KuenselOnline

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 - 8:29 AM
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Subjective justice?

With the Anti Corruption Commission issuing suspension orders to the two civil servants for alleged involvement in the lhakhang Karpo case, there are many questions being asked.  This is because, a few days earlier, the government granted the foreign minister ‘authorised absence.’

The first question on many minds is why are there two rules for the same alleged crime?  The foreign minister has also been charged in the same case.  The project engineer and the manager, as civil servants, are governed by the civil service rule, which is quite clear.

The rule mandates that civil servants be suspended by agencies if, among others, they face criminal charges in a court of law.  The case is in the Haa court.  However, they will be entitled to a subsistence allowance of 50 percent of the basic pay until the completion of the court or disciplinary proceedings.  If they come out clean, they will be paid the remaining amount in arrears.

As empowered by its Act, ACC had also written to the prime minister, as the relevant agency, to suspend the foreign minister.  Lyonchhoen chose to relieve him on “authorised absence”.  The minister will be entitled all benefits while he is away defending himself against the charges.

This is where observers feel the laws are unfair.  And because our laws are based on the principle that all men must stand before the law on equal footing and that there should not be two sets of laws, one for the rich and powerful and another for the poor.  Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje will not fight the case as the foreign minister to avoid conflict of interest or influence by power.

Another question is on the ‘authorised absence’ the royal civil service came up recently, in dealing with the three government secretaries.  It implies that, when an official is being investigated, the commission can decide whether the civil servant should be suspended or given “authorised absence.”  The civil service rule will not apply to the elected government.  The government chose to borrow the newfound arrangement in deciding what to do with the foreign minister.

What is clear is that there are far too many anomalies in our laws, when it comes to suspension.  These need to be ironed out.  The ACC Act says the commission shall suspend a public servant, who is charged under their Act, with effect from the date of the charge until the outcome.  We hear that not many agencies are following it.  The judiciary had already suggested to change ‘shall’ to ‘may’ to make suspension discretionary and not automatic.

In the meantime, the judiciary could look into the possibility of prioritising cases involving public servants.  This is because there is cost on the state; service delivery is hampered as well.  In the recent past, we had cases where civil servants suspended were compensated, in arrears, their salary for three years after finding them innocent.  Some are still fighting cases in the court.

While the post is protected until proven guilty, the ultimate losers are the state and the people.

A shift of focus (and populace) to the east

Earmarking Kanglung and Nganglam as regional hubs is part of a broader development plan

EDI: In a move to shift the overcrowded population from west to east, the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement is planning to develop two towns of Kanglung in Trashigang and Nganglam in Pemagatshel as regional hubs.

To start off, an expression of interest (EoI) to conduct a topographical survey of about 1,114 acres of land in Kanglung was announced yesterday.  For Nganglam, the topographical survey was already done when the new town at Rinchenthang’s master plan was drawn.

These two towns were selected among eight other shortlisted regions. Based on the existing institutional infrastructure, population and centricity, Kanglung and Nganglam were chosen.

While Nganglam, which is being connected to the rest of the eastern districts, is planned to become a commercial hub, Kanglung will be turned into an educational hub.

Deputy chief urban planner with the human settlement department, Bhawana Chhetri, said the regional hub plan had always been there and was featured in the Bhutan National Urbanisation Strategy, 2008, Strategy of Gross National Happiness Commission and the Bhutan 2020.

“It’s just a concept at the moment and will take a while to materialise,” she said, but added that developing the two towns as regional hubs did not mean that new infrastructure would be built.

According to the ministry, the existence of Sherubtse College in Kanglung has prospects to host high-level educational programmes, which are today concentrated in the west.

The domestic airport at Yonphula is expected to boost tourism in the east.  Some regional government offices might also be relocated to Kanglung in future.

“While we develop these regional hubs, we target at bringing down the poverty rate,” she said, adding that, in future, people from east did not need to come all the way to Thimphu for various works.

For the regional hub development, the government of India has provided Nu 150M for Kanglung and Nu 100M for Nganglam in the current plan.  A budget of Nu 50M from Kanglung will be used for drinking water supply alone.

Creating regional hubs is part of the East Development Initiative (EDI), which the government approved in principle last year.  EDI aims to economically strengthen and develop the six eastern districts.

The initiative was developed, following the government’s pledge of “rising east”, which promised balanced developmental activities in the eastern districts.

Besides the creation of regional hubs, EDI will also improve accessibility and transport infrastructure, accelerate hydro power development, establish premiere educational institutes, establish agro-based and green industries, improve tourism infrastructure, establish referral hospitals and provide policy support.

By Nirmala Pokhrel

A malady called rural-urban migration Part III

Fallow-Land

While the Forest and Nature Conservation Rules and Acts may be the cause célèbre that encourage rampant predation by animals on human crops and livestock, the principal cause for Goontongs, there appears to be other causes that contribute to declining rural population and disenchantment with life in the villages.

The inordinate implementation of the commitment made at the 1990 Jomtien World Conference on Education for All, seems to have played a significant role in the annual migration of rural population to urban centers – particularly those of the rural youth. During the course of my interviews in the rural areas, an old man in Chaskhar, Mongar told me that in his view, education has now become a paradox. In his opinion – it is good to be educated but he also attributes incomplete education and cases of dropouts from schools, to creating lots of unproductive humans, drug addicts, gang fights and juvenile delinquency, including some other social maladies.

I totally agree with him! I have long held the view that deficient education creates what I call “social misfits” – an emerging category of youths who can neither be identified with the farming community nor the educated lot. Few years of their stint in the classrooms of government community schools have deprived them of their inclination for farming while their inability to continue beyond Class VI has rendered them unsuitable for seeking white-collared jobs. Thus, hoards of these unfortunate “social misfits” leave their village homes to seek livelihoods in the urban centers. Some end up as drivers, handy boys, Drayang performers, gang members, thieves, drug addicts, and listless loafers without a cause or purpose in life. Some fall foul of the law and end up in jails. But none of them harbor any hopes or wish to go back to their villages to take up farm work.

The Royal Government’s well-intentioned establishment of Community Schools in practically all the far-flung villages of the country was envisioned to provide education to the rural youth consequent upon its pledge at the 2000 Dakar World Education Forum to achieve “Education for All” by 2015. As policies go, it was a laudable initiative deserving of all the praise and accolade – except that it failed to deliver the intended results. At the end, all that it achieved was to deprive the country of a whole lot of energetic youth from contributing to nation building through farm work or, contribute to growth in human capital through acquiring of meaningful education. Our experiment with Community Schools aptly validates the adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The arrival of Community Schools in the villages saw the transfer of potential farmhands into school classrooms. Unfortunately, the implementation of the Community Schools initiative was done with poor foresight and lacked follow through action. For instance, the Community Schools do not provide teaching beyond Class VI. And yet, it is apparent that the educationists and the policy makers did not think about what would happen to the children, beyond class VI – particularly to the children of the majority of parents who did not have the wherewithal to send their children for higher studies outside of their villages.

The weeding out process implemented by the education ministry through the implementation of “Common Examinations” in Class VI, VIII and Class X & XII is another anomaly that contributed to the burgeoning pool of unemployable misfits. While the government systematically weeded out the academic non-performers at varying stages of their development, it did not have adequate plans in place to turn them into productive citizens. A number of vocational institutes set up by the government to offer life-skills did not find ready acceptance among the youth. Thus a hoard of school dropouts and disqualified students were churned out from the school system – year after year, most of who ended up as juvenile delinquents, substance abusers, thieves and vandals. It is small wonder that today the Bhutanese society is bewildered by strange and unthinkable incidences of crime that defy logic.

In my view the government has, even if inadvertently, been responsible in creating the kind of situation we are faced with today. The well-conceived but poorly implemented “Education for All” initiative has been partly responsible for the creation of Goontongs. While the recently introduced initiative of creating Central Schools by consolidating a number of schools may help curb the problem of poor quality education and incidence of school dropouts, it falls short of the real potential such an initiative offers. I believe that the education sector can contribute lot more towards restocking the villages with people and reinvigorating economic activities in the rural areas.

Nearly a decade earlier, my paper that the UNDP Res Rep declined to publish, points to the possibility that one of the surest ways to reverse the process of rural-urban migration may be: schools and colleges..

 

 

Contributed by

Yeshey Dorji

Photographer & Blogger

yesheydorji.blogspot.com

[email protected]

 

International tourism mart in Thimphu

DSC_4784Bhutan will offer travel opportunities to the world during an international conference next week

Bhutan’s renown as a most sought after destination is underlined by its hosting this event for a second time

Tourism: Bhutan will get a good chance to show tour operators from across the world first hand travel opportunities the country has to offer when it hosts an international “adventure travel and responsible tourism conference and mart” in Thimphu next week.

Organised by the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) from February 4 to 6, the conference will offer “a tremendous platform” for tour agencies from Bhutan and other participating countries to seek out new frontiers and create new business opportunities in the tourism industry.

PATA is an association working to promote responsible development of travel and tourism in the Asia Pacific region.

The international event is part of the Visit Bhutan year 2015, which the government has declared to celebrate the 60th birth anniversary of the Fourth King, who started tourism in the country.  As part of the celebrations, new tourism products will be launched in the country.

According to a press release from the association, the conference themed “Explore beyond tourism – Celebrate happiness” is the second such event held in Bhutan, after its first in Paro in 2012.

“The juxtaposition of ancient tradition and modernity make Thimphu the ideal location for visitors to break away from their tour itinerary and immerse themselves in the lifestyle of contemporary Bhutanese,” said PATA. “It will provide a platform for tour operators involved in adventure travel to conduct their business in the most effective manner.”

Tourism Council of Bhutan said PATA’s decision to award the hosting right to Bhutan validates the country’s growing reputation as one of the most sought-after travel destinations in the world.  Amid nurturing social, political and economic transformation, the country continues to endeavour to provide a unique experience for tourists. The press release said TCB was privileged to host the event.

The conference is expected to bring in more tourists in the country.  About 116,200 tourists visited Bhutan last year, 52,700 of who were dollars paying tourists.

Meanwhile, the government has said it would also promote domestic tourism and encourage locals to go on holidays and pilgrimage within the country. Two pilgrimage tours to sacred places in the country are being developed.

In a press release, PATA said, “During these challenging times, Bhutan is the perfect place to celebrate happiness, explore beyond tourism and examine Responsible and Sustainable Tourism growth across the region.”

MB Subba

Picture story

Winners: Kuenjung FC was crowned the champions of the seven-sided Yuljong Football Championship season-I after defeating Northern Thimphu, 4-0, yesterday in the finals played at Changlimethang. The winners took home a cash prize of Nu 25,000 and the runners up Nu 17,000. Ten teams participated in the league-cum-knockout tournament that began on January 11.

    

ACC seeks suspension of two tainted civil servants

The project engineer and the manager have been indicted for their alleged involvement in lhakhang Karpo corruption

Update: The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) yesterday wrote a letter to the Haa dzongda asking him to suspend two civil servants, who were involved in the alleged corruption case of the lhakhang Karpo construction project.

An ACC official said the letter was sent to the competent authority, with copies to the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) and the Royal Audit Authority (RAA), to suspend the lhakhang Karpo conservation project engineer Tashi Gyeltshen and project manager Wangchuk Tshering.

The suspension order comes three days after foreign minister Rinzin Dorje was granted ‘authorised absence’ after the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) registered the lhakhang Karpo case at the Haa district court on January 23.  On the same day, ACC had also reportedly sent a letter to the prime minister’s office to suspend the foreign minister.

Empowered by Anti Corruption Act 2011, the commission writes to the competent authority, when OAG registers a case before the court, to suspend public officials.

As per section 167 (2) of the ACC Act, a public servant, who is charged with an offense, shall be suspended with effect from the date of the charge till pending the outcome of any appeals.

Both project engineer and project manager were charged with allegedly accepting bribes, embezzlement and abuse of functions.

ACC officials, after two years of investigation, found that the project engineer, Tashi Gyeltshen, had solicited and received a bribe of Nu 100,000 from TNW Construction’s owner, Tshewang Rinzin.

In May 2011, the project floated a tender to supply sand for lhakhang Karpo, where 18 contractors participated in the bid.  TNW Construction was awarded the work, as the owner quoted the lowest rate of Nu 27 a cubic feet.  However, ACC found that TNW supplied poor quality sand from the IMTRAT helipad area.

ACC investigation found project engineer Tashi Gyeltshen to have cleared a bill of Nu 0.705M in August 2012, after accepting a gratification amount of Nu 100,000 from Tshewang Rinzin.  Tashi Gyeltshen is also charged with accepting a Samsung phone worth Nu 33,500 from a shop owner called Nima in Paro, in return for allowing forged bids and clearing an amount of Nu 0.624M in payments for repairing the existing water supply system at lhakhang Karpo.  Nima is charged with forgery, and Tshewang Rinzin for passive trading in influence.

Based on ACC’s findings, OAG also charged Tashi Gyeltshen for abuse of function, as he won the bid in procuring GI wire for lhakang Karpo by forging three fictional bids.   He is alleged to have supplied the wire at Nu 230 a metre after buying it at Nu 118/m from Jaigaon.   The project engineer is also charged with official misconduct, for doing private engineering work outside his job, earning Nu 0.79M.

Project manager Wangchuk Tshering, along with Tashi Gyeltshen, is also charged with embezzlement of Nu 74,985 through ghost names on muster rolls.  The project manager is also alleged to have waived off Nu 0.10M worth of woola (labour contribution) for his relatives and neighbours.

OAG also charged construction supervisor (lapon), Lhab Dorji, for embezzling Nu 3,000 each that was collected from 30 households in lieu of labour contributions.  Lhab Dorji had also worked as a lapon in the Chukha dzong construction.

Some households had paid Nu 3,000 as monthly labour contribution to reconstruct the lhakhang.   There was also a corresponding daily per-head labour payment of Nu 165 from the government.

The foreign minister, who was the former Haa dzongda, was charged with favouring a local saw miller, Tshewang Penjor, by awarding timber sawing works worth Nu 1.4M without approval of the tender committee.

Tshewang Penjor, a former Katsho gup, had leased LD sawmill from Leki Dorji during the lhakhang’s construction, and is also charged for passive trading in influence.

Meanwhile, Haa drangpon Duba Drukpa yesterday declared in writing his conflict of interest of being a dorji puen (spiritual brother) in the case to the Supreme Court Chief Justice.

Rinzin Wangchuk

 

Conditional govt. help for private sector

10947285_682448875201152_5684809481266038603_nMonday Meeting: The Prime Minister and the economic affairs minister meet the members of the wood based industries’ association in the first meeting with business entities yesterday

Only if businesses invest profit to upgrade capacity and employ Bhutanese

Monday Meeting: The government’s help for the private sector came with conditions when the Prime Minister had his first meeting with business owners yesterday in Thimphu.

Lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay said only if the private sector is willing to invest in upgrading their capacity and employ Bhutanese, would the government give them businesses.

Lyonchhoen said many business owners chose to buy land, Land Cruisers and construct houses with the profit earned, instead of re-investing it in the company.

Without investment no company could grow, he said. “I have trust in the private sector, but I am not a person who trusts blindly,” lyonchhoen said.

Called the Monday meeting, the meeting with business people is initiated to discuss various issues, including bureaucratic red tape and problems arising from policies and laws that affected the private sector.

About a dozen individuals, representing the Association of Wood-Based Industries (AWBI), met the Prime Minister and the economic affairs minister yesterday.

The main concern they raised was of the Natural Resource Development corporation limited (NRDCL) coming up with a sawmill that could push some 114 sawmills across the country out of business.

President of AWBI, Rinchen Khandu, said half the sawmills are left without work for the last five years and, if the NRDCL’s sawmill comes through, some 2,000 employees would lose their jobs.

Lyonchhoen said NRDCL would lead the wood-based industries with integrated wood processing units and latest machines, which, in turn, would set standards for other companies.

However, he said that, if private sawmills could meet the standards equivalent to NRDCL, with similar machineries and pricing, the government was ready to intervene, to the extent of chopping NRDCL’s plan.

But that, he said, would be done in consultation with NRDCL and private entities in the business.

Despite having 114 private sawmills, the prime minister said NRDCL must have reasons to establish its own.

The association also poured its grievance over the Wood Craft Center Limited (WCCL) being accorded with all furniture procurement for government agencies.  The members also raised concerns on the transfer of WCCL to Druk Holding and Investments (DHI), and its implication on some 330 furniture units in the country.

The Prime Minister said, even with the transfer of WCCL to DHI, the mandate of training nationals in furniture making business would be protected.  However, he said, a study must be conducted to find out how many individuals were trained to date and their whereabouts.

He assured that, if private firms could manufacture furniture that has a quality equivalent to WCCL, and employ Bhutanese, it would only take a notification to allow private firms to participate in the competition. If not, the Prime Minister also warned of heavy penalties they must face.

Another issue they raised was on the import of foreign workers.  The association’s president appealed that the number be raised.  He said that each sawmill was just allowed to bring in two sawyers, which was inconvenient.

The Prime Minister, however, turned down this request, stating that the foreign worker is an issue with almost every sector, including the automobile workshops, construction, restaurants and furniture units.  He instead encouraged the firms to train Bhutanese and pay them well.

There are already about 536 foreign workers employed in  wood based industries, including carpenters, fabricators and sawyers today.

Tshering Dorji

Trends in trade

Latest figures show that commerce with third countries (other than India) has increased

RMA Report: The share of Bhutan’s exports to India dropped to 86.1 percent in 2013 from 93.9 percent in the previous year, while the share of exports to countries other than India (COTI) increased by 25.2 percent.

This is an indication that Bhutan is strengthening its trade relations with countries besides India, and that earnings in hard currency have increased.

While exports to COTI has increased, imports from COTI increased only by 8.3 percent, according to the annual Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) report released yesterday.  However, Bhutan’s current account deficit with COTI increased by 79.9 percent to Nu 2B last year.

Current account deficit occurs when the value of goods and services a country imports exceeds the value of goods and services it exports.

The share of exports to Bangladesh increased to seven percent from four percent in 2012.  Major exports to Bangladesh include oranges, cardamoms and limestone.  Bangladesh was followed by Germany among the top three destinations for exports, with its share increasing to 1.4 percent from 0.1 percent in 2012.  This was mainly due to the increase in export of ferro alloys.

Exports to India increased by 8.5 percent, compared to a six percent growth in imports.  In 2013, total bilateral trade reached Nu 72.6B, with Bhutan’s imports from India estimated at Nu 43.6B, and exports to India at Nu 28.979B.

Imports from India increased to 83.5 percent in 2013 from 79.4 percent in 2012.

Top exports to India include hydropower and ferro alloys.  Following India was China with a share of 2.1 percent.

Some of the major imports from China were doors, windows, hand tools and crushing and grinding machines.  Thailand’s share has increased from 1.4 to 2.1 percent, with major imports were being polythene and polymers.

Imports from South Korea decreased from 3.1 percent in 2012 (Nu 1.7B) to 0.6 percent in 2013 (Nu 280M).  This was mainly due to the decrease in import of copper wire.

During the last fiscal year, trade deficit increased by 2.3 percent from Nu.17.2B to Nu.17.6B.  This was attributed to the increases in the import for mineral products, diesel and petroleum, and base metal products.

The trade deficit with both India and COTI widened only marginally in the year, by 2.3 percent and less than 0.1 percent, respectively.  The overall trade deficit, however, increased by 1.8 percent in 2013.

Meanwhile, RMA governor Daw Tenzin, in his annual report message, has said it has been nearly three years since the authority of Bhutan had to take several unconventional measures to address pressures from growing external imbalances.

“These imbalances emanated from deep-rooted, underlying structural factors and manifested as a severe shortage of Indian rupees in the country,” he said. “While the last three years were an extremely challenging time for the economy, valuable lessons were also learnt.”

He said the contraction in Bhutan’s economic growth since 2011 has continued, with real GDP hitting an all-time low of 2.1 percent in 2013.  However, he added, a recovery process is expected to boost domestic production and productivity, increasing exports and diversification.

With the easing of pressure on the Indian rupee, lifting of most of the unconventional measures and, most importantly, recognition by the government of the need for reforms to address our structural constraints, the low economic performance of 2013 will be a bottoming out of the GDP with recovery on the horizon.

“As I’ve always pointed out, the policy imperative is to phase in targeted long-term policy measures to promote and boost domestic productivity and employment, to channel investments into productive sectors, diversify the economy and build the domestic supply and production base.”

MB Subba

 

Picture story

Ambassador Pema Choden presented credentials to the President of the Republic of Korea, Park Geun-hye, on January 23 in Seoul.
During a call on, the President acknowledged Bhutan’s proposal to send Bhutanese youth for employment in Republic of Korea and informed the ambassador that their agencies would further study the proposal. Diplomatic relation between the two countries was established in September 1987.
Ambassador Pema Choden is Bhutan’s ambassador to Bangladesh with concurrent accreditation to the Republic of Korea, the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

   

Taxi drivers feel victimised

The cabbies feel that they are picked on with regards to traffic rule enforcement  

RSTA: Rules are becoming complicated by the day for taxi drivers.  Either they stay on the right side of the rules and lose passengers, or they break the rules and make the most out of a working day.

The rules say that a child below 10 is not allowed to sit in the front seat.  And that is creating problem for passengers as well as drivers, says the taxi driver.  They say that there is a need for public education.

Tashi Namgyal, a taxi driver in Thimphu, said that the rules create problem for both drivers and passengers.

“This morning I met a lady with a child heading to Paro. She sat in the front seat with a child. When I tried to explain her the rules, she refused to go. Instead, she went for another taxi,” he said.

Tenzin, a farmer from Khasadrapchu, said that there should be consistency with rules and regulation.  Ap Khandu, a monk, said that he didn’t mind paying a little extra for a child in the front seat as long as there was surety of safety.

According to Thinlay Namgay, chief engineer with Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA), the rule of not allowing a child to sit in the front seat is according to Road Safety and Transport Act 1999.

What has also been observed is that the seat belt rule is not followed at all by both passengers and taxi drivers.  Thinlay Namgay said that wearing seat belt could protect the lives of passengers by 50 percent in case of an accident.

However, driver Tashi Namgyal said that wearing seat belt in hilly areas like in Bhutan is risky when accidents occur. “An Indian passenger died on the way to Mongar because he could not jump out of the car due to seat belt. I was driving, but could get away because I wasn’t wearing seat belt.”

Sonam Rinchen, another taxi driver, said it seemed as if the rules are meant only for the taxi drivers. “The rules that prohibit private vehicles and taxis from sticking stickers on their vehicles mean nothing to private vehicle owners. If we’re found with stickers, officials threaten us.”

Dawa, another taxi driver, said that the rules should apply to all without any difference.  It was because certain rules mean only to certain people that problems arose, he said.

Private vehicle owners are seen keeping their window glasses dark, while the rule prohibits it.  However, taxi drivers are fined immediately if found with dark window glasses.

“The awareness campaign that RSTA conducts to update the traffic rules should be given also to the public, not just to the students, taxi and truck drivers,” Tashi said.  He also said that awareness should be given first, and then the laws should be implemented.

“RSTA is the regulator and service provider. RSTA officials don’t get time to go for inspection every day, but whenever we get time, we go for inspection,” said Thinlay Namgay. “We notify the public through media, but people don’t care.”

RSTA conducts awareness campaign every three years for all the drivers to update on laws.  It has plans to train all license holders

Chechey and Rosmi Rana