KuenselOnline

Friday, July 3rd, 2015 - 9:36 PM
Yangphel Housing Banner.gif

Nubi gewog electrified

With this, about 95 percent of Trongsa district has received electricity

Power: Nubi gewog became the latest gewog in Trongsa to receive electricity.  About 211 households, including 19 in Bjee gewog, received electricity on January 8.

Electrification work had started in June 2012 and the gewog was supposed to be lit by July 2013, but officials said bad weather, road conditions and continuous rainfall delayed the project.  Until January 8, about 80 percent of Nubi gewog didn’t have electricity.

With Nubi gewog connected under the rural electrification program, Bhutan Power corporation officials said about 95 percent of Trongsa now has electricity.  The remaining villages are in Jangbi, Phungzur and Ngadala in Langthel gewog.

Meanwhile, villagers welcomed the latest facility in the gewog.  Some had bought electric cookers and boilers in 2012, when work first began.

A villager from Bemji, Tshering said she didn’t mind the delay knowing it (electricity) was coming to her village. “It was worth the wait, as electricity has brightened our life,” she said.

“We’ve been using candles and kerosene lamps forever, which isn’t good for health. We’ve been cooking either with wood-fed stove, bukhari or gas stove,” she said. “Using gas stove was a hassle, because when we had to refill the cylinders, we had to look for rides to town and back, which is difficult and expensive.”

For Sangay, 27, electricity at home means she need not send her mobile phone to Trongsa town every time it runs out of battery.  “I couldn’t use my phone to listen to music or radio because I had to save the battery to call my family and friends,” she said, fiddling with her phone. “I used to send my phone through some villagers, who went to town to sell vegetables in the morning. They’d charge it at a shop all day and bring it back when they returned in the evening.”

Sangay also owns a rice cooker, a curry cooker, a boiler and a television set.  She had also bought a dish TV, as there is no cable connection in the village yet.

Farmer Rinzin, 56, said electricity would now save a lot of time and allow farmers to spend more time in the fields. “We can spare time for the fields, while the electric cookers will share our cooking job,” she said smiling.

Nubi gup Tashi Penden said the long wait is over and this change will also result in change in the lifestyle of the people. “Before, it was difficult for people to maintain cleanliness and manage waste, but now they can clean up their houses, get rid of cinder from their walls and ceilings,” he said.

By Sonam Choden, Trongsa

NC endorses double tax avoidance agreement

The bilateral contract with India will now become law once declared so by His Majesty

DTAA: National Council endorsed the double tax avoidance agreement (DTAA) between the government and the government of India yesterday.

Double taxation is the levying of tax by two or more authorities on the same declared income.  It occurs when an individual or a corporation is required to pay two or more taxes for the same income, asset, or financial transaction in different countries.

Under the double regime, for instance, an Indian investor, who earned Nu 100M, first needs to pay a 10 percent tax in Bhutan on the Nu 100M, which amounts to Nu 10M.  Later, when his remaining income of Nu 90M is transferred to India, another 30 percent tax is levied on the Nu 90M that equals to Nu 27M.

The investor pays a total tax of Nu 37M (10+27), which reduces the net income to Nu 63M.

To avoid being taxed twice, the agreement provides tax credit, meaning for the above investor, the Nu 10M tax levied in Bhutan would be refunded in India.  The net income then increases to Nu 73M that ultimately encourages foreign direct investments (FDI).

Such agreements, in most cases, are bilateral agreements and provide specific relief to taxpayers, to save them from double taxation, be it on income, asset or financial transactions.

Twenty-two members present during the deliberations all voted in favour of the endorsement of the agreement.

Section 25 of article 10 in the Constitution necessitates Parliament to endorse such agreements.

It states that all international conventions, covenants, treaties, protocols, and agreements duly acceded to by the government shall be deemed to be the law of the kingdom only upon ratification by Parliament, unless it is inconsistent with this Constitution.

Bhutan and India discussed provisions of the agreement in its first meeting in New Delhi, India in 2009.

Finance minister Namgay Dorji said the agreement is the first of its kind for Bhutan.

Bhutan and India signed the agreement in March last year after two rounds of deliberations.

Lyonpo Namgay Dorji said in Bhutan and India’s case, the objective is to avoid taxation on income by FDI to promote and foster economic trade and investment.

“The agreement will minimise the incidences of economic double taxation of income in the two countries, and remove obstacles to cross border trade and investment flows,” he said.

He said the two governments stand ready to implement, once the ratification comes through.

Eminent council member Dasho Karma Yezer Raydi said, with the double taxation system, contractors from India, especially those in hydropower, working on projects in Bhutan, would include the taxes in to the costs of the projects. “With the new agreement, would it make the projects cheaper?” he said.

Finance minister said that was one of the main reasons to draw up the agreement.

The agreement would be submitted to His Majesty the King for endorsement, and to declare it as a law in the country.

By Tshering Palden

Concern over appellate body

While National Assembly might have endorsed the Right to Information Bill yesterday, some sections of the public found members’ decisions on certain issues dissatisfactory.

The concern was with members’ decision to give the authority to information and communications ministry to deal with cases emanating from denial of requests for information.

It was a genuine concern for some of the opposition members, a few contractors, businessmen, constitutional bodies and the media, who believe would have to frequently use the law.

Information people have to seek is from government ministries and public institutions that are run by bureaucrats.

Should they delay providing the requested information or deny all together, going by the assembly’s decision, the appeal is to another ministry that of information and communications, also run by bureaucrats.

It may be too premature to conclude so, but if international experiences are anything to go by, the chosen appellate body also grew up in the world of official secrets and bureaucratic elitism.

Therefore, the fear is, they too could share the sympathies and the outlook of the bureaucrats in all the rest of the ministries.

To embrace the culture of RTI, that asks not why a requester should have an information, but rather why the individual should not, will be a challenge.

The same would be the case with courts, if it were made the appellate body as the legislative committee members had suggested.

The RTI bill specifies the need for a National Tribunal headed by a former judge of a High Court, or a district one, who after gauging reasonable grounds to intervene would initiate an inquiry.

That would be a fine start.

Knowing the pains of having to exhaust the due process, many seekers of information would rather give up than pursue a case.

Therein lies the demise of a law we associate much importance in its ability to shake the systems and traditions the public servants have grown accustomed to and the people long weary of.

A paid entity, with a given mandate and responsibility would, however, not mind having to deal with various government agencies and court proceedings.

The hope of the law is to wean our public offices away from their attributes of protecting public information more than they would their personal properties and towards to a more transparent, open society.

That is why, to ensure the efficacy of such a law, it is of utmost importance for the need of an independent authority, empowered by this legislation, to take up issues with relevant agencies and follow up cases of denial for requested information.

Perhaps a little more deliberation on the issue was necessary and it is to the National Council that we look to as they take up the bill for review.

Drukair reaps harvest of higher footfalls

photo

On both international and domestic flights, the airline saw a spike in passenger numbers 

Tourism: The national airline Drukair also saw a subsequent increase in USD-fare-paying passengers in both its international and domestic sectors last year, with tourist arrivals increasing by about ten percent last year.

On the international sector, Drukair carried a total of 207,697 passengers last year, of which 104,346 were local passengers and 103,351 were USD-fare-paying passengers.

This is an increase of about 20 percent or 14,292 more passengers (local and USD fare paying) from the previous year.  In 2012, Drukair carried a total of 193,405 passengers of which 97,195 comprised local passengers, and 96,210 paid the USD fare.

Last year, the total revenue generated through ticket sales for both domestic and international sectors stood at Nu 2.8B against Nu 2.2B the previous year.

However, Drukair officials said the revenue for 2013 is yet to be audited and could be subject to change.  A breakup on what nationalities purchased the tickets could not be provided by Drukair.

On the domestic sector, a majority of passengers were tourists, records with the airline show.  Of 2,725 passengers Drukair carried last year, 620 comprised local passengers while 2,105 paid in USD, generating revenue of about Nu 24M.

Compared to the previous year, this represents a significant increase.  In 2012, the airline flew 870 passengers on the domestic sector, of which 340 were local passengers and 530 USD payees.  A total revenue of Nu 7.3M was generated that year.

A Drukair official attributed the comparatively smaller earnings in 2012 to domestic flight operations having to be suspended for a couple of months due to the closure of airports for maintenance in 2012.

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

The launching of domestic air service in December 2011 came as huge relief for the tourism industry, especially at a time when the focus was more towards promotion of tourist in the eastern circuit.

Tour operators said, compared to 2012, domestic flight operations saw some improvement. “However, issues, such as reliability and consistency of the flights, still persist,” said one.

Lack of infrastructural development to cater to tourists, bad road condition, and the long journey to the east are the main obstacles in promoting the east as a tourist destination.

Tourism, being concentrated mostly in the west, tour operators said the domestic air service helped them showcase the eastern circuit with a new dimension.

However, the suspension of flights to Yonphula since last year was another issue, with tourists complaining about the distance of journey, and the deteriorating road condition towards the east.

Currently, Drukair operates a 48-seater ATR aircraft once a week to Bumthang. “It’s been about two years since the introduction of domestic flights, but the tourism industry is yet to benefit from its services,” a tour operator said.

Tour operators said, as they have to plan tours much ahead, reliability and consistency of flights affected them a lot. “We’re still not confident to put the journey by air in our travel itineraries,” a tour operator said, adding, if there was improvement, the domestic air services will benefit all tourism stakeholders.

Tour operators also charter domestic flights during peak season.

By Kinga Dema and  Gyalsten K Dorji

 

RTI bill endorsed

It will now go to the council for review

Assembly: National Assembly yesterday passed the Right to Information (RTI) bill, 2014 after 32 members out of 40 present voted in favour of it.

Of that, four members abstained, while another four voted against the bill.

Following the endorsement of the bill, some members shared their views, both appreciative and those of dissatisfaction.

Panbang Parliament member Dorji Wangdi said he was unhappy particularly with regards to provisions pertaining to dispute resolution and appeals.

He said a court of competent jurisdiction should have been the body that people could take their petition to if their requests for official information was denied, delayed or false as legislative committee recommended.

“Making information and communications ministry the appellate body as in the draft, there can be conflict of interest because the ministry is also one of the agencies that should be providing information to the people,” Dorji Wangdi said, adding it was not in line with section 23 of the fundamental rights under the Constitution.

The section in the Constitution states that all persons would have the right to initiate appropriate proceedings in the Supreme Court or High Court for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this article.

Health Minister Tandin Wanchuk said if there arose any problem while implementing the law, the members could always amend it.

Works and human settlement minister Dorji Choden said the bill was not tabled because it was the party’s pledge.

“Information and communications ministry already had the draft ready,” she said.

North Thimphu’s representative Kinga Tshering said although he appreciated the efforts the legislative committee put in to come up with recommendations, he was dissatisfied the bill was passed.

“Only about 50 percent of committee’s recommendations were accepted by the house,” he said.

Drujegang–Tsheza Parliament member said the law, at this stage was like a child and that it was unreasonable of members to express their concerns over possibilities of child falling down when it had barely stood up.

Dispute resolution and appeals saw lengthy discussions during the third reading of the bill on February 5.

The house deliberated extensively on whether the court or the information and communications ministry should to be made the appellate body.

The speaker called for votes from members to decide on this and 20 voted for information and communications ministry as the appellate body against 18 members. One member had abstained.

Some members were of the view the courts would be inundated with small cases if it were made the appellate body.

Economic affairs minister Norbu Wangchuk said the case should first go to the ministry, which if unable to resolve the issue could refer the case to court.

Some legislative committee members explained most people from various parts of the country would not be able to appeal if they had to travel all the way to the ministry in Thimphu.

Drametse–Ngatshang Parliament member Ugyen Wangdi said if courts were made the appellate body, people could file their petitions at the nearest courts.

He said they also created a provision where a tribunal was to be established according to the law if needed in future, just so courts are not overloaded.

“We initially thought of creating a new appellate body, but since cases would land up in courts eventually, we decided to make courts the appellate body,” he said.

By Nima Wangdi

Paddy cultivation – a thing of the past

PaddyThe paddy fields in Decheling gewog has remained fallow for more than four years now

Once a flourishing rice bowl, the drying up of Peling tsho robbed Decheling of irrigation 

Agriculture: For want of water, the land, where paddy was once cultivated commercially as a viable and thriving business by the farmers of Decheling gewog, Samdrupjongkhar, has been left fallow for more than four years.

Back then, farmers from the three chiwogs of Namdeling, Shingchongri, and Bapta would be seen busy during paddy cultivation seasons.  Today, save for buckwheat, maize, soya bean and oranges that villagers still grow, the farmers don’t want to go back to paddy cultivation anymore.

With water not even adequate for drinking and the only water source, Peling tsho, drying, farmers reasoned that cultivating paddy would only aggravate the acute water shortage in the village that has a population of 4,226.

“I’d prefer growing oranges, instead of looking forward to a plan of having enough water for paddy cultivation,” a farmer, Ngawang, said.

Nganglam drungpa, Nima Gyeltshen, said they visited the gewog a few times to identify a suitable location for a reservoir tank that would feed water for irrigation in future, but the land owners were least interested. “I don’t think paddy cultivation will materialise, and the plan has been shelved for now,” Nima Gyeltshen said.

However, the agriculture ministry is still pushing to revive paddy cultivation in the gewog.  The ministry is also banking on the regeneration of Peling tsho, which would guarantee sufficient water for irrigation.

According to the agriculture extension officer, Pema Chorten, discussions were held with UNDP in 2013, and Nu 300,000 was committed to come up with an irrigation water pump in the gewog.

“But we need to carry out feasibility studies and submit the structural plan, before UNDP releases the budget,” Pema Chorten said. “The survey team managed to measure about 38.2 acres of land last year.”

Following budget constraints, the feasibility studies have come to a halt since then.

Another reason for farmers moving away from paddy cultivation was because of the registration of dry land as wetland.  Since most of the area was marshy, dry lands were registered as wetlands, Pema Chorten explained.

“The complication here was that, although the land was wet in reality, it was reflected as dry land in the thram,” Pema Chorten explained.

More than a decade ago, it was a different story.  Paddy cultivation was thriving with the Peling tsho irrigating the fields.  However, rampant deforestation in the 1970s, affected the catchment area and the lake.

About four years ago, when the villagers realised the lake was drying, they decided to discontinue paddy cultivation, foreseeing the consequences and risks.

Now, the agriculture division and the paddy cultivators are looking forward to the conservation of the lake and building the water pump.

“When the water pump starts functioning and, if water is enough for every household in Decheling, we’ll use the excess water for irrigation purpose,” Pema Chorten said.

By Tshering Wangdi/Nganglam

Seized barn owl set free in park

OwlThe barn owl

Wildlife: Foresters of Royal Manas national park released the barn owl (Tyto alba) police at Gelephu border gate claimed to have rescued from Indians on January 25 in the park.

The barn owl, ranger Yeshi Wangdi of the park, said, was taken to Manas on January 26 and released in the park.

He said the Indians, who brought the barn owl for sale, told police that the nocturnal bird was captured from Bagmara, a bordering forest near Kanamakura in Umling. “It’s therefore likely that barn owls are found in RMNP too, as it’s the same habitat,” he said.

The release of the barn owl in RMNP, foresters say, takes the number of species of birds in the park to 432.

The barn owl, with its heart-shaped face, broad vertical chestnut-brown zone through each eye and feathers tipped blackish and chestnut-brown, is a nocturnal bird and hunts for prey only at night.

The eyelids of the owl are whitish and its bill is creamy yellow.

Still no takers for tshogpa posts

Four rounds of polls have yet to fill 17 posts in ten dzongkhags

LG Elections: Despite four major rounds of local government elections since June 2011, including the recent one, 17 tshogpa posts in some 10 dzongkhags are still without takers.

This would probably be the last of attempts to fill the gaps for now.  The election commission of Bhutan (ECB) decided that they would not conduct any elections to fill the 14 vacant posts of gewog tshogde tshogpa and three thromde tshogpas.

That was because there was simply no candidate willing to stand for elections.

The recent one held on February 3 fetched nine new gewog tshogde tshogpas,  while four more candidates were elected through by-elections.

By-elections were held to fill vacancies that resulted because of voluntary resignation of three gewog tshogpas in Haa, Punakha and Lhuentse, and the death of the earlier thromde tshogpa in Samdrupjongkhar.

“We wish all vacancies are filled by now,” chief election commissioner Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said.

Although it is expected that the salary raise to Nu 5000 earlier helped retain a few, who were on the verge of quitting, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said more candidates could be attracted, if the government considered a decent remuneration package for local government posts.

“Importance of positions need to be made apparent to serve as attraction for qualified voters to look at them, while also serving as a good alternative for employment,” he said.

Commission’s chief election officer, Phub Dorji, said ECB had decided not to conduct further LG elections since 2012, after doing three major and several supplementary elections.

“But the need was felt and dzongkhags requested the commission,” he said, adding this time, since by-elections had to be conducted, the commission decided to conduct elections for vacant posts as well.

Although electoral laws require the by-elections to be conducted within 30 days of occurrence of vacancy, Phub Dorji said the result would have been negative, if it was done as per the law, because none of the candidates fulfilled the criteria.

He said, there were interested and capable candidates, but did not possess functional literacy test (FLT) certificate.  So the commission arranged and conducted a separate FLT for them.

He said they were also not comfortable having just one person standing for elections, since one person standing would mean “yes” or “no” votes, and if the latter outnumbered, there were huge cost implications.

The chief election officer also said, literally, there wasn’t any town in some dzongkhag thromdes like Gasa and Pemagatshel.

“So, there aren’t any candidate willing to stand,” he said.

Meanwhile, in the elections held on February 3 for nine vacant gewog tshogde tshogpa posts, the voter turnout was just about 22 percent.

For the by-elections of three gewog tshogpas and one thromde tshogpa, the voter turnout was about 29 percent.

Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said, given the dearth of interested candidates, voters knew for certain that candidates would get elected, even if they did not turn up to vote.

“No candidate had in all honesty conducted any election campaign for their contest,” he said.

The chief election officer, Phub Dorji also said most candidates did not campaign, and that people give less importance to chiwogs.

In accordance with section 580 of the election act, members elected to fill the casual vacancies will only serve for the remaining term of office.

By Tshering Dorji

Govt. hopes to start three new projects this year

Power: Efforts are made to start at least three new hydropower projects within this year, economic affairs minister Norbu Wangchuk informed the Assembly yesterday.

The minister however did not specify the name of the projects.

The minister was responding to a question raised by Bartsham-Shongphu member and former finance minister, Wangdi Norbu, on why the projects were stalled, and when they would start construction.

Earlier this year, officials from the economic affairs ministry expressed concern that it would be difficult to achieve the planned target of generating 10,000 megawatts (MW) of hydropower by 2020.

“We’re worried whether the target will be fulfilled, but we’re giving it our best effort,” said lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk.

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said, starting construction of new hydropower projects entailed a lengthy process, since the detailed project reports had to pass through a lot of clearing agencies, both in India and Bhutan.

India, he said, was handling new projects numbering above 100, and they were at present involved in studying and clearing more than 100 DPRs.  This, he said, was a lot of work and it definitely takes time.

India was also working on generating over 50,000MW of hydropower.

The minister also said the planned hydropower projects were huge in terms of cost.

The total cost of the 10 hydropower projects identified under the 10,000MW initiative was working out to more than Nu 800B. This is almost 7 times more than the size of the Bhutanese economy.

The entire money, he said, had to be sourced in from India in the form of loans and grants.

Hydropower, he said, was important for both countries therefore, efforts were being put from both sides. “But then, there are challenges.”

Considering all the seven new hydropower projects begin construction this year, they will have to be completed within less than six years to meet the 10,000MW target. Punatshangchu I started its construction in 2009 and, as of today, it is expected to be commissioned in 2017, taking eight years time.  This is also considering there will be no more delays.

Should there be more delays, it will have severe implications on the government’s development activities, since most of the planned development activities are based on future earnings from the hydropower sector.

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk also announced to the house that the DPRs of the three projects Kholongchu, Amochu and Bunakha were cleared, and those of Wangchu, Chamkharchu and Sankosh were yet to be cleared.

By Nidup Gyeltshen

Saved: Police rescue a doe from the sewage pond in Babesa, Thimphu yesterday. It was freed in the forest above Dechenchholing