Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 - 6:07 AM
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Distribution of three essential drugs suspended

DRA: Health ministry’s Department of Medical Service notified all hospitals to stop dispensing three essential drugs, last week .

The three drugs are calcium lactate (300mg tablets), vitamin C (250mg tablets) and omeprazole (20mg capsules).

All three drugs are products of Park Pharmaceuticals Pvt Ltd in India.

According to Drug Regulatory Authority (DRA) officials, the drugs were recalled after it failed quality tests.

DRA officials said a product recall occurs when it is found that a drug maybe harmful to consumers.

DRA’s Post Marketing Control Division head, Ngawang Dema said the recall was a result of a Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) compliance report of the manufacturing firms.

“In our case, it is mostly batch recall, which happens due to defective complaint reports of the medicinal products and through laboratory test report,” she said. “All product recalls takes place based on GMP poor compliance report. For Park Pharmaceuticals, it failed in both.”

After discussion with the health ministry and following an appeal to the Bhutan Medicine Board chairman, the drug importer, has asked for additional tests to confirm the quality in another Medicines Board approved laboratory. For this, samples are yet to be sent for testing.

“Let us first wait for the confirmatory tests on what kind of parameters the medicines failed to comply, accordingly appropriate action to be taken,” Ngawang Dema said.

She added that to ensure quality of medicinal products in the country, DRA sends samples for testing every year. The recall practice was instituted in September 2011 after the Bhutan Medicine Board chairman approved procedures.

The recalled drugs are available only for institutional supplies of the health ministry. They are not available in retail pharmacies, she said.

Meanwhile this not the first time drugs are being recalled in the country. In 2012 several samples of Vitamin C, Calcium lactate and Omeprazole were sent to Shriram Research Institute in New Delhi for testing. Following the tests, its usage was allowed until October 2014.

“We also had experiences of failed or quality non-compliance report of two batches of lactulose solution from Park Pharmaceuticals. It was recalled immediately,” Ngawang Dema said, adding that it called for a GMP inspection, and a site audit for GMP.

Cetrizine tablets and albendazole were two of the essential drugs that were recalled in 2012 for failing quality tests. Paracetamol (parkomol) was also recalled from retail sales in pharmacies after dark spots or foreign particles were observed in the drug in 2012.

Following the recall, the product recall committee meeting recommended recalling all products of Park Pharmaceuticals and deregister the company’s products. The committee also sought endorsement from the Bhutan Medicines Board.

By Nirmala Pokhrel

Umling water supply held up due to broken pipes

Clip-#730Villagers inspecting the pipes

As to who’s to blame, villagers and the supplier point fingers at each another

Dispute: Residents of Tashithang and Chubathang in Umling gewog, Sarpang have appealed to the gewog office, saying they won’t accept the pipes supplied to their village for drinking water supply.

The villagers said 17 rolls of pipes in the first supply were delivered broken.  They were returned to the supplier.

“We can’t trust the quality of pipes they supplied, and they replaced the broken ones, but again four bundles were found broken,” villagers said.

Som Kumar Sherpa from Sarpang had supplied the pipes in October last year.  He said they kept a marginal profit and supplied certified quality pipes to the village.

“After we received the complaint, we replaced them,” he said. “The pipes broke because the people weren’t taking care of them.”

The supplier said the pipes, worth about Nu 300,000, are for the benefit of public use, and they should have kept the pipes properly.

Umling gup Ugyen Norbu said he received an appeal letter from the public, saying they couldn’t trust the pipes as they had broken twice even before they were connected. “I’ve informed the supplier that the people have refused to use the pipes.”

Tashithang tshogpa Lungten Dorji said that the water pipes should last for at least 10 years.

“But I don’t think the supplied pipes can last even a year, and we’re more concerned about the quality, because we can’t afford to maintain it time and again,” he said.

The people of Tashithang and Chubarthang don’t have drinking water supply at home, and fetch water from Singchu river, about 20 minutes walk from Chubarthang village.

A farmer, Leki Drugyal, said the government was always asking people to focus on agriculture, but with no water, there was little they can do.

“Without enough drinking water, how are we going to focus on agriculture works, which need abundant water supply?” he said.

He said they own a house and some land in upper Tashithang, but since they don’t have drinking water there, he has left his land fallow and his home vacant.

The drinking water supply work started on September 20 last year, with the community readying the ground for almost a month.  For the water supply, the communities received Nu 270,000 from the government and Nu 200,000 from the gewog development fund.  The water supply would benefit 14 households in Umling gewog.

Meanwhile, the supplier Som Kumar said that, if the community submitted in writing that they didn’t want the pipes, then he would collect the pipes. “But we can’t replace it anymore,” he said.

By Yeshey Dema, Umling


Picture story

Dungse Garab Dorji Rinpoche is presiding over the ongoing Baza-Guru Dungdrup and Tshog-Bum at Yadhi high school, which is being organised to commemorate the 60th birth anniversary of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. The prayers, which end on February 10 is being organised by the Yadhi Tshogchen from Ngatshang, Mongar.


Class XII results declared

Breaking: The class XII results were declared this afternoon.
In Arts, Sonam Tshomo of Mothithang higher secondary school (HSS) secured first place with 89 percent, followed by Bikash Rai of Jakar HSS and Dorji Yangzom of Ugyen Academy both of whom scored 83.5 percent. In third place is Leki Tshering of Damphu HSS with 80 percent.
In Science, Jambay Kinley of Ugyen Academy topped with 91 percent. Jigme Wangmo of Pelkhil HSS got second with 88.75 percent, followed by Pema Selden also of Ugyen Academy with 88.25 percent.
In Commerce, Kinga Palden of Ugyen Academy scored 89.5 percent to grab first place. Juhee Kim, also of Ugyen Academy, is in second place with 88.75 percent. Third place went to Thinlay Penjore of Chhukha HSS with 81 percent.
The overall pass percentage in 2014 is 89.38 percent.
Bmobile users can SMS R12(space) index no to 3333 for results.

Tcell users can SMS index no to 4040 for results.

Maximising budget utilisation

The bane of underutilisation is blamed on local governments, which in turn point the finger at bureaucratic red tape

Notice: What could be the reason for many government agencies to return a substantial amount of unused budgets to the finance ministry at the end of every fiscal year?

According to the finance ministry, the issue of underutilisation [of budget] is a serious concern and the heads of agencies concerned will be held accountable.

“Persistent underutilisation of budgets may also affect subsequent years’ budget allocation,” says the budget call notice for 2015-16.

According to the annual audit report 2013, the government was able to utilise only Nu 2,286M out of a total budget of Nu 20,717M.  And that was an improvement in the utilisation of capital budget, compared with the usage in the previous years.

Underutilisation of funds mobilised through loans would have implications on effective and optimal use of borrowed funds, and also on debt service burden on the government.

More than 30 to 40 percent of the overall expenditure budgets come as grants.  About 3 to 7 percent are financed through loans.

Choida Jamtsho, the chair of the public accounts committee (PAC) of Parliament, said that underutilisation of budget is a problem for the country.  Often budgets are not released on time causing delay in the execution of works.

PAC in 2011 recommended that parliamentarians be involved in the budget preparation process for better implementation. However, only members of budget committee  which is being formed, will evaluate the finance ministry’s annual budget reports.

“Once this committee is formed, the annual budgets will be evaluated before being taken up to Parliament,” said Choida Jamtsho.  Parliament has already passed a resolution to this effect.

The audit report has blamed local governments, saying that cases of budget underutilisation come mostly from grassroots.

Lhawang Dorji, chair of Dagana dzongkhag tshogdu blamed bureaucratic red tape as the biggest constraint in timely execution of developmental works at all levels.

“Even as we have budget, obtaining clearances from agencies, such as national environment commission and the department of forests, takes a lot of time,” said Lhawang Dorji.

A team from finance ministry made a presentation on the underutilisation of budgets during the recent visit of the finance minister, Namgay Dorji, to Dagana.

“The government says there’s lack of implementation at the local level. It’s easy to lay blame on local governments (LGs) without understanding the ground reality. Actually, we have no problem executing works,” said Lhawang Dorji. “There are complicated and unnecessary processes after releasing the budget.” And local governments face a serious shortage of engineers.

“Though the government says that decentralisation has made things easier, things haven’t changed much. Beyond awarding community contracts, local governments don’t have any power. This is one of the biggest constraints,” said Lhawang Dorji.

According to the audit report, Thimphu thromde’s education sector did not utilise the capital budget of Nu 27.620M in 2012.  Underutilisation of funds for capital activities ranged from 23 percent to 94 percent, indicating that “the management had either not planned the capital activities properly or failed to execute the planned activities”.

PAC, in the past, had said that, in order to avoid such underutilisation of budget, regular progress reports of all planned activities should be submitted to relevant offices, and if there is a delay in the implementation of certain activities, the delay must be explained.  The committee pointed out that budget underutilisation could have happened because of flaws in budgeting system, overambitious budget planning, and low capacity of the implementing agencies or ad hoc planning.

The government has earlier said donor funds were unpredictable, and that the private sector was not in a position to undertake government contracts, and that money not utilised in a year would automatically spill over to the next.

According to the finance ministry, while submitting the budget proposals to the ministry, agencies should align the budgets with annual performance agreement targets signed by the local governments.

To maximise utilisation of budgets, agencies have been advised to consider the implementation capacity and other constraints during preparation of budget.

By MB Subba


Foreseeing sub-regional economic cooperation

Meet: Bhutan, Nepal, India and Bangladesh opted for a quadrilateral meet for the first time on January 30 to discuss areas of cooperation in water resources including hydropower, transit and connectivity.

Although the meeting reached no concrete decision, the director general of department of hydropower and power systems, Dasho Yeshi Wangdi, said it was a good forum to discuss various areas of cooperation to ensure economic development in the sub-region.

“Although many things were discussed in the SAARC forum, the implementation was quite slow, because there were many differences among the member states,” he said adding when it involves just four countries there aren’t many differences.

However, in case of cooperation in energy, he said the energy cooperation agreement that was signed during the SAARC summit in November last year would guide the discussions and implementation.

During the meeting, possibility of undertaking future hydropower projects in hydro-rich countries like Bhutan and Nepal involving at least three countries on an equitable basis was also discussed.

Currently, most hydropower projects in the country are government of India funded or public sector undertakings as such as Inter governmental, joint venture and public private partnership.

Dasho Yeshi Wangdi said neither the projects were identified nor the modality of implementation were discussed during the meeting.

“The meeting was just an exploration for us to listen and share some best practices,” he said. “We have excellent way of developing hydropower with government of India and if we had to involve other countries, the benefit will depend on the modality which is not discussed,” he said.

For instance, if Bangladesh, Bhutan and India want to invest in a common project, the benefits would be different if constructed under inter-governmental model and through a joint venture, which is not yet explored.

For the ongoing projects, he made it clear that there is no scope for other countries because agreements have already been signed which mandates Bhutan to export surplus power to India.

However, in future projects, it is up to the government to decide and approve.

While discussions on energy cooperation not only revolved around hydropower but also renewable energy and other sources, interconnecting the power grids in the sub-region was also discussed.

“All countries agreed that there is a need of common power exchange market,” Dasho Yeshi Wangdi said. “But before that there are many technical, legal and policy issues that needs to be harmonised.”

Bhutan shared its experiences on integrated river basin management and flood forecasting system with India. Bangladesh, he said was also interested in replicating such system and data sharing methods because it is also a down stream country.

Regarding the transit and connectivity, ideas on bus and cargo route between the four countries were also floated.

Meanwhile it was the second joint working group meeting although Nepal did not participate in the first one.  Officials from the economic affairs ministry are optimistic that something concrete would come out of the subsequent meetings.


By Tshering Dorji

Three ‘gifts’ per gewog

All 205 gewogs to get power tillers, electric fencing and centres with a farm shop each this year

MoA: All 205 gewogs in the country will be provided with power tillers, electric fencing and gewog centres with a farm shop each by this year, agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji said.

Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said the ministry has decided on providing three important things to address people’s need every year.  This year, he said, the ministry is emphasising labour shortage, lack of market to sell farm products and human wild life conflict.

“The ministry has already provided power tillers to every gewog in six eastern dzongkhags and will be providing to all 205 gewogs by this year,” he said.

He said that, with every parent enrolling their children in schools, farmers are today running short of hands to work in the fields.  The power tillers, he said, were provided to ease their difficulties.

“Power tillers can be used for transportation, not just to till earth,” he said, adding that, while providing these machines is a party pledge, it was more important to address the people’s problems.

He said the ministry would construct a farm shop in every gewog centre while its also working on providing electric fencings.

“The electric fencing, which were piloted in several areas proved productive and now we are going to install in other gewogs in Sarpang by this year,” he said.  But, farmers should bear the cost of the materials.

Lyonpo said that he had plans to visit all 205 gewogs by this year and, to date, he had visited 106 gewogs.

A 43-year old farmer Dorji from Jigmecholing gewog said power tillers and electric fencings would be helpful to all farmers.

“Our fields have been affected by wild animals every year and installing electric fencing will improve our livelihood,” he said.

By Yeshey Dema, Gelephu

Halfway there

The country is well on track to meet its annual vegetable export target of 7500MT

Agriculture: Bhutan is halfway to meeting its annual vegetable export target of 7,500 metric tonnes (MT) by 2018.

Agriculture department records show, vegetable exports have almost doubled in the past three years from 2,088MT in 2012, to 3,710MT in 2014.

The earnings from vegetables exports, mainly to India, have more than doubled, from Nu 36M in 2012 to Nu 86.8M last year.  In 2011, Bhutan sold 973MT that fetched Nu 16M.

Chief horticulture officer, Kinlay Tshering, said the production trend, in the past three years, has been positive, and that the department is confident of meeting the target.

In the 11th Plan, the agriculture department requested the government for special intervention, and the ministry received about Nu 23M in the first financial year, in addition to its normal budget.

“Despite making this progress we still have to make bigger accomplishments,” she said. “We wanted to capitalise on summer production potential to enhance the exports of our vegetables.”

The production target is 65,200MT by the end of 2018.

She said that meeting these two targets of export and production would make the country self-reliant.

“While we’d have increased our winter productions, we’ll still be importing from India,” she said.

The strategy is to reduce imports in winter, while increasing exports in summer, and keep enough vegetables for domestic consumption.

“This means, we want to ensure each Bhutanese has access to 200g of vegetable a day,” she said.

The agriculture marketing and cooperatives department explores domestic and export markets for the produce, and has brought about improvements in the communication of prices to stakeholders during auctions.

“Without these market facilitations, the production wouldn’t have become successful,” she said.

Most of the vegetable production areas in the country are at high altitude with irrigation, which is why Bhutan can’t produce adequate vegetables during winter.

“We may be able to become self sufficient in vegetables by solving all the irrigation problems in the mid and low-lying areas,” she said, but that might take a decade. “We’ve lots of land to bring under vegetable cultivation.”

For the time being, the ministry will continue to improve production in areas with enough water, invest in irrigation and, at the same time, continue to import.

Of the 30 commercial vegetables in the country, the department is promoting 17, following the vegetable production and marketing plan.

Irrigation has remained an impediment in expanding vegetable cultivation, while labour shortage in the farms with feminisation, and human-wildlife conflict constrain the production.

The ministry is investing in efficient water use technologies and addressing human-wildlife conflicts with electric fencing.

“One important measure is farm mechanisation wherever possible,” she said.

Some critics including agriculture officials said that another measure to boost production would be subsidising agriculture, such as for growing vegetables.

“Only then the programme would be sustainable, because at present agriculture, including vegetable growing, thrives on the efforts of the farmers,” another official said.  If it’s subsidised, private sector would also be interested to participate, officials said.

Farmers have been complaining about the rising cost of production and poor prices of agriculture produce.

But officiating director general of agriculture department, Ganesh Chhetri, said vegetable production was among the ministry’s most successful programmes.

“At one time, farmers even fed their cattle with cabbage, because they’d grown too many, but it’s unlikely to recur as lots of work is ongoing to help them access markets both local and abroad,” he said.

In 2013, the country imported vegetables worth Nu 468M from India, according to trade statistics.

The National Vegetable Programme launched an aggressive promotion strategy to reduce the huge trade deficit gap in vegetables after the rupee shortage issue cropped up in mid-2012.

The horticulture department provided free seeds and seedlings to encourage large scale cultivation, free irrigation equipment, such as pipes, tanks, sprinklers, watering cans to improve water use efficiency and taking farmers on a study tour and trainings to enhance vegetable cultivation skills and knowledge.

More than 90 percent of the vegetables produced in the country are exported to India; a slight portion is also exported to Bangladesh.

Potatoes, cabbage, carrot, peas, beans, cauliflower and radish are the most common vegetables exported.

By Tshering Palden

Market forces or middlemen machinations?

Bhutan’s vegetable export is increasing at a steady pace.  We are well on track to meet the target of 7,500 metric tonnes a year by 2018.

But there is hardly anything to rejoice.  We are importing almost five times more than what we export.  For instance, we exported vegetables worth Nu 53 million in 2013, but imported vegetables worth about Nu 468M.

The deficit is huge.  We can only do so much to reduce the gap.  That is the reality.   Vegetable is a seasonal crop and, given our climatic conditions and topography, most dzongkhags cannot grow vegetables in winter.  That’s why, for some months in a year, we depend entirely on imported vegetables.

More than improvement in export import figures, what may be important at the moment is the uncontrolled price of vegetables, especially in the capital.  The price of vegetables, many feel, is shooting through the roof.  And there is nobody to control it.

Local vegetable is scarce at this time of the year.  The little that we see at the Sunday market is so expensive that the salaried group believes the increase in salary is barely enough to cover the increasing cost of vegetables.  It is an exaggeration, but vegetables are becoming dear.

It is actually an irony that prices are higher now, when more farms are connected with roads, high yielding varieties of seeds are made available, and farms are getting mechanised to an extent.  Vegetables, at least during summer should be cheaper.  But they are not.

The vegetable business, during off seasons, is monopolosied to an extent.  It is an open secret that distributors have formed a consortium, or sort of, in supplying veggies to the capital city.  Suppliers in Falakata, India, it is known, have tied up with the few distributors and refuse to sell to others.  This leaves the less than a dozen suppliers to dictate the price in places like Thimphu to Paro.

During summer, trucks and taxis laden with vegetables are swarmed upon, like ants on a worm, at the Sunday market.  Sacks of vegetables are sold to the so-called middlemen before they are offloaded.  They know there is money  in it, and busy farmers are happy as they can return to their farms immediately.  Nobody controls the price.

The loss is borne by the consumers, who are without choice.  It is quite a common scene to see middlemen making three bundles of spinach from the two the farmers readied.  The cost is the same.  The cost of fresh chili, when it first hits the market escalates almost by 50 percent when middlemen get their hands on them.  Consumers can only complain or wait for the price to go down.

Rising food price is an irreversible trend.  Market forces will determine prices, and we have a growing urban population with a higher purchasing power to ensure demand.  If the profit goes to farmers making farming a lucrative business, we cannot complain.  But at the moment, the middlemen and distributors are calling the shots.  It is an unhealthy trend.


Picture story

This earth moving equipment broke down and blocked traffic for over two hours at Pelzomlum, near Thinleygang on the Wangdue-Thimphu highway yesterday morning.