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Thursday, March 5th, 2015 - 2:03 PM
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Sector in a state of recovery

Year ender (Health) When the Snake Year slithered in, the health sector had claimed to shed some of its old skin, especially the problem of drug shortages, controversies and corruption.

The snake, which appears prominently in the logos of the health ministry, the medical council, and its partner, the world health organisation, is believed to symbolise rejuvenation, and is closely linked with poison and medicine.

While the 226 snakebites recorded in 2013 across the country may not have any link with the snake year, the health ministry resuscitated the pentavalent vaccine into its immunisation schedule in June, after it was suspended following allegations of its cause in the deaths of eight infants.

The school of astrology had predicted the snake year to see an increase in yam (sinusitis) infection, tuberculosis and drangwa (sexually transmitted infections) among people.

As predicted, the number of multidrug resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB) cases increased to the extent that Gidakom hospital had to be upgraded to a 60-bed unit to make rooms for MDR TB cases.

Besides seeing 29 new HIV cases that took the number to 346, the country for the first time detected the infection in four people, who were above 50 years. The snake year also hissed that monks in Bhutan were not in the best of health, and suffered from a host of ailments from skin diseases and piles to hypertension and sexually transmitted infections.

The monks were also found suffering from mental illness, which was stated as one of the main causes of unhappiness in the world today in the world happiness report, 2013.

The snake year, manifested in a spate of suicides.

Alarmed with the number of people taking their lives, soon after taking office, the new prime minister formed a task force to study the spate of suicides in the country. A total of 245 suicides were reported across the country between 2011 and December 23, 2013, which on an average were about 82 lives lost a year, and about seven suicides every month. In the last two months, 14 more people took their lives.

“Average is too much for Bhutan,” lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay had said.

While the new government’s concern on suicides remained hanging, like the venom of the snake, issues such as the shortage of health personnel and quality of services stayed with the health ministry.

The water of the female snake year made the health ministry transparent enough to show that its nurses, who were trained in colleges in India, lacked proficiency in nursing, as compared to those who were trained at home. These nurses had to be given a new ‘dressing’ for about three months because, besides the expenses incurred on their trainings, the country suffers from a shortage of nurses.

Competent or not, the country is today short of 360 nurses.

The ministry decided to start with a residency program instead of MBBS, but the program is yet to start, with the health ministry yet to grant autonomy to Thimphu referral hospital to turn it into a teaching hospital. However, the medical university signed its first international memorandum of understanding with the Kyoto University Hospital, Japan in October.

Besides its management issues, the snake showed that the most important medical facility in the country, JDWNRH, suffered from multiple seismic vulnerabilities. It was also found that, except for four hospitals, all x-ray rooms of the remaining 20 hospitals and basic health units have radiation leakages from the main doors, windows and console areas.

Public health officials were also concerned that, while Bhutan had reached the stage of eliminating leprosy, its health workers were either diagnosing leprosy late or misdiagnosing it.

However, the snake year wasn’t all about problems. Work to build a 150-bed regional referral hospital began in Gelephu, while in Thimphu, a national emergency education centre was opened. Discussions continued on whether health should be privatised although save for the doctors, others feel Bhutan should improvise not privatise healthcare.

More than a decade after it was first initiated, the government revived the “Move for Health” walk to raise funds for Bhutan Trust Fund and educate people on lifestyle diseases.

The snake year gave the new health minister a fairly wounded sector, but one, which claimed to have recovered from its past ailments, to work with. As he took office, lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said, “My biggest worry is that the public, over the last 3-4 years, has become skeptical of the medicines and services that health sector provides,” he said. “I believe faith in the system would contribute to a large extent in the recovery/treatment of the patient.”

By Sonam Pelden

Trial of the judiciary

Year ender (Judiciary)It was a trial of the judiciary, this year of the snake.

This arm of government was criticised, its judgments challenged by the public, constitutional bodies and private law practitioners.

One of the strong criticisms was the retrospective application of law, particularly in relation to the Gyalpoizhing land allotment case that set precedent for Anti-Corruption Commission to prosecute.

Lawyers felt the very institution meant to provide justice through proper application of laws breached the basic tenets of the rule of law.

Sans the intensity, the judgment over the disputed land where stood the previous taxi stand, adjacent the fuel station at Lungtenzampa, drew public interest.

Legal practitioners pointed out that although the case was similar to that of the Gyalpoizhing one, the judgment meted out was not.

They had said several plots allotted in Gyalpoizhing to private individuals were restituted since its allotment and regularisation was deemed illegal.

Certain sections of the public also observed the lack of consistency and uniformity in application of law within the judiciary.

For instance, Paro district court sentenced a couple to prison terms ranging from more than five years and six years for impersonation, forgery and deceptive practice in an attempt to process identity card.

For the same crime, Samtse court had sentenced four men to three years in prison and two women to one and half year prison-terms each.

Anti-Corruption Commission officials felt the courts compromised heavily on restitution of public money.

While there was no question with the judiciary passing judgments of stiff prison terms, commission officials were concerned about the courts lowering embezzled public money defendants were liable to refund.

Notwithstanding these flaws various sections of the population pointed out, in the year of the snake, the country’s 37 courts across the country decided 19,304 cases of the total 20,706.

The National Legal Institute conducted several education and awareness programs for people at the grassroots levels, including their elected leaders.

People were also taught to resolve minor disputes that emerged in their communities, needless to visit courtrooms.

For their services to the people and the nation, His Majesty the King on the National Day conferred red scarf to a Supreme Court justice and awarded medals to more than 190 judiciary personnel.

By Rinzin Wangchuk

IT Park: The real picture

In view of the various misunderstandings that seem to be floating around regarding IT Park project, I felt it was necessary to make a few clarifications because correct information is vital for healthy public discourse and understanding.

First of all, the IT Park is one of the three components of Bhutan Private Sector Development Project, which the government conceptualised and initiated in consultation with the World Bank in 2006, about two years before Bhutan’s first democratic elections in 2008. Given the difficulty we face in coming up with practical and sustainable solutions to the current state of our economy and the issue of rising youth unemployment, the project was a visionary initiative.

It began with the main objective of supporting “private sector-led economic growth that was capable of combating rising youth unemployment and help further diversify the country’s economic base”.

This was also timely and in line with the changes taking place globally following the ICT Revolution. To step back and simply watch what was happening in other countries was to be deprived of the opportunities this revolution offers our small land-locked country and to be forever left behind, economically and technologically.

Secondly, it is important to understand that the IT Park was executed on a Public Private Partnership (PPP) model and, therefore, the pressure on government’s resources has not been as heavy as it would have been otherwise. Under the PPP model, the government provided the land on lease and ancillary facilities like road access, water supply, fibre-optic connection and power line connection among others with the World Bank’s project-tied assistance, to the private developer – Thimphu TechPark Pvt. Ltd. (TTPL).

It was a joint venture between Singapore’s Assetz Property Group (APG), which currently owns 70 percent of the shares and Druk Holding and Investments (DHI) owning the remaining 30 percent. In keeping with the PPP best practices, pressure on government’s own funds is minimal.

TTPL financed the construction of the IT Park infrastructure for about Nu 300M and was completed on April 30, 2012, in a record time of less than two years after the ground-breaking ceremony held on May 18, 2010. TTPL owns and will operate the IT Park for 30 years, which can be renewed twice on mutual agreement according to the PPP contract. Hence, TTPL also bears the operational expenses of the IT Park and there is no direct running cost for the IT Park on the government as some people think.

Thirdly, operation of IT Park began only from the beginning of May 2012 and so it has been in operation for only about two years so far. Within the two years, TTPL, with support of Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC), has been able to rope in two international tenants and supported a number of Bhutanese entrepreneurs within the government-owned incubation centre inside Bhutan Innovation and Technology Centre on the ground floor. A third potential international tenant is piloting from the IT Park at the moment. Currently, around 250 people work from the IT Park every day.

When has another project created 250 white-collar jobs, which our youth prefer, within a span of two years with an investment of around Nu 300M only by the private sector? On top of that, the salary of most of these people come from abroad, helping Bhutan prop up its meagre foreign currency earnings and ease the ‘Rupee crunch’ to an extent.

In addition, the IT Park has created spill-over effects like the increase in the overall internet backbone speed, reduction of internet leased line costs and improved reliability of internet connectivity in the country owing to the demand for better service from the international tenants at the IT Park. Above all, it has helped project Bhutan to the world as not just a Shangrila for tourists, but also an investment destination for investors looking for opportunities in new locations.

TTPL is currently in close touch with a number of potential tenants and we believe we would be able to rope in some more tenants soon. The IT Park is also open to domestic IT/ITES companies and the rent is very competitive with the local market rates, not Nu 45 a sqft as was reported in the media, despite having a host of facilities like the state of the art fire protection system, HVAC and DG power backup and common security and facilities.

However, it is by no means easy to attract foreign investors as moving to Bhutan has to make a real business case for them. Many countries in the world give enormous incentives to woo investors. Our government too has offered some incentives to IT Park tenants through support for training employees and tax holiday for 10 years, which some people believe is doing too much. What we offer is actually quite modest compared to what other countries offer. Hence, I think we need not be alarmed by this at all.

Fourthly, some recent media coverage on the discussions between the JV partners APG and DHI for the possibility of transferring shares from APG to DHI has given rise to speculations. The discussion is based purely on business decision on the part of the partners involved in line with their strategic business interests and has nothing to do with any other factors. As far as the operation of IT Park is concerned, it will continue seamlessly irrespective of any changes in the shareholding pattern.

Last but not the least, IT Park is a boon, not a burden for the country as we are already reaping benefits. The IT Park is not any one organisation’s or any one company’s investment, but Bhutan’s long-term investment for Bhutan’s future. Hence, besides the MoIC and DHI, all stakeholder agencies would need to work together to help it achieve its vision and full potential of creating more employment opportunities for our youth and strengthening our economy at the same time.

 

Tshering Cigay Dorji

COO, Thimphu 

TechPark 

The views expressed here are those of the author himself and not necessarily that of the organisation he represents.

A canter rather than a gallop

Year ender (Economy) The economy, local economists predict, will not gallop in the Year of the Horse, unless new ideas are injected or systematic changes made.

The economy will continue to ride the slump, although the government has promised to lift restrictions and start construction of three new hydropower projects this year.

Growth in the economy will still be subdued by a lack of investment and economic activity, the result of a liquidity crunch that started off since 2012.

Because of the freeze on construction loans, the level of investment in the economy dropped significantly, constraining GDP growth rate to a minimal 4.6 percent last year.

This situation is likely to continue this year as well. Even if the central bank lifts the restriction on construction loans, banks wouldn’t be willing to provide any new loans, as they had reached the maximum exposure, beyond which lending would be categorised risky.
Bankers said breaching the maximum threshold was not possible and would be regulated by the central bank.

Even if the government starts construction of three new hydropower projects, it will not increase the level of investment much in the first year because not much will happen in the first year besides preparatory groundwork, and the actual construction will start only in the next few years.

Thus GDP will still remain subdued.

From the business perspective, sale of industrial products is expected to decrease, as industries lose competitive advantage over raw material cost since the tariff revision this year. This might lead to decreased export.

Imports will keep increasing, rather at a higher rate with the construction of new hydropower projects, and likelihood increases in the salaries of public servants.

Any increase in government revenue during the horse year would have to be utilised in paying for the increase in salaries.

An upward revision in salaries would be possible with new inflows in the form of increase in the export price of Chukha’s hydropower and the commissioning of Dungsam and Dagachu.

While Chukha’s tariff revision would bring home half a billion rupees every year, Dungsam is expected to earn around Rs 4B annually should it run in full capacity and Dagachu, another few billions of rupees.

Increase in salaries would have its spiralling impact on consumption, and hence imports might increase, as well as inflation.

But this could be controlled if the government initiates, as it announced, radical taxation measures. The horse year should expect some major changes in the tax structure, the idea being taxing harmful, unhealthy, environmentally damaging commodities. Ban on import of vehicles could also be lifted, with taxation measures controlling rather than a blanket ban.

By Nidup Gyeltshen

A downward spiral in the snake year

Year ender (Economy Outlook) The serpent, known for its habit of swallowing up entire prey and then going on without food for months, had to be mindful of its gargantuan appetite last year.

Consumption, both at government and at individual levels, had already reached unprecedented heights, spiking up imports and putting pressure on the rupee reserve.

The snake was kept on a strict diet since the dragon bid farewell. Restrictions continued bringing down consumption levels, so that the economy would cool down, digest and rest.

This translated to lesser GDP growth rate and lesser tax revenue for the government, but economic woes continued in a lot of other forms, like a steep hike in fuel prices, inflation, businesses shutting down, banks experiencing high rate of defaults and exchange rate fluctuations.

GDP was recorded at 4.6 percent, which was lower than in 2008, when it was 4.7 percent. In 2012, GDP was recorded at 8.6 percent.

The slump in growth rate was largely attributed to the restriction on housing loans, and a consequent decrease in the level of investment in the economy.

The construction sector registered only 4 percent growth as against 14 percent in the previous year.

The restrictions also resulted on lesser growth in government’s tax revenue. Growth in revenue was only 3 percent. In previous years, it grew by an average 13 percent.

Meanwhile, rise in fuel prices continued putting pressure on the purchasing power, with inflation averaging more than 8.5 percent in 2013. In the last quarter of the same year, it had reached double digit at 11.3 percent.

To tide over the erosion in purchasing power, the new government that just took over in the same year promised to revise salaries of the civil servants. This however still remains difficult, with revenue barely meeting up with domestic expenditure.

The revision in electricity tariff last year had several businesses considering closing shop. The increase in electricity rates had made a huge dent in their inflows, as it increased cost of production.

The ngultrum had seen wild swings against the US dollar reaching almost Nu 70 a dollar at one point of time.

This translated to steep hike in fuel prices, as Indian oil companies landed up paying more dollars to buy the same amount of fuel from third countries because of a weakening rupee. Within one year in 2013, petrol price increased by Rs 9, while diesel increased by Rs 14 a litre.

Despite the ban on import of vehicles, Bhutan’s total fuel import increased to Rs 7.7B from Rs 6.8B last year.

In the trading sector, Bhutan’s total imports with India and other countries increased from Nu 48B to Nu 52B in 2013, while exports decreased from Nu 31B to Nu 29B in the same year. This shows a total deficit of Nu 23B.

Dungsam cement plant in Nganglam went operational in January, and is expected to fetch a net revenue of around Rs 4B annually. The export rates of Chhukha hydropower project was increased by 25 paisa, and is expected to improve the revenue of the government in the form of rupees.

In the last one-year, government inflows in grant from the government of India increased towards the end of the year, the government received Rs 3.7B so far to carry out activities under its economic stimulus plan.

Overall, rupee reserve had almost reached Rs 7B and is expected to increase even further with some of the receipts due to arrive.

By Nidup Gyeltshen

Cross country Moenlam Chenmos

Year ender (Religion) Moenlam Chenmo (great prayer ceremony) and empowerment of Mipham Kabum to the masses were the highlights of the religious activities in the year of the water female snake.

His Holiness the Je Khenpo travelled extensively across the country, and conducted more than eight moenlam chhenmo in Haa, Chukha, Samtse, Gelephu, Trongsa, Gyalpoizhing in Mongar, Trashiyangtse and Pemagatshel for peace, security, and well being of the country and people.

More than 15,000 lams, trulkus, monks, lay monks, nuns and devotees from across the country and abroad received oral transmission and empowerment of Mipham Kabum (teachings composed by Mipham rinpoche in 27 volumes) from Namkhai Nyingpo rinpoche in Phuentsholing. The two-month long empowerment, which began from December 25, was held for the first time in the country.

The water snake year also saw consecrations of monuments, monasteries and equipment.

On His Majesty’s command, the Chenrezig Zhiwei Jingsey ceremony was administered by His Holiness the Je Khenpo at the site of the Wangduephodrang dzong on January 28, 2014 to remove obstacles and ensure a successful reconstruction of the dzong. The ceremony marks the long-awaited commencement of reconstruction work of the Druk Khamsum Wangdi Choki Phodrang dzong.

On November 19, His Holiness consecrated the Institute of Language and Cultural Studies in Taktse, Trongsa coinciding with its 52nd anniversary. The institute was relocated to Taktse in 2011 from Semtokha, Thimphu.

His Holiness also consecrated the newly extended administrative blocks of Mongar dzong and newly built Kuenray lhakhang on December 7. Earlier, on December 4, His Holiness consecrated the new Drepong Woob lhakhang and the 30-foot long and 38-foot wide Drolma Nyeshu Tsachi thongdroel in Drepong, Mongar.

His Holiness conducted rabney (consecration ceremony) of medical equipment that he donated Nu 13.5M at the Thimphu national referral hospital on August 26.

Bhutanese also received an opportunity to receive blessings from the 50 sacred relics, brought from Bodhgaya in India, which would be placed as zungs of the Jowo Jampa statue being constructed there. They were displayed in Thimphu, Mongar, Trashigang, Trongsa and Tsirang.

The snake year saw the loss of great Buddhist teacher, when Drabi Lopon (master of lexicography) of the central monk body, Lopon Kinley Gyeltshen, passed away on January 1. He was 67. His body was cremated at Lekshey Jungey shedra in Punakha on January 24.

Former Drabi Lopon was a recipient of the Druk Thuksey medal, which was awarded by His Majesty on December 17 last year.

New development in the clergy saw the renaming the titles of the lopons. The five lopons will now be called Yonton lopon rinpoche (master of knowledge), Tsulak lopon rinpoche (master of monastic education), Leytsog lopon rinpoche (master of development activities), Tshogki lopon rinpoche (master of religious service) and Dorji lopon rinpoche (vajra master of the secret mantra rituals).

Lam Netens of the country expressed their views that the conduct of any sort of religious rituals, unless politically motivated, should be allowed during election processes in future.

 By Rinzin Wangchuk

ACC’s big year

Year ender (ACC ) The year of the snake saw the culmination of the Gyalpoizhing case that, ascending several legal hurdles, made it to the Mongar court for prosecution and reached a judgment.

In the eyes of the public, this was a case involving senior bureaucrats and politicians including ministers, a “big fish” sort of case the Anti-Corruption Commission was whipped to chase.

The commission, on its part, pursued the prosecution as thoroughly as it did the investigation of the Gyalpoizhing land allotment case that saw a uniform judgment from the district court to the highest appellate court.

The year of the snake bode well for the commission.

The Gyalpoizhing case also helped straighten out several confusions pertaining to the commission’s authority bestowed by its Act to persecute its own case of investigation and to suspend people in relation to a case.

The Supreme Court in its guideline issued with the Gyalpoizhing case clarified the commission could not unilaterally suspend public servants or elected officials, in reference to suspension orders it issued to former assembly speaker and home minister.

With regard to its powers to prosecute, Gyalpoizhing being a case of precedent, the court also clarified that until a similar case emerged in future, the commission would not take up prosecution, unless otherwise as stipulated in its Act.
It was a good year for the commission that set foot into an uncharted territory, tested it and came out better informed and experienced.

The country also climbed two steps on the 2013 Corruption Perception Index securing 31st position and scoring 63 points among 177 nations that were tested for perceived corruption levels in the public sector.
It was 33rd in 2012, where 176 nations were considered.

However, despite such strides on the anti-graft front, incidents of corruption continues to be, meaning the fight against corruption must press on.

Anti-Corruption Commission officials continue to carry out advocacy campaigns, very recently they travelled to the remote pockets of the country educating local officials and people of forms, prevalence and ills of corruption.
That was quite way of closing what prevailed in the year that was and forging towards the year ahead.

By Samten Wangchuk

The status of unemployment in 2013

Year ender (Labour) If jobseekers were lined up, and that line were a snake, it would be a rather long reptile. In the year of the snake, the line only grew longer, and it kept crawling and hissing at the conscience of the government.

As the elections drew closer around mid-year, campaigns loaded expectations of voters with countless promises. The promise of 100 percent employment, made by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), gained prominence and word spread like wildfire.

After sweeping the votes during the general elections and the new government was instituted, the promise simmered down to ‘full employment’ and not ‘100 percent employment’. Full employment is a situation where 97.5 percent is employed.

During the national graduates orientation program in October, the government announced to the over 2,000 university graduates assembled a fresh initiative called “overseas employment program.”

By the end of 11th five year plan (FYP) the employment market will see 120,000 jobseekers, according to the labour ministry. The government will have to create 82,000 jobs to maintain a full employment status.

In the second sitting of the Parliament, it was announced that 30,000 jobseekers would be sent overseas for employment opportunities. It was also declared that 42,000 jobseekers would be employed since it was the country’s human resource requirement.
“The remaining 10,000 would get enrolled in various programs and events in the country,” labour minister Ngeema Sangay Tshempo had said.

To keep up with the promise, the government send the first batch of jobseekers overseas in January 22 this year under the overseas employment program. Six men and three women flew to Qatar to work as room attendants at the Sheraton Hotel.

As the snake year slithered to its end, labour ministry secured an offer from the Saudi Arabian company, Nasser S Al Hajri corporation requiring 2,251 workers. However, only 60 applied.

Shin Nippon biomedical laboratories ltd in USA also invited jobseekers to apply for jobs. Although the company has not yet announced the number of slots, a total of 218 jobseekers have applied.

Under the program, the government also licensed four Bhutanese overseas employment agents.
The overseas employment program is yet to show whether it will work out or not.

Meanwhile, as of October 2013, records with labour ministry showed 3,902 jobseekers registered, out of which 1,332 were general university graduates. Just a month later in November, the number had increased to 4,830, out of which 1,821 were general university graduates.

This sharp increase in the number of university graduates (general) registering for jobs was felt when new graduates failed in the civil service’s preliminary examination.

A total of 2,407 university graduates had entered the job market last year, and a total of 3,567 university graduates sat for prelims, which means graduates, who were already employed, or some who had graduated prior to 2013 and jobless also did the prelims.

A total of 1,614 made it through prelims. But the setback was the availability of 504 slots in the civil service. More than a thousand were pushed back to compete in the corporate and private market.

By December, the number of jobless graduates (general category) in the country was 1,966. By January this year, the number of registered general graduates looking for jobs rose to 2,203.

The rapid increase in figures of jobseekers, each month last year, only indicates it won’t be easy to achieve full employment, let alone 100 percent employment.

In addition, the “hidden unemployment figures” are not considered. Those, who are jobless and not recorded in the government’s book of statistics, fall under this unemployment category. In Bhutan’s context, it refers to those jobless people not registered with the labour ministry.

A paradoxical situation between jobs and jobseekers was re-emphasised and debated on.

Hydropower construction sector, labour officials said, could pull in thousands of the unemployed into jobs.

“But the jobseekers lack in skills and attitude,” a senior official with the ministry said. “Bhutan has more than 50,000 expatriates working in the country.”

Most of these workers are in the hydropower construction, while others are in private or other government construction projects. At the end of the snake year, about 748 technical graduates were jobless. Mismatch of jobs was a major contributor to unemployment in Bhutan.

Until December 2013, labour ministry recorded 6,817 jobseekers. A quick addition of 980 in January 2014 increased the figure to 7,797 jobless. Of the total, 4,243 were female.
Going by the figures, it is likely that unemployment rate will increase from 2.1 percent.

By Rajesh Rai

Google App caps IT year

Year ender (IT) The government’s stand to use Google Apps was the highlight event in the information technology sector.

Despite concerns that using the online office suite could compromise Bhutan’s data sovereignty, the government still went ahead. It argued that with the current system, the country’s data was vulnerable and that Google Apps offered a better solution. Using Google

Apps would also increase the efficiency of the bureaucracy and reduce paper use.

Another major event in the IT field included the government completing almost 90 percent of its optical fibre network. It also liberalised the network which meant any internet service provider can use the network for free. One immediate result of this included Tashi Cell going nation wide.

The IT park got closer to its goal of employing 700 by 2015. At least 200 Bhutanese are now employed at the park. But it has yet to attract a large multinational as planned.

The government also launched an e-government master plan that details how it will use IT towards good governance, creation of an information society, and for sustainable development.

The number of G2C (government to citizens) being used today stand at 54, after it was launched in 2010. Of these, 29 are available through community centres and nine can be accessed from any computer. The information technology department has found that the biggest hurdle towards bringing more services online and directly accessible to citizens is traditional mindsets. The department is hoping that through more awareness programs, it can change and overcome this hurdle in 2014.

By Gyalsten K Dorji

Sherig matters

Year ender (Education) The water female snake year for the education sector started and ended with celebrations. The year began with Sherig Century celebrations in Haa to mark Bhutan’s 100 years of journey in modern education.

But when the country celebrated the national education day recently, the country’s education sector despite its achievements was dealing with the same challenges it had lived with in the past.

Quality of education was still perceived to be declining along with the quality of its teachers. The snake year saw expatriate teachers leaving the country, for better opportunities back home. But while the education ministry considered this attrition as “normal” it was not normal to see a teacher leaving the profession everyday at home,

Despite attempts and measures to retain them and teacher shortage, about four percent of teachers in government schools left the noble profession annually. This could perhaps be the reason why the new government ensured on implementing the Teacher human resource policy, which allowed teachers to move up their career ladder up to the level of a government secretary.

Only three educationists of more than 8,000 teachers were today at the EX level. However, salary and incentives were what topped teacher’s priority list when they were assessed for their job satisfaction.

But while this policy’s impact is yet to be seen, the snake year ensured that children in schools were fed well. Both the previous and present governments found it unacceptable that children in schools were getting nutrient deficient meals.

The new government decided to bear the cost of transportation of school rations and asked the food corporation of Bhutan to centrally procure non- perishable food items. Just as the school-feeding program was getting some attention, the World Food Program started phasing out, handing back the responsibility to feed more mouths every year.

However, it wasn’t just the quality of food for students that the snake year hissed about. Students’ performance in board examinations declined especially in English as well as their proficiency in the country’s second language, which is the medium of instruction. It questioned the quality of teachers and teacher graduates that the two colleges of education rolled out in hundreds.

Despite skepticism from education officials, the government, as pledged went ahead to give students who fail their board examinations, a second chance to repeat in the same school.

The policy to grant schools autonomy so that they could perform better also came through albeit confusions among teachers and appreciation from some section of the education sector. While IT is yet to penetrate the classrooms, it picked pace with the users of online scholarship application.

That the work of the education sector was paramount for the country’s future was evident when His Majesty the King on December 17 awarded the National Order of Merit (Gold) to 121 teachers for their exemplary service in education. Of the 121 teachers, 42 were recognised for their contribution to academic excellence, five for excellence in leadership and management, 45 for dedicated and long tenure and 29 teachers for their service in remote and difficult areas.

Ugyen Academy’s principal, Norbu Gyaltshen, set a new bar for educationists when he became the first recipient of a white kabney without fringes and a patang from His Majesty on national day.

The snake year brought in lots of appreciation for the education sector, with the hope that it would not only boost the moral of educators but also help students gallop with excellence in the year of the horse.

 By Sonam Pelden