Monday, July 6th, 2015 - 7:31 PM
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Two separate accidents in Wangdue claim five lives

Traffic: A 62-year-old man and two students died when the vehicle they were travelling in veered off the road on the morning of July 13 at Khelakha in Bjena gewog, Wangduephodrang.

The Hyundai i10, driven by a 39-year-old monk, fell over 220m below the road about 31km from Wangdue town.  They were on their way back to Lhuentse from Thimphu.

There were five passengers, including the driver’s father, two nieces and two nephews, when the accident took place.

The driver and one of his nieces and nephews are said to be in a stable condition, while his father and the 12-year-old niece died on the spot from multiple injuries, Wangdue police said.  The nine-year-old nephew died on the way to the hospital.

Passersby, who spotted the vehicle, and relatives of the victims, informed Wangdue police about the accident.  The relatives were also on their way to Lhuentse but in different vehicles.

The driver said the steering of the car got locked and, unable to control further, the vehicle veered off the road.

Police said this was the first major accident of the year with a death toll of three.

Meanwhile, a truck of Gammon India ltd. fell about 60m below the road at Kushigang, Tshogom gewog on June 30 about 11km from Wangdue town towards Tsirang.

The driver, 37, died on the way to hospital, while a passenger, who suffered major fractures on his right thigh, was referred to Thimphu hospital.  The passenger succumbed to injuries after two days.

By Kelzang Wangchuk

Picture story

Outgoing Indian Ambassador to Bhutan V P Haran called on Lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay yesterday in Thimphu. Lyonchhoen thanked Ambassador Haran for his contributions in strengthening friendship and cooperation between Bhutan and India.
Ambassador Haran will leave Bhutan at the end of this month.


Learners given access to Dzongkha language institutes

From last year English had been introduced to the program

NFE: Non-formal education (NFE) learners, starting this year, can seek admission in Dzongkha language institutes.

Thirty of such learners have already enrolled with institutes.  The opportunity is provided to those, who perform well at the NFE centres, where they are taught basic Dzongkha.

Non-formal education division’s chief program officer, Nima Damdul, said the learners could enhance and upgrade their education.

The institutes, Nima Damdul said, enroll class VII graduates. “NFE learners, who can clear the entrance examination, can also get enrollment,” he said, adding that it would provide them with an opportunity to pursue a career.

Language institutes like Dzongkha development training institute in Thimphu, Dzongkhag language institute in Semtokha and Dzongkha dissemination training centre in Haa are the institutes where NFE learners can seek admission.

Nima Damdul said, earlier, language institutes conducted entrance exam on their own with their own set of question papers. “To streamline the practice, the ministry has decided that Bhutan Council for School Examination will take care of the enrollment and entrance questions papers.”

The education ministry has also introduced English language in non-formal education last year. Prior to the introduction, a two-year pilot project was implemented in NFE centres in Samtse, Mongar and Dagana.

“Draft copy of English text books were sent to all centres last year, and the final copy is being readied,” an adult and higher education official said.

The language taught in NFE centres is functional English and not academic English.  The English curricula are such that it will help learners pick up fast and use in daily communications. “Grammar is not included in their syllabus,” the official said.

There are over 9,000 learners in 885 NFE centres across the country.

English, however, is taught in the post learning level.  To learn English, an enrollee has to clear the basic level. “There are many, who are interested to learn English more than Dzongkha,” Nima Damdul said. “If we teach English at the basic level, they won’t take up Dzongkha.”

A farmer in Gelephu, Krishna, registered for non-formal education two years back, but after a year dropped out.

“I was interested to learn English, which is more useful today, that’s why I joined NFE,” he said, adding he was not aware English was not taught.  When he learned that English has been introduced, he said he would join NFE next year.

By Nirmala Pokhrel

What we eat

Bhutanese are spoilt for choice when it comes to imported food items.  Our shops, from Thimphu to Dorokha, are now laden with a range of goodies, as our importers explore new places for variety, to stay ahead of the competition.

But like we say, more does not mean better always.  We have to look at the quality of what is sold and consumed.  And at some stage, consider steps to control the quality of items being sold to protect the health and safety of the consumer and of society.

As the retail business expands, we have food items on our shelves that are imported from countries that do not label them in English.  Labeling food products is important and therefore mandatory for manufacturers.  Besides prices, it is the one tool that consumers can use to choose what they are consuming.  For instance, the nutrition information on the packet would let consumers choose what amount of sugar he or she is consuming.

With a lot of food products, including goodies for children, without labels in English, forget Dzongkha, we risk our health.  Manufacturers use preservatives and colours in many food products.  Research shows that colours and preservatives are not good for the body, and may even be carcinogenic.

With the selection of food items labelled either in Thai or Korean or Chinese, consumers are not aware of what they are consuming.  Most Bhutanese just buy a “wai wai” or a “koka’ and are not really bothered about checking the nutrition level or expiry dates on the packet.  Buying food based on, say nutrition level, is only restricted to a few health freaks, or a handful of people, who are conscious of what they eat.  The majority hardly bothers, with some not even caring to check if a product is past its best before date.

This makes it more risky.  Although our regulations mandate retailers or shopkeepers to label imported products, especially foodstuff, the regulation hasn’t been enforced.  Regulators are finding it an uphill task to do so because of external factors like imported food products being manufactured for the local market.

That is the reality and nothing much can be done, as we are only a small market for the manufacturer in China or Thailand.  But food safety should be a concern and it should transcend the interest of businessmen.

Buying products after reading the labels is not in our culture, but with cheap food products, especially for children flooding the market, there is urgency for interventions.

If we cannot demand our exporters to label their products, we can control what is being imported.  We have one big organisation to regulate what food our people consume.  A lot can be removed from the shelves of our shops if we inspect regularly.  This excludes expired food products.

Educating consumers could be another option and we can start this with our children, starting from kindergarten level.  Discouraging junk food is already happening in some urban schools.  Teachers could play a major role in discouraging children; say, from spraying coloured liquids in their mouth or eating cotton candies.

Bapta-Gonpawung chiwog gets a farm road

photo2The 1.3km farm road will benefit 130 households

GDG: The gewog development grant (GDG) came as a boon for people of Bapta-Gonpawung chiwog in Decheling because it helped connecting the chiwog to the rest of Pemagatshel.

Decheling’s gewog administrative officer, Pema Tenzin, said Nu 300,000 was allocated to construct the 1.3km farm road after villagers repeatedly raised the issue in the gewog tshogdu.  He said the road was in the Plan but during its review, other chiwogs were given priority for a farm road.

But gewog officials were later informed that all proposed farm roads were dropped from the Plan.

However, the GDG amount of Nu 300,000 was not enough to build farm roads in other chiwogs, which was why the gewog officials decided to use the grant for Bapta-Gonpawung chiwog.

Chiwog tshogpa Sangay said the villagers started pressurising gewog officials and tshogpa to connect them with a farm road.  The farm road connects the main gewog connectivity road until Martshala village.

He said three villages in the chiwog initially requested for the farm road.  But a land dispute ensued, with two households from Gonpawung village refusing to allow the road to pass through their land.

“That’s why the road was constructed only until Martshala village.”

Tshogpa Sangay said many villagers have already decided to buy Bolero trucks, even second hand ones. “With this, they can easily take their mandarin and also hire out vehicle during orange auction season.”

He added the road would also prove beneficial during emergency visits to basic health unit, which is an hour’s walk from the village. “We’re relieved that we can now fetch wood and water in vehicles from the stream by carrying it in the vehicle,” he said.

The road, which was constructed in 20 days, will benefit 130 households.

Meanwhile the gewog officials used Nu 400,000 for gewog office’s main gate construction, Nu 200,000 for electrification and construction of pavilion in the ECCD, and Nu 50,000 for lhakhang.

The rest of the grant was spent on procurement of materials for retention walls and culvert construction.  Except for the farm road, gewog officials said, other works were given to the  community contractor.

By Yangchen C Rinzin,  Samdrupjongkhar 

11 new records set

DSC03680Record breakers with the officials

Meet: Three events in the boys’ category and one event in girls broke the records after more than a decade in the 11th national school athletics meet that ended in the capital on July 13.

Chencho Gyeltshen of Kelki higher secondary school completed the 100m-race within 11.29 seconds, breaking the record of 11.37 seconds, which was set in 2000. Chencho Gyeltshen also broke the record the 2012’s record of 24.49 seconds in the 200m-race by setting his own record at 23.16 seconds.

The new record for 800m-race was 2.8.7minutes set by Tezin Thinley of Motithang HSS beating the record of 2.14.23 minutes, which was set in 2000. Tezin Thinley also broke the record of 1500m-race by setting his own record of 4.41.48 minutes, which was last set 2001 at 4.42.73 seconds.

In the 400m-race for boys, Dorji Tshering of Lungtenzampa MSS set a new record at 56.77 seconds, breaking the last record set in 2012 at 57.32 seconds.

In the girls’ category, Chimi Dema of Yangchenphug HSS broke the record of 800m-race, setting her record at 2.53.95minutes which was last recorded in 2000 at 2.55.02minutes. Chimi Dema also set a new record in the 1500m-race at 6.23.36 minutes whose previous record was at 6.6.26minutes in 2006.

Thinley Zangmo of Drugyel HSS completed the 200m-race in 30.07seconds while she broke the last record of 31.11seconds of 2006.

In the 400m-race, Tshering Deki of Nima HSS set a new record of 1.12.42 minutes breaking the 2012’s record of 1.13.29minutes.

Leaping over a 1.3m high bar, Chimi Wangmo of Tangmachu MSS set the new record, breaking the 1.28m-record of 2013.

Damchoe Lhaden of Utpal HSS set a new record in triple jump with 9.73m, beating the previous record of 9.25m set in 2012.

More than 400 students from 107 lower, middle and higher secondary schools of the country had participated in the athletics meet.

Winners were awarded medals and certificates and the record breakers were give two t-shirts each.

By Sonam Choden

NC’s move, a dangerous precendent: PM

Government claims it worked hard in the past year to afford this pay raise

Salary: Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said he would respond to the National Council’s (NC) letter, where it had officially informed the government about its decision to defer their share of the salary raise.

“I’ll write back,” lyonchhoen said. “But it’s a legislative matter and they should have written to the Speaker.”

The NC has decided to defer the salary raise for its Chairperson and members, until the fiscal measures were implemented and realised.

While the government would not challenge the council’s decision, the prime minister said he is concerned about the precedent such a move would set.

“NC, as the upper house, is the house of wisdom and I won’t challenge whether they accept the raise or not,” lyonchhoen said.

“But I’m concerned because this basically says that, whether it’s the NC or the NA, the ruling or the opposition, after Parliament passes their resolution, they can do whatever they please; that’s a dangerous precedent.”

According to the Council, if the measures identified were not realised, it might have an impact on the economy in the long run. “As per our resolution, we’ll defer the raise for our members, write to the government and make sure they implement those measures and, if it happens, we’ll take it,” the council’s deputy chairperson had earlier said. “But if it fails to give us confidence that these measures, even though in place, aren’t enough, then we‘ll be unable to take the raise.”

The Council’s main concern was that, except for Chukha power tariff revision as a definitive source, the other measures that the government had identified to fund the pay revision weren’t in place.

The entire pay revision package, which amounts to Nu 1.779B was part of the budget that the NC had passed.  However, the house wasn’t convinced that there was enough money to fund the revision, when it discussed the pay revision report alone.

The house resolved to propose for deferment of pay increase for the Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers and equivalent post holders, members of Parliament, commissioners and constitutional post holders, privy council, attorney general and secretaries, until it was certain that the national exchequer would be able to meet such expenses.

Had the Council’s recommendation been considered, there would be 110 senior public officials on the salary deferment list.

“For 110 officials, the estimated saving from the deferment, including house rent and leave encashment, comes to Nu 30.174M per annum,” lyonchhoen said.

The Prime Minister said this meant that the council felt the government could afford the remaining amount of Nu 1,768M (Nu 1,799M – Nu 30.174M).

“National Council, in their wisdom, said that we have enough money, Nu 1,768M, but for 110 incumbents, which amounts to Nu 30.174M, they’re saying it won’t be enough; they are not convinced,” lyonchhoen said. “Where do you get that sort of rationale?”

A salary raise was affordable because the government did its homework and knew where the money would come from, he said.  All details of where the total domestic revenue of Nu 24.59B would be sourced from has been identified. “That doesn’t include additional revenue from the cars, fuel and from the new taxes,” he said.

The government is confident about affording the salary revision, which it now says is law.  But how much of the discussions on it, which the PM said, is healthy for democracy, would be heard by the government?

“We need to start thinking about where we’re headed as a democracy and what is a rule of law; all of us are bound by the Constitution and a rule of law and we can’t challenge it as and when it pleases us,” lyonchhoen said.


How the government sees the pay revision story

The ongoing discussions on salary revision may be healthy for democracy however, according to the Prime Minister, the pay revision has been dissected, cut and blown out of proportions, but not analysed.

The last raise for civil servant, through allowances was in 2011.  This time the salary raise includes housing allowance, which, the civil servants are however not included when they calculate the salary revision.

What has also been missed from the debate, according to the government, was the “sliding scale” of the raise, where everyone has received an increase of more than 21 percent.  “The whole debate has been on the MPs, ministers and the PM,” lyonchhoen said. “Everybody was fixated on 131 percent, the PM’s salary raise; everyone thought that all ministers are getting 131 percent when its just the PM’s, which has now been done away with.”

The government says the raise, including the housing allowance, over three years, for the elementary service personnel (ESP) levels is 40 percent – from a gross salary of Nu 5,000 to Nu 7,000 now.  The gups, who used to draw Nu 14,355 in 2011, will now get 20,000, an increase by 39 percent.

Citing another example, the Prime Minister said, someone from the general service personnel (GSP) – say GSP-I – used to draw Nu 7,423 in 2011.  It has now increased to Nu 9,695 including housing allowance.

The salary raise for all ‘O’ levels is 31 percent.  This means, someone in level ‘O’ 4, used to draw a monthly salary of Nu 7,813, which is inclusive of the allowance since 2011.  With the current raise, the salary amounts to Nu 10,205.

All S levels are getting a raise by 29 percent, while for those at P5, the level where graduates enter the civil service; the raise is now 26 percent.  From Nu 16,602, graduates will now draw Nu 20,995, inclusive of the housing allowance.

Those in EX 1 level, who used to get Nu 52,654 a month, will now draw Nu 65,490, a 24 percent raised.  In addition to the raise, the government has also increased the mileage claims and daily subsistence allowance (DSA) for civil servants.

“I thought civil servants would be happy,” lyonchhoen said. “This is more than generous and the government worked hard in the past year to improve the system and cut back unnecessary expenditure so that we can afford to give this pay raise.”

By Sonam Pelden

Meet-the-people program to go on

PMO: Despite seeing a drop in visitors, the meet-the-people’s program, which started a month after the government took office last year, will continue for as long as people find it useful, according to the prime minister’s office.

Since the program began on August 24 last year, a total of 636 grievances were registered in 46 sessions, records with the cabinet secretariat show.  Cabinet officials said unemployment issues, followed by those related to land, census, financial support for business initiatives, and scholarships, topped the list of grievances people came with at the program.

The drop in number of visitors, according to cabinet secretariat officials, was because most of the grievances were kidu-related and beyond the government’s purview.

“We continue to forward all kidu-related grievances to the office of the gyalpoi zimpon,” Meet the People’s program’s focal person Sonam Tobgye said.

Of the 636 cases registered to date, 349 received immediate redress.  The prime minister’s public grievance cell is currently working on redressing over 230 cases, cabinet secretariat officials said.

“Another 60 cases were found to have been beyond the purview of the government authority,” Sonam Tobgye said.

“Among the visitors are also those, who come to attend the program only to seek advice and directions from lyonchhoen and the cabinet ministers, which has proven very useful for them,” he said. 

One of the primary objectives of the program was also to provide opportunity for citizens to freely interact with the prime minister and cabinet ministers without seeking formal appointments, and share their views and feedback on government performance especially regarding the delivery of public services.

Immediate action, officials explained, meant assisting a person find a solution to the issue, either by calling up government agencies or corporations, and sending letters or recommendations.

Every Saturday, people, who wished to meet the prime minister or cabinet ministers, are required to submit an application, detailing their grievances or issues, along with related documents.  It was usually held at the National Resources Development corporation hall or the READ centre in Changjiji.

However, the venue was later changed to the People’s Democratic Party office at Olakha, on which the opposition sought clarification from the prime minister in June during a question hour session at the National Assembly session.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay had said then that the program was not a government initiative but a party pledge. “Whether it’s organised in PDP office or anywhere else, it shouldn’t be a problem for people,” lyonchheon had said then.

However, given the drop in number of people seeking government intervention, the home minister, Damcho Dorji last week said the program could die a ‘natural death’, because the people’s expectations were too high.

Lyonpo Damcho Dorji said, whether it was a party pledge or a government initiative, it was the same prime minister and cabinet ministers that people met.

“But we never said it’s for PDP supporters and we don’t care what party people, who attend the program, support,” lyonpo said. “The fact that it’s now being hosted in the party office gives the impression that it’s for PDP supporters,” he said, adding changing the venue for every session was an issue, especially for people.

“But now people are fed up with the program, because everyone who comes there wants to do something, which isn’t legally possible,” he said. “The idea was to give information to people about what we’re doing, not to solve their problems by breaking laws.”

For instance, lyonpo said, some come with issues, such as seeking help as they are being removed from the NPPF colony, while another wants the government to lift the vehicle that has fallen off the Namling brag cliff in the east.

There are mixed responses from those who attended the program.  Some felt it wasn’t worth it, while for some it was a good platform to interact with ministers, which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.  Many, however, lauded the time and effort put in by the prime minister and cabinet ministers every Saturday to listen to the people, mostly Thimphu residents.

The program is one of the government’s 100-day pledges.  The PDP manifesto states the cabinet would dedicate at least a day in the weekend to meet the people.  It states the party would initiate this program, so that the top leadership would be abreast of people’s problems and ensure transparency in governance.

“The prime minister will meet the youth, the private sector and people from all other sectors on Saturdays without any appointment,” the manifesto states. “Cabinet ministers will also be in their office and people can walk in without appointment.”

By Kinga Dema

Dry weather scares Wangdue farmers

IMG_2371Parched: Recently transplanted paddy fields in Wangdue on the verge of withering in the sun

The paddy transplantation process is at the mercy of a timely monsoon 

Agriculture: Time is running out for farmers in the Punakha–Wangdue valley.  If it doesn’t rain in the immediate days, paddy transplantation (changla) will be delayed and it will have repercussions.

Farmers have been conducting rimdos (pujas) and visiting goenpas to appease local deities, to bless them with rain and continue paddy plantation.

Tshogpa Nagphay of Bangtaykha chiwog in Wangdue said in his chiwog, about 100 households share a small source, which is barely enough to irrigate about two landgdos of paddy field.

“Without an alternative water source, people of Bangtaykha chiwog solely depend on rainwater,” Nagphay said. “Like me, most farmers haven’t completed their changla.”

It has been more than three weeks since the chiwog received any rainfall. “We came together and conducted a lhamo and other rimdos at Nenzergang lhakhang with about 50 monks,” Nagphay said. “It rained for three days after the rimdo and stopped since then.”

Another Wangdue villager, Damchoe, said most people has not finished plantation.  If it rains untill the end of July, the plantation won’t be delayed, but those plants are already drying, which would ultimately affect yields.

In Phangyul, due to water shortage, more than 700 acres were felt fallow, and each year the number of fields turning fallow is increasing. Rubesa gup Gyaltshen said due to acute shortage of irrigation water and erratic rainfall, paddy plantation that started more than a month ago is taking forever.

“We were asked to prioritise one proposal from each gewog in former years during planning,” he said. “Rubesa gewog prioritises agriculture and raised issues of water shortage.”

Although they did not receive any response from the government, people are hoping for about 30km of irrigation channel that would benefit about 200 households in six villages of Rubesa.

“We’re hopeful and already started discussing the issues at local level with people of Sha Ngwang, Wachay and Bjena villages, to help avoid problems in getting local clearances.

While some are worried about the delay, others are  concerned about the transplanted paddy saplings, as fields are dry and parched because of the continuous sunny days for about two weeks.

“Those places with no irrigation shortage or no requirement of water are receiving continuous rainfall, while those facing water shortage don’t get to see rainfall for weeks,” Kuenzang of Thedthso said.

Meanwhile, farmers in Punakha are also facing similar problem.  Some are worried that, if they fail to complete paddy plantation within two to three weeks, majority of their fields would remain fallow.

“Rice is not only our staple food, but also the main source of income,” said a farmer. “We’re planning to do a kanjur lingkor (a tradition of carrying the kanjur and doing rounds) to pray for rains,” aum Pema of Punakha said.

By Dawa Gyelmo, Wangdue

Govt. embarks on cost cutting exercise

Among a host of other steps, freezing new constructions is one way to reduce expenditure

Savings: In their effort to rationalise expenditure or cut cost, the government has suspended the construction of the royal civil service commission, finance ministry, and National Council new office buildings.

Freezing new construction is one of the many ways the government is taking to cut on its expenditure.

A chief budget officer with the national budget department, Phenpay R Drukpa, said, the current fiscal year’s (2014-15) budget would be controlled and minimised.

“The expenditure will be maintained at the same level as in the previous fiscal year,” he said, adding that extra budget would not be provided.

The total budget for expenditure approved during the last fiscal year (2013-14) was Nu 36.11B, while it was Nu 34.51B in the 2012-13 fiscal year.

According to the national budget report for this fiscal year, the government will spend Nu 37.09B for both capital and current expenditure.

Although there still is an increase in the overall expenditure, the government spending could drop by almost half a billion, considering the expenditure trend for the previous two fiscal years.  However, it depends on the actual expenditure accumulated during the year closing, which usually is more than the approved.

Unlike in past financial years, budgets for new projects, which are externally funded, will also not be included this time.

Phenphay R Drukpa said budgets for new externally funded projects would be considered only when they receive the fund for a particular project.

“A lot of problems arise when the fund isn’t received,” he said. “In case of projects that are already operational, budget will be released to complete them.”

With this measure in place, the capital expenditure in particular will be minimised to Nu 15.20B in the current fiscal year, which is about Nu 1.7B less than the previous fiscal year’s budget.  The previous fiscal year had Nu 16.95B as capital expenditure.

However, the budget report states priorities will be accorded to the completion of the ongoing works and spillover activities, such as rural water supply, schools, hospitals, and dzongs.

Government will also cut down operating expenditures, such as travel, supplies of materials, entertainment, purchase of furniture, computer, and office equipment.  Similarly, there will not be any budget for purchase of vehicles, except for ambulances and utility vehicles in municipalities.

Subsidies will also be limited to agencies that have social mandates for capital works, and to cover up their revenue deficits for sustainability.

Ex-country travel budget will be provided only for mandatory meetings, conferences, and seminars, as per bilateral and multi-lateral agreements.

To save money, dzongkhags and gewogs are already hiring machineries to implement some infrastructure works, instead of contracting them out.

Finance minister Namgay Dorji said the government was concerned about the wasteful expenses from day one.

“We want to spend the limited resources we have on a priority basis in the interest of the nation,” lyonpo said.

By Rajesh Rai