Monday, March 30th, 2015 - 8:17 AM
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Govt. should review PAVA rates …

… said the PM at the meet-the-press, if what’s currently on offer is  not realistic

Land rate: The government should review the rates, if what the government Property Assessment and Valuation Agency (PAVA) offers is way below the market rate, lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay, during meet-the-press session last week, said.

The prime minister was responding to the media’s query on development activities in Thimphu that have remained on paper for about a decade.

This had happened because landowners were unwilling to accept government’s compensation rate that PAVA determined, which was apparently below the prevailing price in the market.

“First and foremost, the thromde must approach us, but we had no direct request for intervention in any of these matters from the thromde,” lyonchhoen said.

“If the thromde is constrained by the lack of land or lack of ability to acquire public land, as is allowed by the country’s land act, they should work with us,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to support them.”

The sites, identified and approved for development activities there, were of “national level importance” and proposed in the Thimphu structural plan.  The cabinet approved the plan in 2003.

Among others, the thromde’s record includes a proposal to develop a diplomatic enclave in the Hejo-Samteling local area plan, which would house 16 embassies.

The other was the construction of a modern transport terminus, so-called ‘city gateway project’, at Olakha that would replace the existing bus terminal at Lungtenzampa.

There was also a plan to construct a stock exchange building, for which a site was identified at Jungshina.

Landowners claimed that the compensation government offered was much lower than the market rate.  For instance, a decimal of land in Hejo, near Tashichhodzong, according to landowners, costs at least Nu 400,000 while PAVA’s rate is Nu 98,611.

Lyonchhen said nobody has requested the government to review the PAVA rate.

“As far as government is concerned, we’re more than willing to review the PAVA rate, if it is established that it’s time to review the rates,” he said.

However, the prime minister also said the prices of lands were falling and they were not sure, how and where PAVA rates stood vis-à-vis real market rates.

He said, there was a need for a framework to be able to provide to landowners, who lose their land to the government for public purposes, with fair market value

“And if the government rates were way below the market rate, we should review it,” he said.

As far as the land act was concerned, the prime minister said, if the government so requires (thromde) land for the greater good of public, the government could take over that land by paying reasonable compensation to the landowners.

He said that, if the landowners have land elsewhere in the city, they could be paid compensation, and if they do not have land in the city, they would be given land substitute.

Meanwhile, planners are concerned that, if the problem persists, it would not only hamper planned development activities in the country but public service delivery as well.

“Since these projects are of national importance, it’s only appropriate that relevant central agencies take up these tasks,” a thromde official said.

The land act, the Constitution, the land rules and regulations and the local government act allow the government to acquire private land for public purposes, and the same rules also state landowners should be paid “fair compensation”.

“PAVA rate was studied and analysed, considering more than eight factors, such as the open market rate, official rates recorded during transactions, inflation, rates adopted by financial institutions and real estate developers,” a thromde official said.

By Dawa Gyelmo 

Autonomous public hospital, what it means

Medical professionals’ favouring national referral hospital’s autonomy conveys a subtle message.

Like institutions that have sought and gained autonomy from the civil service in the past, their wishes too are to break away from the bureaucratic complexities.

Apparently what doctors at the national referral hospital have indicated for insisting on such a move was because they believe, autonomy brought them freedom from the shackles of civil service rules and regulations.

The layers of processes civil service norms entailed, doctors said often came in the way of their efficiency in terms of management and providing quality services because of which their public image took a bashing.

In the last few years, the Bhutanese health system came under much public criticism in terms of quality of health care that people thought was dwindling, constant shortage of drug supplies and lack or shortage of trained staff.

Medical practitioners at the hospital attributed these issues to weak management, especially in the light of decision-making that was centralised in the ministry.

They believed the ministry officials, who were bestowed the authority to call the shots were far removed to understand the constraints and challenges of the hospital and its staff.

Therefore, more than the autonomy, the proposition is more about changing for the good, the functioning of the public hospital through a more efficient management and of course staff incentives to change their attitudes.

However, international experiences show that such decisions of giving public hospitals autonomy are not necessarily followed by improvements as expected.

In other developing nations where government’s granted public hospitals autonomy, it was often the vulnerable sections of the public who suffered at the face of a deteriorating performance and managerial abuse of the new found authority from autonomy.

There were issues of hospitals collecting fees from people and not that it does not exist in our hospitals today, but there were also issues of medical staff treating differently different patients, determined by their social standings.

We would like to believe our medical staff are unlike those of other nations to forget or neglect the primary goal of our public hospitals, to cater to the needs of the disadvantaged sections of the society.

We would like to believe that since such a proposition is coming from our medical staff at the hospital, they would have gauged the improvements the autonomy might bring about.

During their studies and trainings in other countries, our doctors and other medical staff might have worked under such a system to learn the benefits of which, before proposing a similar establishment for the country.

Cooperative-institute nexus to go nationwide

AgriAgriculture minister Yeshey Dorji and SNV Managing Director Tom Derksen released the guidelines yesterday

Linking farmers’ groups with schools and institutes is a project to satisfy both 

MAGIP: After successfully linking 57 farmers’ groups of six eastern dzongkhags to 31 schools and one monastic institution, agriculture ministry’s market access and growth intensification project (MAGIP) is now working on supplying farm produce to schools and institutions across the country.

This, agriculture ministry’s marketing specialist, Bhim Raj Gurung, said, could be achieved with the guidelines for facilitation of contractual supply of renewable natural resource (RNR) products by farmers’ groups to institutes, which was launched yesterday.

The guideline has model contract in Dzongkha, which both farmer groups and schools could use to sign.

Bhim Raj Gurung said the linking was initiated in eastern dzongkhags, studying the off-season vegetable products in India, from where Bhutanese have imported vegetables since 2009.

“We found there was market for our vegetable production from March to October,” he said.

Last year, when MAGIP project officials met district education officers and district agriculture officers, they showed interest of linking all schools with the farmers’ group.

Explaining the advantage, Bhim Raj Gurung said that, if the market rate for potato was Nu 25, and the schools and institutes were willing to pay Nu 20, they negotiated and fixed the rate at Nu 22.

“It’s a win-win situation, as schools would get fresh vegetable products and farmers would get the same price throughout the year,” he said. “It’s a sustainable market because, if they follow the market price, prices would dwindle.”

SNV Bhutan’s sector leader for agriculture, Rik Van Keulen, said farmers in Bhutan know how to produce agricultural products, but marketing was a problem.

“But this linking of farmers’ group to schools and institutes would go a long way in marketing the farm produces,” he said.

Rik Van Keulen said, by the end of this year, 145 groups were targeted to link schools and institutes.

He said, usually, the school gave contract to commercial suppliers, who supplied vegetables from India.  But now the farmers’ group would supply fresh vegetables and other agricultural products to the schools.

He also said, while there were challenges of farmers unwilling to sell at the negotiated price when market price was high, strong leadership in the group would solve the problem.

There were also issues of farmers not used to growing vegetables every month.

“Our farmers here only grow seasonal vegetables and then sell in markets,” he said. “But now they have to plan on ensuring that they supply through out the year.”

The contract of linking states that, even if it were lean season, they would still have to supply, either by buying from commercial outlets or from other farmer groups.

Department of agricultural marketing and cooperatives with technical support from SNV and JICA’s horticulture research and development project in Wengkhar, Mongar coordinated the MAGIP project.

By Tashi Dema

Changju gets gifted a ropeway

Rope-wayRopeway: Villagers of Changju in Samtse load the trolley to transport their goods home

Funded by GEF small grants program, the facility will take a load off the villagers’ backs

Tarayan: While villagers of Changju in Norgaygang gewog in Samtse will still have to walk the same distance, they will now not have to carry their luggage on their aback anymore.

With the help of a newly installed ropeway, their luggage or goods will reach the village before them.  The ropeway has cut short more than three hours walk to the village from Thikha, the nearest road point.

Called the “Thikha-Changju gravity goods ropeway,” the villagers got the facility on February 9 from Tarayana Foundation.

The Global Environment Facility small grants program funded the ropeway worth USD 49,980.

A village elderly, Gopal Gurung, 70, still remembers how villagers carried their goods from Tendu gewog, the nearest gewog that was connected with the highway and walked for almost a day.  The walk shortened when a farm road connected Tendu to Thikha.

But now farmers are relieved that they can easily transport their goods through the ropeway’s trolley, and ask its operator to send the goods home.

“If we walk without luggage or goods, we reach our chiwog in an hour,” he said. “This ropeway will benefit us in many ways.”

Another villager Chand Badhur, 40, said this would not only relieve their backs, but would also cost them less.

“We pay Nu 250 for 50kg for a pony, and Nu 5 a kilo if carried by a porter,” he said. “But now we just have to drop our goods at Thikha and pay Nu 1 a kg and walk home freely.”

Changju chiwog has three villages with 160 households and a population of 400.

A consultant firm based in Nepal, Practical Action, designed and installed the ropeway.  Its engineer, Ganesh Ram Sinkemana, said it took almost a month to complete the ropeway’s installment.

The consultation firm, which deals with ropeway constructions in Nepal, is known to have come up with such initiatives and simple technology in more than 24 villages in Nepal.

Ganesh Ram said the 980m long ropeway was designed to reduce poverty, with the ropeway running on gravity and not on fuel and electricity.

He explained the ropeway’s trolley was designed to carry 25kg from Thikha, while from Changju village the trolley’s capacity was 130kg.

“So villagers can send down their cash crops in more quantity,” he said. “Instead of three hours, their things will reach in a minute.”

He said the ropeway was constructed with the help of 65 villagers to pull the pulleys and wires across two mountains. “It’s very important that both the trolley’s weight coordinate each other,” he said.

Two caretakers, who will be paid a monthly salary of Nu 3,000 and Nu 200 mobile voucher allowance to contact each other, will look after the ropeway.

“In case if they run out of balance, then whichever side is ready should hit on the rope,” Ganesh Ram said. “One hit on the rope will indicate the other side isn’t ready; two hits will mean ready, and three hits will indicate to stop the work.”

Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck inaugurated the gravity ropeway and handed over to the community.

“Villagers proposed for transportation as their needs to the foundation,” Tarayana’s field officer, Sonam Jamtsho, said. “The ropeway was the simple form of transportation we could help.”

Meanwhile, the foundation also contributed two cardamom driers to the community. “They’d spend five truckloads of firewood to dry the cardamom,” Sonam Jamtsho said. “But now with this, they can dry cardamom in 12 hours.”

By Yangchen C Rinzin,  Norgaygang

Americans back on top in tourist arrivals

After falling second for the first time in 2012 to the Japanese, the Americans were once again #1

Tourism: American tourists dominated international arrivals last year, surpassing Japanese tourists who topped arrivals in 2012 .

Of the 52,798 international tourists, who visited the country last year, the highest were Americans, with about 6,927 visitors, a tentative arrival list by nationality show.

After the US, the other top source markets were China with about 4,764 tourists, Japan with about 4,015 and about 3,494 Thai tourists.

Americans continued to dominate international tourist arrivals until 2011.  However, in 2012, for the first time, it was Japanese tourists that topped the market.

Tourist arrivals by nationality

Japanese tourists surpassing American tourists in 2012 was mainly attributed to Their Majesties’ visit to Japan in 2011, which generated “enormous” publicity, followed by Tourism Council of Bhutan’s (TCB) follow-up promotions in Japan.

Also, for the first time in four years, Chinese tourists surpassed Japanese tourists, emerging as the second top source market last year.

The country usually saw the highest arrivals from the US followed by Japan.  In 2010, Germany saw an increase of about 42 percent in arrivals, overtaking the UK.

“During the same year, China represented a promising new market and was rated among the top five major markets for the first time with an increase of about 30 percent over 2009,” the tourism monitor stated.

In 2011, China emerged as the third top source markets with 2,896 visitors, records with Tourism Council  show.  During the same year, Thailand stood fifth among the top source markets with 2,235 visitors.

While arrival figures from top source markets were important, the tourism monitor stated that measuring source markets based on duration of stay was a valuable indicator. “Yield and revenue are linked to the duration of stay,” the monitor stated.

Despite the increase in arrivals from neighbouring Asian countries, Tourism Council  records indicated that tourists from US always visited for a longer period, contributing to higher revenue, followed by countries like the UK and Germany.

After dominating the top source market for a long time, the US dropped to the second in 2012, followed by Chinese, Thai and British tourists.  That year, the country recorded 105,407 international and regional tourists.

“A record increase in the top Asian markets like Japan, China, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia propelled the Asia/Pacific region to be the dominating market region in the world,” the 2012 tourism monitor stated.

The increase in arrivals from neighbouring Asian countries, tour operators, said was an advantage for tourism industry, considering the effort towards promoting the country as a all year-round tourist destination.

A majority of Asians, tour operators said, travelled during summer months to escape the heat. “So that’s when we have to package tours and market accordingly to attract Asian tourists and so far, our efforts have paid off,” a tour operator said.

Last year, 116,224 international and regional tourists visited the country, an increase by about 10 percent or 10,810 tourists from the previous year.

Of the total arrivals, 44,267 were international or Dollar paying tourists, 8,531 under international business, while the rest 63,426 were regional tourists.

By Kinga Dema


Pasakha – urban by tax but not amenities

Becoming a P/ling constituency has so far only been a burden to the villagers

Thromde: When the Phuentsholing thromde declared Pasakha, Pekarshing and Rinchending as its constituencies, villagers hoped for better amenities fit for an urban setting.

Two years on, landowners are complaining of the development in the thromde.  There are no signs of proper road or water supply coming and villagers are restricted from constructing house on their own land.

The only change was the revision in land tax, which was revised from Nu 12 an acre, when they were considered rural, to 12.5 chetrums (ch) a square foot.  With the revision, tax on an acre of land comes to about Nu 38,000 an acre.  43,560 square feet makes an acre.

Without facilities coming in the constituencies, landowners said they don’t see a reason to pay the revised tax.

“Thromde office has helped us bring down the tax to 12.5ch from 25ch,” said a resident, Mohan Kumar Pradhan. “But we’re still paying the urban land tax for nothing when there’s no service being provided.”

With the third year running since they came under the thromde, villagers said, apart from few installations of water tank, they are yet to see their place turn into a town.

“If this was the case, it was better we remained under the rural,” Bhimal Kumar Ghalley, a farmer said. “At least land tax was low and development would come through the local government.”

With development delayed, value of land has not increased as expected. “There are some transactions going on, but with the place still wearing a rural look, not many would buy land,” said Bhimal Kumar.

Another added they sold portion of their land to meet the tax because they didn’t have any means of source of income other than growing betel nut.

The same issue had been raised several times in every thromde tshogde.

Theumis from the constituencies said all they heard from the thromde, after repeated follow ups, was that the local area plan was not in place. They said if LAP would take another year they would completing their terms, which could leave a bad taste among voters.

“People are going to think that we have not done anything,” Pekarshing theumi Tirtha Maya Mongar said. “We’ve been pursuing the thromde office to begin the work soon.”

Pasakha thromde theumi Ganesh Chhetri said with no response from the authority, people have given up on the issue. “People complain to me they’ll stop paying the urban tax if this continues,” he added.

Phuentsholing thromde chief urban planner Tshering Phuntsho said the structural plan has been already completed and, in principle, approved by the national coordination committee for human settlement under works and human settlement ministry.

He said structural plan would guide the local area plan in six constituencies.

“Once we finish with the LAP, we’ll begin the activities,” he added.

On the tax, Tshering Phuntsho said, it is levied for holding a land in the urban area.  “The moment the area was demarcated under the town, their land value has shot up, which is an immediate benefit,” he said. “This same tax would be used for their benefit in the future.”

However, the LAP is expected to complete by the end of this year and development activities in at least three of the six constituencies by 2015.

“But for Pasakha and Rinchending, they might have to wait until the next financial year,” he said. “Until then they’ll have to keep paying the urban land tax.”

Meanwhile, the issue was raised by Phuentsholing member of parliament, Rinzin Dorji, who questioned works and human settlement minister that residents in Pasakha industrial area paid urban taxes when they were not provided with urban amenities.

Lyonpo Dorji Choden said that the government was aware of the problem people in Pasakha faced and that the ministry, after discussing on the issue, submitted to the Cabinet on how to go about the issue.

By Yangchen C Rinzin, Phuentsholing 

Going strong at 103…

photoGanga Maya Ghalley

Lifestyle: Ganga Maya Ghalley from Chokorling, Gelephu, thinks that she is one of those rare, yet fortunate ones, who got to live under the reign of all five kings in the country.

At the age of 103, except for the wrinkles and a mouth free of teeth, she is going as strong.

“It’s neither exercise nor any kind of special food,” she said. “I think it’s inner strength.”

She said she is blessed to have lived this long, “to be able to walk, talk and enjoy life”.

“But at this stage, uncertainty looms with each passing day,” she said.

Born in 1911, Ganga Maya Ghalley was married at the age of 32, and has five children.

“One of my children died,” she said.

Awed by her age, the centenarian gets many visitors.

Even in this day and age, when there is bombardment of technology, Ganga Maya Ghalley relies on her rooster and the sun’s direction to determine time of the day.

She spends her day on a bench in front of her house at Chokorling, about 15 minutes from Gelephu.  Most of the time, her grandchildren and great grandchildren keep her company.

If not at her own home, she would be at their place.

Her grandson’s wife, Renuka Ghalley, said, whenever Ganga visits the hospital for her routine check up, she prefers sitting on the floor.

“She believes the stool could be infected, with so many patients sitting on it,” Renuka Ghalley said. “For her age, she can move around well, and doesn’t just stay at one place.”

Ganga Maya Ghalley said people shouldn’t worry a lot in life, if they want to live longer.

“People half my age die, and I think it’s mostly because of worrying so much over things that really don’t matter,” she said. “Take money, for instance.”

She said there was no use worrying about things people have no control over.

“Well, I don’t worry as much, and want to live for some more years,” Ganga said.

By Meera Ghalley, Gelephu

Full steam ahead towards ‘full’ employment

NC Q-hour: Although the market will have 120,000 jobseekers in the next five years, the government will have to create only 82,000 jobs to maintain the “full employment” status.

This was presented during last week’s question hour session at the National Assembly in response to the Kengkhar-Weringla representative Rinzin Jamtsho’s question on what the government was doing to achieve 100 percent employment.

As the labour minister was absent during the session on February 4, a written answer was provided, which said the People’s Democratic party’s pledge was to provide full employment (97.5 percent, as per the 11th Plan and economic development policy, 2010, which was to create 82,000 jobs.

Labour minister Ngeema Sangay Tshempo said, in his response,.that 42,000 people would be employed in five years, as required in the government’s human resource development.

Through the overseas employment program, lyonpo’s response stated that a total of 30,000 jobseekers would be sent abroad for employment opportunities, while the remaining 10,000 jobseekers would get enrolled in various programs and events in the country.

In case of the overseas employment, the minister said three Bhutanese employment agents were registered to date, and that the ministry of foreign affairs

was also sending information to ambassadors abroad.

Recently, nine jobseekers were sent to work at the Sheraton hotel in Qatar.  Job offers from the US and Saudi Arabia have also come, with requirement of more than 2,000 employees.  The requirement is more in Saudi Arabia.

“In addition, we’ve received 50 temporary vacancies from Israel in the agricultural sector,” lyonpo’s response stated, adding that another group of 30 youth has already been sent to Israel to get trained in basic agricultural activity.

To date, the labour ministry has also sent 48 people to Thailand for English teaching jobs.

Opposition member Rinzin Jamtsho also had mentioned the situation would worsen, with some thousand jobless youth from classes X and XII likely to enter the job market.

On this, the labour minister had said that a six-month training in agriculture would also be available for class XII graduates, and a total of 3,000 youth would be enrolled in the pre-employment program.

“This training is, especially, for classes X and XII students who are looking for employment,” the labour minister said.

Between July and December last year, some 169 students (classes X and XII) have participated in this program.

Another 3,000 youth, lyonpo’s report said would be given entrepreneurship development training.

Under this program last year, 49 youth were trained in basic entrepreneurship and 37 youth in comprehensive entrepreneurship.

To address the issue of lack of job skills, a total of 7,142 youth would be enrolled in technical institutes in the country, the report said.

Labour ministry will train 3,000 graduates in the next five years under the university graduate internship program.

“This is to give experience and skill development and knowledge,” lyonpo’s response stated, pointing out that 599 university graduates were trained under this program last year.

In addition, around 2,000 youth would be given apprenticeship training in the next five years. “This is to provide better understanding of working condition, environment, and to offer hands-on experience,” lyonpo said.  The ministry trained 832 youth under this program last year.

Meanwhile, lyonpo said the unemployment figure in 2013 has decreased. “There were 7,000 (which is 2.1 percent) jobseekers, as per the findings of labour ministry’s HRD advisories, 2012,” he said. “The number of jobseekers in 2013 was only 6,817.”

By Rajesh Rai 

Herders beg govt. to return tsamdro rights

Chebling-psatureland-in-me-copyChebling pastureland, Merak in Trashigang

However, that would contravene provisions in the Land Act 2007

Pasture: While the agriculture ministry would soon implement tsamdro and sokshing provisions in accordance with the land act, as announced during the recent assembly session, herders from Merak and Sakteng appealed to the government to “reconsider” the decision.

Nomads from Merak and Sakteng in Trashigang said tsamdro (pastureland) rights should be reinstated to individual thram (land registration certificate), as was the practice before the Land Act 2007 came into being.

If the provisions, which are on “hold”, were to be practiced, it provided for removal of rights, reverting tsamdro and sokshing to government, and leasing of the reverted plots, among others.

“Our ancestors secured tsamdro through payment of tax for years and contribution of labour, which was arduous and passed it down to us as a lawful property,” Nima Nidup, a herder from Merak, said

He said it was not like everyone could own tsamdro, but those with the ability to make contributions for generations that managed to secure the property.

Both Merak and Sakteng gewog officials also backed the herders’ pleas.

“Herders want gewog to persuade the government to reinstate tsamdro rights,” Sakteng gup, Tshewang Tshering said.

Officials said without arable land for cultivation, it was the only source of livelihood for the nomads.

Merak mangmi Jurmey said the herders were still protecting their tsamdro as before, asserting their rights over it.

Sakteng gup said with a herder owning a minimum of 300-1,000 acres of tsamdro, most of them would be unable to take it on lease.

“Even if the government charges about Nu 20 an acre, the amount is going to be quite high,” he said.

Merak gup Gaydhen said herders ought to own vast areas of pastureland to feed fairly bigger group of livestock, including yak, horses and sheep.

“Retaining large herd is the only way to ensure larger production of dairy products,” he said.

Hence, he said, leasehold could force considerable number of herders, who cannot afford vast area of pastureland out of semi-nomadic life.

“Forcing herders out from here can also prove detrimental to country’s security along porous border of the east,” he said.

Tshewang Tshering said in 2013, it was only through information from herders living along the border that the gewog managed to stop the construction of road from Bagajang towards Bhutanese soil.

“The worst is that leasehold can have degrading effect on brokpa (as nomads of Merak and Sakteng are locally called) culture, which is essential for preservation,” he said.

Meanwhile, some herders suggested that, rather than taking away what pastureland herders used and cared for, the government could re-distribute them by ensuring everyone received  an “equal” share of tsamdro.

By Tempa Wangdi, Trashigang

Picture story

His Majesty the King with Trashiyangtse lam neten (head of district clergy) at Chorten Kora yesterday