Monday, May 4th, 2015 - 12:54 AM
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All is not well with wellness centre

The project in Punkha contradicts provision of Land Act 

Hospitality: The international wellness resort in Lingmukha, Punakha is the second grand project that could be shelved for conflicting with the Land Act.

The National Land Commission (NLC) on February 28 issued a cancellation of land lease to Druk Holding and Investments (DHI), which is implementing the project citing it was contradicting the land lease provisions in the land Act.

If the project is to go ahead, DHI will have to lease land, which contradicts section 139 of the land Act that prohibits sub-leasing.

Land secretary Pem Chewang said the land was earlier requested in the name of DHI and was approved for lease on June 19 last year. Subsequently, the land commission issued the certificate of approval for lease to the economic affairs ministry  which was expected to execute the agreement with DHI as the representative of the government.

Pem Chewang said the ministry refused to sign the agreement because the certificate was issued in the name of DHI while DHI wanted to sign the agreement in the name of Menjong Wellness Resort, which is a subsidiary company formed under DHI.

DHI then appealed to the Land Commission. “However, we had to send the cancellation letter as it contradicts with the land Act’s section 139,” he said.

The former secretary, Dasho Sangay Khandu, in a recent interview with Kuensel said the wellness project was dropped, as the private sector is competent enough to invest and manage such undertakings.

Chief Executive Officer at DHI hospitality, Kinzang Norbu, said while they have completed acquiring local clearances, the land issue is still under review and the project is still underway.

“We have already spent about Nu 15M for conducting feasibility study, project formulations and site investigation,” he said. The operators, with whom DHI has signed an agreement has also agreed to an equity investment of USD 1.5M for the project.

He said the project was planned to take off in June this year by DHI partnering with an established global brand in hospitality from Thailand, which already provides wellness tourism services. It was aimed to complete the construction in two and half years. The foreign partner was to bring in technical know-how for designing wellness offerings and operating and managing the resort.

Kinzang Norbu said other than developing the country, as a premier tourist destination, the wellness centre would also help in branding the country and diversify tourist products in terms of wellness. “At the local level, it would employ local people and generate income for the country,” he said.

The wellness resort according to DHI officials was the first of its kind and aimed to provide the foundation for positioning the country as a unique and sought-after wellness destination.

The resort was also planned to provide holistic wellness programs for enhancing individual guest’s health, state of wellbeing and quality of life. In April 2012, Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PWC), a multinational professional services firm based in London, the UK,  identified Lingmukha as the most suitable place for the development.

Today, almost 90 percent of tourists, who visit Bhutan, are for cultural purposes. Wellness tourism is, therefore, expected to offset the high incidence of seasonality and uniformity.

The resort was to focus on providing facilities like traditional therapy, healing and treatment rooms, yoga and meditation rooms, and steam therapy, among others. If the Project is cancelled due to non-availability of land, then DHI could lose all the investments that have been made in the project.

Lingmukha gewog is home to 597 people and 124 households.

By Dawa Gyelmo, Wangdue

Private sector growth should be given serious thought: PM

PmLyonchhoen addresses the opening of the Summit

Summit: Private sector growth and foreign investment in the country will not improve if small things are brushed aside and focus is put only on things big.

Curtis S Chin, a participant at the Better Business Summit in Thimphu yesterday shared his experience. He said that he had to wait for almost 45 minutes for a cup of coffee in a Thimphu restaurant, and the oldest bank – Bank of Bhutan – did not give him a receipt after changing currency.

“A foreign investor wouldn’t want to waste 45 minutes  waiting for a cup of coffee,” he said. Little things like this are being overlooked in Bhutan. And this does not help create an environment that is conducive for the growth of business.

Lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay said that now is the time when development of private sector growth should be given serious thought. Instead of competing with the private sector, the state owned corporations should pilot sustainable business that will foster culture of healthy competition.

Lyonchhoen encouraged the investors to invest in Bhutan because of the country’s political will, pool of young human resource, availability of raw materials and cheap and clean electricity.

Lyonchhoen said: “I invite in Bhutan but on a condition that you will take Gross Nation Happiness seriously.”

However, Lyonchhoen said that unless the government and the people are honest, none of the goals can be achieved.

“Bhutan is the land of contradictions… Everything is not hunky dory in Bhutan. Bhutan is not a Shangri-La.”

Bhutan is ranked 167 out of 193 nations in terms of GDP. Lyonchhoen said that Bhutan may be poor but the government invests in its people and aims take up country’s ranking from 141 to the top 100 in the ease of doing business ranking in two years.

Lyonchhoen said that civil servants besides, each minister will be given the task to look after a parameter of doing business index.  There are ten parameters under the ease of doing business, including access to credit, licensing, trading across borders and getting electricity, among others.

Lyonchhoen also announced his plans to start a ‘meet the business’ session similar to ‘meet the people’ where issues and challenges facing the Bhutanese businesses will be discussed and solutions sought.

The summit will create better opportunities to promote small and micro businesses, said Lyonchhoen.

Tourism, manufacturing, organic farming, construction, and the ICT sector will provide tremendous opportunity for business, said Lyonchhoen.  “I am a man in hurry – a man on mission,” said Lyonchhoen.

The chairman of Druk Holding and Investments (DHI), Dasho Sangay Khandu, said DHI has plans to set up a non-banking financial institution to provide the access to credit.

While all the speakers of the plenary discussion on the diversification of economy agreed that Bhutan must attend to all the sectors equally, tourism and agriculture were given more importance.

By Tshering Dorji

Four mines under the scanner

mineBird’s eye view: The mines in Gidaphu (Picture: Google map)

Investigation follows after villagers complained to the PM

Investigation: Four mines in Gedaphu, near Jemina in Mewang Gewog, Thimphu are being investigated following complaints from villagers through Meet the People program to the Prime Minister.

Villagers complained that their drinking water was drying up, noise from one of the grinding units was disturbing, and that their irrigation water has become sandy and bringing aggregates from mines in to their fields.

National Environment Commission (NEC) secretary, Ugyen Tshewang, said: “Experts are conducting a thorough investigation whether the mines are affecting villagers’ livelihood as per the complaints.”

“They would investigate five mines in Mewang gewogs and study their impacts on villagers nearby.”

In the past three days, more than half a dozen officials from NEC, Department of Geology and Mines, and Thimphu dzongkhag administration were in Gedaphu to investigate on the complaints.

The team has collected water samples from several points at the stream that flows through the valley, tested air quality, visited the mines and irrigation channels as part of the preliminary investigation.

Officials said the samples would be sent to the laboratory. The test results would serve as a baseline for future investigations, the lack of which during this investigation could affect it.

There were no previous studies conducted on the impact of those mines, thus, there is no data available for them to compare with in this investigation.

One of the villagers, who complained, said that authorities should conduct random and surprise investigation and not a planned one.

“They have been sprinkling water along the road so the team would not know the real situation of the air quality here,” a villager said.

However, investigators said the investigation was not compromised and that they would ensure it addresses all the complaints.

A mine operator said he cooperated with the investigation team and was hoping it would make matters clear.

“We’re looking forward to seeing the report, then if there are things going wrong we would like to fix them or else see what we can do,” he said.

The team will visit and investigate at the Kuenphen Norden mine in Khariphu in the same gewog today.

By Tshering Palden

Nu 30M for improving rural livelihood

IMG_3365ICIMOD’s director general David Molden and director of GNHC Thinley Namgyel exchange the letter of agreement

Signing: The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) signed a letter of agreement yesterday to start a program – called “Rural Livelihoods and Climate Change Adaptation in the Himalayas” – for improving rural livelihood in Bhutan.

Diversifying agriculture, adding value, identifying additional niche cash crops that will help farmers increase their income levels are the major focus of the program.

With an amount of USD 500,000 (Nu 30M), which ICIMOD managed to source from the European Union, the pilot project for the program will be first implemented in Tsirang dzongkhag.

ICIMOD’s director general David Molden said there were opportunities that could be capitalised to benefit farmers.

“We will look into identifying those opportunities by carrying out several surveys and if it becomes successful, we’ll do it in a bigger scale,” he said.

The pilot project has a timeframe of three years.

Program Coordinator Christian Mazal said the implementing agencies would analyze the supply and production chains, study the demands for additional cash crops in the market and then put in place appropriate measures.

The implementing agencies for the project also include the ministry of agriculture, local government and the local dzongkhag authority.

The director general said agriculture in Bhutan was being practiced largely on a very small scale and it did not reach the market.

So several surveys and studies will have to be carried out to build capacity and expand beyond the mere subsistence practice.  “We will basically look at identifying niche mountain products and how to get them into the market.”

The program will also look into areas such as policy support to the government, research and development, capacity building both at the institutional and ground level, and knowledge sharing.

The GNHC Director, Thinley Namgyel, said the program has been developed in close consultation between the Royal Government of Bhutan and ICIMOD in ensuring its alignment to the 11th Five Year Plan.

“The program will work towards sustainable mountain development through active regional cooperation, and will encourage conservation of ecosystems by building the capacity of national and regional stakeholders, developing innovative livelihood options for rural communities,” he said.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests will be the main implementing partner for the program.

By Nidup Gyeltshen

Picture story

Devotees offer prayers at the annual Jana Chidoe kurim, which began yesterday at Pangrizampa monastery in Thimphu. The nine-day ritual is presided over by His Eminence (retired) Yangbi Lopen Sangay Dorji

B/desh looks to increase collaboration

DSC_1159Ambassador Choudhury and foreign secretary Yeshey Dorji after flag hoisting ceremony

Cooperation: The people of Bangladesh recognise Bhutan as the country that stood by Bangladesh in their nine-month-long liberation war and one of the first to recognise their country’s independence in 1971.

That was the beginning of friendship between the two countries, said the Bangladesh’s ambassador to Bhutan, Jishnu Roy Choudhury.

The Bangladeshi community celebrated their independence and national day yesterday at the Bangladesh Embassy in Thimphu.

The ambassador who has been in the office for only 61 days said the sole objective during his tenure will be to enhance collaboration between the two countries.

Agriculture, pharmaceutical, information technology, tourism and power, among others, the ambassador said, are the areas in which the two countries can collaborate for mutual benefit.

Technical support to Bhutan in the field of agriculture is already underway. Referring to his recent trip in Sarpang, ambassador Choudhury said that Bangladesh will provide germplasm of rice to double Bhutan’s rice production.

Trade in agricultural products, ready-made garments and ceramics already exist between the two countries although at entrepreneurial level, more can be done to improve by framing policies, said the ambassador.

In terms of regional tourist arriving in Bhutan, the number of Bangladeshis visiting the country is second only to India. This, the ambassador said, could be boosted by arranging more flights and introducing a bus service. “As India is close to both the nations, we can take advantage of it,” he said.

Bangladesh, he said, is ready to allow Bhutan to use its seaports to transport goods. “This will be discussed in a meeting that is scheduled to be held in April.”

An official from the embassy said the country has a requirement of 5,000MW, which Bhutan could provide with construction of more hydropower plants. Currently, Bangladesh has only one hydropower plant and uses fossil fuels and coal to generate power.

By Tshering Dorji

An achievement

The World Health Day on April 7, 1995, focused on eradication of polio, especially in the least developed countries. Bhutan joined the international community in celebrating the day.

By then, however, Bhutan had already eradicated poliomyelitis, a serious disease that crippled the life of the affected person. Bhutan has not had a report of polio since 1986.

Almost three decades later, a delegation led by the health minister is in New Delhi to attend the South-East Asia regional polio-free certification event.

This is an occasion to celebrate. Despite the reasons why the certification was delayed even after not registering a polio case for a long time, the event marks a milestone in the history of the health sector in the country.

However, we could take this event in the capital of India as a moment to reflect. Bhutan is among the few countries that provide free healthcare, including referrals.

Health has always been a priority in Bhutan’s development history. Even with other pressing socio-economic development activities demanding equal attention, our leaders always prioritised free healthcare system. This continues even today when a big section of the population can actually afford to pay for health services.

Immunization and vaccination was the top priority and the visible results today should be attributed to the drive and vigour of the Bhutanese policy makers and health workers in the past.

Polio is a disease without cure, but can be prevented by vaccination. Realising that, immunization became a priority as early as 1979. By 1991, Bhutan had achieved universal childhood immunization.

The health system is modestly thanking those mothers who brought their children to be immunized. But without the efforts and even if the health system was stretched for resources, the government prioritised immunization. Even without a single case since 1986, efforts were put in to prevent the life crippling disease from entering the country through our porous borders.

But this great feat for a developing country like Bhutan would not have been possible without the help of organisations like the WHO, UNICEF, JICA, GAVI, and Japan Committee for Vaccines World Children, and today as we celebrate the achievement, we should be thankful to these organisations for making Bhutan a polio free country.

Three decades later, our health system is fighting another battle, that of lifestyle diseases. From polio to tuberculosis, we are now fighting diseases like diabetes and hypertension. Since polio was eradicated, Bhutan has prospered. Our prosperity should not challenge the free healthcare system.

A planning setback?

industrial-areaA portion of the Gelephu industrial area

No construction zone rule delays plot allotment in Gelephu thromde

Gelephu: Gelephu thromde will have to wait for another month before they could allot plots in its industrial area.

The area needs re-planning after the final Gelephu airport map declared a no construction zone, which is affecting almost half the demarcated plots ready for allotment.

Officials said about 32.26 acres of the 86.30 acres of proposed industrial area was affected as it fell under the  “no construction zone’ for flight funnel path that expands over a kilometer in length from the airport until the Army Welfare Project area in length and 350m to 600m width.

The affected area constitutes five units of two-wheeler workshop, 16 units manufacturing units, six units of car washing centres, seven units of medium automobile workshops and 5.22 acres of the six acres allotted for a cricket field.

This has resulted in the delay of plot allotment, according to thromde officials. Officials said the thromde was ready to lease out the plots and were waiting for the National Land Commission to issue the new proposed lease rate. The thromde tshogdu, proposed Nu 4 a square foot in the industrial area after people requested the thromde not to raise the lease rate from Nu 3, which is applied to old lessee.

An official attributed the need to re-plan to the lack of coordination between the Department of Civil Aviation and the works and human settlement ministry. Planners didn’t know there was a no construction zone and the area up to the fence of the airport was demarcated as industrial area. But after the final map, it said at least one kilometer should be declared as no construction zone.

However, officials said the thromde is targeting to finish re-planning works in a month’s time. This, according to officials would be adjusted from the reserved plots of about 20 acres in the industrial service centre (ISC) and another 6.71 acres next to the cricket field, which will now be shifted to a new location.

“We’re in the process of mapping and plotting which is expected to take about a month. It’ll then be endorsed in the thromde tshogdu, demarcated and leased,” said Gelephu thromde’s executive engineer, Chophel Dorji.

Meanwhile, the thromde has received 70 applications for varied categories in the industrial area. The highest is for automobile workshops, 25, eight for car wash service, 10 for light manufacturing industries, 12 for warehousing, five showrooms, seven for wood-based industries and wood fabrication unit and three for miscellaneous.

By Tshering Namgyal, Tsirang

28 houses to receive claims

IMG_20140325_120608Debris: A roof blown off by the March 21 windstorm

Insurance: Of the 60 houses damaged by the March 21 windstorm in Samdrupjongkhar, only 28 qualify to claim insurance from the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan (RICB).

Although 52 houses in the dzongkhag were insured with RICB, 24 households did not qualify for claims.

“Some of our clients cannot make claim since the damage were mostly related to CGI sheets that were blown off from the roof,” said the RICB branch manager, Ugyen Dorji. According to the claim conditions, a client cannot make insurance claim if the damage worth is less than five percent.

Four of the affected houses were not insured while the other four structures that suffered damage were a school and three monasteries.

“Of the three monasteries, two are community owned and one is a private property. So the monasteries and the school will not fall under our purview,” said Ugyen Dorji.

Most of the insured houses fall under class 4 scheme that covers insurance up to Nu 60,000.

There are four classes in total under rural insurance scheme. Class one covers up to Nu 300,000.

Ugyen Dorji said that only one damaged house falls under the class one category. However, the damage caused to the house was only partial.

Even as the claim amount is yet to be paid finalised, Ugyen Dorji said the official figure stands around Nu 0.5M.

By Tshering Wangdi, Samdrupjongkhar

To become food and nutrition secure

Policy: To address issues related to food security and nutrition, which has bearings on national health, economy and security, it requires a coordinated and concerted approach.

Recognising this, and that past and present policies related to food and nutrition are implemented independently, without coordination, the food security and nutrition policy (FNSP) was formulated. The policy, proposed during the 2009 agriculture conference, was drafted in the following years and endorsed by the cabinet in January this year.

“The policy highlights what needs to be done to enhance food and nutrition status in the country,” Pema Thinley, planning officer with agriculture and forests ministry said. He was making a presentation on the policy during a high level stakeholders’ consultation on maternal and child nutrition in Thimphu on March 24.

“Food security is looked after by agriculture and forests ministry and nutrition by health ministry,” he said. “The policy will try and harmonise the missing links and gaps and coordinate food security and nutrition.”

This will be done with several offices and ministries taking responsibilities outlined in the policy, with agriculture and forestry ministry and health ministry taking lead in food security and nutrition.

A FNS technical taskforce, for monitoring and evaluation has been proposed to “collate existing knowledge and scientific evidence for food and nutrition security, carry periodic review of implementation of the policy and at levels, produce an annual report, and monitor and evaluate implementation of food and nutrition security programs by different sectors”.

The findings in the policy document are based on existing documents and studies like vulnerability analysis and mapping 2005, Bhutan poverty analysis report and Bhutan living standard’s survey, among others. “No comprehensive study on food and nutrition has been done,” Pema Thinley said.

In terms of food security, at the national level, the document states a national food security reserve, comprising of rice, oil and sugar, is currently maintained through the food corporation of Bhutan (FCB). The reserve has a total of 1,658MT of food distributed and marketed through 20 regional and local depots.

There are also two reserves. The  SAARC food security reserve and SAARC food bank with 180MT of rice each. Both are maintained by FCB.  There are also community grain silos storing food grains.

At the individual level, the average calorie intake of a person is 2,555kcal a day. “This is high,” Pema Thinley said. “The minimum requirement is 2,124kcal a day.”

But there are, he said, in food insecure dzongkhags like Pemagatshel, Samtse, Gasa and Samdrupjongkhar intake as low as 1,883kcal.

Stunting rate has decreased from 56 percent in 1988 to 37 percent in 2008. Anemia is a major health problem with 80 percent of 6-36 months children, 50 percent of and adolescent girls and 28 percent of men anemic (Anemia survey, 2002).

It also states that infant and young children feeding practices are not optimal among mothers and caregivers.

The policy’s goals and objectives are outlined broadly in four categories of, ensuring availability of safe and adequate varieties of food to meet food requirements at all times, enhancing physical, economic and social access to safe, affordable and adequate good including resources to acquire food by households and individuals, promoting appropriate consumption practices and enable optimum utilization of food by all sections of society, and sustaining conducive and stable environment for availability, accessibility and utilisation of food.

Pema Thinley said, in 2012, about Nu 7B worth of food was imported. “Our studies and assessments show that we have capacity to increase production by about 35 percent,” he said.

Increasing investments in food productions, supporting commercialisation and mechanisation, promotion of farmer’s groups and cooperatives, farming of staple crops high in micronutrients and integrated pest management, were some of the ways to upscale sustainable production and productivity.

The policy also outlines other means like promoting sustainable utilisation of agriculture land, maintaining of at least three months food reserves at strategic locations, creating enabling business environment, implementing microcredit programs for food security and efficient distribution mechanisms.

The policy also states that interventions in markets and price stability of food commodities should be ensured through mechanisms like institution of food price regulatory mechanism and diversification of food trade to break monopoly and control over food supply.

By Kinley Wangmo