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Monday, March 2nd, 2015 - 5:09 PM
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Through the lens of the young

photoA participant share her skills with the tutors

A volunteer group train students in basic photography

Photography: Jigme Wangmo, 15, a student of Jampeling higher secondary school from Trashigang had never held a sophisticated camera before.

It was the first time she fiddled with a Canon DSLR camera during the photography workshop that is being conducted in Thimphu. The weeklong workshop began yesterday.

With an awkward movement of hands and flushed face, Jigme Wangmo started clicking pictures of anything she saw through the lenses. With burst of giggles she looked at the slanted pictures she took with the camera.

Jigme’s colleague, Ngawang Eden, 15, of Jigme Sherubling higher secondary school from Trashigang, was going through the same experience.

Tutor and organiser of the workshop, Fredric Roberts, interrupts the girls and starts explaining them how to focus with the lenses before taking a picture.

Fredric Roberts is a former Wall Street investment banker and turned photographer. Six renowned photographers based in New York, California, Hong Kong and Nepal is assisting him to teach the students the basics of photography.

Today, anyone who owns a smart phone or a camera is a photographer but it takes creativity and knowledge to be able to tell a story through one’s photograph, Fredric Roberts, 72, said.

“I want to empower the students by giving them the freedom of expression through their photographs,” Fredric Roberts said. “Photography is not just about taking beautiful pictures but it’s about giving a photographer a voice.”

While another tutor, Arthur Ollman, who has been a photographer for more than 45 years, said in an imperfect democracy, photographers play an important role.

“They are the ones who can show the reality of a society through their photographs and we are creating another 20 photographers who will do just that,” Arthur Ollman said.

The students, through the workshop, will learn the basics of photography and will participate in story assignments covering on themes such as local products, health care, nunnery and lives of the differently abled.

The tutors are volunteering their services and skills for the workshop.

The top photos taken by the students will get a chance to exhibit their photographs at the Nehru-Wangchuck cultural centre on the last day of the workshop, Fredric Roberts said.

“When the workshop ends, I will be leaving behind cameras and photo software so that the students can continue to improve their skills,” he said. “It’s a fulfilling experience and I want to leave a legacy behind by imparting a gift of expression to these students, which is photography.”

Fredric Roberts and his team are travelling worldwide teaching youth the power of expression through photography. This is the second similar workshop they are conducting in the capital this year.

About 20 students are participating in the workshop where half of the students participating are from rural areas.

The workshop is being conducted in partnership with the Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy, Bhutan Foundation and Bhutan Airlines.

By Thinley Zangmo

Tradition at risk

DSC01274Women at the loom in Tshangkhar village

Textile: Days are getting colder. This is the time of year when women in Radhi, Trashigang are fully engaged in weaving bura (raw silk) ghos and kiras.

Radhi is known for exquisite bura textiles and traditional dyes. However, not many women in Radhi weave. There aren’t many women left. Education and development have sent many  young woman of this village to bigger cities looking for job.

Yeshey Choden is one of the few weavers left in Radhi. Older women have quit and younger ones are leaving the village. “They have no interest in weaving.”

Sangay Zangmo, another weaver in Radhi, said that most weavers in Radhi are middle-aged women. Indeed. And the number is decreasing year after year.

Kinley, 73, stopped weaving about a decade ago. She would have continued weaving had her eyes not given her problem. “Back then, women also used to weave together in groups. Only a few do so today.”

A person could make about Nu 150,000 a year from bura textiles. That was about a decade ago. Today, one would be lucky to get Nu 30,000.

Kinzang Yeshey has hired about 40 women to weave bura textiles. He said that most of the women he has hired are those who cannot afford to buy silk for themselves.

“If we don’t hire them, there may come a time when they would opt not to weave,” said Kinzang Yeshey, adding that his only daughter doesn’t have an eye for weaving bura. “Should this be the reaction from the youth, the tradition of weaving bura is certainly at risk.”

Gradually so, the tradition that was passed down through generations, is dying.

By Tshering Wangdi, Trashigang

FDI policy relaxed to attract investors

33 FDI projects worth Nu 24.7B approved in last five years

FDI: Foreign direct investment (FDI) firms earning non-convertible currency and Indian rupee can now repatriate their dividends in convertible currency like US dollar, Euro and Great Britain Pound.

FDI companies involved in service activities in the priority list like hotels, where investment in the project was made in convertible currency and earning non-convertible currencies, are now allowed to purchase convertible currency up to USD 5M per annum from Royal Monetary Authority (RMA).

Again in case of FDI businesses with investment made in convertible currency and earning Indian Rupee, the investor shall be permitted to repatriate dividends in convertible currency with prior approval from the RMA.

This was one of the revisions made in the new FDI policy pertaining to repatriation of dividends.

Land, on the other hand has been another issue restricting the FDI. The new policy allows FDI companies to own or lease land in accordance with the land Act.

Earlier policy mandates that a FDI company holding more than 74 percent of the equity to only lease the land.

The director of Department of Industry, Tandin Tshering said the new policy would further improve the investment climate in the country. “Amendments were made on those clauses which were seen as restrictive after several consultative meetings,” he said.

Another amendment made was on the locking period. Instead of locking the investors, unlike the earlier one, the revised policy now locks the investment. For instance, a foreign investor may transfer his shares to another foreign investor but the investment size should not change. Earlier, the investor cannot get away before completing three years from the date of commencement.

The minimum threshold for equity share holding has also been reduced. In the earlier policy, regardless of the type of investor, the minimum threshold for equity holding was 20 percent of the total project.

This was relaxed to 10 percent in case of institutional investors, which are the foreign companies investing in the country. But in case of individual foreign investors, the earlier provision still continues.

Another relaxation in the policy was concerning the remittance. “We have aligned our rules and regulations in line with the central bank’s rules,” Tandin Tshering said.

The threshold investment in information technology sector has also been reduced because usually in this sector investment mainly circled around purchasing computers and not much around infrastructure.

The earlier policy mandates a minimum investment of Nu 5M inside the IT Park and Nu 25M outside. This was because in IT Park almost all facilities are already in place.

However, the threshold investment in the current policy for the IT sector has been brought down to Nu 3M inside the park and Nu 5M outside.

Meanwhile the policy was revised in July 2014 and the FDI rules and regulations were also amended last week. The rules and regulations specify in detail how investments should be regulated and policy be implemented.

 

The FDI Outlook

In the last five years (2010-2014), 33 FDI projects worth Nu 24.77B has been approved and 18 new projects are approved in principle so far.

Figures from the international monetary fund (IMF) reveal that Bhutan’s net FDI was about USD 74M in 2007, which dropped to USD 3M and USD 6.5M in following two consecutive years.

In 2010, when the FDI policy was revised and liberalized to an extent, the net FDI increased to USD 18.9M and in 2011 it dropped to around USD 16M.

The Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (BCCI) report on private sector development highlighted that there is marginal presence of FDI in Bhutan and that too was pulled by the tourism sector, particularly for the financing of new hotels and resorts.

It also stated that not many investments were made in agriculture and manufacturing industries, which are prioritised by the government.

“FDI is not the ultimate solution for the country’s economic development but a means for propagating growth,” Tandin Tshering said adding if foreign investments are not aligned to the country’s development priorities, it can also create irreversible social, economic and environmental problems.

For instance, if the country allows FDI in retail trading or in super market, it would kill all the domestic retailers.

He said investment climate in Bhutan is determined by brand Bhutan, good governance, political stability, and low corruption perception index with advantages in electricity prices.

Additionally, the free trade agreement with India gives Bhutan a preferential access to the large Indian market and easy access to skilled and unskilled labour from India.

The director said every country in the region is competing for the same FDI pie and those countries like Philippines are even willing to provide free land just for the sake of providing employment.

Others provide lots of incentives in the form of taxes and tariffs with added benefit of a huge market.

“But our’s is a country that prioritise environment, culture, revenue in line with GNH philosophy,” he said.

“Few quality FDI would have more impact than numbers in our case,” he said. FDI, he said, should fill in the dearth of capital, transfer technology and set better and higher standards for the local industries and support the local small and cottage industries.

A popular myth is that FDI is only attracted to countries that have low wage, weak labour laws and non-existent environmental regulation. But the records from the world bank show that most FDI is attracted to countries with good transportation infrastructure, and a healthy, literate and well-skilled labour force.

By Tshering Dorji

No indication on corporate salary raise

Pay: More than six months after salaries for civil servants were revised, pay raise for corporate employees is unlikely to come anytime soon.

The finance ministry has not decided anything on the corporate salary raise. Finance secretary, Lam Dorji said the ministry has to propose the revision, which would be put up to the Cabinet for approval.

“But, as of now the ministry has not decided anything,” he said.

The norm in the past was that the finance ministry either proposed the raise or issued a guideline to determine the raise.

During a meet-the-press session in October last year, lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay said that the government will not interfere and that it does not have unilateral authority to increase salaries and allowance.

He also said that in earlier revisions, salaries of corporate employees are maintained 15 percent higher than civil servants’. “But bottom line now is how much the companies can afford,” he had said then.

For the companies that are subsidised, lyonchhoen said the companies have to justify the subsidy thoroughly to the government.

But this, some said, was not reasonable because some companies like Druk Green Power Corporation can afford a bigger raise while some may not even be able to  afford a raise.

However, the Druk Holding and Investments (DHI) has already formed a committee to study the raise based on the inflation rate and corresponding erosion in purchasing power of Ngultrum.

Sources said that the committee’s report would be submitted to the board this month for approval.  The report would then be sent to Cabinet for final approval.

The total pay and allowances of 10 state-owned corporations amounted to Nu 478.530M, constituting  about 16 percent of their annual gross revenues. Should the pay and allowances of state-owned enterprises (SOE) be maintained at 15 percent higher than the civil servants’, the proposed increase will translate into an additional Nu 71.78M.

According to the second pay commission’s report, published in March last year, considering the performance and expenditure growth in the past five years of the SOEs, the gross revenue would be sufficient to meet the 15 percent increase in their pay and allowances, except for Wood Craft Center, Bhutan Post, and Bhutan Broadcasting Service.

Going by past trends, in January 2011 civil servants got a 20 percent raise on the salary scale of 2006. In December the same year, a 15 percent pay hike, with an additional 20 percent corporate allowance was approved for the corporations. The revision however was applied retroactively from July, meaning some 10,000 employees claimed their arrears for six months.

State-owned corporations then included Bhutan Agro, Bhutan Broadcasting Service, Bhutan Development Bank, Bhutan Post, Construction Development Corporation, Food Corporation of Bhutan, Kuensel Corporation, National Housing Development Corporation, National Pension and Provident Fund and Wood Craft Center.

But Wood Craft Center and the Construction Development Corporation were handed over to DHI last month.

Earlier, the companies could decide on their own should they wish to go lower than the percent the government prescribed. But most companies were able to manage the raise.

Again in 2009, following the 35 percent revision in civil servant’s salary, the finance ministry came out with a broad guideline to revise the salary of corporate employees.

It has prescribed two different pay structures for corporations based on their capital base and revenue generation. Companies with equity base of more than Nu 100M and earning revenues of more than Nu 500M per annum are put in one category and the rest of the companies in another category.  Further, the revision was based on the grade of individual employees.

However, all corporations were eligible for the 15 percent Corporate Specific Allowance (CSA) on the revised pay structure. This revision was also approved six months since the civil servants were given the pay raise but again was applied retroactively.

While there are companies who can afford the raise, there are also a few others, which are sustaining on government subsidies and a raise could harm the government coffer.

By Tshering Dorji

B. Ed vacancies slashed by more than half

Employment: Nima Zangmo chose to become a teacher. The 23-year-old qualified to study in Sherubtse college after she completed her higher secondary school, and training to be a teacher, she assumed, would guarantee her a job.

She joined the Paro College of Education in 2010. However, having completed her four-year training and when she should be preparing for her first placement, she says she feels cheated.

A job as a teacher is not guaranteed. There are 417 graduates from the two colleges of education and only 182 vacancies. “We should have been told about it before we opted to go for teacher training,” Nima said. “We’re trained to teach, if RCSC doesn’t take us, we won’t get employment anywhere.”

The vacancy announcement by Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) for B. Ed graduates has left most of them disappointed. RCSC announced 182 vacancies for the 417 graduates who appeared the civil service examination, which ended yesterday.

Of the 182, highest slots at 120 are allotted to B. Ed primary but 201 candidates appeared the examination. Another 50 slots are allotted to B. Ed Dzongkha and five to B. Ed secondary mathematics and physics, which has 54 graduates appearing the exam.

For the 83 graduates of B. Ed secondary English and IT, biology and chemistry, and English and history, there are only six vacancies. Of the 13 English and geography graduates, only one will be absorbed into the civil service.

Although graduates were told in the college that starting this year, they will be screened during placement, it was least expected that the vacancies would be halved.

Another graduate, Pema Yangchen said, since the vacancies were announced just before the examination, she could not do the exam well.  She said private schools requirement is minimal and it would not absorb large number of graduates into teaching.

“We’re being cheated. If our batch’s fate is this, what would happen to hundreds undergoing B. Ed in the two colleges currently,” she said.

Education ministry officials said the ministry’s requirement submitted to RCSC was more than the announced vacancies but the number could have been worked out according to RCSC requirement.

“There is shortage of teachers in primary schools but secondary schools have teacher in excess,” an official said adding that some of the remaining B. Ed graduates would be recruited as contract teachers.

Meanwhile RCSC officials could not be contact. RCSC director Dorji Tshering, however had told BBS that vacancies were floated as per the requirement from education ministry. He said they came up with the number after a consultative meeting with the education ministry.

Sources said the drastic decline in teacher recruitment might be to get in line with the school consolidation policy of closing extended class rooms (ECR) where there are fewer enrollments.  While the schools will be closed, there will be excess teachers.

By Nirmala Pokhrel

Less vehicle accidents but more fatalities last year

RSTA: Despite a large fall in the number of vehicle accidents, the number of fatalities on the road was higher in 2014 as compared to the previous year.

There was about 23 percent decrease in vehicle accidents from 1,023 in 2013 to 791 in 2014.

Of these accidents 76 percent or 602 occurred in Thimphu city alone.

Seventy people died in vehicle accidents nationwide last year as compared to 59 in 2013.

There was a sharp decrease in vehicle related injuries last year. Almost 390 people were injured last year as compared to 601 in 2013.

The leading cause of vehicle accidents continues to be human error with 546 cases recorded last year. Examples of human error are careless driving or ignoring traffic rules, among others.

Driving under the influence of alcohol was the second leading cause of accidents with 171 recorded last year. The number of alcohol related accidents has steadily decreased in the past three years with 194 taking place in 2013 and 212 the year before that.

The number of hit and run cases also fell significantly with 89 last year as compared to 168 in 2013.

Accidents caused by speeding and unlicensed driving also continued to drop with 56 and 53 recorded last year.

Most violations continue to happen in Thimphu city. While violations in almost all categories have dropped the leading violation is still using a mobile phone while driving. There were 1,147 such cases in Thimphu last year and 1,516 in 2013.

There were also 455 cases of speeding, 274 cases of unlicensed driving, 247 cases of driving with a learner’s license, and 173 cases of driving under the influence of alcohol registered in Thimphu.

Incidents of double parking actually increased to 175 from 171 in 2013.

A total of Nu 9.3M in fines was collected nationwide with Nu 7.3M in Thimphu alone.

A spokesperson for the traffic police attributed the decrease in accidents and violations to increased awareness programs for the public, and better enforcement.

The introduction of equipment like speed guns and breathalysers in Thimphu was also credited for a drop in speeding and drink driving. The construction of speed breakers on the so called express way was another factor attributed for less incidents occurring there.

While it was pointed out that the traffic police in Thimphu is adequately staffed and equipped, traffic divisions outside the capital also need to be beefed up with equipment like speed guns and breathalysers, according to the spokesperson.

It was also explained that the poor design and engineering of roads needs to be addressed to improve safety.

By Gyalsten K Dorji

 

Dzongkha is not difficult, it never was…

IMG_6942 Dasho Sherab Gyeltshen

Dzongkha Development Commission’s (DDC) secretary Dasho Sherab Gyeltshen retired on December 16 last year after completing 37 years in the civil service. Originally from Tshakaling, Mongar Dasho Sherab Gyeltshen, 60, started his career with the home ministry in 1978.

 A pioneer in the promotion of the national language, Dasho Sherab spent a moment with Kuensel’s Thinley Zangmo to share his experience working with the commission.

 

How has your experience been working with the DDC?

As many people weren’t interested in our national language, I realised people working in the commission shouldered a huge responsibility. Everything was in English from meetings to school syllabus. Most graduates didn’t even know how to write in Dzongkha and when talking to students, they didn’t find Dzongkha as prospective. There in lied the conflict and it was our responsible to make a strong foundation for Dzongkha starting from schools. This meant years of hard work that we had to put in.

 

Achievements?

I wouldn’t have been able to achieve everything on my own without the support from my team at DDC. Various projects were implemented to develop Dzongkha from distribution of free Dzongkha dictionaries to software development. We developed spell checker, an app for smartphones to make Dzongkha more appealing to youth. A software called Parser is also being developed with the help of College and Science Technology that has various functions like spell check, translation, scan and print. It was important to make Dzongkha compatible in line with the changing technology.

The greatest achievement, so far, is making people aware on the importance of preserving and promoting Dzongkha.

Challenges today?

With most of the syllabus being in English, there isn’t much room for improvement of Dzongkha despite the commission’s efforts. Therein lied the biggest challenge, to mainstream and make Dzongkha more favourable for students. In schools there is just one period assigned for Dzongkha while rest of the subjects are in English. The commission is also not allowed to intervene in the education system but just support it.

Lack of budget, political will and support are some of the main challenges.

 

Why is Dzongkha difficult?

Dzongkha is not difficult, it never was. It’s a new phenomenon among people where many are finding the language difficult because there is lack of place and resources to study it. Moreover, English has taken such a strong hold among us. A Japanese tutor is teaching choekey to 15 students at present. If a person like him can read and write in choekey, as a Bhutanese it shouldn’t be difficult at all. For a linguist, Dzongkha is one of the easiest of all languages and English the most difficult.

 

How can Dzongkha newspapers help promote the national language?

Dzongkha newspapers have few readers compared to English, as there are less people who know the language. Dzongkha was never given the priority it deserves. Even today in schools, Dzongkha subject receives less importance. Of the thousands of graduates every year, only a handful can read and write Dzongkha well. For newspapers to promote Dzongkha, we have to produce readers first by changing policies that would not only encourage but also serve as a platform to learn Dzongkha.

 

People say that spoken dzongkha during the Parliament sessions are hard to understand. Is there any scope for improvement?

It is difficult, as people don’t know Dzongkha. There are no written records of Dzongkha so people used choekey to communicate. When Dzongkha was simplified, grammar, terms and pronunciations changed and that’s one reason why many find it difficult. However, there is always room for improvement with support.

The situation, however, is improving. Many parliamentarians now speak fluent Dzongkha during the Parliament sessions.

 

 

 

Sharing information

Information is power. In the democratic establishment we are in today, providing timely and relevant information is vital for transparency and accountability and for people to make informed decisions.

The highest law, the Constitution, guarantees the right to information to all citizens. This means that it is the birth right of individuals in the society to have access to information.

Media is there just as a vehicle to carry information to the citizens. As individual citizens cannot approach agencies or ministries for information on a daily basis, they have to depend on media. Therefore, there is the  need for a proper flow of information from the source to those who rely on it.

Today, news media are finding it difficult to get information. One reason is that there is no proper system of spokesperson or media focal person in agencies and ministries to coordinate a better flow of information.

But this could now change. The department of information has trained information and media officers from various agencies and ministries to be the link between the government and the media. They are expected to streamline the flow of information and sharing of information with the media and the people.

This is a good move given that accessing information is a challenge, especially when journalists work on deadline. We hope that after the young media officers go back to their agencies, they will share the importance of sharing information to their reclusive bosses and colleagues.

We hope they will not forget their role as information officers once they are occupied with their main responsibilities. Their roles should not be limited to arranging appointments, receiving emails and responding to queries from the media.

There have been a number of attempts in the past to appoint spokespersons in all the government ministries and organisations. It didn’t work because the spokespersons had to seek permission from his or her boss to talk to media. A significant amount of time was lost in between.

Government policies, decisions and statistics are the documents that people need as they go about doing their business every day. Unless the IMOs are thorough themselves with information, there will not be significant change. They may have the authority to disseminate information, but people will still be left wanting.

However, what is encouraging is that the government has realised the importance of media officers. This is a good beginning. The idea is to make IMOs a permanent post. This is an important recognition. Apart from issues that could risk national interests and security, government information must flow to the people.

Information is vital. System of dissemination should be made more efficient and transparent.

Solar fencing benefits farmers of Pangthang

DSC_6417The solar fencing in Pangthang was installed last year

Conflict: Villagers of Pangthang in Nanong gewog have found some respite from wild animals with the installation of solar fencing covering 67 acres of land.

Unlike past years, villagers no longer spend sleepless nights guarding their fields. The solar fencing was installed last year after villagers requested the Renewable Natural Resources (RNR) centre following high incidence of human-wildlife conflict.

The solar fencing benefits 37 households. Villagers grow sugarcane and maize as their main cash crops besides vegetables and fruits like mangoes.

With the solar fencing, villagers said life was much better now as they could devote more time to perform other household chores and farming. Villagers harvest maize twice a year.

Prior to the installation of solar fencing, villagers used traditional means to chase away wild animals by making noise and shouting.

Most villagers were happy to be able to reap what they harvested while a few lost only a small portion owing to poor management. In the past, they lost about 30 percent of their harvest every season to the wild animals.

“After the solar fencing was installed, we don’t worry as much as we used to do in the past years,” a villager Tshering Dorji, 51, said, adding that the solar fencing proved effective.

Another villager Sena, 53, said if not for the solar fencing, by the time they approach the harvest season, monkeys or wild boars would have uprooted the maize while deers would damage maize stems and eat the vegetables.

“The solar fencing has also helped us protect our poultries from fox,” Sena said.

However with the solar fencing not able to scare monkeys as it scares other wild animals, villagers are worried.

A villager said monkeys know that the solar fencing wire does not produce electric current continuously but just between intervals of few seconds.

“The monkeys tend to touch the fencing and wait for a few seconds after which they quickly jump over the fence,” Wangmo, 64, said. “The monkeys also try to break the wire and uproot the fencing.”

The villagers said they would request RNR to increase the current voltage or the length of the wire to curb the issue.

“If not monkeys being smart animals, as they understand how the solar fencing functions, they will start attacking our harvest again,” a villager said.

By Yangchen C Rinizn, Pemagatshel 

 

Power restored after 20 hours

Blackout: Power in Trongsa and Bumthang was restored at around 6:40 pm yesterday after 20 hours of blackout caused by a broken jumper at Bayling between Yurmu in Trongsa and Tingtibi substation under Zhemgang.

A jumper is a device used for continuity of power between two electric towers. The power went out at around 9:15 pm on January 6.

“Our system could not locate the glitch because the broken jumper was hanging in the air which otherwise would have been easily traced had it been touching the conductor,” an official from Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) said.

A jumper is normally located in the air and locating the faulty one was obstructed. The official said that the BPC lineman had to inspect each tower one by one to trace the problematic jumper.

“That is why it took us so long to first trace the fault and then fix it,” the official said.

BPC officials said that the jumper broke down from its dilapidated condition because there was no opportunity to fix it given customer objections to power interruptions.

“Since the project in Trongsa and high-end hoteliers in Bumthang object power interruptions, long hour power break downs are expected because of aging jumpers,” the official said, adding the only maximum time BPC gets to inspect the conductors is 10-15 minutes.

And without giving enough time it is difficult to see the faults in jumpers because it is located in the air he said.

Meanwhile, financial institutions both in Bumthang and Trongsa remained idle throughout the day yesterday.

“We were idle yesterday without power since every transactions and banking services being online relies on electricity,” an official from one of the banks in Trongsa said.

The official also said that that the banks in Trongsa particularly were affected with the power blackout since it is a project area.

“We would have run a loss of somewhere between Nu 40,000-50,000 from exchange services yesterday,” the official said, adding the bank would also have incurred losses from other services like deposits besides affecting customer services.

ATM services in both Trongsa and Bumthang were unavailable until the restoration of the power.

Some banks in Bumthang also remained closed throughout the day yesterday solely because of lack of power.

But project works in Mangdechu hydro power project (MHPA) was unaffected by the power interruption. MHPA technical director G. Baidya said that the project was able to continue its works with use of standby construction power or generators for project components including dam and the head race tunnel.

“There was no disruption of the project works from power break down ” G. Baidya said.

By Tempa Wangdi, Bumthang