KuenselOnline

Friday, February 27th, 2015 - 7:06 PM
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Balancing revenue and expenditure

We are living beyond our means.  Our current expenditure is increasing every year, while our domestic revenue doesn’t seem to grow apace.

The country’s domestic revenue is projected to increase by 12.5 percent from 3.6 percent in the last fiscal year.  At the same time, current expenditure is estimated to grow by 14 percent.

The Constitution mandates our internal resources to meet recurrent expenditures.  There is a need to close the gap between revenue and expenditure.  In an ideal situation, growth of domestic revenue should be equal to that of current expenditure.  Better if domestic revenue is higher.

The main reason behind the sluggish growth of domestic revenue is the troubled economy and adverse balance of payment situation.  It may be difficult for a country that imports almost everything to balance revenue and expenditure, but try we must.

Revenue from Dungsam Cement, Dagachhu project and Chukha hydropower’s revised energy tariff will help pull up domestic revenue growth.  But our expenditure will also grow.  The finance secretary has asked budgetary agencies to keep their budget requirements within the ceiling provided.  Budget officials must ensure that the budget proposals are reviewed and discussed thoroughly.

However, these are only temporary measures.  We need to have a permanent solution.

The problem of adverse balance of payment is not a new problem that we are facing today.  As a country that does not produce much to trade with the countries in the region and beyond, our domestic revenue has always been small.  We import everything, from food to cars to building materials, from India.  That way, our expenditure is huge.

The rate of growth of current expenditure is outstripping that of domestic revenue.  If the trend of revenue growth does not improve while our expenditure increases by many folds, then we are in for another economic upheaval.  The country has just begun to come out of the recent economic slump.  It will be an expensive affair if we do not look for ways to improve our revenue earnings.

 

All health products have to be registered hence

DSC_7569In the list: Several weight loss products will also be regulated henceforth (File photo)

The move has been prompted by the unregulated sale and use of various supplements

Guidelines: All health products that claim to have medicinal properties to cure or treat various illnesses will have to be registered with the Drug Regulatory Authority (DRA), as required by the recently released health supplement guidelines.

Following unregulated availability and use of health supplements, like weight loss products and nutritional supplements, DRA drafted the guidelines to help the authority regulate such products in the market henceforth.

DRA officials said if ingredients or therapeutic value of the health supplements exceed the World Health Organisation standards, it must be considered a medicine, which means it needs to be registered.

“We’ll regulate the products in the market in line with the guidelines,” drug controller Sonam Dorji said. “The guideline will also help us understand whether or not the products are of medicinal purpose.”

In absence of a guideline earlier, DRA termed such health products as ‘borderline products’, as they were neither under food nor medicine category.  DRA has always maintained that the increasing health products in the market were a concern.

The guideline defines health supplement as any products used to supplement a diet with benefits beyond those of normal food, or to support or maintain the healthy functions of the human body.  They include nutritional and herbal/botanical products and others with medicinal claims of general well being.  The products can be administered in small unit dosage like capsules, powders, soft gels, tablets or liquid dosage.

However, the products should not contain substances above the specified limit.  Besides, the products should be of acceptable standards of quality, have adequate shelf life, proper packaging, and labelling.  The products should be manufactured from   manufacturers, who take responsibility in ensuring that products are safe and the label information is not misleading.

The guideline prohibits advertisement or promotion of any health supplement for medicinal purposes like treatment and prevention of any disease or disorder.  The health supplements’ claims must not encourage or condone excess consumption of a food, state, suggest or imply that a balanced and varied diet cannot provide appropriate quantities of nutrients and make reference to recommendations of individual doctors or health professionals, among others.

Today, the market is flooded with products, like nutritional supplements and weight loss products in various forms that are fast gaining popularity among consumers.  The products come in the form of liquid, tea, coffee, and capsules. Imported from India, Thailand, China, Taiwan, and the Middle East, the products usually boast of several benefits.

Pharmaceutical, groceries, and garment shops all sell them.  Some products are not labelled in English, while some come with a host of advice on the labels, like avoiding alcohol, fatty food and following an exercise regime while using it.

With such concerns, DRA had also put forward the issue to health ministry’s medical board, after which they came up with a comprehensive guideline.

Some consumers, who used the products, complained of several side effects, but said they hadn’t raised the issue to the concerned agencies.

However, with the guideline in place now, consumers can report any adverse reaction or side effects related to the use of the health supplements to DRA’s national pharmacovigilance centre.  Besides consumers or patients, health professionals or a competent person can also lodge a complaint with the centre.

Only if the products meet the specified levels in the guidelines, pharmacies and grocery shops are allowed to sell them.

“If the product makes specific clinical claims, clinical evidence supported by research or literature review (including traditional knowledge) must be submitted,” the guideline states.

A pharmaceutical shop owner in town said DRA had taken samples of the products available in the market although they haven’t started monitoring yet.

“We’ve stopped importing products that has side effects like the weight loss product in the form of coffee,” a shop owner in town said. “But other slimming products available are laxatives, which is not a concern.”

Although the guideline would help DRA officials to regulate the health products, officials said it would require coordination among all stakeholders.

“Lack of coordination among agencies hamper monitoring of such products,” drug controller Sonam Dorji said, adding that monitoring of health supplements also involves Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority’s (BAFRA) role. “But it’s ambitious at present.”

However, BAFRA officials said the role of monitoring of such products in the market lies with DRA. “We don’t monitor such products as of now, we focus more on food safety issues,” an official said.

By Kinga Dema

Charity donates equipment for physically challenged Bhutanese

DSC_3052Assistive devices at YHS auditorium

Disability: The Disabled Persons’ Association of Bhutan (DPAB) yesterday received assistive devices worth about Nu 800,000 from a United Kingdom based charity, Physio Net.

British Honorary Consul to Bhutan, Michael Rutland on behalf of Physio Net, handed over the equipment- hospital and physiotherapy equipment, wheelchairs, mobility items and ancillary supplies to DPAB.

DPAB will distribute the equipment to the three disabled persons’ organisation – The Ability Bhutan Society (ABS), Draktsho and DPAB.

“We hope the equipment will improve the life quality of many disabled people here,” Michael Ruthland said.

DPAB executive director Sonam Wangmo said there is a list of requirements from Draktsho and ABS, according to which the required equipment will be given to them. DPAB will also give more than requested equipment to Draktsho and ABS based on need.

According to DPAB administrative officer Sonam Deki, there are about 500 disabled from Paro, Punakha, Samtse, Dagana and Thimphu who have registered with DPAB. The registration is ongoing in different dzongkhags and the number is expected to increase.

“We will call those who have registered with us and we will give the assistive devices to individuals according to their need,” said Sonam Deki. “We are still registering the physically challenged people in the country and anyone who is physically challenged but not registered with us can come and get the equipment they need and get registered.”

“The rest of the equipment which the individuals and disabled organisation does not need especially like patient lifter, crutches and walking sticks will be distributed to the hospitals in the country,” said Sonam Wangmo.

An English consultant, Harry Franks, who worked with agriculture ministry for three years, initiated the charity.

Physio Net is a UK charity which collects second hand equipment for handicapped people. It sends equipment for disabled people to countries all over the world.

The Bhutan Society of the United Kingdom bore the cost of transporting the equipment from England.

By Dechen Tshomo

Six outdoor gyms to be set up by March

The health ministry initiative is to promote a healthy lifestyle among the people

Fitness: The six open-air gymnasiums, which the health ministry announced to open in the capital to promote a healthy lifestyle, are planned to be in place by March this year.

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk had announced last November that the ministry, with support from the World Health Organisation (WHO), would open six open-air gymnasiums in the city.

Health officials said the outdoor gym equipment is expected to reach the country by the end of this month, and that they have meanwhile identified the venues for these gymnasiums.

According to non-communicable diseases division’s officials, they are planning to set up two gyms in the Motithang area, one near the royal institute for tourism and hospitality, and the other near the takin preserve.

Two gyms would be set up in Kuenselphodrang, while one each will be opened at the Centenary children’s park and the Thai pavilion.

The health minister had earlier announced that the gymnasiums would be established to commemorate the Fourth King’s 60th birth anniversary.  The gyms would be for those who are unable to afford gym membership in the city.

“We have parks for children, but the city lacks such facilities for adults,”

a health official said.

The health ministry also clarified that the outdoor gym that was opened on December 17 last year near the synthetic tracks at Lungtenzampa was an initiative of the Bhutan Olympic Committee’s president, HRH Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck, and not the health ministry’s.

Health officials said the WHO regional office in Delhi is providing the equipment worth about USD 100,000 and that facilities would be set up when the equipment are delivered.

While making outdoor sports facility accessible to adults may be one of the main reasons for the initiative, a STEPS survey on non-communicable diseases’ risk factors in Bhutan, 2014, has found that Bhutanese are becoming unhealthy by the day.

Among adults between 18-69 years, the survey found that 40 percent of women and 27 percent of men are overweight or obese in the country today. It showed that 6.4 percent of the population of which 9.6 percent are females, get insufficient physical activity.

 

By Sonam Pelden

Chumey mini hydel closed

IMG_9810The mini hydel has remained closed for the last 14 months

A project is in the pipeline to give the plant a complete overhaul

Hydropower: After generating power for 25 years, the Chumey mini hydel project in Bumthang has remained closed for more than a year now following a major mechanical break down due to dilapidation of crucial operational machines like turbines and flywheel.

According to Chumey Bhutan Power corporation (BPC), the mini hydel was shut in October 2013.  Also known as Gyetsa mini hydel project, it was constructed in 1988 to supply power to central Bhutan, particularly Bumthang.  Certain parts of Trongsa also received power from the mini hydel until recent years.

“Save for control panels, the rest of the operational machines, like turbines, flywheel and governors, are shut now,” Chumey BPC supervisor, Guru Tshering said.

The control panels are still used to transfer incoming power from grids in substations.  While two of the three turbines stopped functioning from 2012, the last one stopped in October 2013.

According to BPC’s senior manager in Bumthang, Gyeltshen, aging of machines and wear and tear forced the project to shut down completely.  He also said that the escalating maintenance costs incurred in the process of repair also contributed to its closure.

“Until 2013, it was run with repeated maintenance works but after its cost shot up exorbitantly, it was recommended for overhaul of the critical opertional machines,” Gyeltshen said.

According to BPC, the major overhaul of the operational machines, like turbine, flywheel and generators, was proposed following its rising maintenance costs.  Since Flovel limited, which constructed the project, no longer exists today, it also became a problem in terms of getting spare parts. “Even if the machines were fixed, they broke down again after a month,” Guru Tshering said.

Power official said the entire mechanical part is recommended for replacement.  As for the electrical component, only the control panels might need replacement for transformers are intact for reuse.

Its civil components, like the reservoir and infrastructure, except for some minor concrete work, the rest would need no major repair, he said.

In line with its recommendation, two feasibility studies were conducted by the central maintenance and training division.  The findings are yet to be released.  “Based on the findings, a contract document will be processed for major overhaul of the operational machines,” Gyeltshen said.

The project is targeting to generate at least 1.5MW of electricity.

“Once the project is commissioned, it’ll be a crucial back up service for Bumthang during power breakdown,” Guru Tshering said, adding the project would also be a source of revenue generation for BPC Bumthang.

By Tempa Wangdi, Chumey

No amenities in Dagana town

IMG_2120Dagana town

This is two years after residents moved to the new location

Development: Dagana dzongkhag has a fairly new town. But two years after businesspeople moved to the new township, amenities of a town like proper drainage system, internal road networks and proper connected drinking water are still missing.

Shopkeepers of the small town shifted to the new town in December 2013. They were promised the necessary infrastructure as soon as they move.

A hotel owner, Kaka, said that it is high time the municipal provided them basic infrastructure like water connectivity, internal road blacktopping and proper drainage system.

“Without the roads being blacktopped, dust during the winter and mud during the monsoon is a problem to the shopkeepers near the road and we have to clean our shops more than 10 times a day,” he said. “A year-old house looks like a very old house because of the dust and condition of the town area,” he added.

Another resident, Sonam said that if the infrastructures are not put in place, there are chances of house owner losing their tenants. “If the tenants are not provided with good drinking water connection and hygienic surroundings, we will lose them one day,” he said.

He added that Dagana town doesn’t look like a town as they hardly see customers visiting the shops. Sonam said that to attract customers the town itself should look attractive.

However, dzongkhag engineer Jampel Dorji said that the budget for constructing the basic infrastructure in the town is ready.

“Most  of the people were constructing the houses in the past one year and we postponed the construction of the infrastructure so that it will not be damaged,” he said. “It is obvious that the infrastructure like car parking and other things would be damaged while constructing the house, so we planned to do it later,” the engineer added.

Dzongkhag officials said the ADB-funded water project took off in May 2012 and is ready. “All people have to do is connect their buildings with pipes.”

By Yeshey Dema, Dagana

GEP temp experiment provides useful experience

Internship: A total of 122 interns, 109 from the pre-employment engagement programme (PEEP), and 13 from the university graduate internship programme (UGIP) were employed under the guaranteed employment programme last year.

According to labour ministry officials, about 84 graduates register themselves for the UGIP in a month.  The ministry’s target is to support 600 youth under UGIP in a year.

Media officer Sonam Choden said the main objective of the internship programme is not only to provide skills and work experience to the graduates, but also to meet the short-term manpower requirement in an organisation.  Besides, the internship programme is expected to keep youth meaningfully engaged while seeking gainful employment.

“The program doesn’t guarantee employment but serves as an engagement and facilitation programme,” Sonam Choden said.

Labour officials said the ministry received good feedback from employers regarding the internship programme.  Most of the private agencies had expressed their appreciation, saying the interns did well during their internship period, especially when it came to service delivery.

On the other hand, officials said, most government agencies expressed that the programme helped them in overcoming shortage of staff, although it was just for a short period of time.

Those, who availed the internship programme, said it benefited them, in terms of gaining the required skills and work experience, before entering into a real working environment.

A recent graduate from Sherubtse College, Sonam Tashi, said what he learnt at college was not enough for him to find a job after finishing college.

Sonam Tashi interns in one of the private orgainsations.

“This is my last month with the company and I’ve learnt a lot during the past three months,” he said. “With this experience, I’ll have an advantage over the fresh graduates.”

Another graduate from Gaeddu College of Business Studies, Tashi Tshomo, said that, with the increasing number of jobseekers every year, completing an internship course puts one in a better position in landing a job.

“During the course, we’re paid every month, and one can’t ask for more,” she said.

Labour ministry officials said performances of interns are accessed upon completion of their internship period through their internship reports.  Besides, the department of employment and regional offices also monitor to ensure that employers make full use of the interns.

For the 11th Plan, the government has allocated Nu 7.4 million annually as payment for graduates under UGIP and Nu 8 million in PEEP.

By Younten Tshedup

Labour agents hang on with hope

FWRA: While some of the foreign workers recruitment agents (FWRA) from the 21 suspended in 2014 in Phuentsholing have cancelled their licences and moved on, some are still waiting with hope.

Following an investigation, the anti-corruption commission (ACC) suspended the licences because agents were found guilty of corrupt practices.

Later, the Department of Trade notified the agents to close the recruitment works, following which the Department of Labour stopped their online recruitment accounts.

One of the FWRA owners in the town said that this has stopped him from handling the works in hand and that the situation is confusing.

“We were supposed to listen to what the ACC told us,” said the FWRA owner.

He said that the labour department has also stopped the works he had been doing for a contractor. He was helping a contractor work in recruitment processes as even the contractors were allowed to recruit on their own.

In the meanwhile, FWRA owners are concerned whether they should pay the annual income and cancel their licences.

“We are basically looking for a conclusion,” the owner said. “If our licences are reinstated, we would like to rectify our mistakes and work hard.”

The director with the labour department, Jigme Thinley, said that it is too early to comment whether the agencies’ licences will be reinstated.

“We don’t know what the charges are,” he said. “Until the verdict is out, we have nothing to say,”said Jigme Thinley.

The ACC, in the meanwhile, has forwarded the cases to the Office of Attorney General.

Recently, the licence of the Menjong FWRA in Phuentsholing was also suspended.

By Rajesh Rai

Energy cooperation to be strengthened

unnamedIndian Finance minister Arun Jaitley calls on Lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay at the Leela Palace yesterday in New Delhi

10,000 MW by 2020 target to be reviewed

Visit: Hydropower was a key area of discussion during Lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay’s official visit to Gujarat and Delhi.

Although it is certain that the target of generating 10,000 MW of electricity by 2020 would not be possible, the government of India (GoI) expressed strong commitment on expediting the process.

Economic affairs minister, Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk, said the affirmation of GoI towards developing hydropower was very clear. He said the Minister of Power, Piyush Goyal and Lyonchhoen reaffirmed the need to renew commitment into the hydropower development sector.

“There has been an affirmation that hydropower development in Bhutan is a win-win, which benefits both the countries and that the two countries need to take hydropower development forward and continue the support that each other renders,” he said.

In terms of achieving the 10,000 MW target by 2020, Lyonpo said it was clear that it would not be possible given that only 30 percent of the hydropower capacity is currently under construction.

Lyonchhoen with Secretary of the state of the United States, John Kerry

 

Minister of Defence, Manohar Parrikar, called on Lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay

 

 

 

 

 

“We agreed that we would like to take it forward, stick to the commitment and this would also entail reviewing the target,” he said.

When the power minister called on lyonchhoen in Delhi, they also discussed on alternate sources of renewable energy. The power minister agreed to support development of alternate source of renewable energy in Bhutan.

Although preliminary studies were carried out to identify potential areas for producing wind energy, an in-depth study has been pending.

“The minister offered to send a team to closely examine the potential of wind in Bhutan to generate electricity,” lyonpo said. “He also offered scholarship for students interested in wind energy.”

Since Bhutan would not solely rely on hydropower but have a mix of other sources of renewable energy in the energy basket, lyonchhoen also visited a solar park at Charankha in Gujarat.

“As per the renewable energy policy, there is an effort to put a mix in the energy basket.  We must not just rely on hydropower but bring in other renewable energy like solar, wind and biogas,” lyonpo said. “Solar is also in the radar and the visit to the solar park was in line with this.”

Lyonchhoen would be travelling to Varanasi today.

 

Lyonchhoen met John Kerry

During the second day of the visit in Gujarat, Secretary of the state of the United States, John Kerry, met Lyonchhoen at the sidelines of the Vibrant Gujarat summit.

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said it is the first of the highest level of meeting between the United States and Bhutan. The meeting was arranged after a request from the US to Bhutan.

The Secretary of State expressed appreciation and admiration of the government and people of America to Bhutan for the exemplary leadership of the Kings on the front of democracy, climate change and happiness as a measurement index.

John Kerry said the exemplary leadership of the kings in smoothly instituting democracy in the country was unprecedented. He added that Bhutan’s leadership at a global scale in championing climate change and environment despite being a small country is appreciated much by the government and people of US.

Bhutan’s environmental and sustainable development policies, he said were models for other countries to follow. The two leaders exchanged views on education and the US agreed to see how their support for education, in terms of scholarship could be expanded

 

Lyonchhoen met Ban Ki Moon

The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon also met lyonchhoen at the sidelines of Vibrant Gujarat summit.

It was the first time lyonchhoen was meeting the secretary general and expressed admiration for his leadership on various international issues. The Secretary General, also expressed his appreciation on the concept of Gross National Happiness and the role Bhutan played in climate change and global warming. He also appreciated Bhutan’s participation in the peacekeeping force despite being a small country.

By Tshering Wangdi, New Delhi

Fuel price likely to drop again

Petroleum: Fuel prices in the country is  likely to drop again, registering ninth straight cut since August last year.

Figures from trade department reveals that price of petrol were revised 18 times last year reaching as high as Nu 73 a litre in July. Since then it has dropped nine times reaching almost Nu 62 a litre.

In 2014, diesel price was revised 17 times. From about Nu 54 a litre in January, it reached to almost Nu 62 in October. Then it has dropped six times in three months reaching to around Nu 53 by yearend.

This was on the back of global crude oil prices hitting a six -year low. Oil companies in India are expecting the prices of petrol and diesel to drop by Rs 2 each. Trade officials are optimistic that the price would drop by midnight today.

While the prices of international crude oil fell below USD 45 per barrel, latest media reports indicate that Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) doesn’t plan to cut production despite the plunge in demand.

OPEC is an organisation comprised of oil producing countries that coordinate and unify the petroleum policies of its member countries and ensure the stabilisation of oil markets.

After the last price cut on December 16, the country could have enjoyed another cut by about Nu 2 on new-year.  However, as the price fell in India, the Indian government revised the excise duty on fuel stabilising the retail price in India and in Bhutan too.

Records from National statistical Bureau (NSB) reveal that oil price inflated by five percent between August 2013 and August 2014. However, as fuel prices dropped deflationary trend was recorded from 2.6 percent in September, 1.8 percent in October and 0.3 percent in November.

The overall inflation in the country declined to its lowest 6.6 percent in November from 8.7 percent in August.

Officials from NSB attributed the decrease in inflation rate to the decrease in global oil price since it was one of the major factors in deriving the inflation rate. A drop in fuel price means decrease in prices of all the commodities because transportation becomes cheaper.

Thus, inflation on food items fell from 11 percent in July to 6 percent in November. Similarly in nonfood group infaltion dropped from 8 percent in August to 7 percent in November.

An economist said price inelastic goods like fuel, where there are no substitutes, would impact inflation since demand may not fall irrespective of increase or decrease in price.

Whereas demand for price elastic goods, which can be substituted by other cheaper goods, may fall with price increase and does not contribute to inflation much.

Meanwhile, those following the global oil price closely said in India the jet fuel has plunged by 12 percent and now the aviation sector are competing to offer low travel fare and like wise transportation cost on both passenger and cargo vehicles are dropping.

However, he said despite nine straight drops in petrol price since last five months transportation fare has shown no signs of going down.

By Tshering Dorji