KuenselOnline

Saturday, March 28th, 2015 - 6:30 AM
Yangphel Housing Banner.gif

Chuzergang gets connected to the internet

READ: Internet users in Chuzergang gewog, Sarpang  will no longer have to go all the way to Gelephu town, with the installation of internet facility in the community yesterday.

Ten 10 computers  at the READ centre were connected with the internet, which will be free of charge for the users.

The service was established by the READ Bhutan at the centre, where a library was also established last year.  The service is expected to benefit around 4,000 from 487 households in its five chiwogs.

During the monsoon, the gewog is cut off from Gelephu town, making it difficult for community members to commute or access resources and supplies.

“We’ve been trying to provide internet services at Chuzergang READ centre for a long time now,” the country director of READ Bhutan, Thinley Choden, said.

“But it was difficult in absence of proper infrastructure. We’re very happy now that we could finally bring public access internet to Chuzergang through the READ centre. We hope that the facilities stand in the larger interest of the community.”

Chuzergang residents said they could now do so much with internet in their community.

“People can now avail faster services and avoid frequent trips to Gelephu town to browse information on the net. This is very good news for the people of Chuzergang,” said  manager of Chuzagang Agricultural Farmers Cooperatives,  Kinzang Dorji.

“The free internet services at the Chuzergang READ centre will provide opportunities for  youth and school-dropouts to browse  employment  and training opportunities available in the country using the net. Otherwise they’re cut off from the rest of the country.”

The READ centre was established in October 2013 at Thongjabi village with a fund raised by a 13-year-old American girl, Claire Thomsen.

Local leaders, CAFCO officials, teachers and students attended the opening ceremony.

By Tshering Namgyal, Gelephu

Bridging the gap between Act and actionable

The Speaker of the National Assembly summed up what should be done, when it came to amending the narcotics drugs and psychotropic substance Act.

Cutting short the deliberations on the amendment of the Act, the Speaker said the need is a “harsh but implementable” Act.

Drug is fast becoming a problem, and a harsh law will deter people from both peddling and abusing it.  At the same time, if the Act is not practical, it will remain on paper like many of our laws.

Today, the biggest problem with many of our laws and regulations is its implementation.  A lot of time, resources and energy are spent in drafting and passing laws.  But it ends there, as implementing it is a problem.

Whether it is the Tenancy Act, the Tobacco Act or even regulations that ban, for instance, the use of plastic or import of furniture, ground realities are different.  This perhaps could be because laws and regulations are not practical enough to enforce.

Ironically, it shouldn’t have been the case, as a law or a regulation, before it is passed, goes through many processes, including drafting it with relevant agencies and people.

There are a good number of Acts that are up for amendment in Parliament this session.  A relief is that lawmakers have experienced the difficulties of implementing those Acts and thus the need for amendment.  Laws will change with time and it is appropriate to make them relevant to changing times.

On the narcotic Act, concerns are that there were many loopholes, including inadequate description and categorisation of drug-related offences, and absence of penal provisions for offences.  Without clarity, dispensing justice could leave room for malpractice, while making it difficult for the judiciary.

The Act will not be amended this session, which leaves enough time for our legislators to study, consult and discuss for a more applicable and practical law on an issue that is destroying society and spoiling our youth.

Drug has been a problem for some time, and it is only going to get worse, judging by the number of cases reported.  Harsh laws would deter people from doing drugs or involving in trafficking.  But there is a need to look for alternatives, as the trend indicates that it is mostly youth, who get into conflict with the drug law.

We had been saying that, in the long run, education is the only real solution.  But there should be parallel measures like treatment, rehabilitation, and counselling.  And for that we need trained professionals and funds.

Talk of a need for healthy distractions for youth has been going on for more than a decade but, apart from some winter activities, not much has been done.  Our legislators can look into creating alternatives.  For instance, there is a severe shortage of facilities for sports and games, arts and entertainment, and other avenues where youth can be creatively occupied.

“I believe things can’t go worse than what we’re facing today”

Q&A with Kipchu Tshering CEO BNB

Q&A: What do you think about the increasing rate of defaults with banks in the form of non-performing loans? (This year has seen an increase in the amount of NPL.)

A. Non-performing loans have increased in 2013 mainly due to sluggish growth in the economy and the freeze on credit, no new loans were also sanctioned by the banks during the year. However, towards the year-end, most FIs (financial institutes) managed to recover the defaulted amount.

 

How have the restrictions on housing and transport loans affected banking businesses?

A. The restrictions on housing and transport loans have definitely affected the businesses of financial institutions, consequently, it has also affected the growth in profits of the financial institutions.

 

How would injection of money in the banks in the form of the economic stimulus fund help the banking sector?

A. When there is liquidity crunch in the economy, any amount of fund injected in the economy will help the financial institutions, and ultimately the economy of the country as well. While it will generate economic activity, there will be creation of more credit too, leading to more rupee outflows. However, the whole idea behind ESP is to enhance exports and substitute imports. So, initially, there might be outflows of rupee but, in the long run, it will help ease pressure on the rupee.

 

Going by present trend, the banking sector is faced with high rate of default, freeze on credit and inability to sell seized collaterals. What do you foresee about the future of local banks in the next few years time?

The last two years have seen banks facing a lot of problems like the liquidity crunch, the shortage of rupee, and high NPL rates. Banks were not able to lend as they used to in the past. The inherent problem is that the economy has very little savings, while most investments are carried out through credit. There are not much deposits and hence banks have no money to lend, therefore the future of the banking sector is also not so bright. However, the banks and the financial institutions are still strong enough, and I believe it can’t go worse than what we’re facing today.

 

Home owners not getting tenants, and lowering house rents plus local industries claiming they might shut down with the new tariff revision, is it of any concern to the banks?

Hom- owners not getting tenants and lowering rents is part of a competition. Ultimately we’ll see a downward revision in rents, if supply is more than demand. If this continues, it will be good for tenants, as housing becomes affordable to the low-income groups. In my opinion, however, this is not happening on a big scale, as most of the low-income people are living in the outskirts of the city. In the core city, housing is still expensive for them.

Financial institutions have huge investments with the industries and, of course, the revision in electricity tariff is of great concern to us. The rate of defaults might further increase if their cost of production goes up. The revision in electricity tariff is a concern, not just for the existing industries, but also for new industries that could potentially come up. In such a situation, we lose our competitive advantage over industries of other countries; ultimately this would discourage investment in the manufacturing sector.

Of towns functioning under gewog administration

The recent assembly decision is for this experimentation

Thromde: Complications in taxation, confusion in roles and responsibilities and issues of representation in governance were some foreseen concerns of yenla thromdes (satellite towns) functioning under gewog administration.

For yenla thromdes to function under gewog administration was National Assembly’s recent decision while deliberating on the Local Government (amendment) bill.

Policy makers following assembly discussions said the decision meant the reinstatement of the same provision in the Thromde Act 2007, which was repealed after the LG Act was endorsed in 2009.

Chiwogs (villages) being a constituent of a gewog, a satellite town can’t be a constituent of a gewog,” one observers said. “Otherwise, it will result in lack of representation and taxation confusion.”

For instance, one parliamentarian said Rangjung town in Trashigang enjoyed all the benefits of an urban town with access to water and electricity and people paid commercial tax.

However, he said Ranjung was still a chiwog under Shongphu gewog with a tshogpa representing the people at the gewog tshogde,” he said. “If assembly’s proposal comes through, can a thromde (town) be a constituent of a gewog and can a thromde under a gewog qualify as a thromde at all?”

Assembly’s legislative committee proposed that yenla thromdes shall be under dzongkhag thromde but after a thorough deliberation last week, the house endorsed that it should function under gewog administration.

Disparity in taxation policy, distance of far-flung gewogs, coordination and administration were some of the issues that emerged during the deliberation despite which a majority of the members voted for yenla thromdes to function under gewog administration.

Another parliamentarian said if a gewog qualified as a thromde, there were issues still, because once classified a yenla thromde, a thuemi had to be elected, an additional post to the already existing tshogpa of a chiwog.

“As a chiwog, the representation is in the gewog tshogde but as a thromde, the representation is directly in the dzongkhag tshogdu, which doesn’t make sense,” he said. “Either the chiwog has to be dismembered from a gewog, or from a thromde.”

The local government Act states the dzongkhag tshogdu shall comprise the gup and mangmi as elected representatives from  each gewog, others being an elected representative from the dzongkhag thromde and an elected representative from dzongkhag yenla thromdes.

“To have both a thuemi and a tshogpa, the anomaly has to be studied,” he said.

Another issue, observers raised with respect to taxes settlements under a yenla thromde were liable to pay.

“It will not make sense for people to pay urban tax when yenla thromdes functions under a gewog,” a former gup said. “People would want to pay rural tax and enjoy rural incentives instead.”

If the bill comes through, assembly deputy speaker Chimmi Dorji said both dzongkhag and yenla thromdes would be established during this government’s tenure.

“We’ll also have to come up with clear procuderes, organisational structures and terms of reference, among others,” he said.

By Kinga Dema

Rural reasons for rice import increase

IMG_4176Primitive methods of cultivating rice hinder large-scale production

From fallow wetlands to diet change, there are grounds galore why things have come to this pass

Trade: Deriving more cash from construction work than fields, change in staple food over the years, and higher cost of local rice were some of the reasons that led to the drastic increase in rice import from India, local leaders in Trashigang said.

The gewog officials also attributed it to people increasingly leaving wetlands fallow, caused by rural-urban migration.

In 2009, a study the agriculture research centre in Wengkhar carried out revealed that 1,192 acres of the total 8,883 acres of wetland in the east were left fallow between 1999-2009.

The study warned that, if similar trend continued, Bhutan would have no wetland in seven decades.

Four years since the study, Bhutan’s rice import is reported to have increased from Nu 853M in 2011 to Nu 1.2B in 2012.

Local leaders and officials in Trashigang fear that the trend of increasing rice import is likely to continue for number of reasons.

“With young people leaving for urban areas seeking better employment opportunities, only the village elderly, who’re too frail to toil the fields, are left now,” senior agriculture extension agent in Radhi, Gyeltshen Dukpa, said.

He said increasing wetlands going fallow means that local rice would not meet domestic needs.

“Moreover, with children working in urban centres sending money to their relatives back home, even those in the villages rather depend on imported rice than cultivate it under much hardship, especially in protecting it from wildlife,” Gyeltshen Dukpa said.

An official from the dzongkhag agriculture office in Trashigang said a major chunk of Bhutanese preferred imported rice, because they cannot afford local rice that always costs more.

“While Bhutan is making progress in farm mechanisation, majority of the villages are still stuck up with primitive methods that hinder large-scale production for now,” the official said.

However, Phongmey gup, Palden Dorji, said one issue could be that people do not have enough wetland holding to sustain everyone.

“Even in my gewog, only 40 households of the total 666 own wetland barely enough to sustain their own family,” Palden Dorji said.

He said a few households own over three acres of wetland, required size enough to sustain a family.

“So rest of the population have to depend on imported rice,” he said.

Officials from gewog also attribute the increase in import of rice to change in staple food in the east from kharang, beaten corns, to rice.

“More people prefer rice for staple food, thus exerting pressure on the rice import,” Barstsham gup, Sonam Dorji said.

“Today, we find fewer villagers consuming kharang,” he said.

Moreover, for the rural folks, rapid development particularly in construction sector offered new opportunities to earn cash.

“People in last five years earned more money from construction works than ever that were mostly used in buying rice for the families,” Gyeltshen Dukpa said.

By Tempa Wangdi, Trashigang

“Green Zone” rules make Hejo landowners see red

IMG_0267Wet land above Tashichhodzong that would be preserved as green zone

The land Act does not allow replacements for those with other plots within the thromde

Thimphu: In its attempt to save the area above Tashichhodzong as a “green zone”, some of Thimphu thromde’s approaches are not going down well with some landowners there.

In 2002, Thimphu thromde marked about 42.32 acres of farmland in Hejo as a “green area”, a zone on which government policy supposedly prohibits all construction.  It was also to preserve the area to maintain sanctity and avoid disturbance to the glory of the dzong.

Thromde officials said most landowners have accepted the government compensation, which was paid as per the property assessment and valuation agency (PAVA).

However, not everyone was pleased with the rate offered.

The compensation rate, landowners said, was Nu 180 a sq ft, about Nu 78,500 per decimal.

Dorji, one of the landowners said he owned about 57 decimal land in the green area, but since his family owned another plot within the thromde, he was told that he would not be eligible for land substitute.

He said the rate offered was not enough to buy even a plot of land from within the thromde.

“In 2010, I bought 13 decimal land from Hejo, for which I had paid Nu 3.6M that also discounted,” Dorji said.

On the other hand, he said, government was willing to give land substitute to those people, who owned only about 11 decimal land, citing they do not own any plot within thromde.

“If it is as per the land Act, we must say, the problem is with nobody but the Act,” another landowner said, adding they would happily take another plot as compensation rather than paying compensation.

The thromde, as per the eligibility listing for land substitutes, which would be given to those landowners, who do not own any land in thromde, listed about 17 landowners as eligible.

Four landowners, who own maximum land and have other plots in thromde, were not eligible for land substitute.

However, they were also not willing to accept the compensation being offered.

Compensation was also being paid to the dratshang for its land.

There were also about four landowners from Hejo, whom, according to the thromde, were not eligible for land substitute, as they owned land in other parts of the municipal area.  In 2011, some landowners took compensation, which was given as per the PAVA rate.

Thromde’s executive secretary, Minjur Dorji, said the green area was there in the Thimphu structural plan 2002-27, which the cabinet approved in 2002.

“Thromde has been implementing it as per the structural plan,” he said.

He said it was understandable people wouldn’t be happy, because the PAVA rate was always less than the market rate, which was also the concern many landowners raised.

He said, it was as per the Land Act 2007 that a person was eligible for one plot, if he or she doesn’t have any other plot within the thromde.

“We’re going to explore how many are eligible and see if there are plots in thromde to give as land substitute,” thromde officials said. “But the landowners should agree as well.”

By Dawa Gyelmo

Focus point

Merak-logging

What it means to be a town

IMG_9830Delimitation will be an issue in small towns like Gasa (file picture)

LG: With National Assembly’s recent endorsement of the Local Government (amendment) bill, the country will, in 2016, the second LG elections, hold elections for 20 thrompons, about 140 thromde thuemis and another 20 yenla thuemis.

That, however, is subject to National Council’s agreement.

With more than Nu 2M spent for every Class ‘A’ thromde in 2011 and Nu 250,000 estimated for yenla thuemi elections, going country-wide would cost the government about Nu 40M.

In 2011, more than Nu 10M was spent for the four thromde elections of Gelephu, Phuentsholing, Samdrupjongkhar and Thimphu, while the LG elections cost more than Nu 80M.

A dzongkhag thromde is represented by a minimum of seven and not less than 10 elected members, including the thrompon, as stated in the Constitution while the yenla will be represented by a thuemi.

While the government is bent on establishing both thromdes, stating it was in keeping with the constitutional provisions, besides it being an election pledge, the opposition said its practicality and financial issues had to be considered.

Assembly deputy speaker Chhimi Dorji said establishment of thromdes was long overdue and to have a yenla and dzongkhag thomdes would solve issues like rural-urban migration and that development would bring people self-sufficiency.

“If we don’t establish the thromdes today, it will never happen, not even in the next 20 or 30 years,” he said. “Apart from just focusing on the issues involved, the benefits should be considered too.”

“With towns already existing, the government will not have to start from the scratch,” he said. “We already have dzongkhag municipals, all we need to do is consider a few additional manpower.”

On identification of thromdes, Chhimi Dorji said local government authorities and the works and human settlement ministry would shoulder the responsibility, determined by population, area, and economic potential of a region.

The opposition, however, attaches delineation of responsibilities, boundaries and budgetary issues to the prospect the government sees.

Among the opposition, gradual graduation of towns was viewed as the best option.

Opposition leader Dr Pema Gyamtsho suggested the government rather continue with the preparations enabling opportunities for a proper town in dzongkhag centres.

“If we go all out today, the question is whether the government will be able to afford or if it will be meaningful,” he said.

Although some towns were ready in terms of area, infrastructure and population, he said the issue again was with voter population.

For instance, he said Thimphu had more than 100,000 residents, of which only about 10 percent could vote.

“We want capable people as the town councils function as a mini-government,” he said. “We need councillors who can contribute to the development of the town.”

Opposition members also said there existed towns that still required more preparations.

“We just can’t create a town artificially, it has to grow into one,” Dr Pema Gyamtsho said. “Having a few shops doesn’t qualify a settlement as a yenla thromde.”

Emphasising the crucial role of the local government, he said many issues would be solved should the country have a strong local government.

“It will help reduce the top heaviness of the central government,” he said, adding clear procedures, delineation of boundaries and roles were, however, important.

Prominent constitutional post holders said the recent deliberations on the LG bill were a reiteration of the discussions during one of the Parliament sessions that took place during the first elected government’s tenure.

“There is no fresh insight or perspective to it,” one of them said.

Apart from election cost and infrastructure and recurrent costs, they said constituency delimitation was another issue.

In places like Gasa, delimitation is already seen as an issue considering its size.

For instance, the likelihood of a dzongkhag thromde enjoying greater benefits were higher even though the area would be smaller than that of a yenla thromde after delimitation.

“While this is ideal democracy, the question is about fairness and equity, which the LG is all about,” an observer said. “Those who have better access will enjoy greater benefits and representation.”

Taxation issues, such as what tax a settlement falling under a thromde would pay, urban, commercial or rural tax, was another issue.

The bill the assembly recently endorsed will go to the council for deliberation in the summer session.

By Kinga Dema| Thimphu

Narcotics Act repealed

The assembly is in the process of enacting an updated legislation in its place

NA: National Assembly yesterday endorsed to repeal the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse Act, 2005, to enact an updated and a “more comprehensive one”.

The house’s legislative committee will review the Act and the  draft amendments, after further consultations.

Moving the motion to introduce the bill, health minister Tandin Wangchuk said attempts were made in the past to revise the act.  It had largely remained inconclusive and incomplete, and hence the current revision process requires major revision, in terms of its content, context and structure, keeping in mind the growing requirements and the implementation shortcomings.

Some of the critical shortcomings of the NDPSSA Act, members pointed out,  were inadequate references to regulatory and procedural requirements for the control and management of controlled drugs and substances.

“Inadequate description and categorisation of drug-related offences, absence of penal provisions for drug offences, except for those referred in the Penal Code of Bhutan, are inadequate and inconclusive,” the health minister said.

He said the Act was silent on the need and validity of drug test requirements, and had inadequate listing of current common drugs of abuse.

The amended Act would take care of these issues, and also mandate the government to release enough budget for implementing agencies.

Police arrested 561 drug peddlers and abusers last year, of whom 296 were fined and 459 charged to court.  Of the total, 85 of them were below 18 years.

South Thimphu Parliament member Yeshey Zimba said notwithstanding the severity, drug abusers are detained straightaway by police. He said without clear and specific provisions in the Act, detaining abusers, especially youth, is not right.

“While drug peddlers and abusers should be punished, our youth should be referred to treatment centres and corrected,” he said.

“Thus, establishing treatment and rehabilitation centres are crucial to treat the abusers and curb the problem.”

Home minister Damcho Dorji said the judiciary too had problems in dispatching justice, as the Act lacked clear penalties on drug offences.

“Controlling substance abuse in the country is a huge challenge, because people abuse many common items, such as petrol, dendrite (adhesive), correction fluids,” said the home minister.  He said if such commodities are controlled, then people might not find glue to fix a shoe.

Since November last year police arrested more than 300 peddlers, after it launched an operation on drug dealers.

The home minister said the drug problem was not any more an urban phenomenon, except for a few dzongkhags, the problem is rampant across the country.

Speaker Jigmi Zangpo said there are those who abuse and also distribute, and the distinction must be drawn between them and those who just abuse.

“The Act should be harsh but implementable,” he said.

He said, in 2009, at a cremation ground of the 13 corpses, 11 were victims of drugs and alcohol. “If that’s the case, it is a huge loss to the country,” he said.

The government, after receiving a petition calling for harsher penalties for drug dealers signed by 13,400 people in December last year, directed BNCA and Office of the Attorney General to revise the 2005 Act.

Meanwhile, the National Council has deferred the amendment of the Act to the next session.

By Tshering Palden | Thimphu

 

Nine injured in a minor bus accident

altAiWnnE3ALap1OgaFOVHpdzvXMX5pC5_Eo6gCcIZ17MtPThe bus was on its way to Bhangtar when it met with an accident

Nine passengers sustained minor injuries yesterday when a bus they were travelling in met with an accident along the Samdrupjongkhar – Dewathang highway, at a turn near the Dungsam Academy.

The Bumpa Transport bus was on its way to Bhangtar from Samdrupjongkhar. Of the nine injured, four were students. One of the students was admitted at the Dewathang military hospital for nasal bleeding, which he sustained after hitting his nose during the accident.

According to some people, a steering lock had caused the accident while others alleged the driver was under the influence of alcohol.