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In the event of a case of conflict of interest

ACC workshop delves into the intricacies involved in such judicial incidences

Judiciary: Concerned over a conflict of interest, Haa district judge Duba Drukpa is doubtful whether he can sit over the Lhakhang Karpo case, once it is registered with the court.

District judge Duba Drukpa is a dorjipuen (spiritual sibling) of the foreign minister Rinzin Dorje, who is involved in the case.

He said he would declare his conflict of interest to the chief justice once the case comes to him.

“I’ll have to submit and abide by the instructions from the chief justice,” Haa district judge said.

However, judges, during a workshop organised by the Anti-Corruption Commission on the subject recently, said conflict of interest is unlikely to hamper delivery of justice, as there are enough check and balance measures in place, judges said.

“There are higher courts to keep check and balance on the judges and their judgments, though,” a Thimphu district judge said, adding that, if found, there are serious consequences.  Besides, parties to the case could also point out should there be any conflict of interest for the judge in the case.

“As is the norm, I always declare what might appear as a conflict of interest in the case, and ask the litigants if they’re alright with me deciding the case,” another judge said. “If they aren’t, then they appeal to change the judge.”

The workshop’s host and legal development consultant, Richard E Messick, said the definition of the word interest was not defined in Bhutanese law or any other law and that could be a problem for the courts.

Judges however said it was deliberately left open for a liberal interpretation.

Of the two types of conflict of interest, organisational and perceptual, the latter was difficult to define.

While laws can be formed for organisational one, it has become a problem to dealing with perception conflict of interest, judges said.

Men embroiled in matrimony cases choose male judges, a lady judge revealed at the Anti-Corruption Commission’s conflict of interest workshop for judges on January 14.  She said they fear women judges would be stricter, so they appeal for a male judge.

“This kind of conceptual conflict of interest would be difficult to point out,” a judge said.

However, such cases occur mostly in the capital.

Dzongkhags having only one judge is a problem, in case there is a conflict of interest for the judge in the case.  At one time, both the Wangdue and Punakha judges could not sit over a case and the high court asked the Gasa judge to do so.  However, there is no cost for the litigants, as the judge from other district moves to the district where the case is registered.

The problem, according to them, is that the majority of litigants represent themselves, and they have poor understanding about the law, or conflict of interest in particular.

“In most cases, I have to explain the law repeatedly,” a judge said.  Lawyers represent only about five percent of the cases in the country, he said.

The losing party would always have a reason to point out conflict of interest but judges said there has been no reasonable appeal regarding the conflict of interest.

“It could also be used to avoid a strict judge,” a participant said.

A judge said it also has a lot to do with the maturity of the society.  If the judgment were against a person, then the person would somehow come up with some allegation, either through conflict of interest or other means.

Is it a conflict of interest for the judge, if he has an account in the bank, and the bank is one of the litigants?  Not necessarily.

Judges said the debate never ends on how much the code of conduct for judges could be applicable for their family members. “Because they also have their own businesses too,” a judge said.

In the end, there is no one to defend the judge in all matters.  “So our conscience is the internal guide and our judgment its external manifestation,” a district judge said.

By Tshering Palden 

Putting an all but end to monopoly

Workshop: No monopoly will be created or allowed in the market, whether such a position is enjoyed by state-owned enterprise (SOE) or  private party.

This is one of the objectives of the draft National Competition Policy 2014, which is being reviewed by the Gross National Happiness Commission.  The policy was presented among stakeholders at a workshop earlier this week.

Trade officer Choki Tshewang said once the policy was adopted, there would be a fair competition in the market among SoEs and people from the private sector, at least from the policy point of view.  Also, in a sector where a monopoly exists, government will encourage the entry of fresh players.

“This is expected to facilitate structural reforms and create fair competition, while reducing entry barriers for new enterprises including, in particular, cottage, small and medium enterprises,” Choki Tshewang said.

In such a situation, the trade officer said, consumer welfare is maximised, and there will be enhanced levels of innovation, efficiency and economic growth in the country.  For instance, he said consumers would benefit from the creation of fair prices of goods through a healthy competition in the market.

The policy lays down broad parameters within which the conduct, operation and practices of firms will be regulated.

It comes as good news for the private sector, which has been complaining of lack of a level playing field in the market.  One of the promoters of the Institute of Management (IMS), Tenzin Lekphel, said there was a lack of a level playing field due to the existence of SoEs, which enjoy all the advantages over private firms.

Such a situation, he said, hinders the growth of private sector. “Royal Institute of Management, for instance, hinders our growth. SoEs must exist only, where private players are not able to. But once the private sector is nurtured, they must help the private grow,” he said.

However, government may make conditional arrangements, under which it can exclude and exempt certain economic activities or firms from the ambit of the competition policy.  For instance, power generation is currently a legal monopoly though government policy proposes to open this sector to competition, but not before 2020.

Timber and sand are also legal monopolies.  The Natural Resources Development corporation limited  is the sole agency for production and supply of sand in Bhutan, except where the corporation does not operate.

“The private sector is relegated to a fringe role,” states the policy.

It states that government will continue to retain monopoly in electricity generation and, where necessary, to provide major infrastructure facilities, while at the same time opening up activities like distribution, tourism and transport to private sector.

The trade officer explained the government would weigh the pros and cons of allowing private players in such sectors. “The government will retain monopolies if the extent to which social benefits to be gained from exclusions and exemptions outweigh the costs,” he said.

With the adoption of the policy, both public sector procurement as well as allocation of scarce national resources by government or other public sector bodies will be based on market mechanisms that are transparent and non-discriminatory.  A system of competitive bidding will be incorporated.

Today, certain sectors of the economy are either under legal monopoly or de facto monopoly.  Little competition exists in these sectors and the number of competitors is small.

“Much of this has been attributed to government policy, the specific conditions prevailing in the Bhutanese market such as its size.”

In order to fulfill the objectives, institutional arrangements to review and monitor implementation of the competition policy and its related legislation will remain the responsibility of the prime minister’s office.  Each ministry will be responsible for the implementation of this policy.

By MB Subba

Murder most foul

It is not often that we hear of cold-blooded murders in the country.  But the once in a while a case is enough to give us the shivers.

The now apparent murder of a young man at the Central Plaza shopping complex in Lungtenphu, earlier this week, came as a chilling reminder of safety, or rather how of unsafe Thimphu has become.  It was a gruesome murder.  And it happened at a busy place, with some areas under camera surveillance.  From the way the face was mutilated beyond recognition, it was clear it was no accident, and that whoever was behind it was buying time to get away.

More worrisome is that a murderer or murderers are on the loose.  It has been four days and it is still not clear who was responsible, forget apprehending them.  If they are around, prowling, it is a cause of a concern, and not just for residents in the area.  As we still enjoy the reputation of being a peaceful country, news of murder scare people, especially expatriates working and living here.

We are losing that reputation, if we have not already lost it, as crimes like robbery, rape and murder, make occasional headlines.  An expat yesterday said it was scary to walk alone, as they could be targeted for being foreigners.  Our memory is short, but digging through files we find at least one murder case registered every year.  That is too much for a small and peace loving country.  It is the second such incident in the same area of Thimphu.  Last year, an Indian engineer was robbed and killed hereabouts.

If it is not killing or raping or robbing, the capital city has become a sleepless city.  There is an increasing restlessness among the youth.  This is apparent from the frequent scuffles, fights and injuries, which are not even newsworthy now.  While visitors keep complaining of the noise into the wee hours, residents are getting used to disturbances caused by those returning from late night discos.

Outside Thimphu, our small towns are already beginning to see the same trend.  Surprisingly, we are beginning to accept this as being inevitable.  We are developing and urbanising.  As long as we have bars, discotheques, and other nocturnal entertainment centres, we will have this form of violence.  And it would be unrealistic to expect that we will be able to prevent it.

The notion that hardcore crime doesn’t exist in the country is not true anymore.  Crime is getting out of control, although those apprehended are punished according to the law.  Prevention will always be a challenge.

The onus should not be left to the police alone.  The concept of neighbourhood watch, and ensuring safety of tenants by providing security guards, is becoming necessity now.  The urban village demands more than living in close proximity.

One body recovered; search on for the second


Accident: More than 40 people, comprising the Gyalpoizhing police, army and powerhouse staff, combed the banks of the Kurichu yesterday in search of the bodies of two men, after the car they were travelling in veered off road on January 12 night.

A police source from Gyalpoizhing said the incident occurred when the men were returning from Mongar town after attending a baby shower of one of their friends.

On January 13, powerhouse staff informed police that one of the men, who worked as a foreman at the powerhouse, had not returned home.  Police then informed Mongar district police division and Bumthang police station.

Police and the powerhouse staff had begun searching for the body by the road when they were informed yesterday that the Santro car the men were travelling in had veered off the road and plunged into the river.  The incident had occurred more than three kilometres from Gyalpoizhing town at a sharp turning just after the Kurichu dam house.

Around 3pm yesterday, the dam had to stop the water flow for a while for the police to fish the car from the river.  The body of the 40-year old foreman was found about 200 to 300m from the car.

From Domkhar village in Tshenkhar, Lhuentse, the foreman, Sonam was a divorcee and is survived by two children.

Meanwhile, search is still on for the body of 38-year-old man.  From Bangtsho village in Dewathang, Somdrupjongkhar, Tshering was working with Chukha hydropower and temporarily at the Kurichu hydropower project.  He is survived by a wife and five children.

This is the second fatal accident reported in Mongar this month.

By Tashi Phuntsho, Mongar

Groundbreaking ceremony for Labar-Khengzor farmroad construction

IMG_0789On completion, the farm road will benefit 88 households

SDP: With the groundbreaking ceremony on January 14, villagers of Labar-Khengzor in Khar, Pemagatshel are all smiles, as soon their chiwog will be connected with a farm road.

The construction of a 5km farm road began yesterday.  The project is funded under the first batch of small development projects (SDP), a part of government of India’s grant assistance to Bhutan in the 11th Plan, stated a press release from the Gross National Happiness Commission.

A total budget of Nu 15M has been allocated for the farm road.

The farm road, which will connect Labar and Khengzor village, would make it possible for the people to explore the market for potato production.

It would also mean that the farmers would not have to carry their ration and walk for more than an hour.

Tshogpa Jigme Thinley said villagers have been carrying their goods until Labar, which is connected with Mukuri-Tsebar feeder road where buyers would come to buy potatoes.

“But now we can hire vehicles and then take potatoes directly to the auction yard in Samdrupjongkhar,” he said, adding villagers have also started cultivating cardamom this time to explore the market.

He said the villagers are also expecting to earn more than the Nu 15 a mon (40kg) average they earn today.

“Ever since they heard that the farm road proposal came through, many have decided to buy Boleros on loan to help establish their business,” he said.

Another village elder said, without a road and market, they grew less potato.

“Since our children live in towns, we used to grow enough for self consumption and to feed the cattle,” he said.

Each farmer produces about 40-mon of potatoes, which is harvested twice a year.  The farm road on completion will benefit 88 households.

Meanwhile, the press release also stated that a total of Nu 8,500M has been allocated for 205 gewogs.  The projects were proposed, based on their 11th Plan priorities.

“The activities under the project will consist of socio economic development, such as drinking water schemes, irrigation channels, farm roads and other infrastructure,” the press release stated.

The councillor (eco and com) for the embassy of India, Thimphu, Nina Tshering La, attended the groundbreaking ceremony along with Pemagatshel dzongda, national council member, district and gewog officials and the beneficiaries.

By Yangchen C Rinzin, Samdrupjongkhar 

Zhiwa Ling listed as ‘unique lodge’

A label places it among a set of boutique hotels in exotic places worldwide 

Nat Geo: The National Geographic society has chosen Zhiwa Ling hotel in Paro as one of the unique lodges in the world this year.

Zhiwa Ling was listed among 24 properties across six continents.  The announcement was made on January 6.

The National Geographic unique lodges of the world, the press release states, is a collection of boutique hotels in extraordinary places around the world with a demonstrated commitment to sustainability, authenticity and excellence.  The selection was done through a rigorous evaluation process based on three criteria.  These include property, guest experience and quality of service, and sustainable tourism best practices.

Experts visited all the properties to evaluate operations, met staff at all levels, scrutinised the lodge’s impact on the local environment and community, the press release states.

Spread over 10 acres, Zhiwa Ling, which means place of peace, started operations in 2005.  Except for the general manager, all its 126 staff members are Bhutanese.

Zhiwa Ling officials said experts from National Geographic visited the property around June last year.

“They also liked our concept of working with the community that supplies us whatever’s available locally,” Yangphel’s chief executive officer, Karma Lotey, said, adding that the sewerage disposal system and recycle program was also a bonus.  Yangphel pvt ltd owns Zhiwa Ling.

During the evaluation process, officials said they also shared with the National Geographic team, their Gross National Happiness plan in business, like welfare of staff, among others.

“We’ve also carried out a happiness survey among the staff with assistance from Centre for Bhutan Studies,” Karma Lotey said, adding all staff work on shifts and have to avail leave, as there is no leave encashment system.

Zhiwa Ling officials said National Geographic liked the fact that the hotel was fully owned by Bhutanese, with authentic Bhutanese architecture, and that 99 percent of its staff are Bhutanese.

“Zhiwa Ling is an architectural gem that unites Bhutanese culture and heritage with 21st century comforts,” states the National Geographic review. “This is the first five-star Bhutanese-owned hotel, and its 45 beautifully appointed suites look out over the emerald foothills of the Himalaya.”

Having been listed as a unique lodge, all Nat Geo guests, who travel to Bhutan will stay in Zhiwa Ling.

According to tour operators, of the various Nat Geo travel portfolio, the popular ones that tourists avail to visit Bhutan are Nat Geo adventures, expedition, private tours, and jet tours.

The Unique Lodges collection ranges from thatched bungalows in the coastal jungles of Costa Rica’s pristine Osa peninsula to luxury tented suites overlooking Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the Australian outback.  According to National Geographic, most of these properties have devised their own renewable energy solutions, prioritised locally sourced food and provided economic and social benefits to the local community.

By Kinga Dema

No compensation yet received for vehicle damage at Chamarchi

Samtse: More than a month since Samtse dzongkhag authority wrote to the Jalpaiguri magistrate seeking compensation for the damages of nine vehicles belonging to Bhutanese individuals, the dzongkhag has not received any response from the magistrate.

Samtse dzongkhag requested for compensation, following public outrage in the bordering town of Chamarchi on November 23, 2014 following the death of an Indian maid in Samtse.

Two vehicles were burned and seven damaged.  Authorities in Samtse on November 27 wrote to the district magistrate requesting the Indian counterpart to take necessary action for the compensation on the loss.

However, Samtse dzongda Karma Woezir said the dzongkhag has now forwarded the matter to the home ministry. “The ministry will follow up,” the dzongdag said.

Meanwhile, the damaged vehicles were handed over to the owners recently.

However, the owners doubt if they will ever get compensated for the loss.  They say police from across the border handed over the vehicles.

“It should have been from their officials to our officials and to us,” the owner said, explaining that it was a sensitive issue.

One of the owners of the damaged vehicle, Thinley Dorji, a taxi driver, said he was worried if the insurance company (RICBL) where his car was insured would compensate for the damage.

“I’ve had negative responses,” he said, explaining the insurance company had told him the cause of the damage couldn’t be defined in their policy. “The insurance company told me they don’t compensate for war and terrorism damages.”

Thinley Dorji told Kuensel the damage to their cars doesn’t fall under “war and terrorism.”  It happened all of a sudden, he said, adding he has written twice to the insurance company.

Of the nine, four vehicles were insured, out of which one didn’t have much damage.  The other two that were damaged were a Santro and a Celerio.

Another taxi driver affected is Buddha Singh Rai.  His car was insured with the Bhutan Insurance limited (BIL).

“BIL said that I can’t claim my insurance, as the incident had occurred during a strike,” the cabbie said. “But the incident transpired out of a sudden.”

Buddha Singh Rai said people would not have gone to Chamarchi in the first place, had there been a strike at the border, then the gate would have been sealed.

The two taxi drivers also said that it has become hard on them, since their livelihood had depended on their taxis.  The duo is requesting that the insurance companies pay them their claims.

By Rajesh Rai

Badminton coaching camp draws 62 youth in Mongar

IMG_9933Youth practice badminton at the Mongar LSS auditorium

Sports: Sixty-two youth between 10-20 years are participating in a two-week long Badminton coaching camp at Mongar Lower Secondary School in Mongar.

National Badminton Coach Sherab Gyeltshen said the main objective of organising this champ, which ends on January 18, is to train players from the eastern dzongkhags for the preparation of U-19 tournament which will be held in May this year.

For the last one week, the coach has taught the basics of badminton and its rules. Sherab Gyeltshen said it was important for the juniors, those between 10-12 years to be more interested in learning.

Bhutan Olympic Committee’s focal person in Mongar Sonam Darjay, said, this is the first coaching event held in the district.

He said, the U-19 Badminton Championship tournament will be held in Trashigang this year.

According to the Coach, the championship is conducted to select potential and talented national players. The Bhutan Badminton Federation today has 20 national players.

One of the participants from Mongar Higher Secondary School, Tashi Tshering, 16, said this was his first time to learn and play badminton. “Two weeks of coaching is not enough for the youth,” he said.

By Tashi Phuntsho, Mongar

More teams sign up for national league

Football: Paro United FC is the newest club to join the national league this season.  Seven teams will take part in the tournament this year – four from Thimphu and one each from Punakha, Paro, and Phuntsholing.

FC Rigsum is one of the new clubs to enter the A-division level from B-division this year.  A total of 27 clubs – eight A-division, 10 B-division and nine C-division – have registered this season with Bhutan Football Federation (BFF)

Competition officer with BFF, Kinley Dorji, said that the rise in the number of clubs could be because of growing interest in the game. “The quality of players has improved drastically over the years.”

Every new club with the federation has to start from B-division.  If a club wants to get into A-division, it has to top the B-division, and then play a relegation match with the team that is at the bottom of A-division.

Prabhu Mangpang, manager of Friends United FC, said that the club was preparing for the tournament and would start practice sessions starting February.  The team, which is currently in B-division, is looking to top the division and book a place in the A.

“We want to play relegation match and win,” said Prabhu Mangpang.  This is the third season that the club is competing from the same division.

Yiwang Pindarica, manager of Thimphu United FC, said Bhutanese football might not be that bright at the moment, but it is set to improve. “It’s a long way to go, but slowly and steadily things will get better.”

Kinley Dorji said that the federation and the club are facing financial challenges.  Although BFF gives every team a certain amount of money to run the club, it is not sufficient.  BFF gives Nu 25,000 to C-division, Nu 30,000 to B-division and Nu 100,000 to A-division clubs every season.

“If more private agencies can help sponsor the clubs, it’ll make a big difference,” said Kinley Dorji.  Meanwhile, BFF is also working out new marketing strategies.

By Younten Tshedup

English II paper’s evaluation begins

Investigation ongoing to fix accountability for question paper leak

BCSEA: Bhutan Council for School Examination and Assessment (BCSEA) started evaluating the class XII English II answer sheets yesterday following the prime minister’s approval of its board’s decision.

Some 40 English teachers were recalled to evaluate the paper at the College of Science and Technology (CST) and will complete it in a week.

The council’s press release stated the board “recommended that BCSEA evaluate English II paper and award marks accordingly, but impose severe penalties on those responsible for the paper leakage.”

Following a huge public outcry, the Cabinet requested BCSEA to reconsider its earlier decision, and take some time to study the situation carefully and resolve the problem with more suitable options.

The board met again on January 7 and decided to revoke the earlier decision of validating the English examination results based on the marks obtained in English paper I.  The decision comes exactly a month after word went around that the English II paper had leaked.

Council officials said although this decision may not guarantee complete fairness and acceptability by all, the board felt it was comparatively a better decision as it would “ensure timely declaration and fairer examination results, since the penalty will be meted out only to individuals involved in the paper leakage.”

The experienced evaluators, officials said, could identify students, who had access to the questions, by judging the style or wording of the students’ answers.

Besides, BCSEA could verify the students’ performance in the trial examination or the English II paper.  However, they would not base their decisions entirely on it.

BCSEA’s initial investigation found that nine students of a school in Paro had access to the whole question paper set on the eve of the examination and were the primary source of the leak.  Others received a few questions much later that night or just before sitting for the examination the next day.

The students, who were responsible for leaking the questions, would be barred from appearing examinations for the next five years, according to examination rules and regulations for malpractice.

Officials said since students got parts of the question not long before the examination, could mean that they had very little time to prepare.

The board ruled out re-examination because of financial implications for students and parents, logistical and physical difficulties both for the government and the students, difficulty in accessing study materials and cause delay in admission to colleges and for scholarships, among others.

“Above all, there’s no guarantee that all students would be present at the re-examination,” a BCSEA official said.

As the evaluation of the paper has been delayed, the declaration of the results would also be delayed by a week, according to officials.

“So, the results would be declared along with class X results,” the official said.

The prime minister recently at the meet the press session said the government would trace every student, teacher or government official involved in leaking the class XII English II paper and penalise them.

Lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay had said that, regardless of the decision the BCSEA board takes, the government is determined to find out the person responsible for distributing the questions. “Otherwise the credibility of our examination system is at stake.”

The government would also support the board’s decision as long as the decision was well considered.

Meanwhile, BCSEA is also asked to complete the investigation at the earliest possible and establish measures to prevent similar incidents in the future.

“We’ve done what we could within the mandate of our organisation and have sought further help from relevant agencies in the investigation,” BCSEA official said. “They’ve been supportive.”

Right after the English II paper examination was over, the last paper last year on December 13, word went around of the paper being leaked and the council received a report through the supervisor of Drukgyel HSS, Paro.

The Council’s investigation began immediately.  It covered Paro, Thimphu, Chukha, Bumthang, and Samdrupjongkhar before confirming the leak on December 19.

About 11,000 students appeared the class XII board examinations last year.

By Tshering Palden