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Tuesday, July 7th, 2015 - 2:55 PM
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Bank takes ten defaulting clients to court

BDBL: Bhutan Development Bank limited (BDBL) branch office in Tsirang has filed a case against 10 of its clients, who defaulted monthly and quarterly loan installments that they availed.

BDBL officials said those clients are “serious” defaulters, who have refused to pay about six to 12 quarterly, and nine to 16 monthly, installments.

Among them, six are farmers from Kilkhorthang gewog. Officials said four have taken loan for rural business, one for orchard development and one for land development.

Of the other four, two were former government employees who took government employee (GE) loan.

BDBL’s project officer, Ugyen Tshewang, who is prosecuting the case, said they had to forward the case, after the clients declined to make their repayment despite repeated reminders.

“They’re serious defaulters and their denial affects the overall portfolio of the branch,” he said.

As of yesterday, the district court gave four clients time ranging from one month to four months to repay the overdue installments.

Officials said the amount ranged from Nu 100,000 to Nu 1.15M.

Ugyen Tshewang said the case against three defaulters of Dunglagang gewog, whose amount ranged from Nu 100,000 to Nu 200,000, were filed in the court in September last year, after which they were given until December.

However, they have not complied with the court’s order and arrest warrants were also issued, sources said.

Meanwhile, BDBL officials said there were twenty other defaulters in the district, of which eight defaulted amounts less than Nu 100,000 and 12 had amounts exceeding that.  Officials said cases would soon be filed against them.

By Tshering Namgyal, Tsirang

Picture story

Lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay speaks to organisers, donors and volunteers after launching the Clean Bhutan Project and its website yesterday at the Tourism Council of Bhutan secretariat in Thimphu.

Working abroad

Judging by recent developments, we could soon see the second batch of Bhutanese leave to work in the Middle East.

A Saudi company has expressed interest to recruit Bhutanese workers.  They need 2,251 people.  If the company chooses to give all the jobs to Bhutanese, it would lift a heavy burden from the labour and employment ministry, which is trying its best to create jobs, both within and outside the country.

Nine had already left for Qatar.

Unemployment had been a growing concern for the last many years, and it is becoming worse, with almost 8,000 jobseekers eagerly awaiting openings.  Among them are thousands of graduates, who had finished university years ago.

What we can deduce from the openings, outside the country, is that most jobs are blue-collar workers, for people with vocational skills.  Like our own country depends on expatriate construction workers, oil rich countries in the Middle East depend on foreign workers.  They need manpower to work at construction sites, from semi-skilled labourers to full blown engineers.

Openings for general graduates are limited, going by the demand for workers.  However, our graduates from the vocational training institutes and construction training centres, many of who are doing other odd jobs, could benefit from the labour ministry’s effort.

Hopefully, this will encourage our young jobseekers to not just look for desk jobs, but get trained instead as skilled workers from the VTIs.  Planners, in the meantime, could also take a relook at policies that would prepare our workforce to suit the demand.

Skilled and semi skilled workers today abhor manual jobs.  But this could change, given the prospects of living and working abroad and earning in foreign currency.  The government’s plan is also to look for jobs in developed countries, like Australia and New Zealand.

These countries need plumbers, mechanics and skilled construction workers.  We already have a trend, where people even leave jobs to work as cleaners, caregivers and domestic helpers.  They come back happy and with enough to start a decent living.

As job offers start pouring in, especially from the Middle East, it is an opportune time to prepare our jobseekers.  Besides the difficulties in living in a foreign land, there are disturbing stories of migrant workers being exploited.  These include those who reach there through proper channels.

There are reports of abuse and maltreatment of expatriate workers.  The most common being long hours of work without adequate wage.  Some of our jobseekers would be living in, even travelling to, a foreign land for the first time, and could easily get exploited.

We can hope our migrant workers will be better off, as the government is involved, and it is strict in choosing labour agencies.  The safety of our jobseekers should be a priority, even before they board the plane or train.

It would be wise for jobseekers do some homework and not get overwhelmed by the prospects.  They could start with some simple research.  The worldwide web is full of information on working conditions, and tips for living and working abroad.

About five towns, five satellite ones, in five years

DCLyonpo Dorji Choden

Works and human settlement minister shared this target with council members 

NC Q-Hour: To have about five dzongkhag thromdes (district towns) and another five yenla (satellite) thromdes spread across the country was one of the main targets to achieve for works and human settlement ministry.

Works and human settlement minister Dorji Choden shared this with the National Council members while responding to Tsirang’s council representative Kamal Bdr Gurung, who asked the minister when the government was going to table at the Parliament proposals for establish yenla thromdes.

Kamal Bdr Gurung said although both the Constitution and the local government Act provided for dzongkhag and yenla thromdes, the first Parliament approved establishment of only class A and B thromdes and not yenla thromdes.

Lyonpo Dorji Choden said town development began in 1974 followed by National urban development corporation in 1984, which was formed to develop towns.

“From no proper towns then, today about 30 percent of the country’s total population reside in towns,” she said. “Town development has come a long way.”

Today the growth rate of towns in the country, she said stood at seven percent and among them all, the capital city saw the fastest growth rate at 12 percent.

With establishment of thromdes, Lyonpo Dorji Choden said challenges were abound, like being unable to bring uniform development in all towns.

“Over the years some towns out-pace others in terms of urban amenities and expansion,” she said.

Other subsequent problems, she said that arose was of how certain areas after being recognised as towns, the issue of switch from having to pay rural tax to an urban one became a burden for many of its residents.

For instance, she said many declared towns comprised of, amid local businessmen and civil servants, farmers who had to pay urban tax.

Kamal Bdr Gurung also said without the Parliament’s declaration, in some dzongkhags certain settlements like Rangjung in Trashigang and Dremetse in Mongar were already classified yenla thromdes.

He said residents of these towns paid taxes at commercial rates and were ineligible for rural benefits such as timber allotment.

He said instead of the practice of the municipal collecting the taxes as is the case in such towns, the gewog should be the authority to collect taxes.

“How will the government address such concerns residents of these thromdes raise?” Kamal Bdr Gurung said.

Lyonpo Dorji Choden said in 2010 the government had recognised four class-A thromdes and 18 calss-B thromdes. Towns were also declared when the taxation policy came into effect in 1992, she said. However, when the parliament declared towns in 2010, 22 yenla towns were not included. Of which 14 have been paying tax, as there were some developments, amongst them Rangjung and Dremetse were the ones.

Henceforth, she said they would conduct thorough study on all aspect and declare the yenla thromdes.

The main problem with small towns, lyonpo said was the population size. “Therefore, we have proposed to establish dzogkhag thromde tshogdey, where towns nearby the dzongkahg administration could be clubbed and bring under dzongkhag thromde, as thromde tshogdey,” she said.

The proposal was raised at the deliberations on the local government Act, which was currently tabled for amendment at the National Assembly.

Lyonpo Dorji Choden said they would also propose clubbing of satellite towns under the gewog tshogdey when they discussed the LG Act amendment.

On number of local area plans, Lyonpo Dorji Choden said about 29 such plans were approved in the 10th plan – one each in Trashigang, Tsirang, two each in Gelephu, Trashiyangtse, Pemagatshel, Samtse and Sarpang, three each in Phuentsholing and Samdrupjongkhar and 11 in Thimphu.

“While some districts have begun works on their local area plans, others have yet to take off,” she said.

By Dawa Gyelmo

Picture story

A community police centre was opened in Nodbing, Wangdue on February 4. The centre is to respond to complaints faster and conduct preliminary investigations and to serve as early response mechanism to prevent and detect crimes in the four gewogs. It would also attend to traffic related cases.

Assessing alternative energy sources

By the end of next year, details of capacity, locations and cost will be known

DRE: Although hydropower is deemed as the key energy generated in the country, the department of renewable energy (DRE) is exploring other alternative sources of energy.

Following an invitation from the ministry of economic affairs, a few consultants have been shortlisted to develop renewable energy guidelines and regulations, including resource mapping and a renewable energy master plan.

On the other hand, Bhutan Power corporation (BPC) is in the process of evaluating bids from interested firms for construction and design of wind turbines to be set at Rubesa in Wangduephodrang.

Officials from both DRE and BPC refused to reveal the bid competitors.

The chief engineer of alternate energy division of DRE, Mewang Gyeltshen, said, by the end of next year, the department will have details as to how much capacity the country has to generate renewable energy, where and at what cost.

He said a competitive cost analysis would also be carried out in comparison with large hydropower projects.

“Only after completing one project, we’d know the cost,” he said.

While a target of 25MW of power has been set by 2025, officials said it was just an “indicative figure” and could fluctuate depending on other factors.

“But it all depends on how much resources the country has and that will be known only after resource assessment is carried out,” the chief engineer said.

He said studies would also be carried out on the feasibility of running cars on biomass energy, such as ethanol.

If the studies reveal positive findings, he said, the department would feed the information to the government, with whom the decision would be left.

With regard to the wind turbines, officials said the size of the project had to be downgraded from 1MW to 500KW because there were issues pertaining to private land acquisition.

One official said people were aware of problems encountered with Punatshangchu projects pertaining to land and were reluctant to give their land.

“We didn’t push as hard either, because it was just a pilot project,” he said.

Meanwhile, the whole package of developing policies and implementation would be carried out under the energy + cooperation, for which the Norwegian government has committed about USD 17M fund that Asian Development Bank will monitor.

By Tshering Dorji

Punatsangchu’s cost escalation justified

Similar overruns were encountered, said lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk, in earlier projects too

NC Q-Hour: Increasing cost of building Punatsangchu I is justified, said economic affairs minister, Norbu Wangchuk  at the National Council this week.

The minister was quizzed on the cost escalation of the project and measures taken to mitigate the geological problems after the project encountered sliding hill near the dam site.  He was also asked about the government’s plans on fixing accountability.

The minister attributed escalating cost to inflation, inadequate provision, additional requirement and change in design.

Out of that, inflation contributed around 50 percent to the total cost escalation, he said.

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said the detailed project report (DPR) for Punatsangchu I was prepared in 2002, when cost was estimated to be Nu 34B.  Today, the project cost had reached over Nu 97B.

He explained that, since then prices of raw materials, like fuel, cement and steel, among others, have seen drastic increase until today.

Providing several examples, lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said initial cost for Chukha hydropower plant was estimated to be Nu 830M, by the time the project was complete, it had increased to Nu 2.5B, which is almost a 296 percent increase.

Similarly, the 60-megawatt Kurichu’s cost had increased by 220 percent, Tala’s by 293 percent.

Today, the cost of Punatsangchu I had also increased by 267 percent compared to the initial cost in its DPR, lyonpo said.

The project incurred another cost overrun amounting to over Nu 3.5B last year, and was delayed by one more year as a result of a sliding hill near the dam site.

NC member Dasho Karma Yezer Raydi asked whether enough work went into the preparation of its DPR.  He said Punatsangchu I was bigger than Tala, despite this, the initial DPR estimated Punatsangchu’s cost to be Nu 34B, while Tala was completed at Nu 41B.

He added the DPR should have reflected a higher cost for Punatsangchu I then. “Punatsangchu was further away from the border from which all major raw materials were procured and therefore had to bear additional cost compared to Tala, which was nearer the border,” he said.

“This meant there was something wrong with the project’s DPR,” he said.

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk pointed out that there were several guidelines while preparing the DPR.  “If it had to be done seriously, it’ll take longer time.”

He also said the geological surprises in the country were very common, given the Himalayan topography was very unpredictable.

Unprecedented investigation of the area was carried out, around 33 holes were drilled in the present location to identify and prevent any geological conditions, he said.

When it came to the remedial measures being taken, as of today, the lyonpo said, the hill was being grouted and cabled to prevent further sliding.

Eminent member Tashi Wangyal asked whether the government was doubtful of any cases of corruption, which resulted in the cost overrun, to which the minister said the project had to be first audited.

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said when it came to fixing accountability; he wasn’t sure what the procedure was.

By Nidup Gyeltshen

Decheling’s long thirst may at last be slaked

waterMany villagers use the stream by the road side for both drinking and laundry

A distributor tank, a pump and a revived Peling tsho hold the promise of a wet future

Water: The ongoing activities to construct a 3,500-litre distributor tank in Decheling gewog have given new hope to villagers, who have been living with an acute shortage of water for as long as they can remember.

For Tshering, 23, it’s a daily routine to fetch water from a small stream near the Peling tsho and even do laundry on weekends.  In her chiwog, Gonpawong, water has become a necessary liability.

“My family can’t afford to pay for a private water tank like other households,” she said.  About about 180 households use the private water tank.

Like Tshering, more than 40 percent of the villagers are forced to use water from small streams, even for drinking.

An hour’s drive through the steep narrow farm road, Decheling gewog has a population of 4,226 and is divided into 557 households.

From the total households, 325 don’t have water supply to this day.  Scattered across six chiwogs, Bapta chiwog has 176 households without water supply, while Namdaling chiwog has 24 households.

Laishingri and Dungphu villages are also facing the same problem, with 28 and 20 households without water supply, respectively.

Although late, conservation work for the lake has already begun, and all villagers are banking on it, since Peling tsho, which has shrunk to patches of small dirty pools, is the gewog’s only water source.

The Decheling gup, Sonam Rinchen, said their proposal to build a water pump finally paid off.  Under the small development project (SDP) category, the proposal is included in the 11th Plan.

“We’d planned to provide water supply to 176 households of Bapta chiwog first, and a budget of Nu 500,000 was approved for building the pump,” Sonam Rinchen said. “The agriculture ministry contributed and it was later decided that it be taken up under the SDP to supply water to all the 325 households.”

Sonam Rinchen said the idea was to pump water from the lake into a distributor tank.  The Nu 500,000, which was approved for the pump’s procurement, was diverted towards carrying out survey works.

With the location identified, an area of 700 square feet  is cleared to construct the distribution tank and a reservoir with a capacity of around 7,000 litres.  Recently, a team from Nganglam hospital took samples of the lake water to test for quality.

Meanwhile, Sonam Rinchen said a reservoir tank would also be ferried to supply water to the 20 households of Dungphu.  Going by the results of a similar water pump at Khongmari village in Zobel gewog, Sonam Rinchen said the dzongkhag administration would replicate the same system, if the former succeeds.

Although the gewog administration had earlier identified another water source at Shingchongri, the location was too far, and the geographical terrain made it even more difficult.  Breakage of pipelines was frequent and to repair it, one had to travel for almost 10 hours just to reach the source, villagers said.

“It wasn’t possible for us to sustain that source, so we gave up,” Sonam Rinchen said. “But the need of the hour is a water pump and conservation of Peling Tsho.

By Tshering Wangdi,Nganglam

Phojas to face Wizards in the finals

BBPhojas’s forward His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck takes a three pointer

Basketball: Old rivals, Phojas and Wizards, will once again face each other in the finals of the winter basketball championship today.

Coming into the semis by beating Jachungs by a single point on Wednesday, Phojas didn’t have to fight hard as they brushed aside Pazaps with a comfortable win, by 17 points.

Phojas took a comfortable lead of seven points in the first quarter. There was no catching up from Pazaps and they extended the lead by eight points after the second quarter.

The raining three pointers from Phojas took the game out of Pazaps sight and finished the game 82:65.

In the other semi finals, Wizards beat Drukpas 71:59.

Although Drukpas fought neck to neck with the wizards in the first half of the game, at times even leading, Wizards’ quick drive-ins put them in the lead by the end of the second quarter.

While Drukpas tried to close the gap, Wizards’ defense emerged even stronger not letting Drukpas players find their free man to score.

As the Wizard guards forced Drukpas to try their shots from afar, which they missed most of the times, Wizard eased out the game with a comfortable victory to set up another final with Phojas.

By Tshering Dorji

Weighing prison term against refund

Anti-graft agencies and prosecutors feel the courts compromised heavily on the latter aspect 

Law: While there was no question with the judiciary passing judgments of stiff prison terms, it was with the waiver, or discounting of public money defendants were liable to refund that Anti Corruption Commission officials were dissatisfied with.

In many corruption cases involving officials who embezzled public funds, both lower and appellate courts handed down prison terms ranging from three years to nine years for those who were found guilty of siphoning public money.

“However, when it comes to restitution of the embezzled money, courts bring down substantial amounts of money that incur heavy loss to the government,” an ACC official said.

For instance, ACC officials said, both lower and high courts last year convicted health ministry’s accountant to nine years in prison for embezzling more than Nu 11M from the procurement section. “Courts ordered him to restitute only Nu 4M to the government,” an ACC official said. “We had rigorously investigated this case and the defendant admitted of misusing the procurement budget.”

Health ministry’s accountant, who signed all checks and drafts, was charged on 50 counts of embezzlement.

He handled the government’s letter of credit accounts and made payments to Indian suppliers, while procuring medicine and medical equipment between 2004 and 2009.

In another incident, both lower and appellate courts had dismissed the case concerning procurement of overpriced reference books for teachers.

ACC officials claimed the curriculum research and development officials in Paro had made excess payment and incurred a loss of Nu 10M. Three officials were charged for bribery, official misconduct and forgery in the procurement of education books.

“It’s up to the courts what sentence to deliver but when it comes to restitution of embezzled money, there shouldn’t be compromises,” ACC officials said. “Any case we forward to the court is backed by solid evidence and confessions of defendants.”

The problem, ACC officials said arose when courts accepted new evidences a defendant submitted in the later stages of a court case without proper investigation.  “That often leads to reduction of amounts liable for restitution to the state,” ACC officials said.

ACC officials also pointed out inconsistent judgments.

For instance, the courts acquitted six health officials, including doctors reasoning the approving authorities that approved medical trips to Germany and China were not charged.

ACC officials said in case of curriculum and research joint director, whom the commission charged for official misconduct for cancelling purchase orders of the lowest bidder and procuring education books from the highest bidder was acquitted because his charges could not be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

Meanwhile, Supreme Court chief Justice Sonam Tobgye said judges were independent in their judgments as deemed fit by law.

“Judges will neither be influenced by defendants nor prosecution,” he said. “They have fidelity in law.”

With regard to restitution, he said it must be proven proportionate and reasonable and be an enforceable judgment, which served the national and societal justice.

“In short both judiciary or any other organisation must be credible and respectable to be the custodian of political and legal morality,” Chief Justice Sonam Tobgye said.

On allegations of accepting new evidence, he explained there was an appeal system, a judicial process to find out the truth and eliminate all errors.

“So that justice is secured, crime punished and innocents protected,” he said. “Liberty and truth are of paramount importance to justice.”

Some judges also clarified that courts determined the merit of a case in relation to evidence produced before the court as required for any legal determination.

“It’s the primary duty of the state prosecutor to frame charges against the offender as per the established rules of criminal jurisprudence,” a judge said. “If the prosecution has given primacy on conviction over restitution, the court on its own will not move its own motion transforming all letter of the charges to criminal liability.”

Doing so, he said would undermine and abridge the fundamental duty of the court.

“All conviction has to be based on the proportionality of the crime committed by the individual,” he said.

By Rinzin Wangchuk