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!
Update: Economic affairs minister Norbu Wangchuk yesterday said the post of Chief Environment Officer for Puntsangchhu I hydroelectric power project was re-advertised to have the best candidate and at least three candidates to select from.
While the need of three candidates for the selection ‘is not in the rules, it is what we think, the minister said. “We needed a critical pool to select the best and at least it should be three candidates,” he said.
Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said that PHPA I informed him that there were two civil servants shortlisted for the post. Four applied for the post.
“I suggested opening up for the private sector and those working in the corporations as well,” he said, adding that they were looking for one more.
He said the selection would continue if there were no candidates applying, as the two shortlisted candidates remain valid.
Of the four candidates, two were shortlisted for the post in September last year.
They said it was unnecessary or might even be illegal to re-advertise the post after the shortlisting.
The candidates applying for the post had to have a minimum qualification of master or bachelors in forestry environment or management with at least 15 years of experience at P1 level.
The first vacancy announcement was advertised through the economic affairs ministry’s human resource division in the first week of September. The project authority re-advertised the post in the first week this month.
The economic affairs ministry’s vacancy was for in-service civil servants only, the project authority’s advertisement earlier this month extended to private employees who would be employed on contract. This has made some to doubt if a candidate is already identified for the post.
This time even the civil servants are asked to submit their applications directly to the personnel section of the project authority and not to the ministry, which does the shortlisting for civil servants for such posts.
The recent advertisement asks applicants to submit their applications directly to the authority’s senior personnel officer, not following this process. Candidates are contesting the decision saying that the previous chief environment officer was appointed from two shortlisted candidates.
The RCSC recruitment rules also say that the post would be re-advertised if there were only one candidate applying.
“Wasn’t the rule in place when the economic affairs ministry HR division shortlisted candidates?” a candidate said.
The plan will come into effect in July
Health: The health ministry has drafted an action plan for a suicide prevent program, following directives from the government.
The draft action plan, which comprises of six major objectives, was opened for discussion and feedback from various stakeholders yesterday in Thimphu.
Some of the major objectives of the plan include – improving leadership, multispectral engagement and partnership for suicide prevention in the communities, strengthening governance and institutional arrangements to effectively implement comprehensive suicide plans and need for improvement of access to suicide prevention services and support for individuals in suicidal crisis.
Capacity improvement of health services and gatekeepers, improvement of community resilience and societal support and improvement of data, evidence and information for suicide prevention planning and programming were also objectives on the plan.
While the action plan was drafted, relevant organisations including religious bodies, members of parliament, Local Government leaders, community, and media, among others were consulted.
According to the draft action plan, a suicide prevention board would be formed with members comprising the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP), health ministry, NGOs, forensic department of the University of Medical Science, central monastic body and a suicide survivor or a family member of a suicide victim.
Establishment of a suicide prevention unit at the RBP’s special division is also in the action plan.
The strategies would, however, be implemented phase wise. Priority activities have been identified in order to make the most of limited resources, including staff and funding, states the draft action plan.
“Care has been taken to identify the greatest opportunities for immediate action based on existing programme or on those that can be adapted,” the draft states. “This action plan is not aspirational document but an actual deliverable national work plan.”
At the consultative meeting, yesterday, participants were asked to rate the proposed plans specified under each objectives between 1-10 points. The rating was on the plan’s effectiveness, costing, and its benefit to public health, feasibility and cultural acceptance.
The action plan will be implemented for three years starting this July. An implementation evaluation will be conducted at the end of the project. Based on the experience, the next phase of the action will be planned.
Before we knew it, the Year of the Horse has galloped away. It was a fairly successful year.
Disasters were minimum, we enjoyed peace and prosperity, and even with a lot of hurdles on the economic front, the year sailed through smoothly.
But what do we do at the end of any year? We look ahead to a new year!
Bhutan this year has special reasons to do so. It is a year of celebrations. We are already in the mood. Celebrations to mark the 60th birth anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo have kicked off. While major events are lined up to mark the special birth anniversary, every single event is dedicated to His Majesty the Drukgyal Zhipa. From now until November 11, we will be immersed in colour, joy and excitement. It is a year to anticipate and to remember, whatever the datho says.
It is a special year because we are celebrating the birth anniversary of a King of destiny. It is a befitting year to pay tribute to a great leader and to rededicate ourselves to the aspirations His Majesty the Drukgyal Zhipa had for this great country and its people.
We need not take part in every dance or programme to show our gratitude to our beloved Drugyal Zhipa. The simplest way each individual can contribute to fulfilling the aspirations of Drukgyal Zhipa is by being true to ourselves by fulfilling our responsibilities.
Whether we are a simple farmer, a driver, a teacher, a civil servant, an elected representative or a Dasho, all we have to do is keep in mind what His Majesty the King said during the 106th National Day address.
In his address to the nation in 2013, His Majesty said that we have become experts in crafting plans, exhibiting better intelligence, expounding ideas and never failing in words. The gap lies between commitment and output. In other words, we fail to deliver results, quality results within the stipulated time. There is no point in having the grand plans or programmes if the end result measures up to nothing.
The datho predicts a grim year ahead with warnings of natural disasters. We have now to prepare. Traditional belief has measures to avert disasters or misfortune by way of kurims and rimdos. This we trust the dratshang will do. But in today’s world, disasters can be political or economic. To avert these, we have our work hard.
If the datho predicts that it is inauspicious for construction or venturing into new business, we will see fewer investments, which in turn would result in lesser job creations and poor real economic growth. It is time for us to prepare and craft good policies and translate them into reality.
The Sheep is known for its calmness and gentleness. It is during times of calm and peace that a lot can be achieved. This gives us hope for a successful New Year.
Telecom: Bhutan Telecom (BT) expects to remove 90 percent of the problems related to B-mobile services and its connectivity by September this year.
BT’s chief executive officer (CEO), Tshewang Gyeltshen, said the company would spend USD 7.491M to improve mobile connectivity services across the country.
“It’s a big investment,” the CEO said, accepting the current complaints from the public today. “We’re planning to work through all the problems.”
Tshewang Gyeltshen attributed the current problems to timeworn equipment, outdated system, and towers. Some of them are unable to cater to the services required and have to be replaced.
According to BT officials, the towers’ capacities also need expansion. “The towers have certain capacity as per the number of users,” the CEO said, adding the capacity has to be increased if the number of users increased. “Users have increased tremendously.”
BT officials also made it clear that it would take time, because the coverage was huge. However, work started since last December.
The CEO, meanwhile, said there were limited people with the capacity to do the required expansion work. “Having deployed people in problematic pockets, problems in many areas have been solved.”
Meanwhile, officials also mentioned that the BT base was “small,” meaning the market was not huge and the revenue low, unlike in other countries.
Given the constant change in technology, the costs incurred in any telecom works were huge, officials said. BT CEO said people want fast service at cheap rates, which, according to him, was hard to maintain.
“However, our motto is to provide the most reliable and effective services,” Tshewang Gyeltshen said.
In 2013, the company also invested Nu 200M and has currently carried out two systems’ audits.
If we are serious about reversing rural-urban migration, the priority should be working towards creating a conducive atmosphere for income generation.
We take pride in declaring ourselves as an agrarian society yet, we have allowed our farmers to be totally disenchanted with farming turning them into consumers, from their traditional role of producers.
Food self-sufficiency is said to be at the core of our development planning for the past four decades. Allowing our farmers to abandon their farms and villages isn’t the best strategy to achieving our goals. Small wonder than that instead of being self-sufficient in food, our food import bill for the year 2013 stood at Nu.6.3B. Rice alone accounted for Nu.1.57B.
Resettlement & Consolidation of Villages:
One of the biggest problems to effective service delivery in the rural areas is that our villages are too fragmented and isolated. One of the reasons why the villages still remain poorly developed is because it is not cost-effective to deliver essential services because of low population density in the villages.
It is time to consider resettlement and consolidation of villages to form larger human settlements to effectively counter wildlife predation. We did try this sometime in the late 70s and early 80s. We need to look at this very seriously once again – because one way to counter wildlife predation is by out-numbering them.
In addition, larger areas under cultivation will mean that cost of solar fencing will become economical through shared burden and economies of scale. Marketing of farm produces will be simpler and cheaper. Farmers can become better organised to collect, pack, deliver and market their produces.
Access to Markets:
It is not enough that the farmers produce – they need quick and economic means to access markets for their produces. Unfortunately, two of the biggest complaints of the farming community appear to be that:
1. They are too far away from the centres of commerce; and
2. They are priced out by cheap imports form India and third countries.
The above two problems are not insurmountable. When they say they are too far away from markets, it translates to transportation challenges. This problem would be solved if we can organise pick-up from centralised pick-up points in villages. This will take some doing, but it is a matter of building up organisational set up to pick up, sort, pack, store and transport to distribution centres from where bulk movement of produces to consumption centres can be organised.
This means we need to create a distribution network around the country. This can be done by private operators but with government encouragement.
Price is always an issue. Unfortunately, Bhutanese people want too much profit for too little value. This stems from the fact that they are poorly educated in the concept of costing. They do not know how to price their produce. As a result, they are priced out by imports. What they actually mean is that they are getting less profit! Thus, one of the most important exercises we need to conduct is to educate Bhutanese farmers to be reasonable in their expectations.
To encourage local production, selective restrictions on imports should be imposed. Bhutanese farmers cannot compete with imports because of the scale of production. However, consumers in Bhutan will always be willing to pay a higher price for locally produced food items because they are mostly organic and healthy and safe compared with those imported and sold at Sunday markets.
The government needs to help create an effective marketing and distribution network. However, there would be no point to producing if the produces cannot be marketed. Therefore, we need to create or invent markets for the produces.
In 2013, a staggering 53,307 students, or 31 percent of the total students in the country received free food from the WFP and the government under its School Feeding Program (SFP).
From 2014 through 2018, the WFP has earmarked a budget of US$ 8.6M (Nu 581M) that it will pump into this program.
In 2015 alone, the government is expected to spend Nu 269.980M to feed school children.
Where is all this money going? To India!
What has prevented Bhutan and Bhutanese farmers from supplying most of the food items purchased under the SFP? Nobody seems to have thought of this. We need to think and act upon.
The Centralised School Feeding Program of the education ministry and the WWF represents one single assured market for the Bhutanese farmers – it represents a Nu 500M worth of business every year. Why haven’t we tapped into this ready market? Why haven’t we looked at supplying to other institutionalised bodies such as RBP, RBA, RBG, colleges and VTI’s and monk bodies – to meet their food needs from healthy and safe produces available within the country?
Buying from within generates income for the rural people. Sizeable income from farm produces means that farmers will be discouraged from leaving their villages. This will curtail imports and prevent outflow of Rupees. Generation of business in rural areas will ensure that Goontongpas will start to return to their villages to take up farming.
Educational institutions can be the engine of growth in the rural areas. In fact, one of the main reasons why the UN Res Rep considered my ideas too radical (please refer my first article) and refused to publish was because of my suggestion that all government funded schools in the urban centres like Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Wangdue and Phuentsholing, should be auctioned off to private operators.
My idea was and still is, that Bhutanese have now become economically efficient to be able to afford the cost of educating their own children. Therefore, they should not continue to seek kidu from the government. Thus those who wish to remain in the urban centres must be burdened with having to pay private schools to educate their children.
If they cannot or do not wish to, they have the option to work in the rural areas where, my idea is that the government should open up public/central schools with free boarding and tuition. In this respect, the recent announcement by the government to consolidate a large number of schools to form central schools is in tune with my idea. However, they fall short of the real potential such an idea offers, simply because the government is thinking small.
Starting huge central/public schools in the rural areas should serve a purpose that go beyond educating children. It should be an engine of growth; it must generate economic activities that can give employment; it must keep the farming community within the vicinity busy producing all year round. It should not only serve the farming community but these schools must open up opportunities for all sorts of businesses- poultry, piggery, dairy farming, laundry services, bakery, banking, Internet services, photocopy and documentation centres etc.
However, key to the success of these schools will be that they have to be big. Each of these schools – around 4 to 5 spread around the country – must have about 5,000 students each. Such a number opens up all sorts of possibilities. Imagine how many bakers and poultry farmers will be needed to serve breakfast to a school of 5,000 students.
These schools will also help create regional hubs such as Yenla towns. These will help absorb few of the migrants that otherwise end up in urban areas. Free education in the rural areas will help draw talent to the rural areas thereby making it possible for them to develop faster and better.
These schools will not only help end Goongtongs but will also help reverse the process of rural-urban migration.
Contributed by Yeshey Dorji
Photographer & Blogger