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Saturday, February 28th, 2015 - 11:21 AM
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The annual Bank of Bank Limited branch managers’ conference ends today at the IMS hall in Thimphu. A total of 28 branch managers are attending the three-day conference to discuss plans for 2014 and issues confronting branch offices.

RIGSS inaugurated

HMHis Majesty the King graces the opening of the Royal Institute for Governance and Strategic Studies in Phuentsholing yesterday

RIGSS: His Majesty the King yesterday graced the inauguration of the Royal Institute for Governance and Strategy Studies (RIGSS) in Phuentsholing, an autonomous institution established under royal patronage, with His Majesty as the chairman of the institute’s governing body.

RIGSS, according to the institute’s website www.rigss.bt, which was also launched yesterday, was established to provide a forum to train both incumbent and potential leaders in all major areas of nation building.  It will be an institute that will provide high-quality education and discourse on governance, public policy and leadership, aided by result-oriented research to influence and shape real-life public policy decisions.  RIGSS will also “provide a think-tank that will engage in critical thinking and research, and serve as an incubator for new ideas for both governmental and non-governmental organisations.”

Project coordinator, Chewang Rinzin, also a member secretary of the institution, said RIGSS was a result of the noble vision His Majesty attaches to the development of intellectual capacity of leaders in the country. “This will enhance leadership skills and develop human resource in the country,” Chewang Rinzin said.

The RIGSS building, constructed using stone with rich Bhutanese traditional architectural design, magnificently stands out as one nears Phuentsholing town.  The building comprises two lecture halls, an auditorium, library, faculty rooms and administrative and finance departments.

With the institution now inaugurated, Chewang Rinzin said they will start the “Senior Executive Leadership Program” (SELP) from October 21, with 23 participants from different sectors.

The first batch, which was chosen on a first-come-first-serve basis, consists of senior executives from the civil service, armed forces and government-owned corporations. “The program aims to help them discover a collective vision for the country,” he said.  Six of the 13 faculty members are from within Bhutan and include top bureaucrats and academics like National Council chairperson Dasho Sonam Kinga, Dasho Karma Ura and Dasho Neten Zangmo, among others. “The faculty will change as per the course conducted,” the coordinator said.

The SELP consists of a three-week intensive classroom lessons, discourse and other intellectually stimulating activities, and end with a week-long overseas learning field trip to a selected foreign country.  Participants will be housed in RIGSS’s coronation hostel in Kharbandi, 5km from Phuentsholing.  The hostel’s fully furnished single rooms can accommodate 48 students and two faculty members.  The training program is fully sponsored, tuition fees, meals, stationery and conveyance between hostel and institution all covered.

Chewang Rinzin explained the program was availed only to civil servants, armed forces and government-owned corporations, because it was easier to set criteria for selection.  For instance, he explained, there was rank in the armed force, and position classification in the civil service. “We couldn’t establish selection criteria for non-government organisations and private sectors,” he said. “But we’ll definitely set criteria and offer opportunity to them too.”

The coordinator also said they have plans to provide tailor-made courses, diploma, masters and PhD programs for parliamentarians, media professionals, local leaders and so on.  RIGSS will aim to conduct at least three courses a year and will try to gain international affiliation within and outside Bhutan, according to the project coordinator. “We’ll aim for international students in future.”

The government of India, he said, has generously, supported the establishment of RIGSS.

Meanwhile, Her Majesty the Gyaltseun Jetsun Pema Wangchuck, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, ministers, secretaries and drangpons attended the inaugural ceremony yesterday.

By Yangchen C Rinzin, Phuentsholing

 

Six people ripped off of Nu 70M

The search is on for the 58-year-old man who sold land he had already sold to others

Land: It has been learnt that a 58-year-old man, after duping six people to part with more than Nu 70M has gone missing.

The man, who claimed to be a broker, sold about four acres of land around Ngabiphu, somewhere near Royal Thimphu College, to the six businessmen in Thimphu and residents of Thimphu who recently returned from Australia.

The six people were reported to have bought the land for Nu 175,000 a decimal earlier this year after the man showed them documents authenticating his being a broker for the actual landowner.

But when they learnt the land had been already sold to different people, the buyers began questioning the man.

The man gave them bank cheques to take their money back if they doubted him.

It was, however, found that the man’s bank balance was only Nu 8,000 when the buyers went to encash.

It was alleged the man had actually sold three acres for the actual landowner before and he later used the same documents to dupe the six people.

While it was also learnt the six people and relatives were looking for the man, police sources, who were also aware about the case, said the buyers should file a suit in court.

Meanwhile, land commission officials said people who intend to buy land must first always check the landownership.

“People should not make any transactions or payments before authenticating landownerships,” commission’s surveyor general Ugyen Takchu said. “People can check the thram from thromde office or the commission.”

 

By Tashi Dema

The (energy) state of the nation

DGPC MD briefs NA on the current and projected status vis a vis electricity

Hydropower: The inflow of rivers, which is crucial for the country’s hydropower projects, is decreasing in terms of quantity each year, according to a study conducted by Druk Green Power corporation (DGPC).

“The inflow is exceptionally low, compared to past couple of years,” the managing director of the DGPC, Dasho Chhewang Rinzin, while briefing National Assembly members yesterday, said.

In 2008, the highest inflow of the Wangchu river was in the month of August, with 300 cubic metres per second (cumecs).  This was the highest since then.

The following year, the peak inflow was recorded in the same month, but the rate decreased to 250 cumecs, which is a substantial decrease by 50 cumecs.

Although in the same peak month, in 2010, the rate of inflow increased to 280 cumecs, it did not reach even 250 cumecs in 2011.

Last year, the peak inflow shifted to July, the rate being same as 2011.  However, in August last year, the inflow was slightly over 200 cumecs.

For the current year, the record was only “maintained” till May, and the trend revealed a gradual increase from about 25 cumecs in January to 50 cumecs in April.  In May, this year the Wangchu inflow was nearing 100 cumecs.

Although the record was not available for the rest of the month this year, Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said the decrease was “exceptional”.  “It was a bad thrue for DGPC,” he joked.

People may attribute the decline to the climate change, he said.  However, he said there was nothing to worry until 2050.

“Wangchu gallops as soon as it crosses Chuzom, and there is a drop in altitude of more than 2,000m in a short span of time,” Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said.

This is why Wangchu river is still considered the best in the country for hydropower generation.

While the river is already feeding the 336 megawatt (MW) Chukha hydropower, and the 1,020MW Tala hydro-plant, two more projects – 180MW Bunakha reservoir and the 570MW Wangchu project – will come up on the same stream.

The projects are awaiting detailed project report (DPR) clearance by the Indian government.

“We want to use all the water,” he said, adding that, probably in 15 years, there will be no river in the bed, and this has already sparked an environmental debate.

In case of Kurichu, he said, the drop in altitude, however, is just more than 200m, until it reaches the basin in the border.

Another reason for aligning four projects along the Wangchu river is in consideration to the request of the Indian government, and the requirement of more energy in West Bengal than Assam.

Besides, the transmission and distribution was also cheaper in the west.

On the other hand, the domestic demand of power is showing an increasing trend, while the supply will remain stagnant till 2016, and from 2017, it will increase by 88 percent after commissioning of some ongoing projects.

According to the figures with the ministry of economic affairs, the firm power supply for domestic needs will remain at 293.5MW till 2016, and will increase to 553MW in 2017 and 751MW in 2018.

Demand, however, will increase from 256.9MW in 2010 to 376MW in 2016 and 407MW in 2018.

But until last year, the supply was excess – 36MW in 2010, 17MW in 2011 and 11MW in 2012.  This year, the domestic supply will fall short by 15.9MW.

The shortage is likely to continue until 2016, during which time the country will face highest shortage in domestic power supply of 82.8MW.  From 2017, the situation is projected to improve drastically.

But to address the shortage, an official from the economic affairs ministry said that negotiations are underway to import energy from India during winter seasons, and export during the monsoon.

“India has excess thermal energy during winter, which is their peak energy season, since people don’t use equipment like air conditioners,” he said.

During the briefing of the assembly members, Dasho Chhewang Rinzin said the country needs to start importing energy from December this year, and that the negotiations will be completed by end of this month.

By Tshering Dorji

Software glitch further delays fund disbursement

The various sectors starved of cash may have to wait just a bit longer

Budget: Although the finance ministry allocated the 2013-14 budget on Monday, a disruption in the software system of the department of public accounts, which releases money to various sectors, has prevented the fund from reaching government agencies.

Problems arose mainly because budget approval for the current fiscal year was delayed by more than three months because of the timing of the general elections, a public accounts official said.

To maintain the continuity of necessary government expenditures, like salaries, repayment of hydropower loans and expenditures for ongoing donor-financed projects, the department had released the budget when the fiscal year began in July this year.

“If this wasn’t done, the government would not have been in a position to distribute even salaries to the civil servants,” a public accounts official said.

The public finance act allows the finance ministry to utilise public funds to meet current expenditure, if the budget has not been passed by the start of the fiscal year.

When the 2013-14 budget was approved this month, the system encountered a disruption, as some funds had already been released before the budget was approved.

The budget passes through several phases before it is released to the sectors.  The sectors first propose their required budget, then the department of national budget and the sectors sit down to finalise on the figures.  This is recommended by the department and then deliberated in the parliament for endorsement.

The finance ministry uses the public expenditure management system and the multi year rolling budget to prepare and release funds.

The official said there was a conflict because the system initially sourced the money when the budget was recommended and now, with the budget approved, it had to source money from the approved budget.

In the past, the budget was normally approved by the time the fiscal year starts, so there were no disruptions to the system.

“We waited for the budget all this while, and finally when the budget has been allocated, there is a system disruption,” the public accounts official said.  The department has been receiving enquiries from government agencies regarding the budget.

Although daily necessary expenses like salaries have not been compromised, it has hampered new capital expenditures for construction, travel allowances and several other new projects.

The department, as of yesterday, was still working to re-haul the system. “We’ll probably bring it back on track by today,” the official said.

The government this year targets 65 percent of total expenditure through domestic revenue, which means some aspect of capital expenditure, will also be financed through domestic revenue.  The government, however, is still waiting for the government of India to release funds they have committed for the 11th Plan.

India has committed a total of Rs 45B specifically for the 11th plan development programs.

Finance minister Namgay Dorji had earlier said that the government would try not to go for pre financing, as it has caused the shortage of rupee to some extent in the past.

A senior government official said that the budget was an important policy and economic tool of the government.  The government, he said, was the biggest spender and therefore, once the budget is released, the whole economy starts rolling.

By Nidup Gyeltshen 

 

Working out

That the labour ministry is coming up with an “overseas employment program”, in partnership with the private sector, should have raised the spirits of thousands of youth looking for gainful employment.

From the outside, this programme looks like it will fulfill two things at one time: the opportunity to go overseas, which is on list of almost every Bhutanese unemployed or not, and be employed in some kind of work that pays well.

And, going by labour officials, the only criteria required to qualify for this programme, is that one needs to be genuinely unemployed and looking for work.

The department will monitor and regulate the programme, and private employment agencies will look for and deploy employees overseas.  The type of work ranges from nursing, teaching, hotel management, sales personnel, home caretakers and as manual skilled workers, plumbers, and carpenters.

There was talk of sending at least 2,000 people to do farm work in New Zealand a few year ago but it appears the proposal was never approved.

To some, this overseas employment initiative does look ironic, when the country itself has more than 50,000 expatriates at various levels working in the country.

Some are providing expertise in fields the country does not have, like in health and education, but most are workers in the construction sector, who are literally building the country, either in hydropower or housing.  Meanwhile, young parents are struggling to find people, who want to work as a housemaid for a basic minimum wage and there is a shortage of nurses and teachers.

Sending Bhutanese overseas to work has been tried in the past.  At least one private agency tried sending security guards to somewhere in the Middle East.  But it died after allegations that the agency was making the money, and the Bhutanese workers were being paid an amount hardly any different from levels at home.

More recently, the government has been sending Bhutanese teachers to teach English in Thailand, which labour officials say, is not part of the overseas employment programme. Quite a few of the teachers on the programme had visualised Bangkok and got quite a shock when they ended up in a remote school in Thailand, with just enough pay to meet basic needs.

When the high-end tourist resorts first opened in the country almost a decade ago, so many saw it as a good opportunity.  It wasn’t long before many complained they were being exploited, since wages had been fixed at the national level and left.  Soon it became apparent that the problem was coping with the hectic work culture such workplaces demand.

Many of those that stuck around and coped with the work demands have now moved to work  outside the country where earnings are much better.

The success of the programme will therefore depend on many things but, as it is said, someone who works will work wherever they are.

Ngala and Bjoka’s propitious bridges

1373874_581032228600799_1465734643_nThe 90ft Chakchawa bridge open to traffic

Works on the bridges began since November 2011

Development: People of Ngala and Bjoka gewogs have all the reasons to look forward to this winter.

With the formal handing-taking of two bridges over Marangchhu on October 9, the prospects of seeing their earnings double from selling of mandarin this winter looks indubitable.

Bjoka gup Tshering Wangchuk said while four-wheel vehicles began plying the Panbang-Bjoka gewog farm road since two months ago, the handing-taking of the two bridges meant the road is open to traffic.

He also said life for more than 1,500 residents of Bjoka gewog eased after the first cutting of the 14.5km farm road completed, as most of the infrastructure materials for developmental activities in the gewog were carried in vehicles.

“Now we can transport our mandarin in vehicles and fetch better prices than before,” Tshering Wangchuk said.

Ngala gup Rinchen Wangdi said people of Ngala Trong and Kaktong could also benefit from the Panbang-Bjoka farm road, as they would not have to worry about the swollen Marangchhu in summer.

He said people faced difficulty in summers as the river swelled and posed risk to people’s lives.

“They can now travel safely,” Rinchen Wangdi said.

Development activities, Rinchen Wangdi said would also complete on time with speedy delivery of construction materials for infrastructure development.

“Dungkhag officials would also come and supervise work progresses,” he said. “The six-days to and fro official walk can now be made within a day.”

Pangbang’s National Assembly member Dorji Wangdi said the inauguration of the two bridges would largely benefit the people of the two gewogs as most people had to travel to Panbang to buy all necessary commodities.

“It would also have immense benefits as it enhances accessibility to the villagers to avail health facilities,” he said.

The construction of 120ft Marangdut bridge and 90ft Chakchawa bridge began in November last year.

The bridges constructed at Nu 11.1M were mobilised from the gewog budget and supported from rural livelihood project in Zhemgang.

By Tashi Dema

Need for safe pedestrian walkways

1384802_425196977581054_662734738_n-1Way home: In absence of proper walkways, Samdrupjongkhar MSS students walk on the road

Thromde: The increase in the number of vehicles in a small town area has made Samdrupjongkhar residents push for a safe pedestrian walkway in the locality on every occasion.

With children seen playing and walking on the roads everyday, people felt there was a need for better pedestrian walkways, as soon as possible.

Noting the concern, the urban planner with the thromde, Dibyende Mrugaraj, said, besides an escalating number of vehicles, use of cars by residents even for walkable distances aggravated the situation.

“The most problematic area is the lower market and across the town river, where people build temporary bridges to cross over,” he said, adding that they are, however, looking to build new pathways.

Assistant engineer with the thromde, Damcho Zangmo, who handles the structural planning, said they are already working on it.

The draft development plan (DDP) of Samdrupjongkhar thromde had included the necessity for pedestrian walkways in the plan.

“A walkway from the road to the bus terminal is already on the cards, while the lower market area is another priority area,” she said.

Thromde has plans for the river development too, which will have facilities like cycling route.

“We’re also planning for small gardens, through which we can take the pedestrian walk-ways,” she said.

However, the executive engineer with the thromde, Yeshey Dorji, said that they don’t have any separate budget for the pedestrian walkways, as such.

“We’ll cover the investments on the walkways from other projects,” he said. “The construction of recreational areas has been allotted Nu 6M, so we’ll manage from there. The new urban road, drainage and footpath budget of Nu 105.77M is also there.”

A report states that there is a lot of “intermingling” of vehicular and pedestrian traffic in most parts of the town.  It was decided that the network of pedestrian pathways connecting the social amenities to the surrounding residential quarters be proposed in each precinct.

According to records, the approximate population of Samdrupjongkhar town at a growth rate of 2.91 percent would escalate to around 7,487.  So, more people would mean more vehicles coupled with more problems.

For now, the entire road network within Samdrupdjongkhar is just 13.80km, and in Dewathang, it comes to 9.64km.

By Tshering Wangdi,  Samduprjongkhar

Villagers complain of double standards

firewood-from-the-roadFor fire wood: Trees felled above farm road to Majuwa village wait for the trucks

Local foresters permitted a firewood contractor to fell trees where villagers were disallowed

Fuel: Forest officials in Tsirang have allowed a firewood contractor to fell the very trees villagers of Kilkhorthang and Dungkarcholing, the communities the trees belonged to, were disallowed.

Dungkarcholing farm road committee members and Majuwa villages under Kilkhorthang gewog in Tsirang lodged a complaint against the forest officials to the gewog office.

On hearing a local firewood contractor had carried several truckloads of firewood for Damphu high school, the road committee members rushed to the site and found that around seven large and medium-size trees were felled just above the road.

One of the road tshogpas, Pema Yangden said the trees were felled from an area that had loose soil conditions.

“This is going to trigger landslides and road blocks to our villages next monsoon,” she said.

A Majuwa villager said although the forest fell under their community they were disallowed to fell trees from such areas in close proximity to the roads.

“We’d be granted permit with much difficulty to fell trees several metres below or above the road even in case of an emergency like death in the village,” he said. “I’m surprised forest officials gave it to a firewood contractor. Something is not right.”

Another Majuwa resident said even the natives were denied permit to cut trees that were grown in their own thrams (plots) for house construction. “How can forest officials do that for outsiders?” Passang said. “Firewood contractors are paid and they can fell trees from any other area than the one they have been permitted at.”

Some residents also alleged forest officials of issuing the permit to fell trees where they were disallowed, along the roads, because the firewood contractor was a retired former beat officer based in Tsirang.

Dungkarcholing tshogpa Tsheden said the area was restricted for felling of trees because of the instability of the slope and it was a drinking water catchment area that catered to Damphu school and some of the residents of Goserling gewog

“Knowing the place was unstable, forest officials had themselves initiated plantation of trees around the area,” he said.

Residents also complained of road damage and drinking water pipes.

Tsirang forest officials agreed the firewood contractor was allowed to fell trees from the area because of scarcity of resources to meet the instant demand the contractor made.

Senior forest ranger DB Chettri said the dense forest of Darachhu on the Tsirang-Sarpang highway was initially a firewood production zone, until it was recently declared community forest. “We’d to issue the permit as it was emergency,” he said. “The demand is as high as 45 truckloads, but we allowed only about seven.”

He said any damage to the culvert and other public property would be the responsibility of the contractor to fix.

He explained forest rules allowed trees to be felled from 50ft above and below feeder roads and forest roads and 300ft downhill and 600ft uphill along national highways.

“The permits allowed did not fall within the restricted parameters,” he said.

Meanwhile, officials from Kilkhorthang gewog administration, including the gewog ranger visited the site yesterday and a meeting with the residents of Dungkarcholing is scheduled today at the gewog centre.

By Tshering Namgyal, Tsirang

Preserving wetlands for cranes

DSC03606kkkBlack necked cranes feed in paddy fields above the Yangtse town (file photo)

Landowners will have to be compensated for their property to stay that way 

BNC: Bumdeling wildlife sanctuary (BWS) officials reiterated the need to preserve the wetland area in Trashiyangtse town to ensure the habitat of black-necked cranes, during the recent dzongkhag tshogdu.

The wetland area in the town serves as a critical feeding ground for the cranes.

The officials urged the gathering to prevent conversion of 180 acres of wetland belonging to about 222 landowners.

The need to protect the feeding ground stemmed after the wetlands used by black-necked cranes in the outskirts of the town, Bayling and Chukardhung, were demarcated as new municipal area a couple of years ago.

“Now that these areas are defined as new town, increasing number of landowners will apply for conversion to dry land to construct houses,” BWS chief forest officer, Pankey Drukpa, said.

If that happens, it would shrink feeding grounds for already declining number of black-necked cranes.  BWS warned that, if the existing feeding grounds in Bayling and Chukardhung are lost, cranes might stop coming to Yangste in future.

“It’s high time to bar conversions of lands to ensure arrival of a minimum of 100 cranes annually,” Pankey Dukpa said.

Yangtse gup, Karma Wangchuk, however, said that the problem in protecting the wetland is with landowners, who have no dry land for construction of houses.

“Disallowing conversion of wetland to dry land would pose a lot of difficulty for people without dry land,” Karma Wangchuk said.

“Should conversion be barred, compensation must also be arranged for the landowners,” Karma Wangchuk said.

Trashiyangtse dzongda, Sangay Duba, also acknowledged the need to protect the wetland in Yangtse town, being critical for the cranes.

Considering the national importance of the cranes, he said they must try to make arrangements, like buying lands for people without dry land, to protect the feeding grounds.

Meanwhile, the sanctuary is mobilising funds to compensate the landowners.

“Our plan is to give away farm machineries instead of monetary compensation,” Pankey Dukpa said.

Meanwhile, to make the locality crane-friendly, some local leaders also urged the respective agencies to mind the alignment of cables in Yangtse.

“It’s equally important that alignment of cables don’t disrupt the flight of black-necked cranes,” thromde thuemi, Kara Kelzang said.

“Even the construction of houses, especially buildings, mustn’t stand on the way of the black-necked cranes.”

Pankey Dukpa said they would also survey the alignment of cables and take necessary remedy to ensure cranes’ swift flight.

Black-necked cranes spend around four months in Bhutan, including Bumdeling in the east and Phobjikha and Khotakha in the west.

By Tempa Wangdi, Trashigang