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Sunday, March 29th, 2015 - 4:09 AM
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ICT master plans to increase

Policy: Three new information communications technology (ICT) master plans that should lead to better service delivery by the government will be presented to the cabinet for approval today.

The master plans in education, health, and tourism, detail how these sectors will use ICT to increase efficiency.

The plans are the outcome of collaboration with Singapore. A second phase of this collaboration between the Tamasek Foundation and InfoComm Development Authority (IDA) International in Singapore with the government ended yesterday.

Speaking at the closing event education secretary, Sangay Zam pointed out the education sector has made huge strides in terms of accessibility, achieving enrolment of 98 percent and gender parity. “We now need to focus on quality and ICT is the way to go,” she said.

Health secretary Nima Wangdi provided an example of how an ICT master plan will aid the health sector. He explained that the government procured large amounts of drugs on the premise that it is better to have excess rather than a shortage. However, this also caused wastage, which he hoped would be reduced after the master plan is adopted.

Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) director Chimmy Pem said the sector thrives on the use of ICT. “Today, travel and tourism is the largest category of product or services being sold over the internet,” she said, adding that TCB will use the master plan to further increase Bhutan’s brand and image.

Besides the launch of the three sectoral master plans, the second phase of the collaboration also saw the launch on an e-Government master plan, earlier this year. Two components of this over arching master plan, an ICT management system that placed all 350 ICT professionals in the government under one agency and e-GIF (electronic government interoperability framework) that will allow information sharing between government offices were also rolled out. A request for proposal (RFP) for a planned government data centre was also developed.

“Given the support from Tamasek foundation and IDA International we’re confident that implementation will not be a problem,” said information and communications minister DN Dhungyel. He also pointed out that the government hopes to continue collaboration with the two institutions.

Tamasek Foundation collaborated with the government on a cost-sharing basis, bearing 70 percent of the costs. The Swiss Development Corporation on behalf of the government funded the remaining 30 percent.

I’m confident that the programme will bring far reaching benefits to Bhutan but even more important, together, Bhutan and Singapore will build a more prosperous and connected Asia,” said Tamasek Foundation deputy chairman Jennie Chua.

Information and communications secretary Dasho Kinley Dorji, speaking at the closing event, said that given the success of the second phase of the collaboration it is hoped that the Tamasek Foundation and the IDA International will continue to assist Bhutan towards achieving its goal of creating an ICT enabled knowledge society.

By Gyalsten K Dorji

Picture story

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay and Samdrupjongkhar Dzongda Goling Tshering sign performance agreement at the dzongkhag headquarters yesterday.

    

Purpose unserved

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Tourism: To generate income for herders, five tourist campsites were built in 2011 along the Merak –Sakteng ecotourism trail.

The idea was to charge tourists Nu 250 a night who spend the night in the campsites developed at a cost of Nu 7.3M. But four years later, the campsites, an enclosed area with around 12-13 wooden shingle roofed canopies spaced at regular distance, sand floored on a raised stonewalls are overrun by thickets and the only guests using the sheds are livestock belonging to herders.

In 2012, three tourists used the Damngojung campsite, but in 2014, not a single tourist visiting Saketng or Merak used the campsites.

While campsite in Damngojung is not being used with tourist spending night at Chuthrabthrab, the one at Mesagteng has turned into a stable. The third one in Joenkhar is deserted and overgrown with shrubs and bushes hiding the canopies.

Dzongkhag officials said the campsites are a waste of fund. They attribute it to the lack of attention from both relevant agencies like Tourism Council of Bhutan, Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary and the community.

An official monitoring eco-tourism in Trashigang said the walls and poles of most of the canopies are coming off because of lack of care.

“The miscreants, mostly herders are misusing canopies in Mesagteng to tether livestock inside the campsite besides vandalizing other properties like toilet under lock,” the official said.

A member of Merak eco-tourism group, Dawa attributed the poor management to lack of income from tourism to keep a regular caretaker each for every campsite. “The eco-tourism group has not been unable to make enough income to keep a caretaker because tourist guides and cook accompanying the guests refused to use the campsites,” Dawa said.

He said that the Damngojung campsite went underutilized after guides’ influenced tourists to spend night at Chuthrabthrab instead.

“We can afford a regular caretaker if the tourists used the campsite,” he said.

Because there is no caretaker, campsite in Mesagteng, Joenkhar and Damngojung have fallen victim to miscreants, he said.

The eco-tourism group charges Nu 250 per head to camp inside the campsite.

The arrival of road till Jigmeling has also encouraged tourist to rather travel by car to the road end than trek from Chaling in Shongphu, which would mean the facility would be used.

Official also blamed the flawed construction like lack of kitchen for campsites at Merak and Sakteng deterring tourists from using the campsites.

Gewog also attributed the tourist’s refusal to use the camp to multiple factors for instance it gets too cold to sleep outside in Merak with onset of autumn.

“The guest also find difficulty in pitching a tent inside the canopy since the sandy floor of the canopy cannot hold the pegs,” the official said.

Even if the tourist stay in the campsite, they prefer pitching the tents outside the designated canopies he said.

Officials from the eco-tourism group in Merak said that the community’s interest in eco-tourism is one the wane because of lack of support from gewog and other relevant agencies to tackle the issue.

“We are writing a letter surrendering the campsite in Damngojung. There is no purpose maintaining it since no one is using it,” Dawa said.

By Tempa Wangdi, Trashigang

Undiagnosed TB cases may be spreading infection

Health: Health officials say the fact that the rate of new pulmonary positive tuberculosis cases has remained constant for eight straight years now, there could be undiagnosed cases in the community.

In 2000, 359 TB cases were recorded. Thirteen years since, in 2013, the count had increased to 425 out of which 42 percent were aged between 15 and 24. About five percent were below the age of 14 years.

Of the different types of TB, about 38 percent of detected cases were new smear positive TB and 42 percent extra pulmonary TB. Thimphu recorded the highest pulmonary positive TB cases, followed by Chukha and Samtse.

National TB Control Programme (NTCP) officials said the fact that pulmonary positive TB is infectious and can spread through respiratory droplets.

“There is the need to intensify case-finding efforts as untreated case can infect 10 to 15 people in a year,” NTCP’s programme officer Tashi Dendup said. “TB can be fatal if left untreated.” Early diagnosis and treatment is key for TB control and prevention.

While TB can be cured, it is important for TB patients to take medicines regularly as advised until the completion of the treatment course, said health officials. If a patient fails to do so, there is high risk of getting multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB), a severer form of TB.

NTCP officials said key challenge facing the program is implementing the practice of directly observed treatment (DOT). It was still difficult to find out whether treatment is provided and taken as advised.

“Poor implementation of DOT is linked to the increasing number of MDR-TB cases,” said Tashi Dendup. “Delay between the onset of symptom and diagnosis is also being studied. This could mean that the health system is not the preferred first point of contact.”

Besides awareness, NTCP officials said intensified case-finding activities are carried out in schools and institutions, and among migrant workers and vulnerable groups.

“We are also establishing partnership with indigenous medicine units,” said an NTCP official.

TB patients are also called up regularly to remind them about their medicines, to monitor side effects, and to follow up on examinations, among others.

TB is caused by mycobacterium TB bacterium. TB usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body. Most people exposed to TB never developed symptoms as the bacteria could live in an inactive form in the body.

Young children, alcoholics, drug abusers and people with HIV/AIDS who live in close contact with a pulmonary positive patient are more vulnerable.

TB detection and treatment success rate at about 85 percent and 90 percent notwithstanding, the cases have remained stagnant over the years.

By Kinga Dema

Ecological corridor-township conflict may go to Parliament

Township: The issue of  biological corridor (BC) affecting the progress of the Rinchenthang Township in Nganglam, Samdrupjongkhar may be deliberated in the upcoming Parliament session.

The business community of Nganglam raised the issue of how the government could carry out constructions within the corridor while people were not allowed to do so, referring to the construction of a boundary wall that was initiated by the dungkhag two months back.

Currently, however, the construction of the boundary wall is on hold due to the objection from the range office.

MP Choda Jamtsho said the issue must be discussed thoroughly with authorities concerned. “We will have to conduct a preliminary agenda discussion on this issue. Only then will it be decided whether the issue should be presented in the Parliament.”

A meeting among the stakeholders will be held this month.

“Because the biological corridor issue came up only in 2012, the forest clearance that was obtained in 2010 has now expired and we have to renew it,” Nganglam dungpa Nima Gyeltshen said, adding the construction of boundary wall was important for security reasons.

“Firstly, the construction of the common integrated check post is for the security of the people. We are already having problems like illegal activities, smuggling and use of unauthorised footpaths. This may pose threat to the sovereignty of the nation,” said Nima Gyeltshen, adding that the authority to allow construction within the corridor lies with park services, not with the dungkhag.

“We should gauge whether it is important to safeguard the nation’s security or are about a few individuals’ problems,” Nima Gyeltshen said.

About 50 percent (over 1,000 acres) of the planned Nu 500M Rinchenthang town falls within the biological corridor that connects Manas national park to Khaling wildlife sanctuary. The issue of township encroaching the corridor came up in 2012 when significant progress had already been made in township planning.

Allotment of land is yet be made since forest clearance ought to be acquired first. The matter will then be forwarded to land commission.

Town’s thuemi, Ugyen Dorji, said until the new Rinchenthang town plan comes through, the present residents of the town will continue to face problems of water shortage and waste management.

“Therefore, we want the go-ahead soon,” Ugyen Dorji said.

The wildlife conservation division had earlier said plots lying inside the biological corridor would not be deprived of its traditional rights over resource use, and people would be able to reap advantages from integrated conservation and development programs, and ecotourism.

By Tshering Wangdi, Nganglam

USD 5.7M grant to study three new power projects

Parts of the grant would be used to improve energy efficiency and to encourage renewable energy use 

Energy: The Norwegian government allocated USD 5.7M for the country to conduct pre-feasibility studies of three new hydropower projects, improve energy efficiency and encourage renewable energy use, recently.

The grant will be used to conduct studies on how best to develop hydropower projects of 104MW Zhongarchhu in Mongar, 153MW Dagachhu-II and 2,800MW Manas, the priority projects under the 11th Plan.

Economic affairs officials said the money was for the first phase of the climate change initiative called Energy+, first partnership models in the world between the two governments to improve efficiency and access to sustainable energy.

The first phase of the project would be envisioned for the preparatory stage and the second and third phases would be directed for the implementation of the projects.

The fund would be allocated based on results achieved in second and third phase.

The Norwegian government, however, committed USD 17M for the entire project.

Part of the fund would also be allocated to help the government prepare a Renewable Energy Master Plan and National Energy Efficiency Policy.

Renewable energy department chief engineer Meewang Gyeltshen said after knowing the availability of resources, a master plan had to be developed to see which projects were feasible.

“Although we have a renewable energy policy, we have to develop rules and regulations to implement it,” he said, adding the fund would also be used to develop one.

Beside, he said, some fund would also be allocated to study the commercial feasibility of the 30MW solar power project in Bumthang.

Frameworks like guaranteed purchase scheme and carbon credit registration mechanism would also be developed through the fund.

The Norwegian government directed the fund through Asian Development Bank (ADB) because they did not have the human resources in the country to monitor it.

The ADB is, however, charging the administration fee from the grant for monitoring the projects.

The money would also be used to improve energy security in the country, which relied heavily on run-of-the-river hydropower plants, which when dry in winters, led to subsequent drop in electricity generation.

A press release from ADB office stated the needed to diversify its energy sources.

Meanwhile another USD 1.5M grant from the Japanese fund for poverty reduction and USD 250,000 grant from the Multi Donor Trust Fund is being channeled through the ADB to manage the water resources.

National Environment Commission and agriculture department would be the beneficiaries of the fund to complete the National Integrated Water Resources Management Plan and the National Irrigation Plan.

By Tshering Dorji

Renovated Lhuntse dzong consecrated

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Heritage: The renovated Lhuntse dzong was consecrated by His Holiness the Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Chhoeda on April 12.

The renovation of the 16th century Lhuntse dzong also known as Lhuendrup Rinchentse dzong that began in August 2009 was completed last October. The government of India funded the project, which cost Nu 162m.

There are eight lhakhangs in the dzong for which about Nu 120m was allocated during the 10th Plan. However, project officials said, the dzong suffered major damages from the 2009 earthquake and the cost escalated to Nu 162m.

Renovation includes replacement of old timber, roofing, reorientation of rooms, repair and construction of toilets, an additional entrance door, and reconsolidation of entire dzong among others. The district court that was inside the dzong prior to the renovation was shifted outside and a new dratshang with 20 rooms was built.

The dzong is equipped with fire safety facilities, water tanks, and fire hydrants.

Project officials said during the renovation, people from eight gewogs contributed labour besides recruiting expatriate labourers. The workers were paid Nu 165 to Nu 330 a day.

His Holiness the Je Khenpo consecrating the renovated Lhuntse dzong

Records with the national library state that the youngest son of Drukpa lama Ngawang Choegyal, Yonzin Ngagi Wangchuk built the Lhuendrup Rinchentse dzong in 1554. It has then served as a meditation centre. Today it is known as Karsel lhakhang.

The present dzong was constructed in 1665 during the time of Trongsa penlop Chogyel Minjur Tenpa.

There are also many theories on how the dzong got its name.

In 1962, third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck commanded the dzong be rebuilt coinciding with the construction of Tashichhodzong in Thimphu.

Another major renovation was held from 1969 to 1971. In December 2008, the dzong’s sertog was installed in its south wing under the King’s command during a Royal visit in the same year.

Lhuntse rabdey lam Neten Ngawang Tenzin said the most sacred artifact in Lhuntse dzong is the bronze statue of Tshepamey. Legend has it that a fisherman who had laid a trap in Kilungchhu stream found the idol while inspecting the trap one morning. It was decided that the idol will be kept in Kilung lhakhang. But the image behaved strangely after which it was taken to the present Tshepamey lhakhang.

Community of Lhuntse, including students, performed at the consecration ceremony, which was also attended by the agriculture minister, Indian embassy representatives, and other government officials.

The dzongkhag and the people offered thri-dhar to Prince Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, present with Ashi Yeatso Lhamo, for becoming the King’s representative (Gyaltshab) for eastern region.

By Dechen Tshering, Lhuntse 

Fire kills one, injures another

Mishap: A fire in Tashiphu village under Serzhong gewog that gutted a single-storey traditional house yesterday killed a man who was sleeping in the kitchen.

While police sources said the victim was a 73-year-old man. Gewog officials said he was 83.

A six-year-old boy, who was admitted in Gelephu referral hospital at 5:30am after he was injured in the incident, was referred to Thimphu national referral hospital.

The boy suffered burns on his arms and had swollen feet from to burns.

The pre-primary student of Norbuling middle secondary school was sleeping with his grandmother when the incident occurred.

Sources in Gelephu said the fire occurred between 1am and 2am. A neighbour, who came out to call a friend, saw the fire and alerted the neighbours.

“Villagers helped the boy out of the house through the window they broke open,” a source said. “They also pulled out the boy’s grandmother, his two sisters, also students of Norbuling school,  and a neighbour who was also sleeping in the house.”

Police helped contain the fire before it caught onto neighbouring houses.

The deceased from Buli, Zhemgang resettled in Tashiphu in 1975. He has eight children.

Office of the Gyalpoi Zimpon gave Nu 10,000 as Semso, including other emergency relief kits to the victim’s family.

Electric shot circuit is suspected to be the cause of fire.

By Tshering Namgyal, Tsirang

Politics amid cultural conservation and art

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Talk: A conversation on the use of cultural conservation and art as a medium to tell stories in Bhutan briefly delved into its collaboration with China in the backdrop if its relationship with India.

Held at the Chapel gallery in Singapore yesterday, the conversation engaging VAST’s Asha Karma, Datog art gallery’s Rinchen Wangdi, Loden Foundation’s founder Dr Karma Phuntsho and Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy’s (BCMD) Siok Sian Pek-Dorji was a part of the “Impressions of Happiness” exhibition that opened in Singapore on April 11.

Bhutan’s history is very much a story of its relationship with its big southern neighbour and its big northern neighbour, Dr Karma Phuntsho said in response to the question on India’s influence on Bhutan.

Around the turn of the 20th century, he said Bhutan decided to face southward, in a strategic diplomatic approach because China and India were struggling to control the Himalayan region.

Dr Karma Phunstho who also launched his book, The History of Bhutan on April 12 said Bhutan turned to India, which mostly played the big brotherly role, for trade.

“But our monarchs successfully worked on it diplomatically and managed to at least bring full independence and autonomy by the end of the 20th century,” he said.

The treaty of 1910, which explicitly mentioned how Bhutan would be guided by India in its foreign relations was dropped, he said, and the treaty was rewritten in 2007, treating Bhutan and India as equal partners.

“That’s in theory,” he said, adding that in practice, whether Bhutan turned northward to China via Tibet or southwards to India, it was depending on imports of even basic commodities on one of its two neighbours.

“It’s actually a very sad scenario right now in terms of our economic dependence on India and economy being a major player in running of a state,” he said. “We will also end up being politically dependent.”

He said it’s these kinds of excessive dependence on either one that would also lead to cultural and other influences.

“I personally believe we should really build, given the post-modern political scenario, an equi-distance between the two,” he said. “We shouldn’t be sided with either excessively and if we do so, it’s only to our judgment.”

Until the ‘70s and ‘80s, the only embassy in Bhutan, he said was India’s.

“I actually criticise India for having a full relationship with China themselves and then disliking Bhutan from having a relationship with its immediate neighbour,” Dr Karma Phuntsho said.

BCMD executive director Siok Sian Pek-Dorji explained Bhutan had relationship with many countries and received assistance not just from India.

“But obviously, when you are a recipient country, sometimes the funding does have an influence,” she said.

Clarifying on the question of whether India paid Bhutanese civil servants their salaries, Bhutanese speakers said while India gave grants and loans for hydropower development in Bhutan, it, however, did not directly pay the salary of Bhutanese civil servants.

The talk on challenges of conservation, importance of culture for its identity and survival and the role of artists, both traditional and contemporary, to tell stories of Bhutan and keep it relevant began following a screening of a film.

It was the Forgotten Treasures, a film by Siok Sian Pek-Dorji on how modern expertise used new techniques to restore the 15th century monastery of Buli, Bumthang.

By Sonam Pelden, Singapore

(De) valuing local festivals

There were not many locals at the Paro dzong courtyard yesterday where the annual tsechu is going on.

Like one Thimphu resident who returned after the first day said, there were just as many locals as there were tourists.

This is not a trend isolated to Paro alone, but one that has been noticed in many other festivals across the country, more so in dzongkhags surrounding the capital city.

Local festivals, especially tsechus, besides being a religious event to feel blessed and cleansed of sins, “were” an occasion for social interaction, celebration and a feast, including for the eyes.

They “were” because it is not with the same gusto that people look forward to these auspicious occasions any more as did those of the earlier generations.

It is no longer about a day a family would prepare weeks in advance, borrow the best of clothes, dry and save meat for the occasion, sometimes even borrow stocks from neighbours or relatives at the last minute and walk to the open courtyards of a dzong before sunrise.

That feeling of gusto has been replaced with the feeling of loath – the need to queue up at the entrance, lack of parking space, the need to squeeze in through crowds of people to find a place and finally finding one under the scorching heat of the sun.

It is no longer about family get-togethers, meeting friends and witnessing, what tourists visiting the country calls an open theatre play.

In this day and age, when people are growing fonder of material pursuits, family gatherings are no longer a priority. They are just a call away.

Friends can be met online on social networking sites to share interests and to confide in.

Festivals can be watched live on television without hassles, but within the comforts of one’s own home.

Argument of one’s physical presence at the tsechu venue to see and be able to recognise various types of masks and dances to be blessed and cleansed of sins does not hold anymore.

They are better seen on the silver screen to be better identified and in fact feel more blessed.

A bit on the extreme side, but like one tour operator observed, if these local festivals are still alive today and if they continue to stay on, the credit should go to the foreigners they bring in.

While we look to the developed nations and to ape or embrace their ways of life and  have foreigners admire the display of our “hard protected” culture, they fear we may be on the verge of losing them.

Should that fear come true, it would be something too dear and costly to lose.