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Sunday, May 24th, 2015 - 9:03 AM
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Agreement to hasten hydropower projects

DSC_1142Economic affairs minister Norbu Wangchuk and the Prime Minister signs the performance agreement

Targets: By the end of 2014-2015 fiscal year, 77 percent of works on Punatsangchhu I will be completed, 62 percent of Punatsangchhu II, 55 percent of Mangdechhu, while Dagachhu will be commissioned.

That is, if the economic affairs ministry is able to fulfill the performance agreement, economic affairs minister signed with the prime minister yesterday.

Economic affairs minister Norbu Wangchuk said the targets were taken into consideration under “normal circumstances”.

“The setbacks such as geographical surprises cannot be estimated,” he said.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, before signing the agreement, explained that if targets were not achieved, it need not mean the government or the concerned ministry failed.

He said since the performance management system was being implemented for the first time, the targets might have been over-rated.

“Lack of collaboration from agencies and fund constraints may act as a barrier in achieving the targets,” he said, adding that if reasons for a ministry’s inability to realise the target were due to unavoidable circumstances, the targets would be revised and improved in the following year.

For energy security, the ministry is also set to develop a mega solar project and wind power project to be commissioned during the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

Another challenge the ministry accepted was to enhance economic expansion and diversification.

It would develop 40 percent of the Motanga industrial estate and 10 percent each of the Dhamdum, Jigmeling and Bondeyma estates in the next fiscal year.

To increase the value of exports, Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk agreed to increase the export volume from Nu 17.6B in the current fiscal year to Nu 20.2B in the next.

The minister also agreed to create a conducive environment to do business by amending a few Acts, introducing new ones and instituting a consumer protection board among others.

By the end of next fiscal year, going by the agreement, five studies on mineral exploration would have been conducted.

Besides economy, the ministry will also establish six earthquake monitoring stations by next fiscal year.

Lyonchhoen said the purpose of the agreement was not to make one ministry compete against another, but to make each ministry compete against its own target.

Everything, he said was based on assumption that ministries will have access to all resources and support, including the funds.

“Lapses will be identified and concerned agencies will be held accountable,” Lyonchhoen said.

By Tshering Dorji

Unemployment among youth reaches 9.6%

MoHLR: The rate of youth unemployment in the country has increased from 7.3 to 9.6 percent in just one year.

Unemployment rate of female youth has gone up to 9.9 percent this year from 7.2 percent in the 2012-2013 fiscal year and male youth unemployment rate from 7.3 to 9.3 percent in the same period.

There were 3,476 unemployed youth in the country in the last fiscal year, out of which 2,083 were female. The ministry, however, didn’t have the number of unemployed youth in the current fiscal year (2013-2014).

The figures were announced yesterday when the labour minister Ngeema Sangay Tshempo signed an agreement with Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay to work towards full employment, which is to maintain the country’s employment rate at 97.5 percent.

The ministry committed to bring down youth unemployment rate to 2.5 percent for both male and female by the end of the current Plan. Its target is to reduce youth unemployment to at least 5 percent in the fiscal year 2014-2015.

The ministry will give extra focus to provide employment to female youth. Fresh university graduates will also be provided with jobs in ‘timely manner’. To maintain the full employment status, regularisation of employment will be encouraged.

“We will give full commitment and dedication to achieve the target,” said lyonpo Ngeema Sangay Tshempo.

The minister also signed an agreement with Lyonchhoen to improve working environment in the private sector.  The ministry will make employment in the sector more attractive and provide social protection the employees.

Lyonpo Ngeema Sangay Tshempo said improving the quality and relevance of technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is ministry’s other main objective. The TVET courses will be made more relevant to match the needs of the labour market.

Until December 2013, labour ministry recorded 6,817 jobseekers, which increased to 7,797 in January this year. Excluding the unemployed registering for employment in March, there are today 8,591 jobseekers in the country. Of the total, 4,712 are female.

Number of class XII and X graduates looking for jobs increased after the declaration of board exam results in January and February.

Today, there are 3,437 class X and XII graduates seeking jobs.

By Rajesh Rai

Picture story

Royal visit: His Majesty the King, accompanied by Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen at the Shivalaya Mandir site in Samtse. The temple is being rebuilt on the royal command as a gift from His Majesty to the people of Samtse to commemorate the Royal Wedding. Their Majesties offered prayers and blessed the Vaastu Kalash (ceremonial vase), which will be installed in the existing temple, around which the new structure will be built.

    

Liquidity paradox

Although banks have excess cash, access to credit continues to be a problem

Credit: While local financial institutions claim to have more than Nu 13B that can be lent, borrowers, especially those in the private sector, find themselves still wanting of credit.

A group of bank chief executives and experts from the financial institutions during a session at the better business summit said when it came to the challenge of accessing credit, it was a problem on the demand side.

Bhutan Development Bank chief executive officer Pem Tshering said there were no takers of credit although a rigorous attempt was made to increase lending.

“We have surpassed our targets in terms of deposit mobilisation, but when it came to credit sanctioning, the bank was still lagging behind,” he said.

In 2013, he said the bank provided credit to 40,712 clients, which fell short of their target of 43,208 clients.

“There were not many clients coming to take credit,” he said. “So I don’t believe access to credit is a problem.”

In relation to this, a local economist said it was important that policy changes should be made to encourage entrepreneurship and commercialisation in the agriculture sector.

“Farmers must be able to make use of credit in a business venture,” he said. “To make this happen, government support is important.”

Bank of Bhutan chief executive officer Pema Nadik said the bank had excess liquidity in almost all districts but no takers.

He said this was because of lack of financial literacy among the people.

Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Ugen Tshechup Dorji said access to credit was a problem not because banks did not have money, but because several lending portfolios were reduced.

“Because of change in central bank’s rules and regulations, several loans cannot be availed from the banks,” he said. “That’s what is causing problems in access to finance.”

Ugen Tshechup Dorji said the risk weight requirements of the central bank also disallowed some banks from giving loans.

“Some weights go as high as 300 percent,” he said. “This meant if a bank lent out Nu 100,000, it has to keep Nu 30,000 as provision for risks.”

This, he said was setting aside more idle money, therefore, leading to excess liquidity in the banks.

A banker said excess liquidity in banks translated to lower profits because cash remained idle, when it could actually be lent out and earn returns.

He said banks were also required to pay interest for this idle money, which then increased their liability against a static income.

Ugen Tshechup Dorji said the problems with regard to access to credit was, therefore, mainly because of the rules and regulations of the authorities and not so much about available money in the banks.

By Nidup Gyeltshen 

 

Yonphula airport to undergo overhaul

Reopening of domestic airport could be delayed by a year

Update: The Yonphula domestic airport in Trashigang will see a major overhaul and reopen in 2016, a year later than the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) estimated earlier.

The overhaul is being carried out to increase safety and compliance with international rules and will cost between USD and 4 M. Works includes the removal of three hills, flattening and resurfacing the runway, possibly also altering the direction of one end of the runway, and the relocation of a chorten, among others.

The airport was closed in October last year for the structural changes, about two years after it was opened.

The changes were prompted after safety concerns were raised by national airline Drukair. It also followed the findings of a study carried out by a regional aviation safety organisation, which recommended resurfacing the entire runway.

DCA chief administrative officer, Karma Wangchuk said that 18 months will be required for the changes to be completed.

With work on the ground yet to start, the department is currently completing the redesigning phase of the airport.

DCA will tender the structural work internationally in April and expects work to begin by June. The overhaul is being funded by the Asian Development Bank, which requires that any project beyond USD 1m is tendered internationally.

So far around Nu 12m or USD 200,000 has been spent on repairing the airport, which was constructed by the Indian Army in the 1960s.

Karma Wangchuk pointed out that three hills, including two that are located at either side of one end of the runway will be removed to enhance safety. The hills posed a danger given that the airport experiences 90 degree crosswinds.

The runway will also be flattened so that its slope conforms with international requirements. Drukair had pointed out that the runway’s slope was causing long term structural damage to its aircraft.

The possibility of the direction of one end of the runway being slightly tilted is also being explored. A tilt in that end of the runway will allow aircraft approaching the airport to abort a landing, if necessary.

A chorten will also require relocation. Karma Wangchuk said that the department is looking for land to relocate the chorten.

Meanwhile, DCA is also planning to complete constructing a terminal building and tower at Gelephu airport by January next year. DCA will open the airport to scheduled flights after that. Currently it is open only to charter flights. Gelephu airport was inaugurated in October 2012.

By Gyalsten K Dorji

 

Mean business

A tour operator was fined and his licence cancelled for forging visa for his two clients who had already boarded the flight to the country.

Other tour operators thought the penalty of a mere fine and cancellation of licence too mild for a crime they said could pose threat to the country’s security.

Tourism council officials had already endorsed the tour operator’s visa application, which the immigration officials denied because they learnt the visitors had already boarded the plane bound for Paro airport on forged visa.

Any tourism company would have known visa forgery was a crime and consequences if caught in the act.

But it is also worth considering why people are forced to flout laws, or look for ways around it.

This again brings the issue of ease of doing business, about which many representing the private sector, including tour operators themselves, spoke of openly at the Better Business summit that ended recently.

Firstly, like the participants at the summit pointed out, it is the layers and web of bureaucracy that people are put through to get a work done.

Even if it is not so much the red tape, it is the officials who take unusually long time in providing services. Everything else is a responsibility except the work for which people are paid.

Of course, there is this issue of authorities interpreting one law differently for different people and worse still, of not implementing laws at all.

This same incident also brings up the other issue of lack of coordination among various agencies.

Some tour operators said this case would not have cropped up in the first place had the tourism council not endorsed the visa application.

In deed the recent summit provided just the forum for those in the private sector to discuss issues with government officials representing various agencies.

Various points of views on both sides having been heard and hopefully noted, for a tangible improvement to show, differences have to be sorted out, loop holes plugged and provisions of various laws that are not in keeping with changing times, especially with respect to private sector development, need tweaking.

The changes are called for in the light of the country’s unemployment scenario and economic problems.

It is about time something be done with an issue that continues to hobble business and private sector development.

It is time to turn rhetoric into something tangible.

Will electric fence reverse rural-urban migration?

electric-fenceElectric fence improvised with energizer

LG: They may be counting chickens even before the eggs are laid, but local leaders in Trashigang are hopeful that the recent legalization of electric fence would bring some changes in the villages.

Villagers returning to the villages to cultivate fallow lands are the first thing in local officials’ minds. Bidung gup, Dorji Wangchuk attributes crop depredation as one of the many reasons that force the villagers out of the hamlet in search of better opportunities in urban areas.

“If the electric fence could stop crop depredation, I am hoping that people who left the villages would now consider returning to their villages,” he said.

Bhutan electricity authority and ministry of agriculture and forests declared recently that electric fence improvised with energizer would be allowed to fence the fields in the villages. But farmers are still prohibited from using crude electric fences that claimed many lives in the past.

Bidung has already allocated Nu 500,000 to install electric fence in Bidung from its gewog development fund.

Over 100 households in Bidung are goongtong (absentee landlord). Although other gewogs like Thrimshing, Kangpar and Udzorong are yet to make such decisions, its local leaders are positive with the possibilities of the electric fence reversing rural-urban migration.

Thrimshing gup, Ngawang Dorji said that the recent decision could help stop the steady rise of fallowing land in the villages. “Today, considerable size of land is also left fallow even by those villagers living in the villages because of wild life damage on crops,” he said.

Local leaders also said that the electric fence would help reduce import of food as steady rise of dependency on imported food is largely because of more people swarming to the urban areas who depend fully on food to come from outside the country.

“Since, people returning would be self-sufficient, dependency on imported food will obviously go down,” Udzorong gup, Tenzin Tshewang said.

Should electric fence reverse the rural-urban migration, Kangpar gup, Chempa Dorji said that even government infrastructures like schools that are now being closed down from the lack of new enrollment would come to live again.

Over 13 primary schools in Trashigang including Jangsheri, Tongling and Rangshikhar are expected to close down by 2014 from the lack of new enrolment.

By Tempa Wangdi, Trashigang

Khariphu mine closed

IMG_2167No business here: The road to the mine wears a deserted look

Update: With 13 households refusing to approve clearance for Kuenphen Norden mine at Khariphu to renew its lease, the mine will be closed from today.

The lease term ended yesterday.

Following Thimphu dzongkhag’s investigation in to complaints filed by villagers, the Department of Geology and Mines (DGM) suspended its submission of a note for the renewal of the lease to the economic affairs ministry.

DGM’s mining division had approved the final mines feasibility survey report and was in the final process of renewing the licence. Having completed formal evaluation procedures, the division was going to submit a note to the ministry for approval. It was up to the ministry whether to renew the lease or not.

The head of mining division said his division would not submit the note until the issues are resolved.

Thimphu dzongkhag’s investigation team leader, dzongrab Dorji Gyaltshen said the team would submit its report in a few days to the dzongda.

“The investigation needed some testing of samples and for that we had to request National Environment Commission’s (NEC) officials to conduct the tests,” he said, adding that report could not be finalised earlier as the tests took time.

He led a team including experts from DGM and NEC for a site investigation about a fortnight ago after villagers lodged a complaint against the mine.

Villagers complained that Khuenphen Norden mine which has been mining marble and crystalline limestone above the chiwog for the past 10 years, was severely affecting their drinking and irrigation water sources to Thimphu dzongkhag.

Meanwhile, the mine operator’s office is still waiting for a formal response from DGM and the investigation report from Thimphu dzongkhag.

The company’s general manager, NK Chhetri, said: “We decided to close the mine because the lease has expired and we didn’t get the renewal.”

The general manager said the company would incur heavy losses.

Of the company’s four earthmoving machines, the lone hired excavator would cost him Nu 9,600 a day from today.

NK Chhetri said the 25 employees are paid an average wage of Nu 400 a day.

“We’ve submitted all required documents and clearances before time and were only waiting for the renewed lease from DGM,” he said.

The mine has an environment clearance until September this year and land lease of more than 58 acres for the next five years.

He said the investigation report of the dzongkhag would determine their course of action.

By Tshering Palden

DDC asked to handover land and property to MoE

Ownership: The Dzongkha Development Commission (DDC) has been asked to transfer the thram (ownership) of the land and their office building to the education ministry.

The ministry of education (MoE) wrote to DDC last month regarding the issue. This is the third letter that DDC has received so far.

DDC in their response to MoE’s letter sought two options. DDC wants to function from the same office as they ‘have’ the ownership over land and the building.

“If the ministry still insists upon transferring the ownership, DDC should be given a 50-decimal land on which MoE should construct a new office for us,” DDC officials said.

DDC officials said the thram would be transferred to the education ministry only after they move into the new office.

“As a small organisation, its hard to get budget for construction of  new office,” an official said.

Currently, DDC is located near the education ministry. Prior to that, DDC was located at the education ministry premises. It was then shifted to the cottages near the Bhutan Broadcasting Service office. DDC moved to the present location a few years later as directed by the education ministry.

The education ministry had written twice earlier asking DDC to vacate their office as the ownership back then was with the ministry. DDC officials then approached the past government to provide them a space. DDC was given a plot  near the Textile Museum.

“We approached the former Cabinet for funding of the construction of the office but we’re told that there was no budget,” an official said. “We were asked to look for another space.”

Unable to find a suitable space, DDC officials said they had to transfer the ownership of the land and building.

“A week before the former Cabinet dissolved, the ministry asked us to vacate the building and transfer the land,” DDC officials said.

The recent letter, official sources said, was written based on the verbal command the education ministry received from the Prime Minister.

Education secretary Sangay Zam said that the issue is between two government agencies, which can be sorted out amicably.

“The issue isn’t new,” the secretary said.

By Dawa Gyelmo

 

 

Not many buyers at Mongar book fair

on-the-last-day-students-of-Mongar-lower-secondary-school-rush-for-discountSale: Students of Mongar lower secondary school rush for discount on the last day

Fair: The seventh national book fair held in Mongar lower secondary school from March 28 to March 31 did not see many buyers.

The four-day fair had books ranging from fiction to academic, but participants said that because of lesser budget for libraries with schools, only a few thousands of books could be sold.

One of the participants, Jarilal Gurung of Jennifer enterprise in Thimphu, said he had bought books worth of Nu 600,000 but managed to sell worth only Nu 50,000 while he had to pay more than Nu 73,000 as rent.

Pema Dorji of Kuenjung enterprise in Phuentsholing said that earning from Nu 2.5M was just Nu 70,000. He said to do well in the fair requires one to have good rapport with school principals and librarians.

“Looks like we have to think twice before participating in such fairs,” said Pema Dorji.

The book fair organizer, Pema Tashi of KMT printers and publisher, said that he bought books worth Nu 1M but could mage to sell worth only Nu. 400,000.

The book fair saw 24 participants. Most of the participants, who had come from Thimphu, Phuentsholing and Samdrupjongkhar, said that they had to spend more on transportation, stall rental charges, staff travel, food and lodge.

Mongar has 51 schools but the total library budget was only Nu 1.2M. All the necessary books in the school library are bought from the fair. Lhuentse dzongkhag that has 27 schools had the same budget for school libraries.

Book fair participants submitted a letter to the curriculum department of the education ministry last year complaining that budget allocated to schools to buy books was too small.

Another book fair in Bajothang starts from April 10.

By Dechen Tshering, Mongar