Friday, July 3rd, 2015 - 9:37 PM
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Test flight for Bhutan’s first ever drone

transparent_uwice_mosaic_groupAerial view: A shot of Chamkhar town taken by the drone

The unmanned aerial vehicle is to be used for conservation and mapping purposes

UWICE : A test flight of the country’s first ever drone, acquired for high-resolution photography and filming, for nature conservation purposes, was carried out recently.

This test flight of the drone, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), was carried out at the closing of the first day of the 14th international society of ethnobiology congress held in Bumthang.  The congress started on June 1.

Ugyen Wangchuck institute for conservation and environment (UWICE) officials said, drones help in monitoring and management in difficult landscapes.

It can, officials said, acquire high-resolution aerial photographs and videos along specified flight paths, and can in a single 50-minute flight survey an area of 10km.

The aerial photographs can be stitched together to produce near real-time land cover maps.

The country’s rugged terrain and thick forest cover, officials said, pose challenges in assessing and monitoring wildlife, forest fires, poaching, illegal logging and other activities necessary for critical conservation efforts.  The drone is also to be used for mapping snow cover, land cover dynamics and tree line range shift.

Satellite images, which are increasingly used across the world, are limited in frequency of observations. “High resolution images, needed for meaningful local conservation action, are limited and cost prohibitive,” an official said.

The drone

The drone, donated by Bhutan Foundation, weighs 0.7kg and has a wingspan of less than a metre.

The test flight was carried out in the presence of HRH Ashi Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck, 400 international participants from 56 countries, and 200 local participants.

The objective of the congress, held once in two years, officials said, was to support and promote the critical efforts of indigenous peoples, traditional societies and local communities in the conservation of biological, cultural and linguistic diversity.

Regenerating bio-cultural ecosystem resilience and transmission of traditional knowledge are two themes of the weeklong congress.  Environment, sacred heritage, livelihoods, protected areas, ecotourism, community involvement, influencing governance policies, ethnobiology in mountain communities, mindfulness, ethic and mental ecology are some of the topics that will be discussed during the congress.

HRH Ashi Chimi Yangzom Wangchuck, who inaugurated the congress, also launched four new UWICE publications, Field Guide to Primulas of Bhutan, Field Guide to Hesperiidae (Skippers) of Bhutan, Aquatic Biodiversity Assessment and Ecological and Socio-Cultural Significance of High Altitude Wetlands.

By Kinley Wangmo 

Unpaid even after regularisation

The lack of employment ID has left some 70 Light Drukyul teachers at a loose end

Education: Around 70 Light Drukyul contract teachers (2008 batch), who were regularised in January this year, after completing post-graduate diploma in education (PGDE), are still waiting for their employment identity card.

Although they have been working regularly, they have not received salary since January this year without the employment identity card.

A teacher in one of the schools in Trongsa, who did not want to be named, said that, for the last six months, they have been teaching without payment. “We’re neither jobless nor regarded as civil servants,” the teacher said.

He said, without a monthly salary, house owners have been pestering them to pay house rents.  The bill in grocery shops, he said, was adding up.

Another teacher, who requested not to name even the dzongkhag he was working in, said that they have been taking advances from the school development fund in the name of the dzongkhag education officer (DEO).

However, teachers in a few dzongkhag like Punakha and Wangdue were paid.  They are the same batch of teachers, who were regularised in January, but are yet to get the employment identity card.

One of them said that they started receiving Nu 15,250 a month since February. “I don’t understand how some of us are getting salary and some not; the system is different in each dzongkhag,” he said.

Another teacher in Punakha also said she was paid five-month salary together last month.

The first batch (2008) of Light Drukyul contract teachers were allowed to undergo trainings in the two teacher training colleges, following instructions from the government and an appeal from the contract teachers.

The ministry took in more than 250 graduates as contract teachers in 2009, of which 60 resigned before the contract was over, while another 78 extended their contract by a year.

Education officials in 2008 said that only the first batch, 123 contract teachers, was sent for PGDE. “Such kinds of appeal won’t be entertained by the government in the future,” a human resource official had said. “The fact that they’re on contract is explicit, and it doesn’t mean that they’ll be regularised.”

They were sent for PGDE, based on written and viva tests, academic marks and their performance during the contract terms.

DEOs in some dzongkhags said that, unless they get orders from the education ministry and royal civil service commission (RCSC), without the employment identity card, they couldn’t give salaries.

However, education ministry officials yesterday said, teachers need not worry, as their employment identity card would be given ‘most probably’ before the end of this financial year.  The financial year ends this month.

RCSC officials also said that they are aware of the problems, and that they are working to resolve the problem.

Meanwhile, the government, while proposing the pay revision in parliament last week, also revised the salary of consolidated contract employees (mainly teachers) by 40 percent from Nu 10,000 to Nu 14,000 a month.

By Nirmala Pokhrel

Relief for Atingkhar farmers in fight against wildlife

E-fencingAtingkhar: Construction of electric fence underway

A 1.77km-long electric fence has come at last to the rescue of the village

Agriculture: This is the time of the year when farmers of Atingkhar village in Mongar build small huts in the middle of their fields and stand guard, day and night, rain or shine.

As crops slowly begin to mature, farmers have fewer hours to sleep.  Battle between farmers and wild animals is intense.  So it has been for decades.

For a farmer like 56-year-old Pema Rinzin, the battle must be won, no matter what.  Otherwise, he will have to go hungry for all the effort he put in to grow his precious little.

Marauding rodents, wild boars and monkeys are equally determined.

But the Atingkhar farmers may now no longer have to wake at night to fight off wild animals.  A saviour has come in the form of a 1.77km-long electric fence that will benefit more 30 households.

The electric fencing programme was started with the support from the international fund for agricultural development-funded market access and growth intensification project, dzongkhag’s agriculture sector, renewable natural resources research and development centre in Wengkhar and national plant protection centre (NPPC) in Semtokha, Thimphu.

Farmers are already hoping for a good harvest this year.

“We can now have some time to relax,” said Pema.

The electric fence comes as a relief to Ugyen, a farmer, who lost about 80 percent of her crops to wild animals every year.  For her, it was as if she had to toil to feed the monkeys in the nearby forest.  She has seen her parents and grandparents fighting off wild animals.  Little had changed until the electric fence came to her village.  She is thankful it did come, at long last.

“Wild boars and monkeys are the major problem. They come in large numbers,” said Ugyen. “Sometimes, they leave us nothing.”

For the world outside villages like Atingkhar, human-wildlife conflict might mean just seasonal incidents between wild animals and farmers.  For farmers, though, it means much more than that.  It means they could be food insecure any time.  It mean their income and livelihood are at risk.

Hence, sleepless nights in the small huts for almost half the year, which, farmers say, is one of the reasons why young people leave for urban centres.  Increasing human-wildlife conflicts have made farming difficult in the villages.

Chaskhar gup Pema Dorji said that just when the crops are ready to be harvested, wild boars come in droves and wipe out pretty much everything.  The electric fencing, he hopes, will keep the marauding animals at bay.

Besides Atingkhar, the 1.77km fence will benefit the chiwogs of Chimshing, Kharnang, Sangbari, Yongbari and Kharnang.

But the Atingkhar electric fence has left the farmers of Chaskhar worried.  They say that the wild animals will now turn to their fields.  It is the wild boar, of all wild animals, that the farmers are most worried about.  They hope the government will give them electric fence too, so that they do not lose crops to wild animals.

The dzongkhag’s agriculture officer, Khampa, said eight dzongkhag agriculture staff underwent training on how to implement such a programme in the future.  He said electric fences are installed in places where human-wildlife conflict is intense.

The dzongkhag’s agriculture sector has plans to install the electric fencing in Silambi, Chali, and Mongar gewog this year.  A study is being carried out.

As the farmers in some village go to bed with comfort that their crops will be protected by electric fence, farmers elsewhere must keep vigil in the dark, from the small huts in the middle of their fields.

By Dechen Tshering, Mongar

A first step towards full ordination

1376540_780568601976317_1060502072207271243_nNewly ordained: The nuns are blessed by HH the Je Khenpo after taking their getsulma vows

The getsulma dhompa ceremony, presided over by HH the Je Khenpo, marks a watershed moment for the community

Nuns: In what could be a very early step towards full ordination eventually becoming available for nuns in Bhutan, a second level ordination, or getsulma dhompa, for nuns was conducted in Punakha last month.

The event was significant, in that it allowed for many nuns in Bhutan, some of whom have been adhering to the required first level genyenma and getsulma vows their entire lives, the opportunity to be officially recognised.

The significance of the event was also evident, with HH the Je Khenpo presiding over the ceremony and conducting the required rites.  Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck also attended the ceremony.

The idea to hold such a large scale getsulma dhompa follows the first ever international nun’s conference that was held in Paro in December last year.  At the conference, a debate took place on why full ordination for nuns in Bhutanese and Tibetan Buddhism is not available.  However, almost all the Bhutanese nuns in attendance did not participate in the debate that was mostly discussed between the international participants and male monks.

Bhutan Nuns Foundation director, (Dr) Tashi Zangmo, said that it became apparent during the debate that, in Bhutan, not all nuns had the opportunity to receive getsulma dhompa, leave aside full ordination or gelongma dhompa.  This is because, while getsulma dhompa can be received and has been provided in Bhutan in the past, it is usually an exclusive affair, reserved for the nuns of a particular nunnery, mostly of the Nyingmapa tradition.

As a result, the Bhutan Nuns Foundation organised the getsulma dhompa for all nuns, irrespective of what nunnery or tradition followed.  A total of 141 nuns from seven nunneries attended the ceremony that was held at the Sangchhen Dorji Sendrup nunnery in Punakha last month.

The ceremony was described in an email to this newspaper by a supporter of the nuns foundation, Sylvia Hansel, who was in attendance.

The nuns with their heads shaved, except for a last lock on the crown, entered the nunnery’s lhakang. “As a group, the nuns answered the Je Khenpo’s questions about their past conduct, and professed their steadfast intention to dedicate themselves to the path of spirituality,” she wrote.  The last lock of hair was then symbolically cut, they were dismissed and returned in groups of three with the special robe, shawl and mat required by the ceremony, on this occasion a gift from BNF’s sponsors from Singapore.”

She added: “The Je Khenpo blessed each group in turn and imparted ritual instructions. After that, the entire group returned again, wearing the newly blessed robes, to receive their Dharma name (Chö meng) from the Je Khenpo.”

Following the ordination, the nuns will wear saffron robes, made of patched squares to symbolise the Buddha’s original cloak, for all occasions.

Dr Tashi Zangmo said that some of the nuns, especially the elderly ones, were in tears after the ceremony, as they had been unaware of how and where to receive the ordination in Bhutan.

“I think this surely will be a stepping stone towards full ordination, hopefully being a Buddhist nation, I think we’ve to look into those possibilities,” said Dr Tashi Zangmo. However, she added, achieving this was a very long term possibility, and that the research required should be carried out by those nuns, who are already educated.

Currently, the priority for Bhutan Nuns Foundation is to provide all nuns with the basic necessities. “Even if you have it, what will you do with it if you don’t have education,” said Dr Tashi. “We have to think about our basic necessities, food on the table, and education.”

She added that the foundation is ready to help those Bhutanese nuns, who are interested in researching the issue of full ordination.

The foundation will organise further ordinations when required.

The ordination ceremony was fully supported by the Firefly Mission from Singapore.

By Gyalsten K Dorji

Picture story

Social Forestry Day: A Class PP student of Rinchen Kuenphen LSS plants a tree with her mother yesterday. The parents had committed to participate and convert the school’s my tree project to our tree project. The school planted 148 trees.


Robbing Dorji to pay Dawa

Withdrawing 75 senior civil servants’ pool vehicles will cover cabinet minister’s 67 percent pay hike

Salary: If the government withdraws vehicles designated to 75 senior civil servants, as recommended by the second pay commission, the savings from it  will be enough to cover the 67 percent increase in salary for the cabinet ministers.

However, this is excluding annual increments, allowances and other perks, for the 10 cabinet ministers until the end of 11th Plan.

Withdrawing the 75 pool vehicles would save more than Nu 62.784M in the next four fiscal years.

If the salary revision is approved, the government will pay Nu 15.6M to the cabinet ministers each year.  In the next four years, their salary alone would amount to Nu 62.4M.

The cabinet ministers get the second highest raise after prime minister, at 67 percent, from Nu 78,000 to Nu 130,000.

Calling it a ‘huge burden on the exchequer’, the second pay commission recommended withdrawing the government pool vehicle system, and starting it with 75 senior bureaucrats.

The commission recommended pool vehicles to only the prime minister, cabinet ministers, speaker, opposition leader, and chief justice, chairpersons of the royal privy council and national council, and dzongdas.

The 75 bureaucrats would receive Nu 0.7M as a one-time lump sum conveyance grant.  This would bring cost savings to the government through reduction of recurrent and capital cost of vehicles.

The commission report said that a simple cost benefit analysis on withdrawal of 932 common pool vehicles, save Nu 378.897M from on recurrent costs.

“Any new arrangement would also have the benefit of drastically reducing, if not eliminating, the misuse of pool vehicles, with the corresponding savings,” the report states.

The government spent Nu 2.405B as recurrent cost on pool vehicles in the 10th Plan, Nu 1.342B for maintenance and the rest on operations.

The commission’s report states that, while the share to total recurrent expenditure was maintained at three percent, absolute amount has increased by 75 percent during the 10th Plan compared with the previous Plan.  The same share is maintained for the 2013-14 fiscal and is budgeted at Nu 582.75M, excluding costs related to rental and purchase of new vehicles.

“The unit recurrent cost for a vehicle has been increasing annually and averaged about Nu 0.393M in the 10th Plan. The pool vehicle system, therefore, does have a huge financial burden on the exchequer,” the report states.

The commission said that, although pool vehicles helped rendering effective and efficient services, it was subject of misuse, as the general public perceived.

“Within the public servants, it’s viewed as discriminatory, as it became like a designated vehicle for the senior officers,” the report stated.

The commission explored several options, some already tried but failed, such as centralisation and strict enforcement of rules, and recommended that a more radical but targeted approach be adopted, which is to withdraw all pool vehicles.

Senior civil servants, who will receive the one-time grants, would include government secretaries, joint secretaries, and others with designated vehicles.

Of the 1,484 government pool vehicles, there are 111 designated vehicles for senior government officials, and 932 vehicles are with various agencies as common pool vehicles (CPV).  The other 441 are special purpose vehicles that include ambulances, buses, protocol duty cars, and other utility vehicles.

The commission cautioned the government that it should be followed strictly. “In order for this initiative to be effective, it is very important that the government make no exception for any category of officials,” the report states.

There were 960 pool vehicles at the beginning of 10th FYP (2008), excluding vehicles under the royal Bhutan police and two-wheelers.  In 2013, it was 1,484.  The number of pool vehicles increased by 11 percent annually on an average in the last decade, and the highest growth was observed in 2008 at 21 percent.

Of the 1,484 pool vehicles, 33 percent were procured prior to 2003 and about 47 percent within last six years.

The government is yet to decide on the recommendations.

Finance minister Namgay Dorji said the cabinet would have to deliberate on the issue.  The government said the withdrawal of the pool vehicles could take place in phases.

By Tshering Palden


What the new team will do

RCSC: The challenge, for the recently appointed Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) members is how to make the civil service productive with the same pool of public servants, which is already bursting at the seams.

“The size in terms of civil servant growth has exploded today,” the commission’s chairperson, Karma Tshiteem, who has taken over the office for about a month now, said.

As of December 2013, the civil service strength was 25,306 of which 8,444 were women.

“The new commission members, at present, are looking at the most critical matters that confront the civil service,” Karma Tshiteem said, adding that civil service did not have to grow but development had to.

“But there’s a need for wide consultation, which would help the commission carry out its objectives,” he said. “There’ll be an increase in the size of civil service, but not as big as before.”

The size, he said, was significantly large compared to the population. “People must look for private sector employment.”

One in every 30 is a civil servant.  This ratio is one of the highest in the world.

To enhance civil servants’ performance capacity, the commission will look into promoting proper performance management system, based on meritocracy.  “It’ll segregate performers from non-performers,” Karma Tshiteem said, adding recognition of leaders, who could turn non-performers into performers, was an area to look at.

“This is with regard to the top position holders in the bureaucracy, such as government secretaries, directors, director generals, and dzongdags,” he said.

Reforming position classification system, he said, is another challenge. “Although it already exists, some aspects in it require improvement,” he said.

Introducing the civil service welfare scheme was another area the commission would look into. “This includes providing assistance and counselling to the needy ones, including retired public servants,” he said. “This will be initiated, so devoted civil servants are looked after.”

The chairman and the four commissioners took oath on May 30 last week.  The commissioners said it was only a month since they had taken up office, and so were not able to comment on the issues confronting the civil service, and what their visions were.

Meanwhile, containing the growth of civil service is expected to save the government Nu 757M in the current Plan period.  It is one of the means to generate revenue for the pay hike proposed by the pay commission report, presented during the ongoing parliamentary sessions.

It is proposed that civil servant growth will be contained within two percent a year.

By Rajesh Rai 

Picture story

Sings of summer: Motorists plying the Thimphu-Babesa expressway had to use the internal road network above the Election Commission office in Olakha as rainwater flooded and blocked the left lane of the expressway yesterday evening.


Feathering their own nests?

There is a lot of discussion, both online and off, on the salary revision that the government proposed and the National Assembly endorsed on Friday.

But there is not much good being said about it.  Civil servants are unhappy with the government’s proposal, and unhappier to hear elected representatives, including the cabinet and the prime minister, are the biggest beneficiaries of the present pay revision.

It is difficult to please everyone, and we know from past salary revisions, that there is always someone complaining.  But this time round, there are reasons to carp.

If what the Assembly endorsed is the final revision, it will be only a handful of people benefitting from the much-awaited salary revision.  The prime minister and his ministers will benefit by 131 and 67 percent, while the highest raise for civil servants, who run the government machinery, is only 25 percent.

Those that have done the math after the proposed revision was deliberated in the assembly, found out that the real revision actually didn’t exceed 10 percent for a bulk of civil servants.  From the word going around, this didn’t gel with expectancies. Here,  the government has lost some credibility.

The government appeared to readily accept the revision proposed by the previous Parliament, when there are accusations that it was undoing many proposals or decisions the previous government initiated.

But to be fair to the cabinet and other elected leaders, while their salary has been not revised for a while, they should be paid well.  The trend in many democracies is that elected leaders are paid well.  One reason is to prevent misuse of power and minimise corrupt practices.

Also, if we want good leaders, we will have to pay them well, in all three branches of government.  It is unfair to begrudge politicians, who took the risks that we all had the opportunities to take.

However, the reality today is, where will the money to pay this exorbitant raise come from?  We have to consider whether government resources will allow such a raise.  And those cribbing about the current raise share the same misgivings.

A lot is dependent on cost cutting, improved taxes and doing away with the pool vehicle system.  But it is not sure how effectively the measures can be implemented.

The present pay revision, many feel, is not about raising the morale of the civil servant or to motivate them.  It is about sustenance.  If the revision does not even cover the cost of inflation, civil servants, who implement government plans, will be demoralised.

Meanwhile, we should not forget that the toll on government resources is only going to increase, as employees of both government-owned and private corporations will keep one eye on the civil servant salary raise with a mind to follow suit.

Under the radar but very much there

As per an ECB review, the three losing parties are still very much alive

Politics: Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT) and Bhutan Kuen-Nyam party (BKP) still exist as political parties, according to a review of political parties the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) carried out.

After the primary elections last year, especially after seven members of DNT hopped to People’s Democratic party (PDP), concerns were raised if the two parties merged.

The chief election commissioner, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said, a status review was conducted to establish the status of the political party, especially to clear suspicions that the ‘hopping’ of seven DNT members to PDP was a merger.

While reviewing DNT, the commission also reviewed both DCT and BKP to get a comparable idea.

The report states that, except for the seven candidates, including the president and vice-president, the other candidates are still with the DNT.

ECB allowed this move, in accordance with section 209 (c) of the Election Act, which states that two parties contesting the general election can field candidates from other parties that did not make it past the primary round.

With regard to the membership, the report states, DCT and BKP members have dropped by 10.75 and 5.08 percent respectively, while DNT’s membership increased from 420 last year to 653 this year, an increase by 55.47 percent.

The ruling party, People’s Democratic party (PDP) has 253 registered members, while the opposition party, Druk Phuensum tshogpa (DPT) has 5,855 members registered, as of 31 March this year.

DNT also managed to generate a reasonable income, while BKP and DCT had not generated any till December last year.  DNT’s income was slightly more than its expenditure incurred till end of last year.

DNT mobilised Nu 327,380 as voluntary contributions from its registered members.  As of December last year, the party had total saving of Nu 388,187.  DCT and BKP had savings of Nu 64,854 and Nu 740,208.

PDP garnered Nu 2.1M as voluntary contributions from its registered members, while DPT has collected Nu 2.5 M.

For PDP, savings, as of December last year, was Nu 1.3M.  DPT had Nu 2.7M.

The findings states that DNT has offices in 18 districts operating from coordinators residences, while DCT and BKP have offices in 11 districts.

The report also states DNT has been engaged in activities that articulate alternative policies to the government, like in the case of implementation of Google Apps.

Although ECB suggested the party to elect its president, party’s vice president Dr Tandi Dorji said the electoral law allows the party to elect its president during the party convention that is held annually.

“DNT will elect its president in its next general convention,” he said, adding it might happen by the yearend or early next year.

DNT’s vice president, Dr Tandi Dorji, said the party has everything in place. “The party is as strong as ever.”  The party plans to identify candidates by the end of next year to prepare for the next parliamentary elections.

The party, Dr Tandi Dorji said, has four officials, who are constantly in touch with the dzongkhag offices.  Its executive committee meets quarterly and conducts party meeting every Wednesday.

For BKP, the party president, Sonam Tobgay said, most senior members of the party are still intact, while it is also in touch with new potential candidates.

“What defines BKP is how we took the ECB decision on disqualification, and how best we rise after having fallen,” he said, adding that party members meet once in every two weeks to discuss current issues and strategies.

With regard to the ECB report, he said, the party would try to fulfill all its mandate, including the establishing of party offices in all the dzongkhags.

The president said, he visited five dzongkhags recently to enhance the dedication of its candidates and members.

He said, all coordinators are working on voluntary basis and, since there isn’t much activity, many are dormant.


By Tshering Dorji