KuenselOnline

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015 - 1:44 PM
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190 plaintiffs, one defendant

The judgment was against a woman, who failed to return money she borrowed from 189 people and a bank

Court: Within 27 days, Paro district court passed 188 judgments involving 190 people against one woman.

The last of the 188 judgments was passed yesterday, in which the woman, the defendant, Deki from Changkar in Paro was sentenced to a yearlong prison for deceptive practice.

She was given a month to pay a fine of Nu 36,000 in lieu of the prison term.

Apart from the prison term, Deki was also asked to pay more than Nu 117M to 188 people she had borrowed money from.

Court officials said Deki borrowed more than Nu 118M from 190 people. From each lender, she had borrowed between Nu 50,000 to Nu 4.7M.

The court judgment stated that Deki was guilty of the offence of deceptive practice because she had mortgaged her three-storied building in Paro with 170 people from whom she borrowed money.

She had also mortgaged her land in a similar ruse. The building was first mortgaged with BNB in 2004 for Nu 2.5M loan she took.

“The amount payable was reduced to Nu 117M as some parties withdrew their initial claims,” a court official said. “The court dropped some more cases because there were discrepancies in the agreements drawn.”

Court, however, granted Deki a grace period of eight months to refund the borrowed money to her creditors.

Should she fail to mobilise the money, the judgment stated that the court would execute judicial sale.

But since the building was mortgaged with 170 people, which was insufficient to liquidate the debt, the building, court judgment stated would be distributed proportionally among 170 people.

“Since Bhutan National Bank (BNB) is a legitimate financial institution and the building was first mortgaged with it, the court will grant it priority to fully recover its loan,” a court official said.

Except for BNB, the court also issued a warning to Deki and all 189 people who loaned her money for financial transactions they carried out although they were not licensed or legitimate financial service providers.

The case was brought to court in March this year when 42 people accused Deki of not repaying the money she borrowed from them the year before.

Since Deki pled before the court that she owed money to more than 200 people in and around Paro and Haa, court asked all people to register their cases by June.

“By June-end, more than 190 people registered their cases against Deki,” a court official said. “But later two withdrew.”

A similar case appeared some time in 2010, where around 539 Bhutanese from 12 dzongkhag invested Nu 71M lending money to people who borrowed using similar ruse.

A joint investigation, the police, anti-graft agencies and the central bank carried out then found that 218 civil servants, 180 businessmen, 104 farmers, 27 monks and 10 corporate employees had fallen for the scheme.

By Tashi Dema | Thimphu

Massive anti-drug drive nets 199

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As a result of an ongoing nationwide operation, police have so far charged 50 to court

Crime: In a massive operation carried out recently, police around the country arrested more than 199 people and charged about 50 to court for abusing and trafficking controlled substances.

Home minister Damcho Dorji at the meet the press session yesterday said the operation against drug abusers and peddlers was still on and he could not furnish further details.

“Some were already convicted,” he said.

He said most drugs used were prescription ones and the number of people who used marijuana had increased in recent years.

“Marijuana is coming from across the border,” he said.

Lyonpo Damcho Dorji also said there was a trend moving towards abusing hashish.

On the recent petition, bearing signatures of more than 13,400 people that sought harsher penalties for drug traffickers, home minister said what people did not understand was that there existed a group of people that both abused and traffic drugs.

He said the penalty was already high for drug peddlers. “Second degree felony is a harsh penalty, as it’s compulsory imprisonment that ranges between nine to 15 years,” he said. “In other countries, serving 15 years means life imprisonment.”

He said harsher penalty for drug peddlers could mean increasing it to a first degree felony, which was 15 years to life imprisonment, but he questioned if that would solve the problem.

“We have to find out the root cause of the problem, and the cause is both social and economic.”

Almost 90 percent of the people caught for drug abuse and peddling, he said were people without jobs, most of them school drop-outs and students.

“Since maximum number of people are without jobs, it indicates they’re struggling to find a living and, when they don’t get one, they’re compelled to engage in such activity,” Lyonpo Damcho Dorji said.

There are children, who were abandoned by parents, and others, who came in conflict with law several times but had no rehabilitation, which meant they were deprived of facilities that could have corrected them.

“The solution lies in correcting the root causes and rehabilitating people and creating awareness,” he said.

He also said it was important to root out the source of drugs, but since it came from India, where the prescribed drugs were legal, it was difficult to solve the issue by making the law stringent.

He said it was important to see whether the products should be banned, rather than trying to amend the Act and increasing the penalty.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, however, said since there were multiple factors that contribute to drug abuse and peddling, there was no magic bullet to solve the issue.

“All of us have to play our respective roles, the government, civil societies, schools, parents, media, law enforcers and regulators,” he said. “More than 13,400 people signed the petition to amend the Act, meant the people wanted to solve it and we should be able to.”

Lyonchhoen said the government would look into who a peddler or a trafficker was.

He said Office of the Attorney General was looking at relevant laws to see if there was a need to amend the laws.

“If the laws aren’t clear and need to be amended, we’ll submit it for amendment in this sitting,” he said. “If it’s urgent, it will be tabled as an urgent bill.”

By Tashi Dema

Picture story

Getting closer: The farm road to Lauri gewog in Samdrupjongkhar has reached Debtsang, which is still five hours walk from Lauri

 

Austerity measure or pay hike

Gauging from the Pay Commission’s initial findings vis-à-vis much awaited pay hike for civil servants and that of Parliament members including minister, prospects of a likely raise look rather bleak.

The government was under pressure to look into revising, in that raising civil servant’s pay package because they did not want to renege on their election promise.

Therefore, the Pay Commission was formed as the Constitution required for the purpose of revising salaries for public servants and Parliament members.

So why was the commission formed, despite the government’s knowledge of the country’s grim economic scenario that did not, in anyway, favour such a populist scheme.

It is hoped the commission was not formed so the government could hide behind it and make it seem like they were forced to go back on their campaign pledge because the commission felt otherwise about the pay hike.

It was probably the wrong time for the government to have a Pay Commission formed, because it contradicted the very austerity measures it initiated in response to the country’s present economic challenges.

Or perhaps, it could be considered a blessing in disguise, in which case the commission should have been known with a different name, because it allowed the members to delve into the country’s economic situation to be able to recommend ways to wave over the economic hurdle.

Addressing the country’s present economic situation requires the country look at various means of slashing expenditure.

To complement the austerity mode the government, which if it chose to go in earnestness, the salary revision would not necessarily be up.

The government’s other campaign promise was that it would not borrow any more money considering the growing debt that threaten to swallow the country.

It also said the funds to pay for the country’s capital works would be met from its internal revenue.

Now that promise is an honourable one, a choice made bearing in mind the interest of the country’s sovereignty and that of the future of its posterity.

Although it might seem like this latter pledge backfired, in that it probably might have come at the cost of the former – of the pay hike – it is a worthwhile compromise.

Even if a pay hike comes through today, at what cost will it be?

To bask in the ephemeral joy of receiving a few thousands more today could cost us all far dearer in years to come.

We have a situation at hand to tackle today and what we need is a leadership towards that end.

Probably the government should lead the way it initiated and whether it was the right way to go, only time will tell.

Pay hike prospects grow slimmer

No salary raise the govt. said if it adversely affected the economy, which Pay Commission recently indicated it would

Salary: Prospects of a salary raise for civil servants, Parliament members and that of the ministers look slimmer with the government’s views resonating with that of the Pay Commission’s.

During the meet the press session yesterday, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said a pay hike depended on whether the country’s economy could afford it.

“If a salary raise would adversely affect the economy, then we will not hesitate to say it cannot be done,” he said. “But if the economy can afford, we’ll have to implement the raise.”

Lyonchhoen said it was, however, the responsibility of the Pay Commission to study the economic situation, assess internal revenue and sustainability of it, while at the same time looking at the cost of living to make recommendations.

He said the Constitution required an establishment of a Pay Commission that would look into possibilities of an upward salary revision.

The commission has, however, recently indicated that an upward revision would be difficult given the bleak economic scenario, which is not expected to improve any time soon.

But considering change in prices of commodities, or inflation since the last revision in 2010, which eroded 21 percent of the purchasing power, some economists said it was probably time for a pay hike by a minimum of 21 percent from the existing pay scale.

Growth in domestic revenue, if the current economic situation continues, is expected to decrease to source the raise from.

For instance, the recent budget report that revenue and customs department released this year showed only 3.7 percent growth in domestic revenue.

In previous years before the economy experienced the current setback, revenue growth averaged 13 percent annually.

The gap between recurrent expenditure and domestic resources was around Nu 3B. The Constitution mandates, all recurrent expenditure to be financed by domestic resources.

If not for Rs 3B received from India as excise duty refund, a customs official had said meeting recurrent expenditure from domestic resources would have been difficult.

Restrictions on vehicle imports and housing loans also affected revenue growth because taxes on consumption decreased.

Some of the measures the government implemented, revenue officials said was also affecting government revenue.

The government is using certain amount from the royalty energy it receives from Druk Green Power Corporation to subsidise to provide 100 units free electricity to the rural poor.

Hopes were pinned on Dungsam Cement to generate revenue that could be used in the salary revision, which could have been possible, had it not been for its two-year delay for commissioning.

Similarly, hopes were also pinned on hydropower projects, but there too signs of possible delays are already showing, especially in the case of Punatsangchhu I, which had targeted 2016 as its commissioning deadline.

An economist requesting anonymity pointed out risks of violating the constitutional requirement should the Pay Commission propose an upward revision in salary relying on future returns from hydropower projects.

“What if the hydropower projects get delayed and domestic resources cannot finance domestic expenditure?” he said, adding that even if hydropower projects were commissioned on time, almost half their returns would have to be repaid for the loans taken to build them.

By Nidup Gyeltshen 

Bafra’s so-called white elephant

IMG_4794Not quarantined: Stray cattle that sneaked through a missing fence graze inside the BAFRA quarantine station

The authority strongly refutes charges that its massive facility is underutilised

Airport: The Bhutan agriculture and food regulatory authority (BAFRA) has dismissed claims that its plant and animal quarantine station at Paro airport is a ‘white elephant’.

The plant and quarantine facility, spread over 1.2 acres, was established in 2008 at a cost of Nu 10.7M.

The facility is built to international standards, with an isolation pen, paddock for movement of animals, veterinary office, postmortem room, laboratory, and greenhouse, among others.

Sources working at the airport, on condition of anonymity, claim that the facility has hardly been used since it was established and remains underutilised currently.  Sources also alleged that the facility was used only once to house animals, about two years ago, however, that too only for some horses brought from Darjeeling, India for the filming of a movie.

BAFRA quality control and quarantine section chief, Kinley Pelden, dismissed the claim the facility is a white elephant.

She pointed out that the facility is used for quarantining purposes. “It’s been going on, but it’s not everyday that we should have animals and plants.” She did not agree that the facility has been underutilised since its establishment in 2008.

Statistics maintained by BAFRA show that since 2008, 184,227 animals and poultry, 3,943,617 whole plants, 29,347 seeds, and 12,488 fruits and vegetables were imported through Paro airport.

While food commodities for personal consumption are cleared from the airport itself, inspection and necessary treatments or decontamination of all commercial animals, plants, and products are carried out in the quarantine facility, according to BAFRA.

Kuensel could not confirm this claim, however, sources at the airport expressed doubt on whether all commercial animals and poultry, whole plants, seeds, and fruits and vegetables were in fact quarantined at the facility.

“It’s a huge structure, it might look like a white elephant from outside, but it’s a specialised structure and it is built up to international standards,” said Kinley Pelden. “Quarantining activities have been going on, as it is necessary to protect human health, the farming system, and the environment from exotic pests, diseases, and invasive alien species.”

She also pointed out that, with Bhutan being a member of the world organisation for animal health and a signatory of the international plant protection convention, it is an international obligation to have such a facility at the Paro airport entry point.

She added that, with Bhutan possibly joining the World Trade Organisation, movement of people and goods will increase, which would also increase the biological risks associated with such movement.  She said that, with the addition of one more airline, and increasing number of private aircraft using Paro airport, risks of exotic pests and diseases crossing borders has already increased.

An example of pigs being imported into the country by air prior to the facility being constructed, and then spreading an exotic disease to local pigs was provided.  Kinley Pelden said the impact of the disease on local pigs is still ongoing, with farmers experiencing huge financial losses.

She emphasised that bio-security is not only a BAFRA and agriculture ministry responsibility, but a collective responsibility, and should be a concern of every citizen, as diseases from animals and plants can be transferred and affect humans, for example, the bird flu virus. “Everyone should take ownership,” she said.

“Next time, if animals affected with a deadly disease come, and we don’t have a facility to keep those animals, it won’t be acceptable that we’re not prepared, we should be prepared today rather than tomorrow,” she said.

Bio-security experts have advised that the existing facility be expanded and bio-security capacity at the airport be strengthened, given the high volume of agricultural imports, according to BAFRA.

The facility was also established as mandated by the livestock act 2001, and plant quarantine act 1993, according to BAFRA.  The authority established five such quarantine stations in 2008, with assistance from the Indian government.

By Gyalsten K Dorji, Paro

MoWHS to take over roadwork to Gakiling and Sambaykha gewogs

IMG_4982The road to Gakiling and Sambaykha at Targola pass

The task had faced a number of hitches to date and hopefully will complete soon

Construction: Two of the most remote gewogs in Haa, Gakiling and Sambaykha, will be connected with road, according to works and human settlement minister, Dorji Choden.

The minister, who is touring the windstorm-affected dzongkhag, said the ministry would now take over the construction, as the dzongkhag was facing problems.  She said work would start as soon as the dzongkhag hands over the construction to the ministry. “I think it won’t take much time to complete, as there’s already an existing stretch, and our main aim is to connect the two remaining gewogs in the dzongkhag,” she said.

Haa dzongda Sonam Wangdi said, since the road was too long, and it was beyond the dzongkhag’s capacity to complete, they requested the prime minister, Tshering Tobgay, to hand over the work to the ministry.

The dzongda said the road from Haa to Pajab, which is about 39km, has been completed with stone soling in 2010, and formation cutting was done on another 32km from Pajab to Khamayna, as of now.  The ministry would have to construct a 14km road from Khamayna to Sambaykha, and another 13km road from Khamayna to Gakiling.

The ministry will also have to complete several finishing works on the 32km road from Pajab to Khamayna, like stone soling, construction of retaining walls, road sidewalls, drainage and levelling.

To date, the government has spent Nu 10M for the first cutting of road from Pajab to Khamayna, while the existing stretch from Jankhana to Pajab started in 2009, along with forestry road that was cleared to extract timber.

Construction of the 32km road from Pajab to Khamayna was handed to Lobnyekha Construction in 2011.  However it was not completed, despite giving time extension twice.  The contractor was working under penalty.

The delay, dzongda Sonam Wangdi said, was mainly caused by extreme climatic and geographical conditions. “In summer, continuous rainfall causes landslides, because of which work completed during day gets damaged at night,” he said. “In winter, because of snowfall at Targola, the highest pass from where the road is taken through, the cleared road either gets blocked or becomes extremely muddy.

Dzongda Sonam Wangdi said the work from Khamayna to Sambaykha was tendered out, and Mindu Construction of Paro was supposed to take over the work.  However, since Lobnyekha Construction failed to complete the road construction till Khamayna, from where Mindu Construction was supposed to start, the work couldn’t proceed.

Sonam Wangdi said, in April 2013, the Lyobneykha contractor informed the dzongkhag that he had completed work till Khamayna and would complete the rest within a month. “Following the information, Mindu Construction was asked to start his work. But Lobnyekha Construction not only failed to complete the work within a month, but the rain has blocked the road at Khamayna side. Mindu Construction couldn’t move further.”

“Since Mindu Construction was asked to start the work, we asked him to clear the blocks and move ahead, and also told him that he’d be compensated from the Lobnyekha Construction’s budget,” the dzongda said.  However, he refused to move ahead and instead filed a case against Haa dzongkhag at the construction association board (CAB), claiming that he should be compensated with Nu 1.7M for keeping idle.

The case is still lying with CAB.

By Dawa Gyelmo, Haa

Monk accused of impregnating 14-year-old

Crime: Relatives of a 14-year old girl, who is about eight months pregnant, are worried about how they could be able to take care of the mother and child, given their financial situation.

The girl was referred to Thimphu from Punakha hospital three days ago.  Her elder sister, who has accompanied her to Thimphu, alleged the child’s father is a monk enrolled in one of the monastic institutions in Samtse.  She said he could be in his early 20s.

“Ever since he was informed about the pregnancy, he has refused to accept that it’s his child,” the sister said. “Now he doesn’t answer our calls at all.”

According to the sister, the monk came to stay with his family in Thinleygang during the holiday early this year.  The families are neighbours; the alleged father’s family lives on the top floor, and the girl’s family occupies the ground floor of the house. “He said he’d marry me,” is all the 14-year-old said.

The sister came to know about the pregnancy when the girl, who was about two months pregnant by then, started falling ill.  An ultra sound confirmed the pregnancy and, since then, the sister has been taking her to the hospital.

Since she was a minor, the forensic unit was informed about the case, through whom police and other organisations are also informed. “She’s a child and the case comes under rape,” a health official said.

Section 183 of the Penal Code of Bhutan states a “defendant shall be guilty of the offence of rape of a child above the age of 12 years, if the defendant has sexual intercourse with a child between the ages of 12- 18 years.”

The offence of rape of a child above the age of 12 years, states section 184 of the penal code, shall be a felony of the second degree.

By Sonam Pelden

The honest Peljab and the tobacco smuggling duo

Crime: Tsimasham police have detained a taxi driver and a woman accomplice for smuggling tobacco and allegedly bribing a police official on duty yesterday morning.

According to the officer in command in Tsimasham, captain Tsheten Norbu, the duo was carrying cigarettes and chewing tobacco worth Nu 50,000 concealed in a briefcase in the boot of the Wagon R taxi they were travelling in.

The official on duty, peljab Jigme Norzang, who nabbed the duo, said he was doing his routine inspection around 5 am when he suspected something fishy.  He said the taxi driver refused to open the briefcase, saying it belonged to the woman and was full of books. “He said the woman was returning from her college in India. When I opened the briefcase, it was full of tobacco products,” said Jigme Norzang. “The taxi driver admitted it was his, and begged me to let him go, even offering me money.”

Jigme Norzang said the driver, seeing other vehicles, pushed him aside and handed over Nu 4,000 in four Nu 1,000 notes. “As he was trying to bribe me, I called two drivers as witness and reported it to my seniors,” he told Kuensel.

The woman later admitted that the tobacco belonged to her, and she was planning to sell it to pay outstanding bills to the office she worked for.

Meanwhile, the chief of police had written an appreciation note, called peljab Jigme Norzang to the head office in Thimphu, to reward his “sincerity and successfully carrying out his duties with dedication” and not being lured by bribe.

By Staff reporter

Experts to draw out details of remedial measures

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PHPA I: Experts are analysing data extracted from drillings carried out at Punatsangchhu hydropower project I dam site completed in mid-November to determine permanent remedial measures for the sliding area.

Economic affairs minister, Norbu Wangchuk, who is also the chairman of project management, said a team of experts from WAPCOS India, Central Water Commission, Geological Survey of India, and IIT, Delhi, is looking into it.

He said the focus for the management is to ensure construction of a safe and secure dam, and not to rush in coming up with strengthening measures.

“We didn’t want to give them a sense of urgency to complete the strengthening measure plan,” lyonpo said.

The first phase, which includes drawings and plans of remedial measures, are complete, and work has already started.  In the second phase, a more comprehensive and detailed plan is in process that would be done very soon.

However, if the implementation of the strengthening measures is not completed before the onset of monsoon next year, it could spell trouble.

After a preliminary study, PHPA I authority, the highest decision making body, comprising senior executives from India and Bhutan, met on October 6 and approved some remedial measures.  It was emphasised that the measures be completed before monsoon.

It also decided that works must be expedited with strengthening measures for the right bank, and put in place all corrective measures as soon as possible.

The right side of the dam, in July this year, started to slide bringing works on the dam construction to a halt.  A shear zone was detected, posing threat to the safety and stability of the dam.

It would cost the project additional Nu 3.5B in carrying out remedial measures, taking the total project cost to Nu 97.5B along with a one-year delay.

The consultants, after a study, proposed permanent strengthening measures like access to shear zone at an appropriate level, and its replacement partially by reinforced concrete shafts and tunnels.

It also included piling of roller compacted concrete (RCC) and providing cable anchors at different locations, building of additional concrete gravity dam block, and excavation and stabilisation of rock and overburden (loose soil and rock).

The analyses of the data from the drillings would spell out the details of these measures.

By Tshering Palden