Friday, May 29th, 2015 - 12:10 PM
Yangphel Housing Banner.gif

Is the Council’s counsel superfluous?

The ongoing parliament session will be remembered for two very important events – India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the parliament, and the civil service salary revision.

While the honeymoon period of the prime minister’s visit is over, many will keep talking about the pay revision and the taxation policy endorsed on Tuesday.

But even as civil servants wait for their revised salary, there are important issues thrown up for discourse.

Most important is the prerogative of the Assembly over money Bills, and the manner in which deliberations are conducted, including voting in the Assembly.  While confusion in the Assembly can happen, and has happened in the past, those keeping a tab on the parliament session are wondering if the budget should be a money Bill that need not consider the recommendations of the house of review.

The discourse erupted because the Assembly didn’t consider the recommendations of the council on the civil service pay revision, especially when the members appeared to be generous with their raise.  They also recommended doing away with the fuel tax, and charging some form of tax on electric vehicles.

The National Council, the Constitution mandates to act as the house of review on matters affecting … the interests of the nation and the people.  Salary revision and taxes directly affect the nation and the people.

If their recommendations, after days of discussions, are not even discussed in the Assembly, the importance of the house could be undermined.

Many believe the Assembly made a mistake by endorsing what they discussed, and not even discussing the council’s recommendations.

The ruling government, which has a majority in the Assembly, as they pointed out, will never be able to pass the budget if they were to consider the council’s recommendations.  It’s true.  The budget Bill has to be passed in the same session of the parliament and, if delayed, could hamper planned activities.

But the bone of contention is when there are issues that come hidden or not with the budget Bill.

It is issues like taxes that need thorough discussion in both the houses.  On a sensitive and emotional issue like the pay revision, a second opinion sounds logical, especially when the Pay Commission recommendations are not considered. The article on Pay Commission actually spells out that the recommendations of the Pay Commission shall be subjected to conditions and modifications by Parliament.  The council is a part of Parliament.

On hindsight, why not leave the pay revision to the Pay Commission alone?  Salaries and allowances are structured on the standard of living, taking into account the cost of living and inflation.  Affordability or resources that a country, or a government, has available decides the actual figure.  A Pay commission, with senior members and experts in various fields as members, will come with more practical justification for a revision, upward or downward.

From the current schemes of things, some are wondering if the council’s recommendations should be made binding on the Assembly. That would require the Constitution to be amended.

We could do it even without amending our young Constitution, if elected leaders look beyond personal interests, not to say they did not.

The present revision became controversial, because of the huge package for the parliamentarians and the ministers.  Had it been the otherwise, perhaps the council recommendations would have been readily welcomed.


Anti-doping procedures to be adopted

DSC_4750For the welfare of athletes: Five federation signs MoU with BOC and BADC

Sports federations sign MoU to recognise BADC as lead organisation in this endeavour

WADA: Nutritional supplements are not prohibited and one can use them, but at their own risks.

“You are solely responsible for what you use or consume,” Bhutan Anti-Doping Committee (BADC) chairman, Dr Tenzin Norsang, said yesterday at a sensitisation program on anti-doping in sports.

World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), he said, does not prohibit use of nutritional supplements.

Briefing representatives of various sports federations on WADA’s revised anti-doping code, Dr Tenzin Norsang said not all companies manufacturing nutritional supplements would mention substances, some of which, prohibited by WADA, on the label of the products.

“It’s a marketing strategy as they want to sell their products,” Dr Tenzin Norsang said. “As an athlete, one should be cautious.”

Citing the example of how an athlete, who was tested positive for steroids in China, Dr Tenzin Norsang said that, although it was unintentional, he had to face the ban.  Upon investigation, it was found that the athlete ate local beef injected with steroids.

“It wasn’t his fault, but there were no considerations,” he said.

Similarly, Dr Tenzin Norsang said, some medicines prescribed for cold also contain substances that are prohibited by WADA.

“It’s better to be safe now than to be guilty of a big violation, whether or not it was intentional,” he said.

South Asia regional anti-doping organisation’s director general, Mohamed Mahid Shareef, also said that, if an athlete unknowingly consumes prohibited substances, he will be held responsible and not the company.

“The least WADA can do is, declare that a particular product from that company, contains prohibited substances,” he said. “We can’t ban the company as they are not forcing you to take it.”

If unintentional, the director general said, the athlete has to prove it.  If proven, the ban could be less.  However, an athlete has to prove that it is not a ‘specified substance’ and the substance was used when he or she was out of competition.

If intentional, the revised world anti-doping code states that the athlete could face a ban of four years from the existing two years.  The revised code comes into effect from January 1, next year.

Other changes include the timing of filing in their ‘whereabouts’ after being banned for a certain period of time to be eligible to partake in a particular sports again.  The revised code states that an athlete can fill in their whereabouts within a year, which has been reduced from 18 months.

Regarding prohibited association, the revised code states that, “an athlete should not associate with any other athlete support personnel in a sport-related capacity who has been informed in writing from the anti-doping organisation about a period of ineligibility.”

Associates, Dr Tenzin Norsang said, could be manager, organiser, coach, or team members.

“If such associates are found involved with the athlete in any sports related activity, he or she would be held liable as well,” he said.

In line with the revised world anti-doping code, Bhutan Olympic Committee came out with their draft anti-doping rules, which shall come into effect from January 1, 2015.

BADC member Nima Gyeltshen said, doping in sports is defined as presence of a prohibited substance or method, refusing to submit sample, failure to file whereabouts information, missed test and tampering or possession of doping control process, among others.

Some of the commonly used (worldwide) prohibited drugs are anabolic steroids, hormones, anti-hypertensive medicines, blood products, diuretics, or asthma medicines.

Meanwhile, five sports federations signed the memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Bhutan Olympics Committee last evening.  There are 13 sports federations in the country.  The rest are expected to sign the MoU soon.

BADC officials said the MoU is expected to prevent and eliminate doping in sports through mutual strategies.

The MoU recognises BADC under the Bhutan Olympic Committee as the lead organisation to coordinate and implement the Bhutan anti-doping rules.

It would also ensure cooperation among the federations besides education of athletes and sport entourage on the anti-doping in sports to be accorded high priority and cooperation in having regular doping tests.

By Kinga Dema

Child dies in tragic circumstances

Suffocation: A four-year-old boy in Paro died of suffocation, after his younger sister locked him accidentally inside the showcase when they were playing.

The incident occurred around 8.30pm on June 16, Paro police said.

According to police, when the incident took place, the children’s mother was sleeping inside the bedroom.  She was tired after attending to her sick father in hospital.  Her husband had gone to town to withdraw money from an ATM.

The boy was rushed to the hospital but it was too late, the health officials said.  The hospital confirmed suffocation as the cause of death.

Police officials, who investigated the case, said there was no “foul play.”

By Kelzang Wangchuk

More Japanese aid on the cards

Japan is considering expanding its assistance to Bhutan

JICA:  Japan is considering expanding its assistance to Bhutan, the Japan international cooperation agency (JICA) president announced yesterday in Thimphu, at an event held to mark 50 years of Bhutan-Japan cooperation.

The new areas include environment, disaster management, industrial and urban infrastructure development.

“Looking ahead, new challenges will need to be carefully addressed, if Bhutan is to achieve the type of balanced development it so rightly strives for,” JICA president, Akihiko Tanaka, said in his address.

He pointed out that Japan’s assistance activities might change to reflect Bhutan’s evolving needs, but would continue to be guided by principles of self-reliance and inclusiveness.

Since Japanese support to Bhutan began in 1965, with the arrival of the late Dasho Keiji Nishioka, Bhutan has received Nu 3.4B worth of official development assistance (ODA) loans, and Nu 18.9B of grant aid, pointed out Mr Tanaka. “In fact, Japan is now the largest bilateral ODA partner to Bhutan, according to statistics from Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s development assistance committee,” he said.

More than 300 Japanese experts and more than 500 Japan overseas cooperation volunteers (JOCV) have been dispatched to Bhutan in the past 50 years.

So far, the agriculture and rural development have been and remain the primary focus of Japanese assistance to Bhutan. “My colleagues and I are very proud that Bhutan continues to value Japanese cooperation in the field of agriculture,” said Mr Tanaka, also pointing out that JICA expert, Yuichi Tomiyasu, a horticulturist working in Mongar now for more than a decade, has been co-awarded the National Order of Merit by His Majesty the King.

Japanese ODA loans are also used to expand electrification of rural Bhutan. “This should make significant inroads towards the government’s target of electrifying 100 percent of households,” Mr Tanaka said.

Another area is the development of a flood forecasting and early warning system for Bhutan through its science and technology research partnership for sustainable development (SATREPS), a government-academia agency.  With a goal of promoting research between Japanese scientists and developing countries, one of its projects in Bhutan involved a study on glacial lake outburst floods.  The study used high-resolution imagery taken from a Japanese satellite to identify high-risk lakes, not only in Bhutan but the Himalayan range.

“I’m very confident that, with SATREPS, the Japanese government has opened up a new horizon in leveraging science for diplomacy,” Mr Tanaka said.

Bhutan’s efforts to develop a holistic development indicator, or Gross National Happiness (GNH) were also acknowledged.  Mr Tanaka said JICA would be working with the Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH Research to carry out the third GNH survey, later this year.

Other areas of assistance include rural infrastructure, governance, telecom, tourism, education, and health care.

“I expect there’ll be much more we from Japan can learn about the intricacies of GNH as this research partnership unfolds,” he said.  He added that efforts are being made in Japan to include happiness as an indicator for local government policy making and administration.

Foreign minister Rinzin Dorje acknowledged Japan as one of Bhutan’s most important development partners today. “Japanese assistance has touched the lives of every Bhutanese,” he said. “We look forward to Japan’s continued assistance and support as we step up our efforts to become economically self-reliant.”

Lyonpo thanked the Japanese people and government for their support to Bhutan.

The efforts and achievements of the late Dasho Nishioka were also presented during the event.

Mr Tanaka said that, while Dasho Nishioka is mentioned in a middle school textbook in Japan, he does not enjoy the same popularity among the general public there that he has acquired in Bhutan. “I’ll think about what will be the best way to share his achievements with the general public in Japan,” Mr Tanaka said.

By Gyalsten K Dorji


Two mushroom poisoning cases in Chengmari

Toxicity: Two mushroom poisoning cases were reported from Chengmari gewog in Samtse last month.

This was the first reported case.  No deaths have been reported so far.

The two people were brought unconscious to the hospital after consuming the poisonous mushroom, said national mushroom centre (NMC) officials.  They suffered from gastro intestinal problems.

With the onset of mushroom season, the NMC in Thimphu issued a cautionary notification last week.

NMC advises people to collect mushrooms that they are familiar with, and to avoid mushrooms that appear similar to the ones that they consume.

“Since mushrooms absorbs substances from the surface, even edible mushrooms can become poisonous, if the area where the mushroom grows has been sprayed with pesticides or other toxic chemicals,” the notification states.

NMC recorded 79 cases of mushroom poisoning from 1994 till date that resulted in 22 deaths.

Last year, four members of a family from Tharpaling, Samtse died of mushroom poisoning in May.

NMC’s program officer Dawa Penjore said the family had consumed mushroom of Amanita species, a highly poisonous group of mushroom that contains ‘Alpha-Aminitan’, a toxin that causes organ and liver failure.

NMC officials said risk of mushroom poisoning is higher during the monsoon season.

“It’s important for people to be cautious since it can prove fatal,” Dawa Penjore said, adding every year at least one death is reported.

Of the 300 mushrooms identified, only about 100 are edible in nature, said officials.

However, edible mushrooms contain a lot of water, protein, vitamins, minerals and other substances, Dawa Penjore said.

“Edible mushrooms have many health benefits, because of its low cholesterol and medicinal properties,” Dawa Penjore said. “Collection and consumption of edible wild mushrooms are very popular in the country, especially among the poorer sections of the society.”

According to the annual health bulletin, 2013, hospitals across the country recorded 289 mushroom poisoning cases in 2012 that claimed three lives.  In the same year, of the total cases admitted, 32 were children under the age of five.

Thimphu referral hospital’s neurosurgeon Dr Tashi Tenzin said, if a person mistakenly consumes poisonous mushroom, they should immediately visit a nearby health centre.

“The toxins from the poisonous mushroom take time to get absorbed in the stomach, so it takes about an hour or more for the symptoms to show,” Dr Tashi Tenzin said.

Symptoms include sweating, vomiting, shivering, nausea, diarrhoea and losing consciousness. Other symptoms, such as hallucination or abnormal behaviour, could appear although it’s rare, Dr Tashi Tenzin said.

“Mushroom poisoning is treatable, depending on early diagnosis, as well as the quantity of mushroom consumed,” Dr Tashi Tenzin said. “Mushroom poisoning can lead to brain, heart and kidney failure.”

By Thinley Zangmo


Impact on homes from power projects to be verified again

Council: Despite having done an investigation before, another verification on the impact of blasting at Punatsangchhu projects I and II construction sites on nearby houses will be done again soon.

The economic affairs minister Norbu Wangchuk, also the chairperson of the hydropower projects, said that it would begin as soon as the dzongkhag administration and gewogs were ready.

“We’ve learnt they’re not ready yet,” he said.

The minister was responding to questions on what government does to assess the adverse impact of hydropower projects, whether compensations to victims would be made, and if there are plans to reduce such adverse impact through technology in future.  The corporate social responsibilities of the projects were also questioned.

Villagers from Gasetshogom, Gasetshowom, Daga, Uma Khatoe and Uma Khamae gewogs had complained to the government that their homes suffered cracks, and water sources were drying from the rock blasting at project sites.

The project authorities formed a verification team, which reported that the cracks on walls were old, and could be from earthquakes that occurred a few years back.

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said seismograph equipment was installed at various areas around the project sites, and they showed readings of the vibration from the blasting were within the permissible range.

In Trongsa, he said, three similar investigations were done to verify the intensity of vibrations on Trongsa and Ta dzongs after people complained.

Archeological Survey of India and National Institute of Rock Mechanics, India, reported that the vibrations were within the permissible limits.

“The impact zone of the blasting is 500m radius, but the dzong is 1,600m away from the project,” the minister said.

A committee of local experts from geology and mines department, Druk Green Power Corporation and Department of Culture also conducted a study. “Their report couldn’t establish that the cracks on the walls of the dzong were because of the blasting carried out at Mangdechu project sites,” lyonpo said. “The projects also have strict regulations for conducting the blasting at the sites.”

As a social corporate responsibility, he said, the project has contributed Nu 200M to establish reliable water supply, build irrigation channel, restore environment, build a basic health unit and for repair and new construction of schools in Trongsa.

Despite studies ruling out definite impact on the dzong from the blastings at the project area, the minister said, Mangdechu project gave Nu 37M for dzong renovation works.

“Our hope is that the work could start at the earliest,” he said, adding that it was not because the project damaged the dzong, but as a corporate social responsibility.

Wangdue National Council member Tashi Dorji, who questioned the minister, said it was only one seismograph equipment installed in a house for a week.  He said there are several issues with the technology that render the results questionable.

“The technology used to measure the vibrations is meant for compact concrete, and may not be proper to use with traditional mud houses,” he said.

He said the projects by international standards should have helped the communities with two percent of the investments as part of their social corporate responsibility.

“Current projects seem to invest only about 0.01 to 0.05 percent,” he said, adding Punatsangchhu I has provided Nu 206.21M and Punatsangchhu II Nu 71.393M for social causes.

“Most of these investments were made in mandatory commitments, such as replacement of damaged trees,” he said. “Only two farm roads were built for the benefits of communities.”

Trongsa parliamentarian Tharchen said both the dzongs were renovated a few years back, and that the government should have a proper system for use of funds provided by the projects.

“For instance, the project approved a large amount of the money to waste management in the dzongkhag, and only a small portion goes for the economic activities,” he said.

The two parliamentarians said there was a need for an independent body to investigate the impacts.

They said the public were unsatisfied with the investigations done, because the agencies and committees verifying were commissioned by the projects.

By Tshering Palden

Gelephu closing in on eliminating malaria

Health: The Vector Borne Disease Control Program (VBDCP) in Gelephu is well in line to achieve their target of eliminating malaria by 2020 going by the trend of malaria cases reported in the regional hospital.

The regional referral hospital has been experiencing a decrease in malaria cases for the last five years.

Records maintained with the hospital show that from 190 cases in 2009, the highest, malaria cases have dropped to eight in 2013. The figure is from three catchment areas of Gelephu town, Gelephu gewog and Samtenling gewog which is covered by the hospital.

As of today, the hospital recorded seven case, but three were what they call imported cases. The three were expatriate workers who were not infected with the disease in Gelephu.

Hospital officials attribute the decrease in malaria cases to strict control measures like distribution of Long Lasting Insecticide Net(LLIN) and application of Indoor Residual Spray(IRS) since 2009.

Hospital officials said the hospital’s malaria unit has distributed LLIN to 13,429 people of the 15,600 people under the jurisdiction recorded. While the continuous effort to supply to those remaining population is made, officials said those not covered were new residents or new settlers.

“The net is available at all times and residents can avail it any time from the hospital,” the unit’s Medical Technician, Gyem Gyeltshen said.

On IRS, officials said, they make door-door visit of every households twice a year and spray the IRS inside the room. The first round is done in April and the second in August every year.

Other control measures implemented are vector surveillance in the outbreak area and drug studying the patients to ensure they complete the course.

Control measures are carried out with the funding support from the Vector Borne Disease Control Program(VBDCP) in Gelephu.

“The program is in full swing to achieve our mission to eliminate malaria in the country by 2020,” Gyem Gyeltshen said.

Sarpang dzongkhag which is a malaria endemic zone in general contributed the highest, 40 percent, to the national malaria statistics in 2013. Trongsa with 27 percent was second and Wangduephodrang third.

Officials said the cases in those two districts were mainly imported by Indian laborers working in the Punatshangchhu project and Mangdechhu project.

By Tshering Namgay, Gelephu 

Gelephu records steady rise in diabetic cases

biabetis1Most of the diabetic patients this year in Gelephu are farmers

NCD: Diabetes, a lifestyle disease, is on a steady rise in Gelephu, records with the diabetic unit of Gelephu regional referral hospital show.

Going by the number of cases this year, it is likely that the number of cases this year could surpass those recorded in the past two years.

As of last month, the unit recorded 94 diabetes cases from 99 in 2013.  In 2012, there were 74 cases.  The patients are from Sarpang and Gelephu town.

One of the reasons for the rise in diabetic cases, according to heath officials, could be due to more awareness and education programs conducted annually that drive more to come forward for check ups.

“It could also be due to negligence, despite medical advice,” a health official said.

Health officials said, during the past two years, most diabetic patients were those, who ate unhealthy food without much physical activity.

However, this time there is a change in the profile of patients.  Health officials said, this year, most of them were farmers.

The in-charge of the diabetic unit, Tshering Dorji, said, unlike in the past, most diabetic patients were farmers from villages in Chuzagang and Sershong.

Tshering Dorji said diabetes is mainly caused due to unhealthy lifestyle, diet and less physical activity.

“Poeple should substitute junk food with fruits, which are available in their fields, besides going for morning and evening walks,” Tshering Dorji said.

Health officials also said that people, who drink, must quit alcohol and smoking that pose as risk factors.

According to the World Health Organisation, diabetes is a chronic disease, which occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces.  This leads to an increased concentration of glucose in the blood.  There are two types of diabetes – type 1 and type 2.

Type 1 diabetes is characterised by the lack of insulin production.  Type 2 diabetes is caused by the body’s ineffective use of insulin, often as a result of excess body weight and physical inactivity.

Bhutan records an increase in non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes every year.  Diabetes cases increased to 4,097 in 2012 from 2,541 in 2008.  Similarly, hypertension cases rose to 27,023 from 20,347 in 2008 and alcohol liver diseases to 2,059 from 1,329 in 2008, records state.

By Tshering Namgyal, Gelephu

NA rejects NC’s proposals, endorses pay revision

Being a money bill, NA used its prerogative to push the motion through

Salary: The National Assembly yesterday endorsed the much awaited pay revision, but the Council’s recommendation were shot down.

Council had recommended to defer the raise for senior public servants, and to raise civil servants pay by 20 percent, after merging the lump sump salary allowance that they are already receiving to the basic salary.

Senior public servants, which include the prime minister, ministers, secretaries, drangpons, attorney general and constitutional post holders, will now get salary raise between 19 to 131 percent, effective from July 1.  For the constitutional post holders and Cabinet secretary the raise will be 19 percent, for the ministers, speaker, chairperson of Council and opposition leader it will be 67 percent, and the highest of 131 percent will be for the prime minister.

Civil servants’ actual pay raise will be between 4 to 10 percent.

Since the pay revision was a money Bill, the Council could provide recommendations only.  The Assembly has the prerogative to implement or discard it.

The Council had resolved to defer the raise, until the revenue generation and cost cutting measures identified by the government to finance the revision were implemented and realised.

But Assembly members, during the deliberation yesterday, said that deferment of the pay raise for senior public servants would extend until the economic situation of the country improves.  Members said NC did not recommend a specific time frame as to when the proposed raise would come into effect.

Finance minister Namgay Dorji and home minister Damcho Dorji said they supported the council’s recommendation, which was in the interest of the nation that was currently, economically, in a bad shape.

“By deferring pay hike for senior public servants, the government could save Nu 35M annually,” lyonpo Namgay Dorji said.  “And Providing 20 percent raise for civil servants after merging the allowances would cost Nu 283M a year.”

The pay commission’s report, mentioning feasibility of the pay raise and the government’s claims that the economic situation was not good, was confusing, Bartsham Shongphu representative Wangdi Norbu said.

The Council’s recommendations, Chumey-Ura, representative Tshewang Jurme said, were contradictory to their action. “They’ve on one hand endorsed the budget and appropriation bill, which specifically mentioned the salary revision would cost government Nu 1.799B annually,” he said.

South Thimphu representative Yeshey Zimba said government secretaries, being the topmost bureaucrats, deserved the raise. “So do constitutional post holders,” he said. “But MPs and ministers should not only defer, but also deny the raise, if possible.”

Some members, including the Lamgong Wangchang representative Khandu Wangchuk said it was important to raise salaries for parliamentarians, including ministers, to attract capable candidates in future. “In the last two elections, it was difficult to pool capable candidates,” he said, adding only the wealthy could afford to stand for elections. “Not everyone’s wishes can get fulfilled, but we could bring about equity by decreasing ceiling for ministers and other parliamentarians, and increase for the civil servants.”

About seven members raised hands to speak, but speaker Jigme Zangpo cut short the discussion, saying all points raised were dragging the issue back to what was discussed during the first deliberation of the pay revision.

“As far as we’re concerned, we endorsed the revision,” he said, adding that the Council’s recommendation to defer the raise for senior public servants did not specify when it should be implemented.

Finance minister emphasised that seven members of the pay commission did extensive research and reviews for four months to weigh the financial implications, and then it was reviewed by finance ministry.

“If the Council’s recommendations were on the grounds of economic situation, I wouldn’t support it,” Lyonpo Namgay Dorji said, adding every minute calculation was done.

Tshogpon said issues raised by the members were in the interest of the nation. “But only a secret ballot can determine whether it’s genuine or not,” he said, adding that members might be trying to please voters since the session was telecast live on TV.

The speaker then gave the option to vote ‘Yes’ if the assembly’s resolution was to be adopted, and ‘No’ if council’s recommendations to defer the raise were to be considered.  While elaborating the details of voting, some parliamentarians were left confused.

Although opposition leader (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho raised his hand several times before the voting began, it  went unnoticed.

Assembly’s resolution garnered 30 votes, while Council’s recommendation got 10 votes.  Three abstained.  The opposition leader said he voted ‘No’, because he assumed that ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ votes were on the basis of council recommendations, although the intention differed.

Another recommendation of the Council was that pay hikes for the ministers and prime minister should be based on minimum basic salary of Nu 65,930, which the members of parliament would be drawing after the revision.

Based on this, the deputies of both houses should draw 10 percent more than other parliamentarians, ministers 50 percent more and the prime minister 100 percent more.

But this did not gain much light in the assembly with the secret ballot initiated.

One source for financing the revision was from withdrawal of pool vehicle, but the house yesterday endorsed it should be presented in the winter session, after a thorough review of the pros and cons.

The assembly also shot down the Council’s recommendation to defer the lump sump grant of Nu 1M each for purchase of parliamentarians’ vehicles with 29 members voting for it.

By Tshering Dorji 

Council passes tobacco Bill …

… despite some members being unhappy with numerous provisions

Tobacco: Unlike before, individuals caught selling, distributing, cultivating, or manufacturing tobacco and its products would not be charged under the fourth degree felony henceforth.

For a first time offense, they would now have to pay a fine equivalent to a minimum of a year and maximum of 35 months of daily minimum wage. The fine comes with a misdemeanor sentence.

If repeated, the person would be charged with fourth degree felony.

This was one of the most debated provisions of the tobacco control (amendment) Bill, 2014, that the National Council (NC)  passed yesterday, after receiving recommendations from National Assembly, and despite disagreeing with several of the assembly’s recommendations.

To curb proliferation of black market, a three-fold rise to the permissible import of tobacco products was endorsed.

A person can now bring in 80 packets or 800 sticks of cigarettes, 1,200 sticks of bidi, 150 pieces of cigars, and 750 grams of other tobacco or tobacco products a month.

However, the NC resolution to lift the ban on sale and distribution of tobacco products in the country was not accepted.

National Council members chose to pass the bill, instead of deliberating it in a joint sitting at the next session.

Its legislative committee chairperson, Kinlay Tshering, said, delaying it any further would put more innocent individuals behind bars and criminalise them.

Eminent member Dasho Karma Y Raydi said, even if the Bill were deferred until the next session, there would be no definite benefit. “No matter what happens in the joint sitting, no major change can be expected,” he said.

Chairperson Dasho (Dr) Sonam Kinga said the intention of introducing the act for amendment was not to encourage use of tobacco. “The Bill was tabled to resolve the increasing number of innocent victims landing in prison, exposing them to many other problems, and the flourishing black market,” he said.

Dagana parliamentarian Sonam Dorji, who  said it is equally important now to give adequate budget and human resource to the implementing agencies.

“Otherwise, it is like sending a person to hunt without giving him the weapons” he said.

National Council will now submit the Bill to His Majesty for Royal consent.

The amendments..

Those caught buying tobacco and its products would be charged with petty misdemeanour on the first account, but if the quantity bought exceeds the permissible quantity, the charge is a misdemeanour and comes with a fine, which is thrice the value of the permissible quantity of the products.

For second time offenders, the charge is a misdemeanor, with a fine six times the value of the permissible amount of tobacco; and an individual would be charged with fourth degree felony if caught the third time.

Any person caught possessing tobacco without proof of taxes and duty payments would be liable for a fine double the value of tobacco.  If the amount exceeds the permissible limit, the individual would be liable for petty misdemeanour and a fine of equivalent to five times the value of the tobacco products.  On the second time, the offender will be slapped a fine 10 times the value of tobacco and punished for a misdemeanour.

An individual, transporting tobacco or its products without tax receipts and duty payments, would be fined double the value of tobacco products if they are within the permissible amount.  If the amount exceeds the permissible limit, then it would accrue a sentence of petty misdemeanor, and a fine equivalent to five times the value of tobacco.  The sentence is a misdemeanour and the fine 10 times the value of the tobacco and its products on the second violation.

In all these eventualities, the tobacco and its products would be confiscated.  A person can import tobacco for personal consumption after paying tax and duties.


By Tshering Palden