KuenselOnline

Friday, February 27th, 2015 - 12:00 PM
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Alumni of Bhutan Youth Development Fund opened the capital’s first thrift store ‘The Goodwill Shop’ on February 18 to raise funds for the education of disadvantaged children and youth in the country through sale of donated goods and items.

From clothes to accessories, beauty products, kitchen items, the items donated are either slightly used or unused available for affordable price. The shop is located opposite the BDBL behind the craft bazaar.

Corporate pay hike finalised at 19-25 percent

Revision to come into effect from July 1, 2014 

SOE: In what could be considered a Losar gift, the pay revision for state-owned enterprises (SoEs) formally came through, almost eight months since the civil servants’ salary was revised.

According to the February 16 guidelines, the finance ministry issued, the basic pay of corporate employees should be revised between 19 percent and 25 percent within various levels.  The revision will come into effect from July 1, 2014.

Corporate allowance will also be revised from 20 percent to 25 percent.

A finance ministry official explained that, similar to the civil service, the revision would be higher among the lower grades, and as it reaches the top, the revision would slide in proportion.

For instance, those in grades one, two and three would get a revision of maximum 19 percent on their basic salary, while those between grade four and eight will fall into the 21 percent revision bracket.

A maximum of 23 percent increase on the basic salary would be applicable for those between grades nine and 14.  For those below grade 14, the basic salary would be revised by 25 percent.

The official also explained that the ministry has only fixed the maximum ceiling for revision. “But depending on the affordability of the companies, they can go for a lower figure,” he said.  The board of individual companies would decide the revision.

As for the employees on contract, including the chief executive officers appointed on fixed term, the pay scales should be governed by the contract agreement and would not change.

The guideline also states that the position specific allowance, which may be given to employees based on responsibilities, criticality of the position and scarcity of skills, should be capped at three percent of the basic salary as of June 30, 2014, and is subject to annual review by the board.

The board, the guideline states, must ensure that companies with different grading system align their grades, as prescribed by the ministry, based on the pay scale.

If employees have been receiving higher total pay and allowances than the one prescribed on the new guideline, it would be restructured to fit in the revised salary scale, but total payout to such employees shall remain unchanged, meaning they would continue to receive the pay package drawn currently.

The pay and allowance guidelines, however, is only applicable to companies in which the direct shareholding of the finance ministry is more than 51 percent.  The companies are Bhutan Development Bank limited (BDBL), National Pension and Provident Fund (NPPF), Bhutan Agro Industries limited, Bhutan Broadcasting Service, Bhutan Post, Kuensel corporation, Food corporation and National Housing Development corporation limited.

However, companies with equity base of more than Nu 300M, and earnings of more than Nu 500M per annum, excluding grants and subsidies, are categorised separately and its employees enjoy higher pay scales.  BDBL and NPPF fall in this category.

The second pay commission report states that, considering their performance and expenditure growth in past five years, the gross revenue of SOEs will be sufficient to meet the 15 percent increase, except for Bhutan Post and BBSC.

The report also states that, when the first corporations were carved out of the civil service, the pay scales were at least 45 percent higher for the corporate sector when compared to the civil service.

“In recent years, the differential reduced to 30 percent and then to the present 15 percent, which have been reached through certain understanding between the corporate bodies and the finance ministry,” the report states.

In January 2011, civil servants received a 20 percent raise on the salary scale of 2006.  Almost a year after, a 15 percent pay hike, with an additional 20 percent corporate allowance was approved for the corporations.

Meanwhile, DHI has its own pay scales, based on the contractual nature of the appointment of its employees.  DHI’s salary and allowances structure has three levels- professional/corporate, operational, and wage services.

By Tshering Dorji

Picture Story

Back to school: Students and teachers across the country returned to school from February 16, marking the beginning of a new academic session

                                                          

Lone candidate for Mongar gup post loses

Not a single postal ballot was availed in the election

Election: The lone candidate, who contested for the post of Mongar gup in the bye-election yesterday, was not elected.

Tshewang Dorji, 32, returned home disappointed, when it was announced that by 23 ‘No’ votes on the EVM, he had lost the election.  He received 308 ‘Yes’ votes and 331 ‘No’ votes.

The former caretaker of Mongar gewog administration, Tshewang Dorji, said that he had nothing against the people for not electing him, but that the bye-election’s results would have been fair if postal ballots were used.

“The bye-election was unfair without postal ballots,” he said. “I don’t understand why the duration for postal ballot facility isn’t the same for local government elections and other elections.”

The bye-election is conducted as per section 577 of the Election Act, which states that “the election commission shall, when the seat of a member elected to any house of parliament or local government becomes vacant on death or resignation or his/her election to the house is declared void, issue a notification calling upon the constituency concerned to elect a person to fill the vacant post.”

Dzongkhag election officer (DEO), Sangay Dorji, said that he had no authority to change anything but to follow the notification issued by the commission.  He said the whole process of holding a bye-election had to be completed within a month, during which he received no applications for postal ballot.

As per the January 23 notification from ECB, eligible postal ballot voters were given two weeks to initiate application for the postal ballot to the returning officer.

But yesterday’s election, conducted at a cost of Nu 382,200, saw a poor voter turnout in all its six polling stations.  Of the 3,335 registered eligible voters, only 639, about five percent, turned up to cast their votes.  He received 82 ‘No’ votes from his chiwog, Photshorong, and 116 ‘Yes’ votes.

One of the voters, a 23-year old woman, said the candidate has already contested in the 2011 gup election from Silambi gewog and lost. “It shows that he doesn’t have the capability to be a gup,” she said.

But a 34-year old mother of one from Kedikhar village said she voted for him, thinking he would help the community like the former gup. “It’s better to have a gup than to keep the post vacant,” she said.

The election was held following the death of the former gup Dechen Yeshi in a car accident on January 8 this year. “As per the act, a by-election to fill any vacancy shall be held within a period of ninety days and, for local governments, it shall be held within a period of thirty days from the date of occurrence of the vacancy,” DEO Sangay Dorji.

The election petition period begins today.  The declaration of results and submission of results to the Druk Gyalpo will also be done today.

On January 25, of the three candidates from Photshogrong chiwog, Tshewang Dorji was selected with 76 ‘Yes’ votes to contest for the post.  The other nominees, Tshewang Penjor from Wengkhar-Yagpogang chiwog, was disqualified for filing his nomination late, while Sherab Tenzin from Kidekhar chiwog was short by three weeks to complete a year after he transferred his census.

After completing class X from Gyalpoizhing higher secondary school (HSS), Tshewang Dorji, worked as a messenger for Mongar HSS from 2006 to 2011.  From 2012 until his resignation this year, he worked as a caretaker.

By Tashi Phuntsho, Mongar

Piloting organic mushroom production

DSC_5217HI Chairman explains how the technology works at the MoU signing yesterday

Project: With technical support from a Japanese mushroom producer, Haruka International Co. Ltd. (HI), Druk Holding and Investments (DHI) will start a pilot project on organic mushroom production in the country.

The pilot phase will begin at the National Mushroom Centre where spawns of shiitake, oyster and king oyster and wood ear would be grown on trail. Once the project gains momentum, the spawn would be distributed to potential mushroom growers in the country.

Haruka International and DHI in collaboration with Alliance Forum Foundation (AFF) and the agriculture department will promote the project.

A memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between DHI and Haruka International yesterday evening in the presence of the agriculture secretary Tenzin Dhendup.

DHI officials said mushroom, in particular Shiitake is popular in Bhutan, and mushroom production is an essential income source for farmers. “However, a substantial gap exists between demand and production for mushroom for commercial purpose mainly owing to lack of technology,” an official said.

Haruka International, DHI officials said has extensive experience in producing high quality organic mushroom with simple technology.

The chairman of Haruka International Kosou Inoue, said, mushroom business in Bhutan has potential. With technical support, Kosou Inoue said, the project is expected to improve production and quality of mushrooms with the country even producing mushroom for the international market.

“With such technology, income from mushroom for farmers would be five times more,” Kosou Inoue, said. “We will be sharing our expertise with Bhutan for the success of the project.”

By Kinga Dema

Opposition party against police frisking youth

Public opinion on the issue is divided 

Security: Despite concerns raised by the opposition party that frisking youth after 10pm would be equal to the suspension of freedom of movement and criminalisation of youth, the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) will continue the already enforced measure.

The opposition leader, Dr Pema Gyamtsho, in a letter submitted to the home minister yesterday, asked for a review of the measure and consideration of alternative ways to reduce youth related crimes.

The police introduced the measure, which was announced in a press conference last week, to address increasing incidents of battery or violent incidents involving youth.

RBP media liaison officer, Major Chogyel, said that the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (CCPC) already gives the police the right to stop and frisk persons.

As per chapter 8, section 166 of the code, a police officer can upon reasonable suspicion of involvement in a criminal offense, stop a person moving about at odd hours in a public place, and a person who cannot give a satisfactory account of him/herself.

Major Chogyel said that the police will continue to frisk youth because of the increasing number of youth crime and the type of weapons involved.

Under the new measure, police are frisking youth in groups of two or more found after 10pm.

During the press conference, the police chief also said that individuals could also be frisked if police personnel find them behaving suspiciously.

The police would like to see two further measures implemented, one is a ban on the sale of knives to youth, and the other is a time restriction to prevent youth loitering late at night. However, for this they require the approval of the home ministry.

Major Chogyel said that the proposal has been submitted and that the police will await directives.

In its letter to the home ministry, the opposition party while acknowledging the “good intent” of the measure, warns that there will be “serious repercussions” on the moral, dignity, and self esteem of the youth.

The opposition party also cautions that the measure creates a high possibility of law enforcement personnel resorting to “overzealous application” and “use of excessive force”. The party states that this would damage existing “good will and cordial relations” between the youth and police created through the Police-Youth Partnership Program (PYPP).

There are a little more than 5,700 students signed up for PYPP, not inclusive of youth who volunteer during major events.

The opposition party also questioned whether the measure would have a positive outcome. It argued that the measure would instead demoralise the youth, alienate them from society, and breed unnecessary resentment, fear and mistrust in law enforcement agencies. “In essence, it would tantamount to suspension of freedom of movement and criminalisation of our youth.”

The party instead recommends strict enforcement of existing laws like closing bars and entertainment establishments on time, age limit for entry and sale of alcohol in such establishments, sale and distribution of drugs and other substances, inspection at entrances of public events and facilities, among others. It also recommends strong advocacy and awareness programs.

According to police statistics, 70 schools including more than 83,000 students have been sensitised so far.

Public opinion has been divided on the measure.

One camp of thought is that the measure is an invasion of privacy and that it could lead to other measures in the name of security. “At the first look even I thought it was an excellent approach by the RBP but what about the negative long term consequences of such stop and frisk,” wrote Pema Thinley on social media. “If a police man walks up to you and suddenly starts frisking you on the basis of suspicion, wouldn’t you feel humiliated, disgusted and above all wouldn’t you feel your right to privacy being violated?,” he asked.

The other camp of thought is that the measure is timely and relevant. “Let RBP do their duty with full public support. Frisking is better any day than getting stabbed or your phone or bag (getting) snatched or car windows broken,” said another social media user, Ugyen Tenzin.

By Gyalsten K Dorji

Fuel imports fall in 2014

Imports: Bhutan imported 1.7 percent less fuel last year compared to 2013 but still had to pay more.

The country imported 166,433.64 kilo litres (KL) of fuel worth Nu 8.4B. In 2013, the total volume imported was 169,315.33KL for Nu 7.9B.

The maximum drop occurred for diesel fuel, decreasing by 5,151KL in 2014. Diesel is mainly used in hydropower projects, farm road constructions and the transport sector or for heavy vehicles.

Indian Oil Corporation Ltd (IOCL) executive director for West Bengal, YK Gupta attributed the decrease in imports to improved vehicle engine efficiency while trade officials said the reasons are mainly domestic.

Trade department officials said that it could be because of the vehicle ban, which was only recently lifted, and reduced activities in the construction sector and less economic activity with the unavailability of loans.

The fuel prices rose several times within the year.

Info: Trade Department

This was revealed during the renewal of the memorandum of understanding (MoU)  between the trade department and the IOCL, yesterday.

IOCL supplied more than 50 percent of the fuel demand in the country last year. In 2013, its market share was only 47.12 percent and the rest was supplied by Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd.

The MOU requires the company to ensure that it meets the fuel requirements of the country within its purview.

The IOCL executive director said that it is even willing to increase the number of outlets if the government proposes.

The company has to reach the fuel to the three entry points at Phuentsholing, Gelephu, and Samtse. It would also share new developments in terms of technology and human resource development at its outlets in the country.

YK Gupta said that oil companies were also trying to produce more environmentally friendly fuel and in 2017, Euro 4, a more refined fuel will hit depots in the country.

By Tshering Palden

The SOE salary revision

The suspense is at last over.  Salary revision for employees working in state-owned enterprises has been finally finalised.  The revision between 19 and 25 percent at various levels will come into effect from July 1, 2014.

In other words, many will feel that it was worth the wait.  The decision to pay them an almost eight-month revised amount in arrears will come as a generous Losar gift.  With the corporate allowance also increased from 20 to 25 percent, it is a significant revision.

And the revision this time for the corporate sector, minus corporations owned or linked to Druk Holdings and Investment, will go down well with the low salaried.  The raise is more for those who earn less, and less for those who earn more.

In every earlier salary revision, whether for civil servants or corporate employees, it was those in the low-income bracket that complained most. The logic was that, if salaries are revised because of increasing cost of living, it affected them the most. A flat rate raise, they believed, widened the income gap because of the difference in basic salary, which made a huge difference in actual terms.

The order from the finance ministry, owner of the SOEs, mandates a 25 percent (highest) for those in grade XIV and below.  Although not many SOEs follow the grade system, it does make sense to give a higher raise to the lower income group.

The order also fixed a maximum ceiling at 25 percent, and SOEs are left to decide to go lower if they cannot afford. This makes sense too. There is no point in forcing a corporation to raise salaries, if it receives a subsidy from the government or cannot afford the raise.

At the same time, paying huge salaries, depending on their income is unfair.  Consider corporations that have almost a monopoly and are making huge profits. The margin comes from the protected status and not because they are the best performers.

Meanwhile, a salary revision, either for civil servant or corporate employees, is closely watched.  With more employees in corporations, there is a possibility of raising the cost of living with a salary revision. This will affect the others, those in the private sector and beyond.

In the developed world, private sector employees enjoy higher salaries and better perks. Government jobs are not as much in demand as they are here. This is because the private sector is hugely developed. In most countries, they are so powerful that they influence government decisions.

While we can do without the latter, the private sector needs to be recognised more than ever now. We keep telling our young graduates, at all levels, to look for prospects beyond the corporations and the civil service. But apart from a few big business houses, there is not much private sector in the country today.

Those working in the private sector should not be victims of a government or corporate salary raise. It is an important sector, the engine of growth, or so they say. But it should not stop with lip service.

If there is a priority today, it should be developing the private sector with appropriate plans and legislations.

3-day old forest fire rages on across two dzongkhags

DSC01414The blaze, which began on Sunday night, has razed over 100 acres of chirpine forest so far

Disaster: The local community and forest officials are still trying to contain a forest fire in Yangnyer gewog, Trashigang that has razed over 100 acres of chirpine forest, including community forests, since February 15.

The fire, which started from Khachikhar village in Durung, has also spread to neighbouring Narang gewog in Mongar.

Yangnyer gup, Karma, said that the fire started around 8pm on February 15.  Without any forest officials arriving until yesterday, about 60 villagers from the two chiwogs of Durung and Lephu took up the task to contain the fire with twigs.

“We were able to control the fire yesterday by 11am, but it started spreading again an hour later because of the strong afternoon wind,” he said. “Although the settlements weren’t affected, the fire came close to some of the houses.”

If the fire is not contained soon, villagers fear it might reach the gewog centre area, where the school and the BHU are located. “Strong winds in the afternoons and evenings are spreading the fire,” a villager said. “It not only spreads through the ground, but flames fly over trees at times.”

Forest officials said the gup informed them of the fire on February 16 around noon.  After officials arrived at the scene yesterday, control measures were in full swing.  However, they said, the difficult terrain, compounded with inaccessibility to some of the locations, was making it difficult for them to contain the fire.

“It will be difficult to contain the fire even in the next two days; even after creating fire lines, it keeps spreading,” ranger Kinga Tashi said. “We’ve asked villagers to keep guard on the areas near their houses, and we’re looking for ways to reach the inaccessible place.”

But, he said, the damage to the chirpine vegetation would not be bad. “Save for the seedlings, pole-sized and matured trees wouldn’t be affected much by the fire,” he said.

However, villagers said the impact of the destruction would be felt when falling boulders and overflow of rainwater damage the farm roads in summer.

“With the sloping land remaining barren, rainwater will easily flow into the farm roads together with boulders; we’ve seen it happen in the past,” Yangnyer gewog administration officer, Thukten Tashi, said.

Owing to inaccessibility, forest officials are yet to reach the Narang gewog side, where the fire had spread close to Rolong village.  As of yesterday, the fire had spread until Gongthung village in Yangnyer.

By Tshering Wangdi, Trashigang

BIL launches Lopthru Nyenchoel policy

A backup for students’ education in case of accidental disability or death of parent/guardian

Insurance: Covering accidental demise and permanent total disability (PTD) due to accident, Bhutan Insurance limited (BIL) launched the student care insurance, Lopthru Nyenchoel policy yesterday in Thimphu.

Parents or guardians up to the age of 65 can avail this policy for their children, who are studying.  Students aged 18 and above, as well as educational and vocational institutes, can also avail the policy.

The policy has been divided into two categories – school students (age 3 and above – kindergarten to class 12) and college students (university/college/vocational or professional institutions up to the age of 25.)

BIL officials said that, at a nominal premium, the policy could serve a backup for students’ education in the event of accidental mishap of their parent/guardian.

The starting premium for a school student is Nu 225 against an insured sum of Nu 50,000.  The maximum sum insured will be Nu 100,000 with a corresponding increased premium.  For a college student, the starting premium is Nu 450 for an insured sum of Nu 100,000.  The maximum sum insured will be up to Nu 200,000.

BIL’s general manager, Kalyan Humagai, said that, since the policy was affordable, it would benefit all families.

“Not only urban but rural families will be able to avail this policy,” he said. “It’ll have the parents/guardian prepare for the continuing of their children’s education at the time of mishaps.”

In the event of demise or PTD of a parent/guardian, the allowance will be paid, according to the sum insured, over a period of four years, without them having to renew the policy, which is expected to assist the student to continue their education.

The insured student is also covered for demise and PTD due to accident, with 60 percent of the sum insured.

Education ministry director general, Karma Yeshey, attended the launch of the policy.

BIL officials said the policy is launched to commemorate the 35th birth anniversary of His Majesty the King, in support of the royal vision in supporting continuing education even at times of mishaps.

By Dechen Tshomo