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Saturday, March 7th, 2015 - 10:23 AM
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Picture story

Cat walk: Six models walked the ramp at the Manipur Fashion Extravaganza in India, which began on January 11. The 15-member team from Project Bhutan, including models and four designers participated in the event that was sponsored by Dantak while Sabah Bhutan sponsored the designing materials.

 

A teacher-on-top plan

Education: In what could boost the morale of teachers and attract the best to the profession, the Cabinet endorsed the Teacher Human Resource Policy, implementation of which, it is hoped, would reverse the current trend in education.

The policy has five key areas of career track, recruitment, deployment, professional development and performance management.

Under the career track, the profession has three career advancement opportunities of teaching, administration and specialist tracks.

“Through any of these tracks, a teacher can now attain the highest position level at specialist (ES) – equivalent to secretary or university professor,” education ministry’s chief human resource officer Kinley Gyeltshen said.

After entering the profession at P5 level, most teachers, he said were today “stuck” at P2 level.  The policy, which the civil service also approved, will be launched next month. It gives teachers, ministry officials said a clear career pathway and advancement opportunities, specialisation choices and entry and exit requirements.

“Right now, we don’t even have one DEO at P1 level or a principal at the specialist level,” Kinley Gyeltshen said.

Civil service commission  records show, of 7,146 regular teachers, including principals and DEOs today, none had reached ES 1 and ES 2 levels.  There are five in ES 3 level and 77 in P1 level.

P5 has the highest number of teachers at 3,430, followed by 2,009 teachers at P4 level, 1,145 at P3 and 480 at P2 level.

Commissioner Pirthiman Pradhan said the reason for not having teachers at the ES levels today was because their entry level was much lower before the position classification system (PCS) came in sometime in 2007.

“When PCS came in, entry position of teachers changed to P5 (Grade 8), but earlier they were entering at Grade 10, or S2 today,” he said.

Only PGCE-qualified and lecturers, he said entered the teaching profession at TC2 level.  “Because of their size, there’ll be a time when the maximum number of people in the specialist category would be teachers,” he said.

Education secretary Sangay Zam told district education officers yesterday that the policy would impact every teacher in the country.

“The whole idea is to keep those interested in teaching and allow them to climb up to ES level,” she said.

In recruitment, to attract the best to the profession, the policy allows multiple entry opportunities through competitive selection processes and lateral entry from different sources.

The ministry has worked out strategies and an incentive package for teachers, which is with the pay commission.  Besides the incentives proposed, Sangay Zam said the ministry in the 11th Plan listed staff quarters for teachers in all dzongkhags to attract and retain teachers.

While most participants agreed on the need to conduct stringent entry tests to recruit competent candidates into teaching, education minister Mingbo Dukpa shared the Cabinet’s concern that it would deter candidates from joining the profession.

Sangay Zam said it was better to have shortage for a short term than compromise on the quality of teachers.

One of policy’s long-term plans was to establish a teacher registration and licensing system, a protection mechanism for the profession.  DEOs supported the plan and said the lack of it today resulted in having “redundant” teachers in the system.

“We have teachers, who are kept given last warnings and by the time they leave, several hundred students would have been influenced by them,” one DEO said.

Wochhu school principal Chencho Namgyal said it was sad to hear DEOs talk about teachers in that manner.

“While there may be such cases, there are many other teachers, who sacrifice a lot and do a good job,” he said.

The issue of deployment and within that remote posting for new teachers for the first three years of their profession was most discussed among participants.

While Lyonpo Mingbo Dukpa suggested new teachers be attached in established schools first for experience before being transferred to remote schools, DEOs suggested otherwise saying transferring them later from an urban school to a remote one would prove difficult.

Lyonpo told DEOs to think about the many school children.

“If a young group of teachers instead of experienced ones are sent to remote schools, then what will happen to the quality of education?” he said. “We need to reflect on this objectively and see that our children are not affected.”

School education director Karma Yeshey said the issue would be addressed if the proposed teacher incentive package came through.

Sangay Zam said the ministry and dzongkhags followed the deployment tool and ensured new teachers were mentored.

“But sending senior teachers to remote schools would be a disaster for their morale,” she said.

These discussions apart, the policy, Mingbo Dukpa said would address the problems that have left teachers handicapped and affected the quality of education.

“Teachers are most important group, but we’ve neglected this specialised professionals,” he said. “They make up one third of the civil service, who spend years in schools, which one-third of the population attends.”

By Sonam Pelden

Drawing lessons from last elections …

DSC_0964Her Royal Highness Princess Sonam Dechan Wangchuck launch the digital information of the country’s polling stations on Google map, election reports and charters during election commission’s eighth anniversary yesterday

ECB: The election commission of Bhutan (ECB) will revisit election rules and regulations and seek legal opinions on 20 or so issues that surfaced during the last parliamentary elections.

The commission has already  drawn an action plan to ensure the issues are addressed for proper conduct of future elections.

The list of issues and recommendations were compiled through a series of “learning from experience programs (LEP)” across the country.

Reviewing the mechanism to vote through postal ballots, looking at the need and role of party workers, dearth of candidates, and re-looking at the existing rule of election dispute settlements were some of the issues.

Among others, some sections had felt that political parties have become a sort of “job market” for young and inexperienced to test their fortune, which could lead to people losing faith in an important institution.

Many raised concerns that, although the minimum age limit for a candidate to stand the election was 25, there was a need for political parties to field experienced individuals.

The dearth of candidates, particularly in terms of women participation, was another issue.

Chief election commissioner Dasho Kunzang Wangdi, at the event marking the commission’s eighth anniversary yesterday, said a study would be carried out to encourage women take part in elections.

“This also includes the desirability of quota for women,” he said.

With people not so forthcoming to join politics, one of the political parties also got disqualified from taking part in the elections.

Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said it was advisable and feasible to have only a few political parties.

“It’s important that political parties consolidate rather than proliferate, paling into insignificance,” he said, adding organisational review, pertaining to the status of Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa, would also be conducted soon.

While elected local leaders were not assigned any roles for the last elections, considering their apolitical nature, it was found that they were actively engaged in “partisan political activities”.

As such, recommendations were made that they should be involved in certain aspects of the election like information dissemination and coordination.  Unlike in the past, it was also found necessary that they should be allowed to participate in common forums as voters, provided a set of rules be put in place.

ECB would also review the need and utility of door-to-door campaign, when it was found that public debates and common forums were more effective.

Options to take common forums to every chiwog from the present practice of doing it in every gewog, will be looked into.

Meanwhile, to facilitate ease of civil registration and enhance voter participation, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi also sought collaboration of the home ministry for one-stop-civil registry and voter registration arrangement.

He also said it was high time the anomaly of some districts with highest census population and least representation in Parliament be corrected.

He said some dzongkhags with many goong-tongs receive higher representation in elected decision-making bodies.

Meanwhile, it was found that, although the election act empowered the commission to use public resources for the conduct of election, including government pool vehicles, there was no adequate transportation in some dzongkhags.

Those vehicles that government agencies and ministries provided were in bad condition, required maintenance, including fixing new tires and other spare parts.

With regard to the use of helicopter service, which was deployed to far flung gewogs like Lunana to transport officials and equipment, those involved stated that there lacked clear instructions amid difficult weather conditions.

Gracing the occasion, Her Royal Highness Ashi Sonam Dechan Wangchuck, who launched several reports and charters, commended the commission and team for a successful conduct of election.

By Tshering Dorji

You have been warned!

RBP gives notice of “very serious crackdown” in wake of earlier one that netted hundreds

Drugs: The royal Bhutan police (RBP) nabbed 252 people from across the country in connection with the possession, consumption, and trafficking of substance abuse until January 14 this year.

The arrests were made following, what RBP call, the “drug crackdown operation” that began last month (December 2013).

While 94 of the total arrests were substance abusers, 109 were both abusers and in possession of drugs,  49 were traffickers.  Around 179 of the total arrests were forwarded to the court.

Chief of police, brigadier Kipchu Namgyal, said police would get “very serious”, as far as traffickers are concerned.  “We’ll show no mercy,” he said.  The chief said, those in possession of drugs and abusers will also be dealt with seriously. “With Bhutanese youth taking up drugs as a fashion, not knowing the consequence, the society is plagued with drug traffickers and abusers.”

The chief of police also appealed to the public not to sell drugs, and help them in eradicating it. “There won’t be buyers, if there are no sellers,” he said.

Police officials said they would continue the next phase of the operation soon.  The operation will apprehend traffickers, based on information provided by informers of police, and a “very serious daily highway checking.”  Vehicles involved in trafficking drugs could also get seized.

Police officials said they have learned from past experience that people smuggle drugs by concealing them in vehicle engines and tyres, in bags, and even in new pillows.  Gift boxes, parcels, and many other things are also used, police officials said.

“We’re keeping track of them all and we will crack down,” said the chief of police.

A new team will be sent in the next operation. “Although the first group were very serious, but when the same group continues, the efficiency reduces,” brigadier Kipchu Namgyal said.

Records with Thimphu police show that a total of 561 arrests were made in 2013 in connection with substance abuse.  Another 516 were arrested in 2012.

By Rajesh Rai

Nganglam land prices go stratospheric

DCCL’s presence has multiplied real estate value in this once militant-plagued area 

Dungsam: Not long ago nobody wanted to settle in Nganglam, Samdrupjongkhar.  Hot, wet and largely a jungle, often infested with militants from across the border, Nganglam was a deserted area.

The prospect of Dungsam Cement corporation ltd (DCCL) coming to Nganglam in the ‘90s raised little interest, and land, which was in abundance, was sold or bought at throwaway prices.  But this has changed with DCCL in full throttle operation and demand for land is reaching a peak.

“Land was so cheap; in the ‘90s, I bought 12 decimals for just over Nu 24,000,” a resident from Nganglam, Choten Tshering, said.  One of my friends did not even pay Nu 2,000, he said.

Today, even with a freeze on housing loan, demand for land has increased driving the price skyward.  The very land that people had reservations to even spare a few thousands over, in the ‘90s, has now reached over Nu 50,000 with land near the town costing Nu 100, 000 a decimal.

Residents said that problems in the early ‘90s, and security issues until 2003, discouraged people from settling in Nganglam. “So people overlooked buying land in a place that was repeatedly embroiled in security issue,” Choten Tshering said.

Security issue also created a doubt in the minds of people whether DCCL, the only driving economic force, would ever materialise.  But with successful flush out of militants in December 2003, land in Nganglam underwent a new economic phase.  With things returning to normalcy, Nganglam land prices escalated by the day.

In 2006, the land that people bought for Nu 2,000 per decimal in 1996 increased to Nu 5,000 and 6,000 per decimal. “The prices took another leap with the construction of the Gyalpoizhing-Nganglam highway,” another resident, Nyendra said.

With hype of Nganglam becoming the commercial hub in the east, more people invested, that in turn pushed the prices upward by the year.  Today, land prices in Nganglam, including new town area in Dawamay, have touched Nu 35,000 to 50,000 per decimal on an average.

The prices are even higher in places like Tsenkari, Roknawung and Gashari, where the DCCL project site and its staff quarters stand. “In Roknawung, prices are somewhere between Nu 50,000-70,000 in DCCL area,” a resident from Roknawung, Namkhai Norbu, said.

More than the market value, the limited land holding is rather the bigger driving force for soaring land prices in these areas, he said.  As is the trend in many towns, land prices in existing town area in Phetuwung are the highest touching over Nu 100,000 per decimal.

“I doubt if people will sell land at Nu 100,000 since there’s not much land around here,” Choten Tshering said.

Meanwhile, with more highways in the offing like the Nganglam-Panbang and Dewathang-Nganglam and Kuri-Gongri hydropower, residents are of the view that the land prices will keep skyrocketing.

“Within 2014, land prices could touch Nu 100,000 per decimal anywhere in Nganglam,” Choten Tshering said.

By Tempa Wangdi

Decrease in fire incidence, increase in area damage

IMG_1557Forest fire management program head, Tandin Dorji, presents the scenario to volunteers, forest officials and Desuups

While Thimphu headed the dzongkhag list in incidents, Lhuentse lost most acreage

Forest: Despite forest fire incidents across the country decreasing in the last five years, the area damaged has almost tripled.

Officials of forest and park services department, during the two-day basic fire training and coordination yesterday, said, within the last five years, fire destroyed about 47,501 acres during 239 fire incidents.

Records with the department show that, between June 2008 and 2009, there were 74 cases recorded that destroyed 4,211 acres of forest.

There was, however, gradual decrease in number of the fire incidents, which dropped to 34 cases between June 2012 and 2013.  About 12,175 acres of forest was destroyed.

Of the dzongkhags, in the last five years, Lhuentse lost the maximum area to fire, about 13,849 acres over 31 fire incidents.  But in terms of cases, Thimphu recorded the highest, 53, which destroyed 5,175 acres.

Gasa was the only dzongkhag that did not see any fire in the last five years.

Head, forest fire management and program, Tandin Dorji said, in places like Thimphu, although there are more fire events, the area damaged was less, because of the number of people, who show up to fight fire.

“About 400 to 500 people gather to tackle a single fire incident,” he said.

He said, other districts, especially the far-flung areas, were either short of manpower, or took longer to reach the fire site, because of the terrain.

Reciting an example of the recent fire in Haa, he said, despite everyone helping, it took more than a week ,since it occurred at a site more than three hours walk from the road point in Damthang.

In terms of causes, cattle herders, with intentions to grow new grasses, or burning of agriculture debris, had caused about 60 percent of the forest fires that occurred, the record shows.

Smokers, children, roadside workers and picnickers, among others, were culprits in causing about 20 percent of the fire.  While about 15 percent were caused “accidentally”, the reason for the remaining five percent was unknown.

It was noted that more fires occurred between November and May, the so-called dry season.

Meanwhile, to combat fire, officials said the need for a national strategy was felt.

Assessing fire prevention effectiveness, institutionalising village level fire management groups, creating fire awareness through street theatre and campaigns, and strengthening volunteer programs, were some of the initiatives proposed.

By Dawa Gyelmo 

A new expanded Jakar township project

IMG_7001Waiting for expansion: Dekiling town

A master plan was submitted to MoWHS and Bumthang dzongkhag in October last year

Dekling: Blacktopped roads, lines of streetlight ready to be switched on, pavements for pedestrians and streets already named, Dekiling town is all ready to receive the business community of Chamkhar town.

But after years of “planning”, Bumthang’s new township will take some more time, even years, before it becomes the new business hub.  The only change, since it was stalled because of a decision to include more areas into the township, are in the bushes thriving in the empty space.

Initially, in 2007, Dekiling, measuring about eight acres, was only planned for the model town, but after consultation with the public, planners decided to extend the municipal area to Jalikhar in the south and Kurje in the north, including Dekiling and Chamkhar, as Dekiling town was found to be too small to accommodate the growing population of Chamkhar.

The new area in the master plan covers about 5.5sqkm.

The master plan, which was made jointly by the dzongkhag, works and human settlement ministry and the city of Zurich, Switzerland, was handed over to the ministry and Bumthang dzongkhag in October last year.

Dzongkhag and work and human settlement officials will soon conduct a public meeting, which is expected to be the next step in the progress of the town.

Bumthang dzongda Sangay Thinley said the previous understanding of the people was that, when the new town in Dekiling was readied, the existing houses and shops in Chamkhar would be removed. “However, the plan is to keep the existing town as it is, except for a few houses and shops on both sides of the river, which fall in red zone, at risk from the river,” he said. “There are houses, which fall in high, medium and low risk categories. The high risk houses have to be relocated first, followed by those in the medium, while the  low risk has to be studied before relocating.”

Main development, according to the revised plan, will be done in Dekiling, Chamkhar and Jalikhar, because of their suitability like existing settlement, road and airport proximity and hazard or danger zone identified.

Sangay Thinley said they’d prepare the local area plan in detail after the public meeting based on the overall master plan and in consultation with the stakeholders. “Some of the initial activities would be to identify where to locate the sewerage plants and build a few bridges to connect the two sides of the river,” he said. “Within the municipal area, there are plans for bicycle tracks, pedestrian paths, road widening on existing roads, bypass road from Chamkhar to Kurje along the river and proper water sources.”

The planning of the new town started in 2010 after it was endorsed by the National Assembly on July 2, 2010.  Since then, preliminary survey was done, consultation meetings and public meetings were carried out and the master plan was under process until last year, when it was finally completed.

Municipal engineer Tharchen said there is no budget identified or budget estimation done as yet, as it is not included in the yearly budget of the dzongkhag. “We need separate funding for this project, which is why the estimation will have to be done phase wise and activity wise,” he said. “The completion of this project will also depend on the availability of budget.”

Dzongda Sangay Thinley said the most important priority will be to maintain the traditional architecture in the constructions and that heritage and religious sites will not be disturbed.

The dzongkhag had also proposed the government that Garpang be included in the municipal area.

By Sonam Choden, Bumthang

Holding the wrong end of a stick

Very simply proposed education ministry officials their wish to experiment with schools around the country by giving them autonomy.

Very little did it strike them that in experimenting with schools, they were with many young lives.

Like many of country’s policies including those of economic development plan and the FDI, the draft guidelines on autonomous schools flaunt some sterling ideas.

But they ring hollow when it comes to how these policies would be implemented.

All education officials have said is the guidelines would enhance efficiency, service delivery and quality of education through empowerment of schools the autonomy brought and flexibility it promised.

Apart from these bureaucratic jargons, officials have yet to explain how those would be achieved.

The need to enhance efficiency and improving service delivery has always been at the heart of our discussions, not just in the education but in all other public sectors.

One of the ways spelt out is through granting of flexibility for schools to pick their own teaching staff.

To do so, like one private school principal pointed out, would be to open the Pandora’s box.

It would basically mean schools based in the capital city and urban centres across the country would probably reap the cream of the country’s teaching faculty.

As it is, students in such schools have been spoilt for choice in terms of learning materials, luring good teachers for them, best captures the old Bhutanese saying of raining where there is water aplenty.

What would become of rural schools needs no telling.

One message that clearly comes out of the draft guidelines and in the words of the education officials in support of it, is that the move is being considered to avoid the excessive protocol the Bhutanese bureaucracy represents.

Bureaucracy involved in obtaining funds, recruiting staff and governance of schools have all been seen as a hindrance to efficient functioning of a school. The same extends to all other public agencies and organisations.

This is also one of the reasons why many other institutions are seeking autonomy or lobbying for one.

But avoiding bureaucracy, like many have grown accustomed to, is not the solution? Just how long can we avoid it?

Why don’t we instead consider doing something about the symptom and not so much the disease?

Rather than looking for de tours that take just as long a time as having to route through bureaucracy, or cost something to avoid it, why can’t we look at overhauling the system instead?

It is not autonomy that schools need. They need motivated teachers. Perhaps this merits more attention, even a guideline or a policy.

Putting their money where their movie is

The Red Door wins local financial support towards its screening at an int’l festival

Cinema: In a display of public support for independent art, more than USD 3,000 has been raised to allow a Bhutanese short film to be screened at a notable international film festival to be held in Europe, this month.

Local filmmaker Tashi Gyeltshen’s short film, The Red Door, was recently selected to be screened at the Rotterdam film festival in the Netherlands.  The 15-minute film follows the journey of a man, who carries with him a red coloured door.  In the film, the door is a metaphor for death, and the journey a metaphor of the different stages of life.

However, without financial resources available to the filmmaker, there was a possibility that the short film and the director would not be able to make it to the festival.

In response, a campaign was organised by local art and film enthusiasts to raise USD 2,000.

One of the organisers, Kinley Shering, said that the 10-day campaign was launched to support the director of the film and also because the film would represent and promote Bhutan abroad.

Initially skeptical of being able to reach their target, the campaign organisers say support for the film has been “overwhelming”.  While donations were also received from abroad, the amount of local support has surprised the organisers.

Kinley Shering said that the overwhelming support indicates that Bhutanese appreciate and are willing to support and be a part of “quality” art.  He added that the message being conveyed is that there is place for good stories that do not conform to Bollywood or Hollywood formulas.

A Bhutanese working abroad had even offered to fund the entire campaign anonymously, but that this had to be denied as it would have prevented the collective effort.

“Small time filmmakers don’t get much support, it’s difficult for them, that’s why I supported this film,” said a supporter, Gyambo Sithey.

The money collected will be used for colour and sound corrections to be done in Thailand.  It will also be used to ensure the quality of the film is suitable for theatre viewing.  The cost of this process is USD 2,000.

The remaining money will be used to fund the director’s travel to the Netherlands, and his next film, the Red Phallus.  Tashi Gyeltshen plans to create a “red” trilogy.  The first in the series is his short film, Girl with the Red Sky.

“Whether they believe in art or believe in me, I’m really obligated to live up to everybody’s expectation,” said Tashi Gyeltshen, who added that he was humbled by all the support.

The making of the film was also a collective effort, pointed out Tashi Gyeltshen.  Friends and enthusiasts collected money, and provided equipment and transport for free. “It’s like a people’s film,” he said.  The Royal office of media and Bhutan+partners, a foreign organisation, also supported its making.

The Red Door will be screened five times at the Rotterdam festival, staring January 23.

The film has also been selected to be screened at the Fribourg festival in Switzerland, later this year.

By Gyalsten K Dorji

 

In Pictures: Street art?

Scrawls and blotches of graffiti around Thimphu town.

photo: Karma Dupchu