Call it a poor decision, or putting the cart before the horse, the decision to increase the daily sustenance allowance by 100 percent, without increasing the budget, has not gone well for civil servants.
If the idea of increasing the allowance was to meet the cost of being away from home on official duty, it has served the purpose. Cost of living has increased. With Nu 500, one cannot even rent a decent hotel in almost all the towns in the country. It would be difficult for an official on tour to meet his daily expenses, get a decent place to sleep and three meals even with the increased amount.
But if the idea is to motivate people to travel and enhance service delivery, it has not helped. Government agencies have started cutting down on travel as they run out of budget. Some, who feel travel is important for their job, are dipping into other budgets. With or without budget, if a duty involves travelling, like the forester who has to patrol the forest to contain illegal logging, their presence in the jungle is important.
But the decision to improve the raise before the increase in budget, even if not intended, has shaken officials, especially those who have control over travel and allowance. They are forced to manage with whatever they have.
From a positive perspective, tightening the kera for the lack of budget has come as a good test for government agencies. Can we manage? The bigger test is can we control unnecessary travel and therefore unnecessary cost to government coffers?
What’s sure is that there won’t be many table tours this financial year. Travel will be scrutinised and prioritised. The little budget they have will have to be spent on travel that cannot be compromised. Some are already doing it.
It is an open secret that a lot of money is wasted on tours and travels that can be avoided without hampering services. When an agency has budget in excess, tours are created so that the budget is not reflected as unspent and returned to the government.
There is also a misconception that the so-called TA/DA is an opportunity to save money. It is to cover basic cost while on official duty from the place of work. The amount should be able to cover this, because the implication is not so much the travel but the necessity. The wrong people should not make the wrong trips for the wrong reasons.
What we can take from the current paradox is that we can actually cut cost. We need not sacrifice porter and pony claims totally, like one dzongkhag did, but can scrutinise the claims. Travel distance has become shorter, with almost every gewog now connected with roads. Why should we pay separate mileage for four officials travelling in one car? Why has the official days of travelling from Thimphu to Gasa not changed, when the latter is connected by road and takes only one day to reach.
As agencies adjust the limited budget, it could lead to something good for the cash-strapped government, if looked at from a positive angle.
Beneficiaries of existing privileges, like tour operators and hoteliers, are keeping their fingers crossed
Tourism: With the existing privileges and fiscal incentives for the tourism industry as per the economic development policy (EDP) 2010 ending this year, concerns have been raised on whether these incentives would continue after the sunset limit of 2015.
Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) officials said the issue would be put up at the upcoming council board meeting, a date for which is however not yet known. After it is discussed in the board, which is chaired by the prime minister, TCB officials said the cabinet would review the policy and make a decision.
“There could be some revisions to the existing privileges and tax incentives and priorities could change,” the TCB spokesperson said.
Tour operators are exempt from customs duty and sales tax on tourist vehicles with a seating capacity of 10 and above.
A tour operator is allowed to import a Hiace bus and a Coaster bus without paying taxes. While unincorporated tourism business enterprises cannot import more than two buses in a period of five years, incorporated companies can import up to five buses.
With effect from 2010, until 2019 December, selected equipment for nature-based tourism activities, like trekking, rafting, kayaking and boating, are also exempt from sales and customs duty.
The service industry gets a 10-year tax holiday for newly established high-end resorts and hotels established between 2010 and 2015, as classified by TCB, from the date of commercial operation.
To ensure quality service, import of several items for hotels and resorts, like furniture, fixtures, kitchen and laundry equipment, mattresses and linens, cutlery, sanitary ware and electrical fittings, are also exempt from customs duty and sales tax.
For hotels with computerised billing systems, sales tax is charged on published or actual charged discounted room rents rather than rack rates of the hotels. A reinvestment allowance of 25 percent of total capital expenditure incurred is provided for upgradation of the existing hotels.
TCB registered farmhouses are also exempt from all licensing requirements and income tax. A 10-year tax holiday is also applicable for guesthouses and lodges established between 2010 and 2015.
In line with the EDP, as a sectoral privilege, the tourism industry is entitled to various fiscal incentives like tax holiday and vehicle quota, among others. (see box)
TCB spokesperson said that unless there were certain incentives and privilege, the tourism sector wouldn’t work.
“Tourism sector plays an important role in generating income and employment and the contribution needs to be ploughed back in terms of incentives,” the spokesperson said.
Tour operators and hoteliers said the industry should continue to receive certain fiscal incentives to attract investment and boost the industry. However, they said, the EDP merits a thorough review.
Pointing out some anomalies in the existing regulation, Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan’s (HRAB) president Thinley Palden Dorji said there were issues like lack of clarity that needed to be addressed.
For instance, he said, different hotels had different requirement based on which they bought furnishings.
“As per the existing regulation, hotels are entitled the same quantity of mattresses and linens, irrespective of the hotel rooms and classification,” he said. “On one hand, the overall objective of the incentives is to improve quality, and on the other hand, there are several quantitative restrictions.”
A hotelier, who has received proposals from foreign investors to construct hotels, said certain privileges were necessary to attract investment in hotel industry. At present, she said guests mostly complained about the infrastructure.
“Better infrastructure can be developed only with incentives in place and we’re in dire need of it,” she said. “In hotel business, returns from investment are very slow.”
Without support from the government, hoteliers said, improvement in service delivery would remain farsighted.
Records with TCB show about 16 new hotels are under construction since 2013, of which five are foreign direct investments. Most hotels are located in Thimphu and Paro.
Another hotelier in Paro said tax incentives helped hotels import quality products.
“Hotels are the most affected during lean season, which we’re able to make up through earnings from peak season, because of tax holiday and exemptions,” he said.
For tour operators, tax exemption on transportation plays a vital role, as they claim that a major chunk of their income is spent on hiring charges.
“The regulation needs rationalisation if the same privileges continue,” a tour operator said. “Rather than the number of tourists a tour operator brings in, contribution in terms of bed nights should be considered to get the vehicle quota.”
To avail the vehicle import quota, new tour operators are required to sign an agreement with TCB, agreeing to bring in at least 50 tourists for a certain period of time. If they fail, they will have to pay full taxes and penalties.
“Our regulations are mostly based on assumptions that people would misuse which shouldn’t be the case,” a tour operator said.
Highlighting the importance of the industry, another tour operator said it was a trend in most countries that those contributing the most to the economy were entitled certain privileges by default.
“If the privileges are discontinued, there would be serious implications in terms of employment generation and others, in a bid to cut costs,” he said.
Many tour operators also feel that the existing incentives should be revisited, as the criteria should be on the volume of business.
By Kinga Dema
Department of Hydro-Met services’ director Karma Tsering and JICA team leader Dr Hithoshi Baba sign the minutes of the meeting of the mid-term review report of JICA assisted projects yesterday morning. The team reviewed the Japanese technical cooperation in capacity development of GLOF and rainstorm flood forecasting and early warning. The project ends in September 2016.
So as to conserve the fisheries and help in the dzongkhag’s socio-economic development
Livestock: The national centre for riverine and lake fisheries, under the department of livestock at Haa, will be legalising fishing in the Haachu for tourists and locals starting this year.
According to the livestock production officer, Karma Wangchuk, the decision was taken to conserve the fisheries and help in the socio-economic development of the dzongkhag.
The centre will develop a management plan, where specific areas and timing will be designated for fishing for both tourist and locals. The community will be given the ownership of the areas, and will be responsible for issuing fishing permits.
“We want the communities to be responsible for the fisheries,” Karma Wangchuk said. “We want them to manage the fisheries in a sustainable manner.”
The most common fish in the Haachu today is the brown and snow trout. It also has Asala, a native species. Once the programme starts, fishing will be allowed in places like Sama and Bji gewogs.
Karma Wangchuk said, according to people in Haa, the river was not as populated with fish as it used to be a decade ago. A standardised practice of fishing was needed, he said, to maintain a constant population of fish in the river.
Developmental activities and illegal fishing were the main reasons for the decrease in the number of fish. “Illegal fishing will happen, no matter what, which is why rules and regulations that will maintain a permissible size and number on fishing will be put in place,” Karma Wangchuk said.
The centre has completed drafting the framework and consultation programmes. They are yet to appoint the communities to take control of the designated areas, but he said that the people of Haa have shown their support to comply by the rule and regulations.
All revenue collected from fishing will be collected and used for the development of the community.
The programme was supposed to start last December but got delayed, since October to December was the breeding season when no fishing is allowed.
By Younten Tshedup
Three suspects are in custody for selling Bhutanese SIMs across the border
Crime: Three suspects are in police custody for selling Bhutanese SIM (subscriber identity module) cards to non-nationals from across the border.
The three were arrested on February 12 and charged to court the same day.
Some of the mobile numbers of the SIM cards provided or sold by the three suspects have been used to demand ransoms for kidnapped Bhutanese.
Additional police chief, colonel Chimmi Dorji, said the three suspects are Thinley Dorji from Trongsa, Dilip Saru from Tsirang, and Laxman Karia from Sarpang. He added that the three were involved in selling or buying Bhutanese SIM cards as favours for non-nationals in India.
A B-Mobile SIM card costs Nu 100 and a Tashi Cell one is Nu 200. They can be sold for double the price across the border in India.
Police found that Thinley Dorji had purchased eight SIM cards in both his name and those of his relatives and sold them to non-nationals in India. The mobile numbers of the SIM cards were used to contact the wives of two drivers, one a Bhutanese citizen and the other an Indian citizen, who were kidnapped on September 5 last year.
Dilip Saru was found to have purchased six B-Mobile and three Tashi Cell SIM cards, which were also sold to non-nationals in India. These SIM cards were used to make extortion calls to Bhutanese business people. The extortionists demanded money and threatened kidnapping or death if not paid.
Laxman Karia purchased nine B-Mobile and 12 Tashi Cell SIM cards, all of which were sold in India.
Police have charged the three with aiding and abetting kidnapping of Bhutanese citizens, as well as extortion.
Since the first kidnapping in October 22, 2012, there have been a total of nine kidnappings, including 14 Bhutanese victims. Three Bhutanese are still missing, including a boy kidnapped on December 16, last year.
Colonel Chimmi said the last contact with the kidnappers was on December 25. Relatives of those abducted, he said, have paid a total ransom of Nu 4.06M till date.
Kidnappers have been using Bhutanese mobile numbers to contact relatives of the victims since the first kidnapping in 2012.
In August 2013, a meeting involving the Bureau of Law and Order of the home ministry, the police, Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority, Bhutan Telecom and Tashi InfoComm was held to strategise and prevent the misuse of Bhutanese SIM cards.
The two telecommunications companies were instructed to create a database of SIM card owners. An awareness advertisement on handling SIM cards from the security perspective was also run on television for a few months following the meeting.
Police chief, brigadier Kipchu Namgyel, said that anyone found still selling SIM cards to non-nationals would be charged to court. He said that the two telecommunications companies have also been “warned” that if their agents are found to be involved, both agents and even management will be held accountable and “locked up, if there are lapses”.
The police chief also appealed to the public not to sell SIM cards to non-nationals, and if anyone has already done so, they should either ask the service provider or the police to deactivate it.
“This isn’t only affecting our security but also affecting the relationship between the two friendly countries, Bhutan and India,” the police chief said.
By Gyalsten K Dorji
Kencho Wangdi, a BPC lineman, moonlights as an inventor
Innovator: After years of hard work, Kencho Wangdi’s innovation might finally pay off.
The 48-year-old average sized man ignites his “scootiller” engine and starts ploughing his field.
“It’s costly and typical to hire oxen to till the fields here,” he said. His scootiller does the job of a power tiller using a scooter’s engine.
It is not only his hobby to build simple, yet useful products out of scrap, but also a need of the hour.
Kencho Wangdi, originally from Wangduephodrang, settled in Gelephu, Khatoe gewog because his wife’s ancestors got land there under the resettlement program.
He joined the civil service in 1988 with the erstwhile department of power after studying till class V. Today he serves as a lineman for the Bhutan Power corporation.
Besides his profession, he loved scooters and started riding one in the early 1990s. Coincidentally, his friend started a scooter repair shop in Wangduephodrang, where he spent extra hours after office learning the trade until even he could repair the machines.
Kencho Wangdi has another trait that distinguishes him from the rest. When most people look at a handful of metals, they see trash. Not him. He sees the opportunity to innovate.
“When a scooter can carry two adults and ride across all road conditions, I have every reason to wonder why it can’t plough like a power tiller.”
But it took a little more than a couple of years for his ideas to materialise.
Fortunately, he was able to find a scooter, in running condition, being sold as scrap in a workshop. Without a second thought, he bought it for Nu 3,500.
He went to work almost immediately. “But a power tiller was all I wanted, and my objective was to transform a scooter into a power tiller,” Kencho Wangdi said.
He started gathering scrap metals to build a frame that could hold all the components.
Sometimes, he spent nights away from his family at the workshop, fabricating the chassis of his scootiller.
As his machine came together, it became more complicated to complete. He needed an accelerator, gear and brake. To make it even simpler, he welded the whole scooter’s handle bar to his machines. This served two purposes – to control the wheels, and to use the scooter’s gear and accelerator.
“But I couldn’t make the brakes.” Whenever Kencho needs to brake and bring his scootiller to a halt, he has to force the tiller’s rudder deep into the earth, and switch gears to neutral.
Kencho’s first attempt failed.
“I realised that I was using the scooter tyres as well, which wasn’t meant for the field,” he said. He noticed too that the tyres were slipping in the mud as he ploughed.
To solve this problem, he fabricated wheel rims and spokes of a bike to replicate the power tiller’s metal wheel. It worked and did a fine job, but not as powerful as a power tiller could.
“But all I’ve made is a crude structure, and I plan to develop it and give it a fine body,” he said.
Relatives and friends, who saw his scootiller, asked him to produce more. “My relatives in Bumthang asked me to make one for them, and they are of the opinion that it might work well in Bumthang because of the soil composition.”
Kencho Wangdi’s innovation does not end at this. He has already made a trailer, which can be attached to and towed by the engine. This, he said, would serve the purpose of transportation as well, but to ply it on a highway, a better tyre and brakes are needed. “I’m working on this.”
By Tshering Dorji
Judiciary:Langthel gup, Lham Dorji who was detained by the Trongsa district court for contempt of court on February 12 was released after being held for 24 hours.
He was held for failing to produce evidence as demanded by the court.
“The gup was detained under contempt of court but he was released yesterday afternoon,” Trongsa drangpoen, Norbu said.
According to a February 12 detention letter, the gup was detained for contempt of court under section 102 and 105 of the Criminal Procedure Code of Bhutan for failure to appear before the court of law.
Section 105 of the code states that where a person summoned fails to appear or present evidence at the order of the court, he/she may be found in contempt of court and may be subjected to civil or criminal sanction.
According to the drangpoen, Lham Dorji was summoned to the court to submit a statement as witness. The gup was to produce evidence on whether the moneylender who had filed a case in the court against a borrower actually came to the gewog to resolve the issue.
“The gup orally gave a statement on February 11 but he was asked to submit a written evidence the following day,” Norbu said.
But on February 12 the gup failed to show up in the court. That day, the gup was engaged in processing official documents from dzongkhag and had to go to Wangduephodrang.
“I had to go there to get explosives for Reutala mule track construction,” Lham Dorji said.
Hence, the Langthel tshogpa, Bjola was sent on the gup’s behalf to submit the statement.
The district court however rejected the gup’s statement.
“The drangpoen asked me if I would like to go to prison instead of the gup,” Bjola said.
When the tshogpa told the drangpoen that he had only come to submit the statement on behalf of the gup, the latter was asked to inform the gup to submit the evidence personally.
Hence, Lham Dorji as informed by the tshogpa reported to the district court with a statement on the afternoon of February 12. But when the gup reached the courtroom, the drangpoen ordered the police to detain him immediately.
According to drangpoen Norbu, the gup was detained for contempt of court for failing to report to the court without taking permission.
“Once you appear before the court as witness and if you cannot attend the next hearing he must write or take leave,” drangpoen Norbu said.
He also said when somebody who has already agreed to submit a statement fails to show up without taking leave under pretext of going somewhere when he had not, he has lied before the law.
But Lham Dorji responded that he was detained despite reporting to the court of law.
“When some people can get so many warnings before detention I was arrested even after producing myself in the court,” Lham Dorji said.
Moreover, I had sent the statement through the tshogpa because I did not see the need to take the statement
By Tempa Wangdi, Trongsa
A film on the rebirth of a renowned warrior from the annals of Bhutanese history
Review: Pemi Tshewang Tashi, the most loyal chamberlain of Dzongpon Angdruk Nyim of Wangdue, and a great historical warrior of the late 1800s, comes to life in Talop Wangchuk’s film Lok sho – The undying love of Pemi Tshewang Tashi.
In the vast golden fields of Aum Kazhi Zam, Kuenga (played by Sonam Tenzin-Sergyal) is the rebirth of Pemi Tshewang Tashi.
As much as the film is about a historical character, it is also about love, romance and hurt that play out richly between young lovers. His obsession with poetry does not go down well with his parents. At the same time, Kuenga is repeatedly troubled by visions, in which he sees as a warrior in some distant, nameless time.
Kuenga meets Sherab (played by Sherab Lhamo), who in her past life had been Phurchung Zam, Pemi Tshewang Tashi’s wife. One night in her sleep, Sherab sees the whole life of Pemi Tshewang Tashi, more vividly than Kuenga is able to.
The film recreates the legend beautifully with breathtaking cinematography. There are a few segments in the film that could have been comfortably short and less laborious.
The film, produced by Pema Tshering, is being screened at Gadhen Cinema in Paro. It will soon be screened in Phuentsholing. In Thimphu, the film is being screened at City Cinema.
By Dechen Tshomo
A mid-year review of annual performance agreement was recently conducted by the cabinet
Governance: Enhancing adult education through non-formal education (NFE) and reducing the incidence of infant mortality are the two common indicators across the five southern dzongkhags that are at risk of not meeting the target.
Chukha, Dagana, Samtse, Sarpang, and Tsirang dzongkhags came under scrutiny during the mid-year review of annual performance agreement (APA) for the financial year 2014-15 to the cabinet on February 12 in Phuentsholing.
Against the 90 percent target, Chukha’s overall rate in achieving the targets is 42 percent. Chukha dzongda said the NFE instructors opted for better jobs and quit working as instructors. “The course duration of four years was also seen as being too long,” the dzongda reported.
Samtse’s dzongkhag officials also said that there were high dropout cases from NFE centres. Having achieved 75.90 percent of the targeted 90 percent, the officials asked for “government policy intervention” for betterment in the next APA.
Similarly, Dagana also raised concerns about the NFE scenario deterioration. NFE falls under the classification of enhancing adult literacy and school enrolment with better learning outcomes in the performance agreement.
They said Dagana with 70 NFE centres, 29 schools and 14 ECCDs have only two education officers, and said that there was a need for additional education officers to monitor the schools and centres.
Lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay said the NFE centres would be reviewed.
“It has been a lot of years since NFE was incepted and no review has been done in between,” lyonchhoen said. “We’ll review it.”
Incidence of infant mortality has also remain unachieved or at risk in four dzongkhags.
Sarpang has the highest number of infant mortality cases at 10 this year.
The dzongda pointed out six reasons that led to the incidences.
Late reporting, new mothers, socio-cultural factors, birth complication, infections, and congenital deformities, he said, caused infants to die before they turn a year old.
Samtse reported nine cases, while Chukha saw six, and Tsirang, four infant mortality cases.
While these dzongkhags have not achieved the target set, the representatives said that the set target was “too ambitious.” All four dzongkhags had set the target “zero” and it was discussed that the target be revised to a more realistic level.
Lyonchhoen also said the officials need to rethink on the target, although such incidences were inevitable in some cases.
Meanwhile, due to drying up of water sources in Paga, Bunakha, and Sakhu, paddy production was low in Chukha. From the target of 2,689MT, the dzongkhag was able to produce 1,993MT of paddy. Chukha dzongda, however, said they were working on this and production would improve in the coming years.
Human-wildlife conflict, lack of budget in certain projects, including farm roads, construction of gewog connectivity roads, manpower shortage and drying up of drinking water sources are among some of the common issues dzongkhags reported during the review.
However, the dzongkhags were able to successfully meet most of the targets and even surpass many. There were also many activities that are on-track. While applauding the targets met, lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay assured the dzongkhags of the government’s support in accelerating activities that are at risk of not meeting their target.
By Rajesh Rai, Phuentsholing
The series of articles on the subject of rural-urban migration – numbering seven so far – have mainly focused on the principal causes that contributed to this malady. While a number of other causes have aggravated the problem to a lesser degree, clearly the principal causes, in order of severity, can be attributed to:
1. Predation by wildlife;
2. Poor access to markets;
3. Education system; and
4. Lack of support and leadership in tackling the problem.
Predation by wildlife:
This is the biggest problem and needs to be tackled – head on! First and foremost, we need to begin by accepting that all that the government and the agencies concerned did so far has been to bury the problem by touting a convenient contradiction: human-wildlife conflict. For years the problem of predation by wildlife has been allowed to fester even while hoards of farmers abandoned farming and village homes heading to urban centers, in defeat and frustration. Most people in Thimphu know of the problem – they even speak about it and yet, do nothing about it.
In my opinion, the misnomer “human-wildlife conflict” misled a lot of policy makers in Thimphu into believing that there is a conflict between humans and wild animals. There is none!
Amend the rules:
We can begin with few basic steps. The simplest and easiest solution would be to amend legislations that give so much primacy to wildlife. Farmers must be given the right to defend and counter all acts of aggression by wildlife. This must me made a fundamental right of the farmers – the freedom to do what it takes, to protect their crop and livelihood. If the government isn’t willing to empower the farmers with this right, it should be prepared to compensate them for the crop loss caused by wildlife.
Farmers in the Eastern dzongkhags say that monkeys and wild boars represent the biggest threats to their crops. It is understandable. Some of our unthinking acts in the past have upset the point of balance, causing the equilibrium to be destabilized – thereby allowing the population of these animals to proliferate to such an extent that peaceful coexistence between them and humans is on the verge of becoming an impossibility.
Two of the most effective deterrents against uncontrolled growth of these wild animals are: wild dogs and humans. Unfortunately, in Bhutan they have both been rendered ineffectual.
Our wild dog population was nearly exterminated – through wholesale poisoning, few decades back. Thus without its natural enemy to check its population growth, the wild boar’s population exploded to such an extent that it became a menace – not only in Eastern Bhutan but in Western and Central Bhutan as well. It continues to be so, to this day.
Unlike in other parts of the world, our forests do not contain much of the monkey’s natural enemies – wild cats and large birds. Thus, the next best defense against uncontrolled growth of the monkey’s population should have been: men. Sadly, our laws do not permit human intervention. Thus the population of monkeys has been growing unchecked, to the extent that they now threaten to take over human dwellings and habitat.
From all accounts, solar fencing has proven to be a successful defense against wildlife predation – particularly against the nocturnal predators such as deer, wild boar and porcupine. However, it is expensive and beyond the reach of most villagers. On the other hand, it is just too expensive for the government to consider free distribution of the fencing materials.
Regardless, it should be possible for the farmers to finance the purchase of the fencing materials – on installment basis. Or, the government could provide the materials and collect reimbursement of cost in kind, upon harvest of the crops. We could also consider providing subsidy for the purchase of these fencing materials. The modalities of how this is to be implemented can be worked out in consultation with the local governments and village gups.
Given our landscape, solar/electric fencing cannot be the only solution. We need to redesign our traditional fencing methods to make them more effective towards invasion by wild animals.
Contributed by Yeshey Dorji
Photographer & Blogger