tourists as home-stay.

By Dawa Gyelmo, Wangdue

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.