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Monday, April 20th, 2015 - 1:06 AM
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Public bus from Samdrupjongkhar to Pemagatshel still a far cry

IMG_1039Vehicles, mostly trucks wait for a roadblock to be cleared on the Samdrupjongkhar - Pemagatshel highway.

Meanwhile, people risk life and limb hitching rides on speeding trucks

Transport: The bumpy ride on an old truck becomes more exhausting with every passing hour for Rinzin Lhendrup, who had hitched a ride to Pemagatshel with his wife from Samdrupjongkhar, after an hour long wait on the highway.

Like the couple, many people also travel to Pemagatshel, which is about 162km away, in a similar way, because there is no public transport to ferry passengers between the two “eastern dzongkhags.”

As truckers speed with shuttered windowpanes to keep out the cloud of dust surfacing from the rough road that has already served its purpose, the dust particles still manage to enter through the tiny door and window gaps, Rinzin said.

The rising temperature inside the congested truck is an additional burden to the already sweaty environment inside, while the reckless driving and the road blockages making the journey worse for the couple.

It was Rinzin’s first experience of eastern Bhutan, and his first ride over the so-called “primary highway,” a narrow stretch, where incidents of trucks and other medium vehicles falling off the road are quite frequent.

“The road at some areas was very narrow that we got stuck twice because of traffic congestion alone,” Rinzin said. “At first, I went to the Samdrupjongkhar bus terminal to buy tickets but, to my surprise, the person at the counter said they don’t have a bus service to Pemagatshel.”

However, for some lots, especially the men, their journey is not even as good as that of Rinzin’s.  Male students and Jigme Namgyal Polytechnic trainees, who return home to Pemagatshel, say it’s very difficult to get lifts, mainly because the drivers prefer female passengers.

“Those, who can afford a reserved bus, don’t have much problem, but we have to stay in groups of two or three at different locations to get a lift on trucks going to the gypsum factory,” a student, Dechen Dorji said.

But a senior citizen recalled an incident, where a trucker had given lift to a girl to Pemagatshel but, instead of dropping her at the address provided, the trucker had taken her to an isolated place.  The girl managed to escape by jumping out when the truck was still in motion.

A resident in Dewathang, Tashi Dorji, said there was a government bus earlier to ferry passengers between the two dzongkhags, but the service stopped abruptly.

“I don’t know if there’s a permanent solution to this problem but this is the trend now,” Tashi Dorji said. “Such rides are not just perilous for the travellers, but also life threatening, since most of the young truckers drive under the influence of alcohol.”

The officiating regional transport officer, Tenzin Jamtsho, said they did try to bring in private bus operators, like Bumpa and Nima transports, but it had to be stopped, as the buses were running without passengers.

“Buses were making empty rounds without passengers for almost seven months, and the bus operators couldn’t afford that any more,” Tenzin Jamtsho said, adding that the chances for the government to provide a bus, even on a weekly basis, would be very slim.

He said the one bus that ferries people is these days under maintenance. “The schedule for the bus service is still displayed on the walls, but nobody shows up for tickets.”

Without any bus service, most people in Samdrupjongkhar said it’s unfair, because the safety of the people is compromised when they travelling in trucks.  On an average, about 70 trucks ply the Samdrupjongkhar-Pemagatshel highway every day.

By Tshering Wangdi,  Samdrupjongkhar

Living with delayed funeral services

DSC04022Soe’s crematorium in dire need of renovation with its roof blown away last year

Soe: In absence of religious personnel, nomads in Soe gewog in Thimphu encounter delay in carrying out to funeral rituals, every time there is a death in the family.

Located about 4,000m above sea level, it takes a two-day walk from Shana zam (bridge) in Paro to reach Soe.

Nomads said, whenever there is a death, they travel to Paro to look for monks, who will perform the rituals.

“If the monks are free, we manage to carry out the cremation within a week; if not, it takes longer,” former gup, Pem Gyeltshen said.

An elderly villager, Pem Tashi, 55, said, although funeral rituals had to proceed immediately, they didn’t have a choice.

“It isn’t right but we can’t help,” he said.

As per the tradition, right after a person’s death, butter lamps and prayers are offered, followed by specific religious rituals on the seventh, 21st and 49th days.

There are 28 households in Soe and 255 people, of which majority are elderly.

“About 70 percent of the nomads being elderly, it’s a major cause of worry, when someone falls ill,” Soe gup, Kencho Dorje said, adding most of the younger generation settled in the valleys.

Gup Kencho Dorje said, coming in of mobile connection helped the situation.

“Right after a death, we’re able to inform a monk in Paro to arrange a team and move down to receive them,” he said.

“With no immediate solution to the issue, we can only hope that things would ease in future,” gup Kencho Dorje said.

Nomads said, with some of their children enrolled in Lingzhi dratshang as monks, they are hopeful it would benefit the community, once they learn to perform religious rituals.

Meanwhile, it is not just in times of death, but during illness that they are left in want of someone to conduct the religious ceremonies.

The only lay monk, Tshering, 83, is just able to recite scriptures and conduct lhabsang (purification ceremony).

“After I die, there won’t be anyone to even recite scriptures,” he said. “I tried to teach my children but they aren’t interested at all.”

While modern education came as a boon for the community, Tshering said it was another reason that led to migration.

“When most of our youth move to the towns for further studies, having experienced the urban way of life, they don’t want to come back,” Tshering said.

Soe community depends on porter-pony service, livestock and cordycep for income.

Since cordycep collection was legalised in 2004, slaughtering of yaks for income has reduced drastically, according to highlanders.

Gup Kencho Dorje said the nomads earned about Nu 100,000 to Nu 400,000 from cordyceps, depending on manpower.

The nomads move down to warmer valleys during winters starting November, and return towards the end of January and February.

By Kinga Dema

Wamrong’s reconstruction hopes rest with new govt.

IMG_5419In absence of loan: Construction that continue albeit rather slowly and those awaiting budget

Loans: Shopkeepers in Wamrong, Trashigang, who lost their homes to a fire in 2009, say they have hope in the new government to initiate release of loan that will enable them to carry out reconstruction.

About 12 shops in Wamrong had been pressing the previous dispensation to give them loan since early 2011.  For now, they have been living in temporary sheds built under His Majesty’s kidu grant.

Having coincided with the suspension of loan to address Rupee situation in the country, the owners were deterred from re-building a proper house and continuing with their businesses in Wamrong.

However, what has added to the problem is that the temporary sheds were to be used for two years, and the dungkhag office has already notified the occupants to dismantle the sheds in 2012.

“We had to request the dungkhag to extend the deadline until the reconstructions are done,” Lhamo Yuden Tshering, a fire victim in Wamrong, said.

While eight shopkeepers have at least started construction, four plot owners still haven’t been able to begin.

“I barely have enough to make a daily living and, without some sort of assistance, I can’t build my house,” Karma, a widow, said.

“Four of us are also worried of being asked to bring down the temporary sheds, once others move into the new homes,” she said.

Others are expected to move in soon, having almost done with the reconstructions.

“If such is the case, four of us would have no place to stay,” Karma said, adding they were the ones, who did not have much association with people, who could lend them money.

For Ausa, 63, who is also unable to start construction, matters got worse after her husband and the eldest son died soon after the fire incident.

“I have no one to rely on financially,” Ausa, whose bar license was cancelled for defaulting renewal when she was caught up in her husband’s treatment, said.

“Without loan, I’ll never be able to reconstruct homes, for I was able to open my shop only a few months ago, after two deaths in the family,” she said.

Meanwhile, even those eight households, who began reconstructions, claim they still need loan assistance to complete the works.

“I’d still need over Nu 2M to complete the reconstructions, so would others who’re halfway through,” Lhamo Yuden Tshering said.

They said the prime minister, during campaign for primary round of the National Assembly elections, pledged to help them.

“We’re waiting for the government to settle down to approach again,” Lhamo Yuden Tshering said.

By Tempa Wangdi

Village skill development training transforms lives

UntitledParticipants learn to repair electrical appliances

MoLHR: Apart from the usual farm work, Nikita Rai, 19, from Mechetar, Samtse, has been devoting her time helping those in the neighborhood repair their electrical appliances.

Nikita had acquired the skill through a training she received for a month recently.

“I was overwhelmed, when I could first identify the problem with my water boiler, which was lying idle,” she said.

She then moved on to help the community, disseminating skills she gained from village skill development training the labour ministry held from August 13 to September 13.

Since then, almost every day, Nikita, who is a school drop out, has someone requesting her to repair the electrical appliances.

“It feels good to repair items that I’ve never done before,” she said. “Although basic, I know a lot about electrical items now.”

She charges a minimal fee.

Like Nikita, there are 40 other villagers in Samtse’s 10 gewogs, all unemployed and school dropouts, who have been repairing electrical appliances after attending the same training.

Zam, 18, from Bukitading village, said the timing of the training was “perfect”.

“It’s just one year since our village received electricity and villagers have started using electrical appliances,” she said.

Many said they are trying to get together with other friends and start up a repair shop in villages.

“That way our villagers won’t have to go to border town to fix their things, by paying a huge amount,” Bhirkha Bahadur, a trainee said.

The project manager, Phuntsho Norbu, said these villagers were trained “on the job”.

He said the trainees repaired 494 appliances in 10 gewogs, like water heaters and geysers, apart from rice cookers and water boilers.

The villagers were charged Nu 10 to Nu 30.

He said another 105 trainees were trained under three trades that included embroidery, tailoring and hairdressing.

By Yangchen C Rinzin,  Phuentsholing 

Contractor sues company

Over cement bags bought from an agent and found to be short in weight

PACL: A contractor in Haa has filed a court case against Penden Cement Authority ltd (PCAL), after the cement bags he procured from an agent in Phuentsholing were found to be lighter by five kilograms each.

The case was filed last week at Haa district court.  The contractor, Rinchen Khandu, said he bought 200 bags of cement, each weighing 50kg, from Druk Penden on May 8.  The following day, the bags were weighed, after the consignment reached Haa. “Each bag weighed five kilos less, which amounts to 1,000kg in all,” he claimed.

Following the shortage, the contractor wrote to PCAL about the issue.  On May 17, PCAL sent a team to inspect the cement bags in Haa. “The team left after the inspection, but there was no response from the company,” he said. “I wrote to PCAL thrice, but there was no response, which is why I had to file a case.”

PCAL’s legal officer, Tshering Dorji, said, as per the contract agreement with cement agents, PCAL had the right to cancel the contract, if an agent was found violating the rules. “It’s not appropriate for the contractor to file a case against the company, as once the consignment exits the factory, it’s not their responsibility,” he said.

Tshering Dorji said the consignment is always weighed before it leaves the factory. “After we received the written complaint from the contractor, we sent three officials to Haa for verification,” he said. “They inspected seven bags and found a shortage of  24kg , which means a shortage of two to three kilos of cement from each bag.”

When PCAL officials informed Druk Penden, the cement agent, about the shortage, they refused to take responsibility, saying the contractor’s driver had signed the receipt that had the total weight mentioned on it. “ The agent said they weren’t present when the inspection was carried out,” Tshering Dorji said.

Tshering Dorji said the contractor has also written to the trade department, to which PCAL had replied accordingly.

By Dawa Gyelmo

Ugyen Academy FC win national league by a single point

IMG_7410

Their 5-0 win over Drukpol makes them Bhutan’s team for the AFC President’s Cup

Football: Ugyen Academy FC will represent Bhutan in the upcoming Asian football confederation (AFC) President’s Cup, as the champion of the 2013 national league (Coca Cola Bhutan national football league championship).

Ugyen Academy won the championship by a single point, after hammering Drukpol FC 5-0 on November 23 at the Changlimithang ground.

With all three points needed to pip defending champion Yeedzin FC, at 20 points, from the top of the table, Ugyen Academy made its intentions clear from the start.  Drukpol put up a spirited fight, and gave Ugyen Academy a scare.  However, Ugyen Academy got the much needed breakthrough on the half hour mark, when Namgay scored the first of his two goals.

The first half ended with a slender lead, 1-0.

However, Ugyen Academy took only five minutes to double the lead, when striker Viren scored the first goal of his hat trick.  Two minutes later, they made it 3-0, when Namgay scored his second and ensured all three points.  Drukpol didn’t threaten Ugyen Academy, and there was no sign of any twist, when Viren scored his second in the 83rd minute, and completed his hat trick six minutes later, to make it 5-0.

At the final whistle, Ugyen Academy, which was third in the standing last year, raised its flag and celebrated the victory.

Yeedzin FC had to depend on Ugyen Academy to make a slip-up after they drew Drukpol 1-1 earlier.  Had Yeedzin beaten Drukpol, Ugyen Academy’s winning yesterday wouldn’t have made any difference, as Yeedzin would be leading by a point.

Meanwhile, Bhutan football federation (BFF) officials awarded the winner Nu 400,000, while Yeedzin FC took home Nu 200,000.  Third in the table, Thimphu City FC received Nu 100,000.

Six clubs, including two from outside Thimphu, Ugyen Academy FC and Phuentsholing FC, took part in the league, which started in October.  The two teams hosted their opponents on their home ground in Punakha and Phuentsholing, following the home and away football rule.

A BFF official, Sonam Jigme, said BFF would take in more dzongkhag clubs annually. “As our main objective is to spread the beautiful game of football in all 20 dzongkhags, we’ll welcome more clubs from outside Thimphu,” he said.

The third edition of the Coca Cola Bhutan national league 2014 will kick off from May.  Tashi Beverages, Drukair, Zimdra Food and Samden Group also supported the league.

By Tashi Phuntsho

Focus point

full-employment

Pay hike by removing pool vehicles

This, besides lifting pool vehicle quota for civil servants were identified as measures to cut government cost

Revision: On the government’s request, the pay commission, while working on civil service pay revision, has also been asked to look into discontinuing pool vehicle system and replacing it with a system of allowances instead.

The commission had its first meeting this week, but members did not comment on what was discussed then.

A member requesting anonymity, however, said since it was the first meeting, it was just an introductory to the list of things the commission was required to do within the given three months time.

Discontinuing pool vehicle system and lifting the pool vehicle quota were identified as measures to cut government cost.

That way, an increase in civil service salary did not affect government revenue.

A member said discontinuing pool vehicles, however, did not include public service vehicles like fire engines, ambulances, school buses and police vehicles.

The government’s order to the commission stated salary revision should largely be met through cost cutting measures and streamlining government expenditures and other fiscal operations.

This, a member of the commission said would ensure that the revenue the government earned was not affected.


Pay commission To-do-list

Introduce housing allowances

Revise salaries and other benefits for LG officials

Introduce rural posting allowances for civil servants, especially teachers

Review foreign service entitlement rules

Review possibility of discontinuing government pool vehicles and replace it with allowances

Lift pool vehicle quota

Review parliament’s recommendation to revise pay scale for prime ministers and other ministers

“Government expenditure on pool vehicles and its maintenance cost has been identified as one area that was draining government resources,” the members said. “Besides, it has also been recognised as an area where civil servants misused pool vehicles resulting in cost increases to the government.”

Although recent figures could not be gathered, two years ago, there were around 5,000 pool vehicles plying the country’s roads.

Members of the pay commission said while working on the report they had to be mindful about the spiralling effect on the salaries of the private, corporate and other sectors in the country.

Besides, the impact on inflation, reserve position and balance of payments situation should also be considered.

When salary increased, a committee member said  it increased people’s propensity to consume.

“That would put pressure on the economy’s balance of payments situation as it would lead to more imports,” he said. “We have much to do within three months and we’re not so sure if we can pull the task within that time,”

He said the commission would try to come up with a report within the given timeframe.

Salaries, it has been estimated, would have to increase by 21 percent from the existing pay scale to cope with the inflation rate since the last revision in 2011.

By Nidup Gyeltshen  | Thimphu

Spread the govt. ad largess

Is in effect what a circular from the Cabinet secretariat has instructed all concerned

Circular: All ministries and agencies should provide same opportunities to all newspapers or broadcast media when issuing government advertisements, a circular the Cabinet secretariat on November 19  issued stated.

The circular on “matters concerning government advertisements” is addressed to all government secretaries and signed by Cabinet secretary Dasho Penden Wangchuk.

“With reference to issuance of government advertisements, honourable Dasho is hereby directed to instruct the AFDs of respective ministries and agencies to provide same opportunities to all newspapers or broadcast media, including ‘The Bhutanese’,” the circular states.

Dasho Penden Wangchuk said the circular was issued to create a “level playing field” for all media houses, so no single media house was left out.

“The Bhutanese newspaper was specifically mentioned in the circular because it raised the issue to the government,” he said.

This, he clarified, however, did not mean the reach, or circulation of the media  houses would be ignored, or that the government advertisements would be distributed to all media houses regularly or in turns.

Many government officials had interpreted the circular as a decision to distribute advertisements to all media houses, while some explained the decision was contradicting the austerity measures the government initiated.

“The circular was issued because the government said it was wrong to ban advertisements to one media house and that they should all be treated equally,” Dasho Penden Wangchuk said.

Information and communication ministry officials said the circular was issued in reference to its earlier circular issued on not giving advertisements to the same specified newspaper.

While the ministry officials said the circular was immediately withdrawn and never implemented, The Bhutanese had alleged that, because of its stories, the ministry had issued a confidential circular, with instructions from its former minister not to give advertisements to the paper until further notice.

The paper had claimed that, following the circular, advertisement revenue, compared to the previous month, dropped by more than 50 percent.

Although the circular does not state how the advertisements should be distributed, Cabinet secretary said it depended on the ministries and agencies.

Information and communications secretary Dasho Kinley Dorji said advertisements were messages for people, which should reach them through the right media.

“Advertisement isn’t meant for sustaining newspapers and if they don’t use the right media the people will miss the messages that’s meant for them,” he said.

However, the circular comes at a time when the government has not yet endorsed the advertisement guidelines that was tabled during the Cabinet meeting.

At the second meet the press on September 27, economic affairs minister Norbu Wangchuk told reporters the government was concerned about the state of the media, especially the private ones.

“We found the advertisement guidelines could disadvantage our private media further,” he had said, adding the Cabinet then decided to further study it and to not let that happen.

In the light of the sustainability the private media were faced with,  at the same meet the press session, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay clarified the government never said it would support media houses.

“The most important support we can provide is by being a government that is non-interventionist and that doesn’t interfere in the business of the media,” he had said. “I hope we have the strength of character not to complain.”

But when it came to other kinds of support, he said it had to be discussed.

“Not because you’re a business going out of business, but because media is fundamental to the success of democracy,” he said.

The advertisement guidelines were framed to enable organisations to understand which media reached which audience, before giving an advertisement or announcement.

By  Sonam Pelden | Thimphu

46 make it for masters’ in Australia

20131122_163223Australian ambassador (centre) and senior government officials with the AusAid scholarship recipients yesterday

1,223 Bhutanese had applied for the prestigious award in the 2014 intake

AusAid: Forty-six individuals will leave for Australia to pursue master’s program under the AusAid scholarship towards the end of this year.

These include three Australian leadership awardees.

Of the awardees, about forty percent are from private and corporate sectors, while the rest are civil servants.

Between February 1 and April 30 this year, some 1,223 Bhutanese had applied for the prestigious award for the 2014 intake.  Of the total, 527 could successfully “submit” the application, while the rest were disqualified in the process.

Finally, 68 candidates were shortlisted for interview from 286 applicants that were found eligible.

Speaking to the recipients yesterday, after the pre-departure session, Australian ambassador to Bhutan, Patrick Suckling, said the scholarships program highlights the strong development partnership between Australia and Bhutan.

While the Australian government has been providing scholarships to Bhutanese students since the Colombo Plan period, he said that Australia is an accommodating society, with strong humanitarian instincts.

“Australia is a diverse place, yet bonded together by some very strongly shared values,” the ambassador said. “It’s a community of fairness and tolerance.”

He said that the recipients should not be “bookworms but explore outside the classroom as well”.

“There’s a lot of life experiences and opportunities that you can benefit from, just as much as you do from inside the classroom,” he said.

Labour ministry secretary, Pema Wangda, urged the Australian government to increase the scholarships for private and corporate sectors.

While the government has been saying that the main engine of the country’s growth is the private sector, there are only a few enterprises that are able to train their employees.

“The need for human resource development in these sectors has become more urgent, with the emerging youth unemployment in the country,” he said.

He said the development of the private and corporate sectors and those agencies outside the civil service are vital for the creation of a knowledge-based society.

He said, with a small population in the country, the impact of every scholarship was tangible.

The royal civil service commission (RCSC) commissioner Sangay Dorji said scholarship recipients are required to return to Bhutan after completing their studies, ensuring that they bring their newly acquired skills home to contribute to the development of the country.

Australia provides one of the highest aids to Bhutan.

AusAid granted scholarships to 205 civil servants, 86 private and corporate employees, besides 189 Endeavour scholarships between 2007 and this year.

Scholarship awardees said it was a timely intervention for the progression of their careers and of their livelihoods.

“We shall try our best to fulfill the expectations and return home to contribute for the good of the country,” an award recipient said.

Australia’s assistance began in 1962 under the Colombo plan in human resource development.

Currently, it provides assistance in agriculture research, training for police officers, electoral assistance and assistance to local vocational institutes.

Meanwhile, of the total, 24 awardees are women, while 25 of the awardees opted to study in universities in western Australia.

The pre-departure briefing was followed by a dinner reception to “farewell” the awardees, and also to welcome back alumni from previous intakes, who have completed their studies in Australia.

The Australian alumni association is expected to be functional by the end of this year, after the endorsement of article of association and the board members.  The welcome home and farewell of the awardees would be one of its annual events.

Australia’s development assistance to Bhutan has grown steadily in recent years, reaching AUD 14M in 2012–13 financial year, focusing mainly on human resource development.

The Australia Awards are provided to citizens from eligible countries around the globe for long and short-term study and professional development.

The Australia Awards aim to develop capacity and leadership skills, so that citizens can contribute to development in their home country, and build people-to-people links at the individual, institutional and country level.

The next round of Australia Awards Scholarships will be advertised in February 2014.

By Tshering Palden