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Saturday, February 28th, 2015 - 6:26 PM
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Calamities galore, command centre yet to materialise

Yearender/Disaster: With the boat capsizing in Mangdechu on May 10 killing nine people, and the fire that razed most of the Sarpang town on January 15, the elements of water and fire smouldered the wood horse year almost to ashes.

The 18 adult passengers on board the boat at Rindibi in Zhemgang were on their way to Rindibi to collect cement for the school construction when the boat capsized.  The incident left behind many children fatherless.

Sarpang, the district, which was already making headlines for abductions and geckos, saw the biggest fire in the year, when it lost almost its entire town in a fire on February 15.  Some 81 shops were destroyed.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay rushed to the disaster site, and assured that a new township would be built at Raniban, Sarpang.

While the astrology institute had predicted windstorms in high altitude areas, it was Samtse and Zhemgang that were most affected.  A windstorm hit three gewogs in Samtse on May 11, damaging 96 homes and the dzongkhag’s general hospital.  A bolt of lightning also struck a house, killing a 40-year-old woman from Sombak village, while roofs of 27 houses were completely blown off.

The country also saw flash foods washing away three suspension bridges and two irrigation channels, when the swollen Sengphug Rongchu burst its banks in Toetsho, Trashiyangtse, on June 17.  It washed away the 28m Phatsabrag bridge and the 24.8m Shenakang bridge.

Some 100m of Kheshingri’s irrigation channel were damaged and between 600 to 700 acres of paddy fields destroyed.

In a separate incident, a flood at Redaza in Mongar on September 18 disrupted traffic along the Mongar to Bumthang highway.

Thimphu saw some of the biggest forest fires in the year.  A forest fire that started opposite Bap lhakhang destroyed more than 100 acres of blue pine forest, while a three-day old forest fire is still raging across two districts of Trashigang and Mongar.

But as disasters continue to hit the country one after another, the horse year saw the disaster management department still looking for funds to establish a national emergency operation centre.  In absence of the centre, an instant command centre that coordinates during any emergency was missing, making it difficult to coordinate even during a small forest fire incident. “There’s no one to take care of logistics, such as distributing water and food to the fire fighters or any other workers during a disaster,” the department’s director Chador Wangdi had said.

MB Subba

Shift of focus from big cities to small towns

Yearender/Settlement: Headed by the first women minister, the works and human settlement ministry made an important commitment in 2014 to amend the Local Government (LG) Act.

The outcome was to have 20 thrompons, 140 thromde thuemis (representatives) and 20 yenlag throm thuemis in the 2016 LG elections.

Having local governments in place, especially the thromde tshogde, is expected to ensure balanced regional development, which should improve the lives and opportunities of people outside Thimphu and Phuentsholing.  It is also expected to bring balanced planning in towns outside the capital, although each dzongkhag has a municipality today, the pace of development is not comparable to a thromde’s.

The largest throm in a dzongkhag will become the dzongkhag thromde.  The second largest will become a yenlag (satellite) thromde.

In another significant move, waste collection in Thimphu was outsourced to a private company, Greener Way.

While tackling solid waste management is an issue in the capital, it has also become a pressing issue in the dzongkhags and yenlag towns.  Garbage can even be found along the trekking route in Lunana.

In a move to ensure that building constructions are environment friendly, the ministry introduced the ‘Green Building Design Guidelines’.  To also ensure that traditional Bhutanese architecture is not lost, guidelines are currently being drafted.

Much to the relief of farmers, burdened with maintenance of farm roads every winter, the roads department started taking maintenance responsibilities from the gewog administrations.  The ministry has, as pledged by the government, started blacktopping farms roads until the gewog centres.

The widening of the 546km East-West highway has been finalised with the government of India funding the work.

There are still ongoing works that were supposed to have been completed.  Construction of the Damchu-Chukha bypass is into its fourth year.  The Nganglam-Gyalpoizhing road construction also continues.

Nirmala Pokhrel

The contentious issue of natural resources

Yearender/Environment: The mining sector was in the news for all the wrong reasons last year.

Conflicts between mine operators and communities erupted mostly in Thimphu.  Villagers, becoming aware of the adverse impacts, started complaining about the problems from the mines on their livelihoods.  It resulted in the temporary shutdown of one mine in Khariphu.  Currenlty, five mines, including the Khariphu one, are fighting cases at the Thimphu district court.

The small community of Khariphu contested the license renewal of a mine that operates above their village.  The ensuing deadlock between the proprietor and some 19 villagers shut down the mine for two months.  Following an investigation, led by the economic affairs minister, the mine’s license was approved.

The villagers have filed a suit against the mine in the Thimphu district court.

In another case, community members of Gidawom took to court the four mines operating near their village.  Negotiations have failed twice.  The judgment on both the cases are awaited and will set a precedent for other similar cases in the country.

The Royal Audit Authority’s November report on the mining sector exposed long-running illegal activities in the mining companies across the country.  The National Council deliberated on the issue at length, and lambasted the government agencies for failing to fulfill their mandates, and sought accountability.

The geology and mines department issued guidelines to local governments and asked for strict enforcement.  But the short-staffed department, that has both monitoring and evaluation responsibilities, will still find it a challenge unless they have enough people.

While the government said the state mining corporation, now under the Druk Holding and Investments, would bring in advanced technology and knowledge to the mining sector, private miners felt it could spell the ultimate demise of their business.

Water

Various water disputes in the country, especially those over traditional rights, are likely to be settled, with water regulations now in place.

The 18-month integrated water resource management and river basin project, funded by the Asian Development Bank, is developing a management plan for the Wangchu river basin, the first one in the country.  The National Enviroment Commission secretariat (NECS) will replicate it in the other three river basins.  The project will give the country substantial resources, besides the water inventory, to implement the water Act.

Waste

The year saw some steady efforts to curb the waste problem, especially in the capital, the home to some 15 percent of the Bhutanese population.

Waste collection was privatised and contracted to Greener Way, plans to expand the Memelakha landfill that has developed leachate problems were approved, and the launch of the three-year Clean Bhutan and Green Thimphu projects started in February.

The thromde too deserves credit for keeping the streets clean with its 173 workers and annual budget of Nu 11M for waste management.

Finally outsourcing waste collection, Greener Way was given 13 waste collection trucks to gather waste from the southern and central parts of the city, beginning January this year.  Thimphu thromde also proposed collection of fees from households, offices and business units for waste collection.

The waste segregation from households has been implemented with expectations that this would reduce waste deposits at Memelakha.  The landfill expansion works have begun and the leachate leakage will be controlled, minimising damage to the environment.

Illegal waste dumpers are up for strict penalties, and the NECS has declared that it would pay half the penalty of the offender to the informant as part of an effort to increase vigilance.

Waste management at the districts has been implemented through various memoranda of understanding the secretariat signed with the authorities.

The commission also gave a strong ultimatum to the Pasakha and Balujhora industries to either clean up by March this year, or close down until it is done.  This measure will help reduce pollution levels found exceeding national standards.

Climate change was on the table too.  Several projects were launched to set up hydro-met service stations, hazard zonation of GLOF in Chamkhar and Trongsa river basins, and rural livelihood adaptation to climate change.

Forests

The timely suspension of the community forest (CF) formation, and the review of its establishment and implementation process fixed some major loopholes in the system.  Otherwise, it could have resulted in loss of forest resources, and the long-term success of the programme could have been compromised.

After a yearlong suspension, CF formation resumed in September 2014, and forest officials at the local governments were given more monitoring and assisting responsibilities for successful implementation.  This limits the scope of misuse by executive members.

Forest fire incidents have decreased in number, but continue to threaten the country’s biodiversity.

While timber demand has been soaring, with many new constructions and reconstructions of temples and homes, the completion of the national forest inventory at the end of this year will tell us just how much of this resource we have left.

Tshering Palden

A year in which culture took the limelight

Yearender/Arts: The horse year saw much strides made, when it came to the state of art in the country.  The year saw many avenues being opened for artists through different themed art exhibitions, literary fests, to the Voluntary Artists’ Studio of Thimphu (VAST) attaining civil society organisation (CSO) status.

The year kicked off with a joint exhibition titled Impressions of Happiness between Bhutanese and Singaporean artists held in Singapore in April.

The artists came together and expressed their concept of happiness through their artworks, which was sold during the exhibition.  Part of the sales proceeds of the artworks went to two art causes – international young artists exchange and VAST Bhutan.

The next month saw the fifth Mountain Echoes, which took place in the capital.  The annual literary festival served a literary banquet to suit everyone’s taste.  From religion, culture, politics to the phallus, the festival was a delicious spread.

Spread around in various venues located at the Tarayana centre, Taj Tashi and Nehru-Wangchuck cultural centre, one had to pick what interested one the most.  There were talks, films, art exhibitions and workshops.

The year also saw children present an opportunity to express themselves through art, based on the theme ‘imagine our future’.

Good school structures, better health facilities, helicopters, and airplanes and blacktopped roads were some of the common elements expressed through their artworks.

About 60 students attended the summer art camp held in Thimphu, which marked 25 years of the UN convention on the rights of the children.

While the next month saw the first ever exhibition by 20 Bhutanese women titled Her Expression, providing a platform for budding as well as professional female artists.

These female artists came together proving that even females are capable of working on contemporary paintings, or bringing a new perspective through art in a male dominated arena.

Despite creativity reaching a new height, art in Bhutan is still searching for a foothold.

However, a glimmer of hope was seen for Bhutanese art when VAST got their CSO status on September 2, providing a legal background and recognition to raise funds for the growth of art in the country.  VAST now has an office with salaried staff.

Towards the end of the year, Bhutanese art was taken to yet another level when a French artist, Olaf Van Cleef, offered another perspective with a European touch.  He showed the paintings of Buddhist icons, like Guru Rinpoche, Tsheringma and Zhabdrung, not only painted colourfully but also studded with Swarovski crystals, gems and chocolate paper.

The 64-year old artist will display his works in an exhibition, which will be held in September this year.

Thinley Zangmo

Football rules … on and off the field

Yearender/Sports: Football was once again the dominant sport, both on the field and on TV  in the Year of the Horse.

While 32 nations battled for the World Cup in Brazil, thousands of Bhutanese joined the international fans to support their favourite team.  Rain, light and heavy, didn’t stop the fans from coming out to the Changlimithang stadium to watch their teams, some on whom heavy bets were placed, on the giant screens.

A miniature seven-on-seven World Cup fan fest tournament was also organised to celebrate the World Cup.  Honduras won that World Cup held in Bhutan.

The King’s Cup returned to crown a new champion.  Bangladesh’s Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club won their first Kings Cup defeating Pune FC of India.  The winners and runners up of the Coca Cola national league, Druk United and Ugyen Academy represented the country in the tournament.

Bhutan football federation selected the country’s new national team with a new system of paying the players with a monthly salary.  The young national team will lead Bhutan to its first ever World Cup qualifying matches, a small step towards football’s grandest stage of all.

It was a disappointment for the Bhutanese on the international front.  Ugyen Academy was thrashed 4-0 by Sheikh Russel of Sri Lanka in the AFC President’s Cup.  The Bhutanese national women football team could not register a single win in the South Asian football federation (SAFF) women’s championship at Pakistan.

In basketball, Team Bhutan achieved its second international win in 3 on 3-basketball at the Asian beach games in Phuket, Thailand.  Bhutan defeated Laos 21-9.

In local tournaments, Wizards (men) defeated Pazaps and Pamos (women) defeated Dozens to claim the Coronation Cup.  Team Wizards also won the Thimphu open basketball championship beating Phojas 78-64.

Jachungs defeated Phojas 74-65 in the finals of the first winter basketball championship at swimming pool complex, Thimphu.

The first ever community basketball tournament also began to engage the youth gainfully during their vacation.

In chess, Bhutan recorded its first international win against the Kingdom of Swaziland at the Chess Olympiad held in Norway.  The country is currently ranked 170 in the world.

Thimphu team bagged 10 gold and three bronze medals at the first international taekwondo championship held at the swimming pool complex, Thimphu.

In archery, KTP Construction,  which was in the last position till the eight round, surprised the spectators by winning the famous Yangphel open archery tournament.  Eastern United was crowned the champions of the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck Memorial archery tournament, defeating Bhutan Power corporation at the Changlimithang range in Thimphu.

A new champion was also crowned in the Tour of the Dragon bike race.  A Nepalese national, Ajay Pandit Chhetri completed the 268-km bike race in 10 hours and 42 minutes, breaking  last year’s record to emerge as the champion of the Tour of the Dragon.

In body building, Pema Thekchok beat the two times Mr Bhutan Tandin Wangchen to become the new title holder.   Pema Thekchok, 29, was crowned Mr Phuentsholing in 2009.

Coinciding with the 107th National Day, Thimphu got its first outdoor strength and fitness centre at the athletics stadium.

Younten Tshedup

 

Unease along the southern flank

Yearender/Security: There was generally peace and harmony in the country, as predicted by the astrologers.  However, the prediction didn’t come true for people living along the southern borders.

Miscreants from across the border robbed Bhutanese commuters along the Indian highway; they came into homes, took away Bhutanese and held them for ransom.

While schools across the country have already begun, the 14-year old student, who was abducted on December 16, is yet to be freed from the clutches of the kidnappers.  Two drivers, who went missing in September from Santipur, still have not come home to their worried loved ones.

Abductees have not called again, since the family members told them their ransom demand was way beyond affordability.

Seven abductions in less than six months in 2014 shocked the nation and left a permanent fear among those residing in the southern border regions.  They do not feel safe in their own homes.  In total, Bhutanese farmers paid Nu 1.5M to kidnappers, thereby leaving them in debt for many more years to come.

Such security issues, especially kidnapping, were brought to parliament, with the opposition party accusing the government of not being serious, and questioning  if safety measures were being put in place.

The Wood Horse year saw 10 robbery cases of Bhutanese commuters plying between Phuentsholing and Samtse via India.  However, there were also some that were not reported.

Although the eight men involved in the spate of robberies were arrested, the fear of commuting on the Indian road, especially the route between Nimti and Alipurduar, looms large.

With all the abduction and looting, it reminds Bhutanese commuters that driving via the Indian highway is not safe.  It would be wiser to wait for the designated escort and travel in a convoy.

The government has plans to build wall on the almost 33km stretch between Gelephu and Sarpang, so that miscreants do not enter into Bhutanese soil to take away people as and when they please.

In November, angry Indian mobs burnt and damaged Bhutanese vehicles plying between Samtse and Phuentsholing, after the death of an Indian maid, employed by a Bhutanese couple, sparked violence along the border.

Five Bhutanese vehicles were stranded in Chamurchi, after a mob of about 6,000 people set a Wagon R on fire, and damaged three light vehicles and a truck on November 24. The maid reportedly died of an overdose of a controlled substance, but the mob suspected foul play, with Indian media playing it up, alleging murder.

Nirmala Pokhrel

Drug offenses buck downward trend in crime

Yearender/Law and order:As if the spate of kidnappings and robberies along the border towns were not enough to keep them occupied, the horse year sent the police bolting into action to nab escaped convicts, solve a cold blooded murder at Central Plaza, and call one of their men, accused of rape and assault, mentally unstable.

Although crime rates were reported to have declined by almost 16 percent from the previous year, the horse year saw a 30 percent increase in cases involving possession of controlled substances, and a 10 percent increase in its illegal transaction.  Wangdue police nabbed a couple with 2,890 capsules of Relipen, 3,728 capsules of Spasmoproxyvon and 3,880 tablets of Nitrosun-10, one of the biggest drug busts in the year.

Youth made up almost 60 percent of the 950 people that were arrested in connection with drugs, which have assumed the status of birthday gifts.  Given the increasing number of youth coming into conflict with the law, police had to make four lifesize frames to display weapons seized from youth in just a year.

The police chief had meant business when he had said that they would intensify its crackdown.  And just as the horse year came to an end, police announced that they would start frisking youth for weapon, if found in groups of two or more after 10pm.

Police will now seek approval from the home ministry to ban the sale of knives to youth, and to impose a restriction on youth loitering late at night.

Mongar police arrested 47 people for vandalising 48 chortens in different dzongkhags and the year saw 521 battery, 393 larceny and 296 burglary cases.  The country reported 43 rape cases, including 13 among minors.

But the capital maintained its top position in crime with 891 cases, followed by Chukha at 389 and Paro with 182.

By the time the horse year was about to gallop off into the sunset and let the sheep take its place, through a citizen’s arrest, police locked up the prime suspect in the Central Plaza murder.  Following a quarrel over a si kam curry, the men threw bricks at each other, and eventually ended up with the victim being incapacitated, after being hit repeatedly on the head with a brick.  The body was then dragged and thrown off the balcony.

Police also detained three suspects for selling Bhutanese SIM (subscriber identity module) cards to non-nationals from across the border.  Some of the mobile numbers of the SIM cards provided or sold by the three suspects were used to demand ransoms for kidnapped Bhutanese.

Bhutanese felt a bit safer plying the Alipurduar highway, after Alipurduar district police nabbed eight men involved in robbing Bhutanese commuters.  But the nine car owners, whose vehicles were damaged and burned following the death of an Indian maid in Samtse, are still waiting to be compensated.

Even as new policies and plans are enforced, the police still need the corporation of the people to make the city and country a safer place. For, in the words of the police chief, “we’re not here to fight a battle, but to request the cooperation of the general public.”

Dechen Tshomo

Hardly a dull moment

Yearender/Parliament: There was drama, suspense and action at Parliament in June 2014.  In fact, the third session of the second parliament session will be remembered for the heated debate, more than on democracy, on the salary revision.

The pay revision was mainly for civil servants, but the actual raise fell below the 25 percent for the highest raise, while cabinet ministers and the prime minister took the highest amount of revision at 131 and 67 percent respectively.  They were followed by the deputy speaker, the deputy chairperson, constitutional post holders, cabinet secretary and justices of the Supreme Court.

The revision was finally endorsed, but after rigorous debate and thorough confusion.  The prime minister, at one point, even refused to accept any raise.  As discussions heated up,, lyonchhoen declined the 131 percent revision on his salary, and asked for pay equal to that of cabinet ministers.  When members insisted, he accepted Nu 1 over the minister’s salary as a token.

The National Council joined the fray, calling the revision unconstitutional.  They refused the revision. The council recommended deferring the raise for senior public servants, including lyonchhoen, ministers and others, and to raise civil servants pay by 20 percent, after merging the lump sump salary allowance, they were already receiving, to the basic salary.

The National Assembly shot down the recommendation, after which the pay revision was finally endorsed, a decision met with criticism even today.  With the revision came the housing allowance that was also not without issues.  Discrepancies in implementation followed. Housing allowance was not available to those residing in government houses, while matrons and wardens in schools were entitled 50 percent as house rent.

By the end of the summer session, Parliament also lifted the ban on import on vehicle, but with a revised taxation that didn’t deter people from buying new vehicles.

The winter session of Parliament was more pleasant.  Three new bills were introduced in the upper house.  They were the enterprise registration, jabmi and the Office of the Attorney General bills.  The said bills will be up for discussion and endorsement in the upcoming parliamentary session.

In all, the horse year saw 13 bills deliberated on, of which there were new bills, while the rest were continuation of previous sessions. The national council, national assembly, parliamentary entitlement, tenancy, biosafety, local government entitlement , narcotics, drugs, psychotropic substances and substance abuse and tobacco control bills were all endorsed.

In doing so, some of the significant decisions the two houses arrived at were NC as a continuous house, while the 10-year experience requirement for NC members to contest elections was removed.   With the amendment of the Tobacco Act, the quantity on import was increased and penalties slightly reduced.   Creating thromdes in all 20 dzongkhags, followed by another 20 yenlag thromdes were also some of the significant decisions of the two houses.

The proposed changes will, however, have to be endorsed by the other house in the summer session, and receive His Majesty’s assent before becoming a law.

However, the long overdue, Right to Information bill 2014 still remains a disputed bill after both houses refused to accept the other’s recommendations.

Another significant event to the horse year was the visit of the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, who also addressed the summer session of the joint parliament.  During his address, in Hindi, the Indian prime minister also referred to Bhutan as ‘Nepal’, a gaffe that immediately caught the attention of Indian media; the Bhutanese media, on the other hand, perhaps in their role as hosts, turned a deaf ear.

Prime Minister Modi said only a strong and prosperous India could help alleviate the problems that its neighbours faced, while lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay said that, if India prospers, Bhutan should prosper.

By Kinga Dema

When the sherig sector reformed

Yearender/Education: From the closure of the Education city project just as the Horse trotted in to the controversies on the leaked English II paper until the Sheep started bleating, the Sherig sector saw some of its highest highs and lowest lows in the year that passed by.

Loaded with the highest share of the budget, the 100-year old sector galloped into a frenzy to reform the education sector. The school-feeding program received attention, 19 schools were granted autonomy and 24 schools were chosen to become central schools. It picked pace and began a nationwide consultation with some 20,000 people to draft an education blue print began.

To ensure that all children in schools were fed nutritious meals, the government decided to shoulder the cost of transporting boarding schools’ rations. Food Corporation of Bhutan started procuring nine non-perishable food items.

By the time the blueprint was launched, the centralised procurement had already come under flak. A review found the quality of food had not improved and that food wastage was high. Schools still reported nutrition deficiency among students and all of them across the country were provided vitamin B1 supplements—-.

Perhaps it came a bit late but the long over due Teacher Human Resource policy was released. The policy, which was expected to attract and retain the best in teaching, to make teaching profession a career of choice, and to enhance the moral of teachers came in just as the sector was seeing its teachers leave in droves. Although teacher shortage still plagued the sector, the year saw its first batch of BEd graduates going unemployed. While one teacher was leaving the profession almost everyday, one student a month committed suicide.

The blueprint identified initiatives that would be rolled out in the next 10 years, to improve student learning outcomes and overall development. Improving competencies of teachers, school leadership and teachers’ language proficiency in both English and Dzongkha were among the consultation’s main findings.

While the impacts of these policies are not seen yet, the year saw apprehensions being raised when the government’s efforts to centralise schools were (mis) understood as a move to close extended classrooms.

Parents in Bumthang and members of the opposition grunted on the rational of this policy but the government stood firm. The central schools, to be piloted in 24 schools, were to address the issue of informal boarding. Period.

However, for want of one student, nine students of a remote village in Mongar had no school to go to when the academic session began a few days ago. And just as the central schools started operating, providing everything the students needed for free, the private schools started charging higher fees.

But more than anything, the year of the horse would be remembered for the 11 students who committed suicide and the leak of English II question paper for class XII board examination. Instead of finding and holding those accountable for the leak, the council declares the results and concludes the leak to be “largely a rumour.”

Talks of a visually impaired “official” sharing the extra question paper to a girl student in Paro may have also just been a rumour. Amid this web of rumours, a fact arose  – that the examination council doesn’t have the might and strength of a horse, to handle such cases. Or is this again another rumour?

While the difficulty in understanding English II language may be another rumour on why the paper was leaked, the blueprint had highlighted the need to improve the teachers’ and students’ language proficiency in both English and Dzongkha.

The reading year was expected to hone these skills but even before the pages were turned, Bhutanese had started learning Chokye from a Japanese; the Prime Minister had picked up Hindi and children had started conversing in Hindi taking after cartoon programs.

UNESCO’s special rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh also highlighted this concern to be addressed seriously and quickly in his report after his visit to the country in June 2014. “I was concerned to receive reports during my visit that some students were unable to write well in Dzongkha, and that other languages were not even offered as second language courses in any curriculum,” he observed. “In some cases, particularly with grade 10 school leavers, students were reportedly not fully proficient in either national language.”

But while the horse may have raced against time in putting in place various policies to start the journey of reform, the sheep year should still be a year of hope for the sherig sector because in the words of the Prime Minister, “That’s how serious we are about our children.”

But, how the teachers and students would convey their hardik danyabad for the reforms is yet to be seen.

By Sonam Pelden

Taking the pulse of the nation

Yearender/Health: Although it got its share of issues to chew on, the horse year treated the health sector fairly well.

It kicked off no major controversies that the health sector was earlier known for.  But instances such as the health worker in Bumthang sharing the graphic photograph of the student couple, who committed suicide, was enough to get the public neighing on the ethics and conduct of health workers in the country.

Whether the medical council will take any action against him is yet to be seen, but the increasing spate of suicides in the country became such a public health concern that the health ministry had to start a suicide prevention program.

Thimphu’s referral hospital sees one attempted suicide case every month and, while counseling services were yet to be strengthened, the ministry did start by recruiting a suicide prevention officer.

And amid efforts to reduce waiting time in hospitals, and improve health care delivery, the health ministry in July granted autonomy to Thimphu referral hospital.  With that, a party promise was kept, although human resources still remained with the ministry.

The autonomy, however, helped the sector start its postgraduate program for its first batch of nine doctors at the hospital’s postgraduate medical education centre.  The program offered specialisation for two doctors in each of the six fields of surgery: paediatrics, obstetrics-gynaecology, ophthalmology, anaesthesiology and general practice.  The former Thimphu dzongda took over as the hospital’s President.

Perhaps it wasn’t the impact of granting autonomy but, two months later, the hospital’s cashier went missing, allegedly after embezzling over Nu 5M.

While it continued to airlift patients, especially those hit by arrows from Haa or Lunana, it was not the promised helicopters, but quadcopters that were tested as an option to deliver medicines in the remote parts of the country.

Probably that quite didn’t work, for a health team had to visit the place to confirm if the 35 students in Gomphu LSS in Zhemgang were suffering from vitamin deficiency.  Like other students in the past, these students were also found to lack thiamine, vitamin B1.

Following the Prime Minister’s instruction, the health minister issued an executive order in November, asking all health facilities to provide vitamin B1 supplements to students across the country until the academic session ended.

While Mongar hospital referred its 20 kidney patients to Thimphu after its dialysis machines broke down, the home ministry stopped issuing letters for those collecting donations to go for an organ transplant.

But when the eye bank for cornea transplant was opened, doctors said that, unlike kidneys, the cornea donation is not organ donation, because the cornea is avascular and immune privileged.

What the horse year also showed was that the Bhutanese were becoming unhealthy by the day.  A STEPS survey found that, among adults between 18-69 years, 40 percent of women and 27 percent of men are overweight or obese in the country today.

To promote a healthy lifestyle, the health ministry, with support from the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that, by next month, it would construct six open-air gymnasiums in the city.

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk said the gymnasiums, which will be established to commemorate the Fourth King’s 60th birth anniversary, would be for those, who are unable to afford gym membership in the city.

As WHO declared Ebola a public health emergency of international concern, the health ministry started preparing and remained prepared on paper to handle Ebola cases.

To reduce infant and maternal mortality and meet the MDG target, the Prime Minister announced that the government would build a specialised mother and child hospital.  Neonatal deaths accounted for most of the infant mortality cases in the country.  The mother and child hospital, however, comes at the cost of the detox centre that was planned in Gidakom.

After the first five gave the disease a face three years ago, the horse pushed another three HIV positives to go public with their status on World AIDS Day.  There are 402 people living with HIV in the country today.

As the year came to an end, what the horse whinnied loudly about was the decline in health budget over the plan period.

Diseases and the shortage of health workers aside, and with or without the helicopters, the health sector is hopeful that the Sheep will ensure that government spending on health care increases from the existing 3.55 percent of GDP to at least five percent.

An increase would give the sector a chance to address all its issues because, in the words of the director general Dr Ugen Dophu, “The cut in budget impacts health directly, but it affects the whole country as well.”

Sonam Pelden