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.
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.”
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
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
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.”
Seizure: Following a tip off, forest range officers in Bajo seized a truckload of sawn Betula timber from Kashi, Wangdue at around 10:30pm on February 17. Forest officers found 100cft of illegally swan timber.
The revision will be effective from January 2015.
Salary: Druk Holding and Investments (DHI) also has a Losar offer to its employees, it announced on the eve of the lunar New Year yesterday.
Representatives of DHI-owned companies approved the pay revision proposal on February 17, and the guideline on how it would be raised will be circulated shortly.
Employees of DHI-owned companied will get a revision between 1.5 percent to 8.5 percent on the gross salaries, following a top down approach, meaning those on top will get a lower revision, while those at the lower levels will get a higher raise.
But the revision for DHI companies will only come into effect from January 1, 2015, while the revision for the SOEs would be applied retroactively from July 1, 2014.
DHI chairman Dasho Sangay Khandu said there was hardly any revision on the basic salaries, but that it was the performance-based variable allowance (PBVA), which would be revised from 10 to 15 percent, and corporate allowance from five to 23 percent.
“Overall, the revision package is far less than the civil servants’,” he said. “The net difference between civil servants and employees of DHI companies is still maintained at 15 percent,” Dasho Sangay Khandu said.
For instance, he explained that the salaries and allowances (PBVA and corporate allowance) for employees of DHI-owned companies totted up would maintain a difference of 15 percent from the civil servants’ total salary income (basic salary and additional housing allowance).
However, chief executive officers of various DHI-owned companies, who had slashed their salaries by five percent in July last year, would continue to draw the same salaries.
The chairman said that the revision was done in consideration to the financial outlook of the companies and country’s economy.
By not revising the basic salaries, he said, the companies’ share of contribution to provident fund and others would not increase. “Besides the country’s economic situation, businesses in the DHI companies weren’t as good as it used to be,” he said.
While there are few companies that generated more revenue, he said, that it was important to understand that such companies enjoyed monopoly, and a high raise could pose undue burden on the people.
For example, Bhutan Power corporation and Druk Green Power corporation can afford a bigger raise. But, the chairman said, by doing so, the operation costs of the companies would increase, translating into higher power tariff, which must be borne by all citizens.
Apart from this social mandate, the chairman also said that the DHI had to meet the dividend obligation to the government.
Similar to SOEs, affordability of individual companies would also be taken into account for the raise, and the board had to ensure that the cash flow requirement was met.
“When business is down and economy in recession, it isn’t a right time to revise the salaries,” he said. “I don’t understand why the finance ministry has approved the raise effective from July 2014, but it has set a precedence and employees of DHI companies will also demand the same.”
Meanwhile, the PBVA would depend on the overall performance of the corporations, based on the target achievements set during the annual compacts between DHI and its companies.
Looking back at the year just gone by, we remember the early morning Kanglung skies clearing for the sunrays to warm the thousands of people gathered for the 107th National Day celebrations.
Not because the celebrations happened recently, but it was a momentous occasion, where the entire Royal Family joined the people of Trashigang in the celebrations. It was a moment that the people of Sharchog Khorlo Tsipgyed awaited for years. Many were seeing His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo in a long time, after he announced his abdication in nearby Trashiyangtse on a similar day in 2005.
Their Majesties mingled with the people during the longest ever National Day celebrations, and awarded prizes to raffle winners.
The day will also be remembered for years to come, as His Majesty, in his address to the nation, reminded Bhutanese of an important mandate. His Majesty drew the attention of the people to corruption, calling it the highest probable risk to development. Ignoring corruption, His Majesty warned, was a greater threat than corruption itself.
What farmers call an inspiration, His Majesty awarded medals to farmers, recognising them for their contribution towards making the country food self sufficient.
In May, His Majesty the King, addressing the opening session of Parliament, reminded parliamentarians of their important responsibilities. His Majesty said they were the embodiment of the Bhutanese people’s trust and faith, a privileged few to be conferred symbolic scarves from the golden throne before they took office.
His Majesty said his only aspiration and expectation of them, in all their endeavours while in office, was for them to bear in mind the best interest of the nation and its people, the tsa-wa-sum, not just within their stipulated tenure, but much beyond.
Bhutan will not forget the Year of the Horse for two important events – the state visits the President and the Prime Minister of India made in 2014. Despite much speculation which country the newly elected prime minister, Narendra Modi, would visit, the prime minister chose Bhutan as his first foreign country, symbolising the great friendship the two neighbours enjoy.
The prime minister, on a two-day historic visit, addressed the parliament. The prime minister said that Bhutan was a “natural choice” for him, because of “the unique and special relation, forged by ties of geography, history and culture” that made him choose Bhutan.”
His Majesty The King hosted a luncheon at the Grand Kuenra of Tashichhodzong in honour of the Indian Prime Minister. His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, Their Majesties the Gyalyums, Their Royal Highnesses the Princesses and Princes also graced the luncheon.
In November, President Pranab Mukherjee visited Bhutan, where, in a special, unprecedented gesture and break from protocol, His Majesty the King received the Indian President at Paro airport. Bhutan saw the two top Indian leaders visit the country in less than six months.
The president identified education as one of the many areas as a vision for future cooperation. The government of India handed over a cheque of Nu 1.3B on November 8, of which the biggest chunk, is for the school reform programme.
The year will also be remembered for the salary revision, although for the wrong reasons. The civil servants received a salary raise and housing allowance, but it was overshadowed by the revision for the member of the parliament.
It was the most discussed issue, both inside parliament and in the public domain, with government and parliamentarians getting a public bashing. The revision went through.
For the first time, the year also witnessed the government surrender three of the secretaries to the Royal Civil Service Commission. The surrendering and then letting the secretaries go on “authorised leave” dominated gossip and discussions, both online and off. Investigations are still underway on what they violated.
The foreign minister was also in the limelight for the wrong reasons. Lyonpo Rinzin Dorji is accused of corrupt practices and is on “authorised leave” attending court in Haa.
Towards the end of the Horse year, lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay stole the show at the Vibrant Gujarat Summit, attended by international leaders and topnotch businessmen.
The Wood Female Sheep Year (2015) is an inauspicious year. This year is the year of terrible windstorms and great fires. It is not a good year for matrimonial engagements and construction of new houses. Neither is this Sheep Year auspicious for celebrations grand or small.
To avert disasters from fire and windstorm, offerings to Gyembo Chamdrel Sum should be made besides conducting other rituals and reciting Chagchu Denga and Samba Lhundrup. This is what Datho (astrological calendar) has for the year.
The Wood Female Sheep Year is inauspicious year for people born in the Sheep year (ages 1, 13, 25, 37, 49, 61, 73 and 85). Reciting Torchoe, Sherchin, Tshugtor Karmoi Dok, Jabzhi, Mikha and Choebum will help avert bad luck.
People born in the year of Hog and Rabbit are compatible (Thuensum) with Sheep, and thus, the year is inauspicious for them all. Likewise, people born in the year of Ox are not compatible (Duenzur) with Sheep and the year is also inauspicious for them. To avert bad luck, people born in the year of Ox, Rabbit, Sheep and Hog should conduct and recite Jampel Tsenzoed, Namsa Nanggyed, Jana Kagdok and Tsugtor Karmo. People born under these birth signs should refrain from undertaking long journey, going to cremation ground and venturing into new business, among others.
This year will see the birth of more girl child. It is a good year for people born in the year of Rooster (age 59). It is also a good year for people born in the year of Rooster (age 23) and for people born in the year of Snake (age 39).
Yearender/Bloopers: Looking back at the year that just went by, we have every reason to believe that it was a great year. It was a splendidly memorable year of great successes for individuals, families, communities, and for the nation.
And as we celebrate the Bhutanese New Year today with good wishes, prayers and aspirations for continued prosperity, happiness and greater successes, we at Kuensel, as writers of the first draft of history, may be excused our annual count of bloopers and gaffes we made in the year of the galloping steed.
We look back on the mistakes we made, not with any sense of achievement, however. We stand at the gateway of a Hall of Shame with our burning cheeks and wounded pride. Yes, we do. Hindsight can sometimes be hard.
If mention must be made about all the mistakes that we made in the past year entire, readers would have a Kuensel the size of Encyclopaedia Britannica. And we greatly value our readers, we do. With sincere reverence for our esteemed readers, therefore, we decided against encumbering you with endless details of mistakes this happy Losar.
We are, however, compelled to record a glaring few for our own benefit. It is also to remind ourselves of our responsibility as newswriters. We hope that this record of our mistakes will redeem us to greater and more serious purpose of our profession.
Newswriters are not wilful criminals. Minor factual and spelling mistakes helplessly elude their tired and drooping eyes. That is why, hard as we tried, we have not been able to establish yet how the NA Speaker Jigme Zangpo became Jigme Zangmo. The presiding officer of our legislative assembly must have been compelled to confirm his gender in the state of a scandalised few moments. We also made Tsirang dzongda Ngawang Pem a he.
And how did the director general of RSTA, Lham Dorji, become Lham Nidup, we do not know. Our proofreaders could have gone quietly into comatose after a long and wearing day. And we said DGPC’s managing director was Dasho Ugyen Chhewang not Dasho Chewang Rinzin. Also, we announced that His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck and Indian Ambassador handed over a Nu 25,000 cheque to the winner for essay completion, not competition.
After a long day of work, our eyes don’t see things on screens and papers clearly. But, yes, we never fail to see that the whole city is sleeping while we are working, shouting at each other and verifying information. These are no excuses, however. We cannot condone the mistakes that we make. Foul-ups are unnecessary and highly insulting to both newswriters and readers.
As newswriters, finding our mistakes in the paper a few hours later in the morning feels like we have been given a death sentence. We regret and we curse at ourselves. Yet we stand with new promise, a promise to not make such mistakes ever. And the evening and the morning is the next day…
We at Kuensel promise this Sheep Year that we will not commit such silly mistakes. But then you’ve heard that before. Nevertheless, a New Year always spells new hopes and new aspirations!