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Monday, March 30th, 2015 - 8:18 AM
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They don’t tell; we don’t ask

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Yearender/Media: Why don’t you ask tough questions?

That was what an Indian journalist observed about Bhutanese media when they were in the country during Prime Minister Modi’s visit.

Let alone tough questions, the Bhutanese media didn’t ask many questions.

So the visit was covered mainly through pictures, just as had been done on Bhutan’s foreign policy, or India.  But it wasn’t just during visits that the Bhutanese media remained an observer.  It didn’t ask tough questions for even attempts to clarify policy issues during the monthly meet the press sessions send the Cabinet on the defensive, belittling at times individual reporters for asking questions.

All they said was quotable, in fact more so than their responses to  questions the press asked on other policies.

If media is the weak slat under the bed of democracy, then the Bhutanese media was at its weakest in the Year of the Horse.

The Bhutanese media, which was already strapped with a sustainability issue, was unable to trot, as it watched journalists, most of them seasoned, leaving the profession more regularly than the number of newspapers that hit the newsstands weekly.

On paper, the country still boasted 11 newspapers.  Yet its urban centeredness continued to be one of the main criticisms against the mainstream media.  Which perhaps explains why the prime minister observed that while ‘it’s good for a young democracy to have 11 newspapers, for it offers choice in informing the people, it’s dangerous for democracy when the media is unable to reach and inform the people.”

The state and plight of the media was clearly reflected in the Journalist’s Association of Bhutan (JAB) report.  It made headlines when the study was released – Has journalism lost its mojo? wrote Kuensel.   JAB study finds poor state of Media in Bhutan, The Bhutanese said.  Concerns were “expressed” but that’s where it ended.

The opposition leader, (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho, observed that the papers are either writing the same stories, with often the same script and pictures, or not providing any critical analysis of current issues they cover. “The media on the whole portray a lack of conviction and dynamism that are fundamental for a vibrant democracy,” he said.

Given its state today, some media personnel say there are only two things that can happen now – either journalism will die or it will come back strong.  How the female sheep year will treat the media is yet to be seen, but it did survive the horse’s kicks.

One of the highlights of the horse year was the RTI bill discussion in Parliament.   The bill remained disputed and, without it, the speaker denied to share public information on who voted for what in the controversial pay revision saga.

But it also saw another effort being made to appoint permanent media officers “for a better working relationship between the government and the media.”  JAB was revived and new office bearers were elected, while a consortium of 13 media houses formed a Media Owners Association of Bhutan.

With the hooves snubbing discourse in the mainstream media on almost everything, conversations picked up on social media.  From bashing the media on their errors to filing petitions, leaking letters regarding the three government secretaries, to damning telecom service providers, netizens took to the social media like never before.

Even as work to draft a social media policy began, it was one such conversation on social media that pushed the opposition party to file a libel case against a former deputy minster.

And unlike in other issues, the Cabinet was unusually active on social media, in disseminating and sharing its press release on the three government secretaries. But the Cabinet secretariat wasn’t as keen to share why the selected candidate for the post of a media attaché was cancelled a month after a former editor was selected.

Unless it’s photographs of a delegate calling on the prime minster, or a reaction to a statement that political parties and the opposition have issued, or on the PM’s visit abroad, cabinet decisions were seldom shared with the media.

The wood horse year saw this stance of the government, whose party symbol is also a horse, on the media become contagious, with other agencies also not sharing information.

For instance, the royal civil service commission went back to claim its title of being the most media unfriendly agency, while the police used information as a bait to get the media to cover the opening of a community police centre.

The answer to why the Bhutanese media doesn’t ask tough questions is not easy.  But it’s for these reasons and more that the Bhutanese media doesn’t get answers …

Sonam Pelden

Of new beginnings

Yearender/Judiciary: It was literally a year of new beginnings for the judiciary.

The year saw the inauguration of the seat of the judiciary, the new Supreme Court complex, inaugurated by the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi.  On June 15, Prime Minister Modi, who visited Bhutan as his first foreign destination after winning the election, unveiled the inaugural plaque of the Supreme Court.

Located in Hejo and constructed at a cost of more than Nu 705.50M, the Supreme Court comprises five buildings and is symbolically placed alongside Trashichhodzong.

With the Chief Justice Sonam Tobgye retiring on November 15 after an illustrious career of 43 years, His Majesty the King appointed Dasho Tshering Wangchuk as the new chief Justice of Bhutan on November 28, making him the youngest chief justice in the region.  His Majesty also conferred the orange scarf on Dasho Tshering Wangchuk, 51, in recognition of his sacred responsibility as chief justice in the service of the nation.

With the appointment of a new chief justice and superannuation of Justice Dasho Rinzin Gyeltshen on January 15, the Supreme Court is short of two justices.  Justices of SC are appointed from among the justices of the High Court (HC) or from the eminent jurists, based on the recommendation of the national judicial commission (NJC).

Elevating two high court justices to the SC, if done, will further create a vacuum of seven judges at the HC level.  Although the HC is supposed to have a chief justice and eight drangpons, there are only four judges today to decide cases appealed from dzongkhag courts.

The judiciary decided 14,444 cases within 108 days.  The 37 courts across the country decided 20,249 of the total 21,604 cases in 2014.  The highest number of cases registered was monetary cases.

The year also saw the legislators and judiciary divide on the proposal to revisit the ‘age of consent,” which became a bone of contention.  A proposal from Dagana to amend the provisions on rape in the interest of the public, submitted to the National Assembly, was shot down, citing that such an amendment would make young girls vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

As the interpreter and implementer of law, judiciary felt that specific provision needed to be revisited.  Maintaining its stand, the High Court in December last year acquitted a 20-year old man ,who was sentenced to nine years in prison for the rape of his girlfriend, a16-year old girl.

Gelephu dungkhag court on November 7 sentenced another 20-year old man to nine years in prison, despite his girl friend challenging the rape charges against her boyfriend.  She also submitted before the court that she was responsible for having consensual sex with him.

The Supreme Court saw its order to the legislative and executive arms of the government to revisit issues related to suspension snubbed.  The order, issued in July 2013 after the Gyalpoizhing land case ruling, stated that simplistic approach to suspension, to correct the mischief that officials were not being suspended by agencies incorporated in the Anti Corruption Act 2011, was ill conceived and illogical, as it did not consider all the factors associated with suspension.

The judiciary brought to justice people who violated laws.

The Mongar district courts from November 2014 to January 2015 sentenced 12 chorten vandals to life imprisonment, and 32 others received prison terms term ranging from one month to 37 years.

The maximum chorten vandal from Chaskhar gewog, Mongar, received 16 times life imprisonment, while two  other accomplices received 14 and 13 times life imprisonment.  More than 16 chortens were vandalised between 2008 to 2014 in Lhuentse and Mongar.

Between August and November last year, the Paro court sentenced 14 Indian nationals to terms ranging from six months to three years in prison for their involvement in five separate gold smuggling cases.  They were arrested at the Paro international airport.  They attempted to smuggle more than 12.6kg of gold worth Nu 36.3M, which was brought from Singapore and Dubai via Bangkok to India, by using Bhutan as the “illegal trade route”.

In a civil case that took about four years of trial, the Thimphu district court ordered the two brothers of the Tashi Group of companies, Tobgyal Dorji and Wangchuk Dorji, to compensate Nu 1M to their half brother, Kazi Ugyen Dorji, on November 27 for using the trade name ‘Tashi’ and good will of TGC in their new business ventures without the consent of their half brother.

Kazi Ugyen Dorji’s mother, Lhaden Pem Dorji, filed a legal suit on November 23, 2010.  At the time of Dasho Rimp’s demise in 2006, the market reportedly valued Tashi Group of companies at about Nu 30B.

 

Rinzin Wangchuk

Corruption gets its comeuppance

Yearender/ACC: Either the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) is going gung ho in its fight against corruption, or corruption is on the rise, going by the cases in the commission’s hand.

The year of the horse saw several high profile cases, like the lhakhang Karpo issue, Gelephu dungpa’s embezzlement and fraudulent case, illegal transaction of land, corruption in immigration service, and currency trading, come under the ACC scanner.

The lhakhang Karpo corruption case is already in court, prompting some to question how the foreign minister got his clearance when he joined politics in 2013.  The alleged corruption issue was already in the limelight, as the Bhutanese media had extensively covered it, and the case was with ACC.

ACC had suspended nine business and contract licenses of six business entities involved in the lhakhang Karpo case and other dzongkhag construction activities.

Considered one of the most serious and biggest embezzlement and fraud cases in 2014, ACC has indicted Gelephu dungpa Pema Wangdi and six other accomplices on 253 counts, ranging from official misconduct and corruption to fraud and embezzlement.  In the 500-page report, complete with evidence, one of the grave charges against the dungpa was the alleged embezzlement of Nu 10.736M, a fund generated from Losel cinema hall in Gelephu.

Attention then switched to the alleged illegal land transaction cases involving former Chang gup Naku and former land registration director Tshewang Gyeltshen.  Investigations are still ongoing.  ACC has so far frozen 18.98 acres of land belonging to 24 people in Thimphu, since it began investigation on the alleged corrupt land dealings in mid October last year.

ACC officials said it would take more time to complete its investigation, as more and more illegal transactions of land are being unearthed.

In 2014, ACC also exposed a larger and deeply entrenched systemic corruption in the immigration service in Phuentsholing, and suspended 12 immigration inspectors and two officers, with 23 foreign worker recruitment agencies (FWRA) in Phuentsholing, in August last year.

Its investigation uncovered two distinct schemes, one at the entry level, and another at the time of exit, after the ACC investigated a case involving several taxi drivers, police personnel and immigration inspectors at Tanalum check post.  They allegedly received bribes in relation to the illegal exit of absconding foreign workers.

ACC, through OAG, also charged 13 people involved in repatriating INR 70.056M from Druk PNB Bank ltd. branch in Thimphu and illegal trading of currency.  Three prime accused, two Indians from Jaigaon and a senior executive officer of Druk PNB branch, one government driver and nine private individuals were charged with bribery, forgery, tampering of documents, aiding and abetting.

ACC, during its investigation in February and March, established that the prime accused, a 29-year old man from Jaigaon, persuaded many people in Thimphu to obtain micro trade licenses and open current deposit (CD) and saving accounts at the Druk PNB branch to help him repatriate INR between May 2012 and January 2014.

ACC also forwarded four cases to OAG for prosecution, such as an embezzlement case amounting to Nu 130.403M at the Royal Bhutan Embassy in Bangkok, misuse of money from the sale of spare parts of vehicles salvaged by two RICBL officials, immigration case and INR repatriation in Phuentsholing. OAG officials said they are reviewing the reports to frame charges against the alleged individuals.

The horse year also saw ACC challenged by Nima Construction suspending its contract license for two years as “arbitrary and unconstitutional” and a petition was filed with the High Court for an injunction.  The HC, however, dismissed Nima’s petition on September 1.  Nima Construction’s contract license was suspended in connection with two contract works, where the firm had committed offenses through deceptive practices.

ACC also appealed to the Supreme Court, after the HC gave back the land in Gyalpoizhing belonging to the National Assembly speaker, Jigme Zangpo. The High Court on December 2 overruled the Mongar district court judgment, stating that speaker Jigme Zangpo’s ancestral land, measuring more the three acres, was acquired for the Kurichu project, and requested for a land substitute through a petition.

61 top public officials, including the ministers of education, health and foreign, two secretaries and presidents, 41 chairmen of various agencies, a drangpon, seven executive directors, a chief executive officer, and Druk Chirwang Tshogpa president had failed to declare their assets, even after a month-long grace period.

Meanwhile, Bhutan maintained its clean image and succeeded in remaining on top among South Asian countries in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2014, according to Transparency International’s annual index.  Bhutan scored 65 points and has been ranked 30th among 175 countries in the global corruption index.

Rinzin Wangchuk

Labour pains of another kind

Yearender/Employment: It was a laborious year for the Horse, as it saw the unemployment rate leap from 2.1 percent to 2.9 percent.  Youth unemployment rate also saw an increase from 7.3 percent to 9.6 percent in just one year.

The unemployment figure rose despite numerous efforts and promises to create jobs.  Towards the end of the year, the labour ministry, through their job portal, gave employment to about 4,471 jobseekers out of 8,425 registered jobseekers.  A total of 8,686 registered jobseekers were spread across the country last year.

The ministry also promised to give extra focus to female unemployed youth, and an agreement was signed with lyonchhoen to improve the working environment in the private sector.

By mid-year, the system of providing stipend to interns resumed, which was stopped from mid-March after the ministry ran out of budget.  As of October 2013, of the 1,961 interns, 1,385 were university graduates.

Although new initiatives were rolled out to address unemployment and create jobs, mismatch of jobs available and skills on offer continued to confront jobseekers in the country.

 

To provide employment opportunities, the labour ministry in June launched the guaranteed employment program (GEP).  Around Nu 3.19M was spent on the first batch of 665 youth under the program.

About 407 jobs were offered to class X graduates, and 140 to university graduates.  The rest went to class XII graduates.

Under GEP, the labour ministry will bear the monthly allowances of Nu 7,500 for university graduates, Nu 5,250 for class XII graduates, and Nu 3,750 for class X graduates.

Employers will not pay less than Nu 3,750 in a month.

However, jobseekers had reservations about GEP when it started, and even the opposition members expressed the need for more serious programs to reduce the increasing unemployment rate.

In what was expected to be another vital step towards addressing the unemployment problem, the ministry launched the National Employment Policy 2013 in July.

The policy recommended the involvement of local government and dzongkhags in their areas to create job opportunities, a shared responsibility.

A total of 3,304 new graduates sat for the preliminary examinations, which the government had pledged to do away with.

But amid all the employment opportunities that the government claimed to have created, the country still has about 9,886 people unemployed, which brought the unemployment rate to 2.9 percent.

As of last year, the labour ministry has sent 290 jobseekers abroad through the overseas employment program.

The government initiated the overseas employment program to attain full employment status, as pledged by the government, for which 82,000 jobs have to be created by 2018.

Under the overseas employment program, 30,000 jobseekers are to be sent abroad.

Two months after the ministry launched the GEP, only about 367 jobseekers were placed.  The ministry had floated 1,312 vacancies.

Labour officials cited that jobseekers were not serious about job vacancies, while job seekers said they were waiting for the ministry to call.

The horse year ended with jobseekers, both old and new graduates, still waiting for employment.

Thinley Zangmo

Thai tourists ride high in the horse year

Yearender/Tourism: If not for the Bhutan-Thailand friendship offer last year, China would have emerged as the top market, having beat America that usually dominates the international arrivals segment.

The horse year treated the tourism industry well, with an increase in tourist arrivals by about 15 percent from the previous year.  Tourism earnings also increased to USD 73.2M last year, the highest so far.  In 2013, tourism earnings stood at USD 63.5M.

The resilient exchange rate in recent years also helped the sector immensely.  Last year, with the dollar exchange rate crossing Nu 60 at one period, it further boosted earnings.

The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) recorded 68,081 international visitors, of which a majority were Thais with 12,105 visitors, followed by Chinese, Americans, and Germans with 8111, 7291, and 2971 visitors respectively.

Until 2013, Americans dominated the international arrivals segment with 6,927 visitors.  It was  the same year that the Chinese beat the Japanese to emerge as the second major source market with 4,764 visitors. Thais followed 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 is on the rise.

While the Bhutan-Thailand friendship offer was also viewed with criticism from some sections of the industry, it came as a blessing for hoteliers, who still complain of the lean season issue. For once, the offer kept both hotels and hoteliers occupied during the lean season.

The offer for Thais for the months of June, July and August helped attract a huge number of Thai tourists, surpassing the initial target of 3,000.  During the same time, the country recorded earnings of about USD 9M from USD 6.1M in 2013.

As a part of the offer, Thais 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 the tour operators had to compete and develop attractive packages.  The national airlines, Drukair, and Bhutan airlines also offered about 50 percent discounts on airfares, while hotels provided up to 50 percent discount on their rates.

The industry looks forward to a good year ahead, with this year declared as Visit Bhutan year, to commemorate the 60th birth anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth King.  Numerous activities are planned across the country and, accordingly, tour operators are supposed to develop packages to attract visitors.

Kinga Dema

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