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Saturday, July 4th, 2015 - 9:19 PM
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The best-laid plans go agley

pre-wideningStalled: Removing rocks would help Silli village and PHPA II

Cosy arrangement between project and village comes to an abrupt end

PHPA II: It was a win-win arrangement.  Silli village wanted their road widened and Punatsangchhu Hydropower project authority (PHPA) II needed stone.

The project offered to widen the road, and Silli villagers agreed to it extracting boulders as they widened the road.  The project outsourced the road widening and stone supplying to a private contractor.

But it didn’t turn out well.

Taksha stone quarry, a licensed quarry owned by Sonam Tobgay Dorji, located nearby and supplying stone to the project complained about the arrangement.  They complained repeatedly, with copies to the prime minister, that the road widening work and lifting of stones was affecting their  ‘legitimate business’.

The road widening came to a halt in November last year.

Project authority’s chief environment officer, Sangay Dorji, said the area was earmarked as a stone quarry for PHPA II.  “The villagers of Taksha, Silli and Tsara villages, during the public consultation with the project, put forward a condition that we could mine stones if we widen the approach till the village,” he said.

The idea was conceived after National Environment Commission (NEC) suspended all stone extraction activities in the area.  The project was facing boulder shortage and it made the proposal to the village.

The project identified the one-km stretch widening work as one involving forest, gewog and dzongkhag and could be done after dzongkhag administration’s approval.  The widening work was given to Tshagay Construction, on the basis that they would extract stones, sell it to project and meet the cost of widening from selling stones.

Project officials said the stone extraction was done with the approval of the department of forest and park services.

Officials of Taksha stone quarry said the work, which seemed more like mining rather than road widening, was hampering their mines and stone crushing unit business. It was also, they said, disrupting the daily business operation.

The proprietor of Taksha stone quarry, Sonam Tobgay Dorji, in one of the three written complaint letters to the dzongkhag, mentioned that, although the road widening was executed “free of cost” by PHPA II, the extraction and sale of boulders from the widening site adversely affected their business.

“As a result, we were unable to make our repayment to the banks, besides suffering serious financial setbacks,” he said in the letter.

They requested the dzongkhag administration to ascertain the legitimacy of the supply of stone boulders from road widening works along an abandoned stretch of farm road urgently.

Officials with Taksha stone quarry told Kuensel that they did not have problem, had it been just road widening. They claimed that the contractor was found supplying about 700 truckloads of stones even during the suspension time.  They also alleged that the contractor was digging boulders and supplying almost 300-400 trucks a month to a JP Associates.

Owner of Tshagay Construction said, while they did extract stones and sold few truckloads to JP Associates, it was as agreed with PHPA II while accepting the work. “Despite deploying three machines at the worksite for about a year, we hardly managed to earn less than Nu 100,000,” he said.

“Since we have to bear the cost of widening, we sold a few truckloads of boulders,” the owner said.  He said, when they started the work, JP Associates didn’t require boulders, and also they could extract boulders only after widening road at about 50m.

“Despite paying environment fines and doing rectification works, we even had to stop work for few months, following forestry and environmental issues,” he said. “The officials tend to suspend our work on finding small mistakes.”

“We even questioned the dzongkhag officials about equity, when they inspected our work time and again, and levied fine following other’s complaint, but didn’t levy fine on Taksha stone quarry, despite our complaint of falling boulders from their site,” he said.

PHPA II officials said they decided to discontinue the work to avoid complications after Taksha mine officials complained.

Wangdue dzongkhag officials said the particular stretch was unstable and remained blocked during monsoon.  That is why the dzongkhag let PHPA II widen the area without incurring cost to the government.

The dzongkhag, in one of its response to Taksha stone quarry management, also mentioned that the approval and clearance from NEC to widen the farm-road was given mainly to collect boulders and widen the road.  They have also received permit to collect boulders from the forestry.

Officials said later to avoid “future complications”, both dzongkhag and PHPA II have stopped the work.

By Dawa Gyelmo,  Wangdue

Picture story

Her Royal Highness Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck launched the e-learning course for the justices and judges of judiciary and parliamentarians at the Royal Institute of Management on June 21. In line with the second strategic objective of National Integrity and Anti-Corruption Strategy, NIACS, (Raise Awareness and Foster Integrity Education), Anti Corruption Commission in collaboration with the Royal Court of Justice, National Assembly of Bhutan, National Council of Bhutan, and the Royal Institute of Management (RIM), an e-learning course was developed towards creating wider appreciation for the need to promote ethics and integrity. This is similar to the course launched for the civil servants in December 2011.

   

Pros and cons of housing allowance

NHDC: Civil servants in the lower income group planning to rent a National Housing Development corporation (NHDC) quarter might have better chances of winning one soon.

Civil servant couples currently occupying NHDC quarters in Thimphu have started calculating, if the 20 percent housing rental allowance (HRA) the government recently declared will either benefit or hurt them.

If the housing allowance of a civil servant couple together comes to more than the rent they are paying to NHDC, it is perceived as beneficial for them to vacate.

This is because the housing allowances of public servants occupying NHDC flats would directly be remitted to NHDC by the respective employer agencies.

NHDC officials said the HRA from both husband and wife would be remitted to NHDC.

However, in case of civil servant couples, what is not clear is if the housing allowance of both husband and wife would be remitted to NHDC, even if the house they are occupying is listed under one of their names.

The fixed HRA of 25 percent, for general support personnel ranges from Nu 1,540 to Nu 1,615 for level II and I respectively.  The 20 percent allowance for those in executive level ranges between Nu 7,740 to 10,915.

General manager with NHDC’s real estate division, Chador Jamtsho, said an NHDC occupant would also not get the balance amount, should the allowance exceed the rent.

“This is applicable to both couples and singles,” he said. “However, there were no formal directions on this.”

Meanwhile, sources said that many occupants owning private houses in the capital have started surrendering the NHDC flats they live in.  To make housing more effective for the lower income group, NHDC has already started to work on finding out if their tenants own private houses.

An NHDC official, requesting anonymity, said there are many civil servants, who own private houses in Thimphu.

“The housing agreement will be revised soon,” he said, adding that the new agreement will have a requirement for the tenants to declare their assets. “NHDC will evict them if it finds out that a tenant owns a private accommodation.”

According to the pay commission report, if an applicable house rent is more than the eligible housing allowance, the difference will have to be borne by the respective public servants.

By Rajesh Rai

Revenue growth of 8 percent recorded

SoE: Despite the economy not doing well, state-owned enterprises (SOE), excluding Druk Holdings and Investments (DHI), registered an 8 percent growth in revenue and 9 percent pre-tax profit.

This resulted in increased tax revenue and dividend earning for the government by 10 percent in 2013 compared with 2012.

In 2013, SOEs contributed about 43 percent of the total domestic revenue of Nu 21.1B.  They contributed Nu 8.9B, of which Nu 5.4B was in the form of corporate income tax, and Nu 3.5B as dividend remittance to the government.

The DHI companies of Bank Of Bhutan (BoB), Bhutan Power corporation (BPC), Bhutan Telecom limited, Bhutan National Bank and Penden Cement combined contributed Nu 1.9B.

DGPC generated the highest amount of revenue, with Nu 13B, constituting around 29 percent of the combined earnings of all the SOEs.

The company paid Nu 2.3B as tax and Nu 4.7B as dividend.

Total earnings of SOEs (excluding DHI) increased to Nu 39.68B in 2013 from Nu 36 9B in 2012.

Profit before tax of SOEs combined (excluding DHI) was Nu 13.2B, an increase of 8 percent from 2012.

However, the average operating expenses of all SOEs increased by 6.40 percent.

Total assets of SOEs and linked companies combined (excluding DHI) have also grown by about 5 percent in 2013 to Nu 185B, compared to Nu 176B in 2012.

The growth was fueled mainly by asset expansion of BPC, Bhutan Development Bank, Royal Insurance corporation and Army Welfare Project.

DHI recorded a marginal asset growth of less than 1 percent from Nu 51.7B to Nu 52B.

There are 29 SOEs and linked companies with government shareholdings, including 17 wholly owned, five majority owned (more than 50 perecnt) and 7 minority owned companies.

The total value of government’s direct shareholdings in DHI and other SOEs was Nu 48B, of which Nu 44B pertains to the government’s equity holding in DHI alone.

Meanwhile, the government provided subsidies of Nu 325M, which was 7.5 percent lower, compared with 2012.

By Tshering Dorji

 

What about the rest?

Whether it’s less or more, the civil servant salary revision has been approved.  The next pay package will come with a 20 percent housing allowance, and a little more on the basic pay.

A government salary revision is closely followed.  As is the trend, we can prepare for insatiable landlords and eager shopkeepers to ride on the revision by increasing house rent or cost of essentials, if they have not already done so.

In Bhutan, although our inflation is largely imported, the cost of living is expected to rise every time there is a salary hike.  Most times the raise cannot keep up with the rise in cost of living.

The salary revision issue does not stop with the government revising the civil servant salary.  The next issue is what about the others?  The trend in the past has been that, every time there is a hike in the civil service salary, the corporate sector follows suit.

If salary revisions are proposed to keep up with inflation and cost of living standards, the question about others is relevant.  The accompanying rise in the price of goods and services affects all.

Corporate employers are generally  paid 15 percent higher than civil servants.  This was because, in the past, everybody wanted to become civil servants and the government wanted to encourage people to join corporations.

While government is still the preferred job destination, it is difficult to get a job with the corporations, which actually pay higher than the government.  It is not sure if the same rule will be followed, but what is sure is those in the corporations will be expecting a raise sooner or later.

Leaving the decision on affordability of corporations, like in the past, is an option, but this will not solve the bigger issue – the source of funding.

A minimum raise in the salary of corporate employees is going to cost the government coffers. This will hurt the already not so good health of the economy, as the government depends on corporations for domestic revenue, which is the only identified source of funds for the civil service pay hike.

As corporate employees are paid higher than civil servants, especially those under the Druk Holdings and Investment, a 10 percent raise would translate into millions of ngultrums.  And there are more people in the corporations than the civil service.

Then what about those in the private sector?

Perhaps it is the most appropriate time to call for some introspection on how civil service salary or corporation pay hikes have an impact on the private sector.

Jobseekers are being persuaded to look for employment in the private sector.  Lack of facilities, like unanimous and timely salary revision in the sector, is a major impediment for graduates to join the private sector.  The next step the government could work on is parallel policies to encourage private sector growth, so they do not become victims of a government or corporate salary hike.

 

Paying for spilt blood, as it were, with water

pic2Tajuthang farmers were the last ones to finish paddy transplantation last week

For over three generations, Wangthangkha has had to wait for Khangkhu to finish transplanting first

Irrigation: Each summer, when it is time to transplant paddy, farmers of Wangthangkha, under Wangchang gewog, Paro, have to wait for their neighbouring village Khangkhu to finish.  Only then can they start transplanting.

Despite an abundance of water for irrigation, farmers of Khangkhu have the right to use it first.

This has been a custom, followed for over three generations now.  During the month-long paddy transplantation season, which usually begins in June, Wangthangka, Nemithang and Tajuthang get to use the water for two days each.

The practice, came into being as a result of a water dispute between the two communities.

It is said that, with water woes between Khangkhups and Wangthangkaps never ending, an elderly villager from Khangku came up with a plan.  Should he get killed in the process of settling the issue, the plan was to accept water as compensation and nothing else.

As planned, the man went near the water source and lay down, saying he wouldn’t move an inch.  A fight broke out between the man and people of Wangthangka, during which the man was killed.  An agreement was drawn, as directed by the elderly man, which is followed even today.  Wangthangkha still pays water as compensation for the old man’s life.

Except for irrigation water during the transplantation season, the two villages do not share drinking water sources.  For both drinking and irrigation, water is sourced from river Pachu.

An elderly villager from Tajuthang, who completed paddy transplantation last week, said they are used to the practice now.

“Sometimes we need to rush, otherwise there’s not much issues,” she said. “It’s something that our forefathers have followed and we must respect it.”

Gembo, 60, from Wangthangka, finds it better to have such kind of arrangement, as farmers have to hire helping hands and machines.

Farmers said there is abundant water and all farmers could carry out transplantation work together if there were no such arrangements.

Although most villagers are happy to have kept such a tradition alive, it has not been without issues.  The agreement, it is said, states that, if farmers from Wangthangka carry out transplantation work before the farmers in Khangkhu, they can damage the paddy fields, so that work has to be redone.

Between 2003 and 2004, a court case was filed, when Khangkhu farmers destroying paddy in fields in Wangthangkha for not keeping with the custom.  The farmers had stoned acres of paddy fields and walked on the already transplanted paddy.

The court ruled that only select people could come to conduct such checking, and that the matter should be reported to gewog officials, instead of creating such havoc.  The duration of paddy transplantation for Khangkhu farmers was also brought down to 10 days from 21 days.

In the past, a person from every household had to come for inspection in Wangthangka during the paddy transplantation season.

Prior to that, a similar incident occurred in the ‘90s, during which another agreement was drawn.  Khangkhu farmers got 21 days for paddy transplantation earlier.

However, while Khangkhu farmers claim to possess the initial agreement that dates back to the elderly man’s death, others are skeptical.

Some farmers said they have never seen the agreement and that it was merely a tradition that they have diligently followed.  Others were of the opinion that the Khangkhu farmers have the agreement drawn during the ‘90s, on which the court reached a decision.

There are about 130 households in Khangku and Wangthangka.

Wangchang gup Thinley Dorji said it has been a while since there have been issues between the two villages.

“Khangkhups were supposed to have the agreement, but no one saw it, and a new agreement was drawn up in the ‘90s,” gup Thinley Dorji said.

Meanwhile, paddy transplantation in Paro finished last week, with Tajuthang being the last village to do so.

By Kinga Dema

Gelephu dungpa released

Update: The Gelephu dungpa who was detained by Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) since June 13, was released on the night of June 20.

Kuensel learnt that the dungpa was released after ACC completed their investigation.

As per the norms of ACC, dungpa Pema Wangdi was detained while ACC investigated the alleged corruption and embezzlement complaints lodged against him.

It was learnt that dungpa had identified a private lawyer, who will represent him in court.

The Gelephu dungpa alleged of his involvement in the illegal Tokay gecko case, where the Gelephu tsachu (hot spring) caretaker was levied a fine of Nu 100,000 for possessing the lizard.  It had been alleged that the dungpa sent the caretaker to Bangtar to collect the gecko, and sent the dungkhag hilux to pick up the caretaker.  The complainant alleged that the dungpa, in the movement order, stated that the dungkhag hilux was sent to Samdrupjongkhar to drop the zimpon wogma.

The caretaker was terminated by the dzongkhag human resource committee.

Sources said that the caretaker, admitted, when ACC conducted cross examination, that he went to Bangtar to fetch tokay gecko on the command of dungpa and Sarpang dzongda.

The source also said that ACC investigation team recovered some cash from the dungpa’s house.

Source in Gelephu also said that the dungkhag administrative assistant, who is the Losel cinema hall in-charge, also embezzled money and when ACC interrogated him, he admitted to have bought land in Gelephu with the money.

By Staff reporter

Operation ‘Preserve Pelingtsho’ to start

IMG_0512Peling Tsho is the water source for three chiwogs in Decheling

Now that the land replacement has been done, work on the water body may begin

Lake: With land substitution recently completed, Decheling gewog officials in Pemagatshel are now left to start work on conserving the drying Pelingtsho (lake) in the gewog.

The next move has left villagers brimming with excitement because it will address their decade old problem of water shortage.  Decheling gewog’s mangmi Ugyen Thinley said 43 landowners, whose lands fell near the lake, were substituted.  This was the only issue that had to be addressed for the project to kick off.

Almost 100 acres of land were substituted in Kurongtshong village, which is located 30km from the gewog. “Many had more than 10 decimals of land,” he said.

UNDP”s GEF-small grants program has provided more than Nu 2M for the project to preserve the lake.

The vast swamp, called Pelingtsho, on the edge of Kholomari village, had started drying and shrinking as farmers started cultivating on the nearby land and cleared the forest.

Mangmi Ugyen Thinley said that was when a study was conducted, which confirmed that the lake was on the verge of drying up.  The project to save the lake will be implemented in two phases. “We hope the conservation project will help the lake grow again.”

Gup Sonam Rinchen said, now that the issue with land substitution was over, they would soon begin by planting trees and fencing the lake. “We’ll plant saplings, especially of local trees called peling shing, which local believe will save the lake because it only grows in this area.”

Apart from peling shing, they will also plant trees like banana and mangoes. The lake would be fenced with barbed wire, covering about 60 acres, to keep away both people and animals.

“This is our last hope to solve water problem in these areas,” he said, adding the proposal has been already accepted by the dzongkhag and also listed in the 11th Plan.

About 325 households in the gewog are still without proper water supply, and have now given up paddy cultivation. “We’re preparing to pump water with help from public health and engineering division,” the gup said.

He said the survey found that two treatment plants and three water tanks would be enough to supply water to more than 500 households.  Otherwise, the villagers depend on monsoon or nearby streams for their water needs.

By Yangchen C Rinzin,  Pemagatshel

Picture story

Passing out: The 12th batch of desuups parade at the Tencholing military training centre on June 21 in Wangduephodrang. The total number of desuups now stand at 1,407.

   

Prayers for peace on summer solstice

DSC_4909Touch of forgiveness: Peace lovers connecting through the Forgiveness Stone

June 21 saw a sparsely attended but significant ceremony at Thimphu’s Forgiveness Stone

Forgiveness: If the world went wrong, it was, in some offhand manner. Indeed.  The ground itself was dreary, utterly wet and drab.  The day, June 21, wore the most haggard look it ever did since the first day of the Gregorian calendar that was almost the melancholic colour of mourning.

And the rain and the cold wind of summer drew small blood-sucking flies to the skin.

The wild wasteland above the Nazhoen Pelri compound in Thimphu this morning is bedecked in chadri dhar of white, yellow, red, green and blue.  Some bushwhacking has been done, and a guest tent put up with bits of Tashi Tagay on it.  Thick juniper smoke goes up, milky white and curling.

The giant stone that looks like a sleeping elephant is wet and glinting in the early hours of morning.  The peace stone that a German, Wolfgang K V Schwarzenfeld, took three months to carve and polish, is going to throw light from the sun to different stones positioned strategically in five continents.  Because this hulk of a stone above Nazhoen Pelri is a ‘Forgiveness Stone’, the stone of Asia, people have come to pray for the global peace.

Compassion and forgiveness are necessary if peace is to prevail.  So, the countless little flies have all the liberty to pierce into one’s skin and draw blood for the pleasure and fare that’s in it.  At 6.15am, Changangkha Lam comes with his assistant to purify the stone.  This massive and shining stone is the stone of Asia.  Its name is Forgiveness.  The stone in Europe is Awakening, Hope in Africa, Love in America and Peace in Australia.

Five years ago, in 2009, Wolfgang K V Schwarzenfeld came to Bhutan, one of the happiest countries in the world, with a geologist to identify a rock.  He found that, in Bhutan, there was then no crane and truck to move a 30 tonne stone.  Searching with no mind to give up, he found a massive stone below Changangkha lhakhang.  He had a small hut constructed there, and the polishing work began.  For a toilet, Schwarzenfeld had a pit behind a nearby bush.  It recalled his childhood, growing up in a small village in Germany during the Great War.  He worked from dawn till gloaming with only a short break at about noon.

The Forgiveness Stone, ready and clean, Schwarzenfeld left Bhutan.  There was a small coverage in the Bhutanese press about Schwarzenfeld’s Peace Project and there it ended.  Only a few knew about it and cared for what it is.

Dr John, a German doctor at Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH), who organised this morning’s prayer events, said the day is marked by so many people around the world. “There are so many conflicts happening in the world today. There is the need to make peace. Because Bhutan is one of the few peaceful countries, it is a very good place to pray for world peace.”  He felt a deep affection upon seeing the stone.

The rain has kept at home many who said they would come to observe the occasion.  There are only 25 people in all, praying for world peace and for forgiveness on June 21, the summer solstice.

It is sometimes good to remind ourselves of peace and forgiveness, says the education secretary Sangay Zam, saying her rosary and looking not one bit like a top bureaucrat she is.  She is today among the all and sundry few who came to pray for peace to prevail in the world.

It is a nice way to begin the day, says YDF board member, Yandey Penjor. “It’s good to be a part of good things.”

Pema Lhaden, a nurse with the paediatric department of JDWNRH in Thimphu, says she is feeling good this hour because what she had just done is good and something good should result from it.

The prayer at the foot of the Forgiveness Stone is short but earnest.  The sky is dark and the rain ceaseless.  But peace must prevail in the world and humanity prosper, whatever the weather.

“Young people should adopt this stone, so that they take in these important universal values in their heart from early on,” says Sangay Zam.

There wasn’t sun today to hit on the Forgiveness Stone, the light of which would reflect and connect to the stones in the four far away continents.  But the prayers of the few, who gathered at the foot of Changangkha lhakhang, were sincere and must have reached every corner of the world.

The juniper burns near the stone and the blue and dense smoke swirls up in a solemn twist.

By Jigme Wangchuk