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Monday, March 30th, 2015 - 5:42 AM
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Chumey mini hydel closed

IMG_9810The mini hydel has remained closed for the last 14 months

A project is in the pipeline to give the plant a complete overhaul

Hydropower: After generating power for 25 years, the Chumey mini hydel project in Bumthang has remained closed for more than a year now following a major mechanical break down due to dilapidation of crucial operational machines like turbines and flywheel.

According to Chumey Bhutan Power corporation (BPC), the mini hydel was shut in October 2013.  Also known as Gyetsa mini hydel project, it was constructed in 1988 to supply power to central Bhutan, particularly Bumthang.  Certain parts of Trongsa also received power from the mini hydel until recent years.

“Save for control panels, the rest of the operational machines, like turbines, flywheel and governors, are shut now,” Chumey BPC supervisor, Guru Tshering said.

The control panels are still used to transfer incoming power from grids in substations.  While two of the three turbines stopped functioning from 2012, the last one stopped in October 2013.

According to BPC’s senior manager in Bumthang, Gyeltshen, aging of machines and wear and tear forced the project to shut down completely.  He also said that the escalating maintenance costs incurred in the process of repair also contributed to its closure.

“Until 2013, it was run with repeated maintenance works but after its cost shot up exorbitantly, it was recommended for overhaul of the critical opertional machines,” Gyeltshen said.

According to BPC, the major overhaul of the operational machines, like turbine, flywheel and generators, was proposed following its rising maintenance costs.  Since Flovel limited, which constructed the project, no longer exists today, it also became a problem in terms of getting spare parts. “Even if the machines were fixed, they broke down again after a month,” Guru Tshering said.

Power official said the entire mechanical part is recommended for replacement.  As for the electrical component, only the control panels might need replacement for transformers are intact for reuse.

Its civil components, like the reservoir and infrastructure, except for some minor concrete work, the rest would need no major repair, he said.

In line with its recommendation, two feasibility studies were conducted by the central maintenance and training division.  The findings are yet to be released.  “Based on the findings, a contract document will be processed for major overhaul of the operational machines,” Gyeltshen said.

The project is targeting to generate at least 1.5MW of electricity.

“Once the project is commissioned, it’ll be a crucial back up service for Bumthang during power breakdown,” Guru Tshering said, adding the project would also be a source of revenue generation for BPC Bumthang.

By Tempa Wangdi, Chumey

No amenities in Dagana town

IMG_2120Dagana town

This is two years after residents moved to the new location

Development: Dagana dzongkhag has a fairly new town. But two years after businesspeople moved to the new township, amenities of a town like proper drainage system, internal road networks and proper connected drinking water are still missing.

Shopkeepers of the small town shifted to the new town in December 2013. They were promised the necessary infrastructure as soon as they move.

A hotel owner, Kaka, said that it is high time the municipal provided them basic infrastructure like water connectivity, internal road blacktopping and proper drainage system.

“Without the roads being blacktopped, dust during the winter and mud during the monsoon is a problem to the shopkeepers near the road and we have to clean our shops more than 10 times a day,” he said. “A year-old house looks like a very old house because of the dust and condition of the town area,” he added.

Another resident, Sonam said that if the infrastructures are not put in place, there are chances of house owner losing their tenants. “If the tenants are not provided with good drinking water connection and hygienic surroundings, we will lose them one day,” he said.

He added that Dagana town doesn’t look like a town as they hardly see customers visiting the shops. Sonam said that to attract customers the town itself should look attractive.

However, dzongkhag engineer Jampel Dorji said that the budget for constructing the basic infrastructure in the town is ready.

“Most  of the people were constructing the houses in the past one year and we postponed the construction of the infrastructure so that it will not be damaged,” he said. “It is obvious that the infrastructure like car parking and other things would be damaged while constructing the house, so we planned to do it later,” the engineer added.

Dzongkhag officials said the ADB-funded water project took off in May 2012 and is ready. “All people have to do is connect their buildings with pipes.”

By Yeshey Dema, Dagana

GEP temp experiment provides useful experience

Internship: A total of 122 interns, 109 from the pre-employment engagement programme (PEEP), and 13 from the university graduate internship programme (UGIP) were employed under the guaranteed employment programme last year.

According to labour ministry officials, about 84 graduates register themselves for the UGIP in a month.  The ministry’s target is to support 600 youth under UGIP in a year.

Media officer Sonam Choden said the main objective of the internship programme is not only to provide skills and work experience to the graduates, but also to meet the short-term manpower requirement in an organisation.  Besides, the internship programme is expected to keep youth meaningfully engaged while seeking gainful employment.

“The program doesn’t guarantee employment but serves as an engagement and facilitation programme,” Sonam Choden said.

Labour officials said the ministry received good feedback from employers regarding the internship programme.  Most of the private agencies had expressed their appreciation, saying the interns did well during their internship period, especially when it came to service delivery.

On the other hand, officials said, most government agencies expressed that the programme helped them in overcoming shortage of staff, although it was just for a short period of time.

Those, who availed the internship programme, said it benefited them, in terms of gaining the required skills and work experience, before entering into a real working environment.

A recent graduate from Sherubtse College, Sonam Tashi, said what he learnt at college was not enough for him to find a job after finishing college.

Sonam Tashi interns in one of the private orgainsations.

“This is my last month with the company and I’ve learnt a lot during the past three months,” he said. “With this experience, I’ll have an advantage over the fresh graduates.”

Another graduate from Gaeddu College of Business Studies, Tashi Tshomo, said that, with the increasing number of jobseekers every year, completing an internship course puts one in a better position in landing a job.

“During the course, we’re paid every month, and one can’t ask for more,” she said.

Labour ministry officials said performances of interns are accessed upon completion of their internship period through their internship reports.  Besides, the department of employment and regional offices also monitor to ensure that employers make full use of the interns.

For the 11th Plan, the government has allocated Nu 7.4 million annually as payment for graduates under UGIP and Nu 8 million in PEEP.

By Younten Tshedup

Labour agents hang on with hope

FWRA: While some of the foreign workers recruitment agents (FWRA) from the 21 suspended in 2014 in Phuentsholing have cancelled their licences and moved on, some are still waiting with hope.

Following an investigation, the anti-corruption commission (ACC) suspended the licences because agents were found guilty of corrupt practices.

Later, the Department of Trade notified the agents to close the recruitment works, following which the Department of Labour stopped their online recruitment accounts.

One of the FWRA owners in the town said that this has stopped him from handling the works in hand and that the situation is confusing.

“We were supposed to listen to what the ACC told us,” said the FWRA owner.

He said that the labour department has also stopped the works he had been doing for a contractor. He was helping a contractor work in recruitment processes as even the contractors were allowed to recruit on their own.

In the meanwhile, FWRA owners are concerned whether they should pay the annual income and cancel their licences.

“We are basically looking for a conclusion,” the owner said. “If our licences are reinstated, we would like to rectify our mistakes and work hard.”

The director with the labour department, Jigme Thinley, said that it is too early to comment whether the agencies’ licences will be reinstated.

“We don’t know what the charges are,” he said. “Until the verdict is out, we have nothing to say,”said Jigme Thinley.

The ACC, in the meanwhile, has forwarded the cases to the Office of Attorney General.

Recently, the licence of the Menjong FWRA in Phuentsholing was also suspended.

By Rajesh Rai

Energy cooperation to be strengthened

unnamedIndian Finance minister Arun Jaitley calls on Lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay at the Leela Palace yesterday in New Delhi

10,000 MW by 2020 target to be reviewed

Visit: Hydropower was a key area of discussion during Lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay’s official visit to Gujarat and Delhi.

Although it is certain that the target of generating 10,000 MW of electricity by 2020 would not be possible, the government of India (GoI) expressed strong commitment on expediting the process.

Economic affairs minister, Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk, said the affirmation of GoI towards developing hydropower was very clear. He said the Minister of Power, Piyush Goyal and Lyonchhoen reaffirmed the need to renew commitment into the hydropower development sector.

“There has been an affirmation that hydropower development in Bhutan is a win-win, which benefits both the countries and that the two countries need to take hydropower development forward and continue the support that each other renders,” he said.

In terms of achieving the 10,000 MW target by 2020, Lyonpo said it was clear that it would not be possible given that only 30 percent of the hydropower capacity is currently under construction.

Lyonchhoen with Secretary of the state of the United States, John Kerry

 

Minister of Defence, Manohar Parrikar, called on Lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay

 

 

 

 

 

“We agreed that we would like to take it forward, stick to the commitment and this would also entail reviewing the target,” he said.

When the power minister called on lyonchhoen in Delhi, they also discussed on alternate sources of renewable energy. The power minister agreed to support development of alternate source of renewable energy in Bhutan.

Although preliminary studies were carried out to identify potential areas for producing wind energy, an in-depth study has been pending.

“The minister offered to send a team to closely examine the potential of wind in Bhutan to generate electricity,” lyonpo said. “He also offered scholarship for students interested in wind energy.”

Since Bhutan would not solely rely on hydropower but have a mix of other sources of renewable energy in the energy basket, lyonchhoen also visited a solar park at Charankha in Gujarat.

“As per the renewable energy policy, there is an effort to put a mix in the energy basket.  We must not just rely on hydropower but bring in other renewable energy like solar, wind and biogas,” lyonpo said. “Solar is also in the radar and the visit to the solar park was in line with this.”

Lyonchhoen would be travelling to Varanasi today.

 

Lyonchhoen met John Kerry

During the second day of the visit in Gujarat, Secretary of the state of the United States, John Kerry, met Lyonchhoen at the sidelines of the Vibrant Gujarat summit.

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said it is the first of the highest level of meeting between the United States and Bhutan. The meeting was arranged after a request from the US to Bhutan.

The Secretary of State expressed appreciation and admiration of the government and people of America to Bhutan for the exemplary leadership of the Kings on the front of democracy, climate change and happiness as a measurement index.

John Kerry said the exemplary leadership of the kings in smoothly instituting democracy in the country was unprecedented. He added that Bhutan’s leadership at a global scale in championing climate change and environment despite being a small country is appreciated much by the government and people of US.

Bhutan’s environmental and sustainable development policies, he said were models for other countries to follow. The two leaders exchanged views on education and the US agreed to see how their support for education, in terms of scholarship could be expanded

 

Lyonchhoen met Ban Ki Moon

The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon also met lyonchhoen at the sidelines of Vibrant Gujarat summit.

It was the first time lyonchhoen was meeting the secretary general and expressed admiration for his leadership on various international issues. The Secretary General, also expressed his appreciation on the concept of Gross National Happiness and the role Bhutan played in climate change and global warming. He also appreciated Bhutan’s participation in the peacekeeping force despite being a small country.

By Tshering Wangdi, New Delhi

Fuel price likely to drop again

Petroleum: Fuel prices in the country is  likely to drop again, registering ninth straight cut since August last year.

Figures from trade department reveals that price of petrol were revised 18 times last year reaching as high as Nu 73 a litre in July. Since then it has dropped nine times reaching almost Nu 62 a litre.

In 2014, diesel price was revised 17 times. From about Nu 54 a litre in January, it reached to almost Nu 62 in October. Then it has dropped six times in three months reaching to around Nu 53 by yearend.

This was on the back of global crude oil prices hitting a six -year low. Oil companies in India are expecting the prices of petrol and diesel to drop by Rs 2 each. Trade officials are optimistic that the price would drop by midnight today.

While the prices of international crude oil fell below USD 45 per barrel, latest media reports indicate that Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) doesn’t plan to cut production despite the plunge in demand.

OPEC is an organisation comprised of oil producing countries that coordinate and unify the petroleum policies of its member countries and ensure the stabilisation of oil markets.

After the last price cut on December 16, the country could have enjoyed another cut by about Nu 2 on new-year.  However, as the price fell in India, the Indian government revised the excise duty on fuel stabilising the retail price in India and in Bhutan too.

Records from National statistical Bureau (NSB) reveal that oil price inflated by five percent between August 2013 and August 2014. However, as fuel prices dropped deflationary trend was recorded from 2.6 percent in September, 1.8 percent in October and 0.3 percent in November.

The overall inflation in the country declined to its lowest 6.6 percent in November from 8.7 percent in August.

Officials from NSB attributed the decrease in inflation rate to the decrease in global oil price since it was one of the major factors in deriving the inflation rate. A drop in fuel price means decrease in prices of all the commodities because transportation becomes cheaper.

Thus, inflation on food items fell from 11 percent in July to 6 percent in November. Similarly in nonfood group infaltion dropped from 8 percent in August to 7 percent in November.

An economist said price inelastic goods like fuel, where there are no substitutes, would impact inflation since demand may not fall irrespective of increase or decrease in price.

Whereas demand for price elastic goods, which can be substituted by other cheaper goods, may fall with price increase and does not contribute to inflation much.

Meanwhile, those following the global oil price closely said in India the jet fuel has plunged by 12 percent and now the aviation sector are competing to offer low travel fare and like wise transportation cost on both passenger and cargo vehicles are dropping.

However, he said despite nine straight drops in petrol price since last five months transportation fare has shown no signs of going down.

By Tshering Dorji 

 

In the event of a case of conflict of interest

ACC workshop delves into the intricacies involved in such judicial incidences

Judiciary: Concerned over a conflict of interest, Haa district judge Duba Drukpa is doubtful whether he can sit over the Lhakhang Karpo case, once it is registered with the court.

District judge Duba Drukpa is a dorjipuen (spiritual sibling) of the foreign minister Rinzin Dorje, who is involved in the case.

He said he would declare his conflict of interest to the chief justice once the case comes to him.

“I’ll have to submit and abide by the instructions from the chief justice,” Haa district judge said.

However, judges, during a workshop organised by the Anti-Corruption Commission on the subject recently, said conflict of interest is unlikely to hamper delivery of justice, as there are enough check and balance measures in place, judges said.

“There are higher courts to keep check and balance on the judges and their judgments, though,” a Thimphu district judge said, adding that, if found, there are serious consequences.  Besides, parties to the case could also point out should there be any conflict of interest for the judge in the case.

“As is the norm, I always declare what might appear as a conflict of interest in the case, and ask the litigants if they’re alright with me deciding the case,” another judge said. “If they aren’t, then they appeal to change the judge.”

The workshop’s host and legal development consultant, Richard E Messick, said the definition of the word interest was not defined in Bhutanese law or any other law and that could be a problem for the courts.

Judges however said it was deliberately left open for a liberal interpretation.

Of the two types of conflict of interest, organisational and perceptual, the latter was difficult to define.

While laws can be formed for organisational one, it has become a problem to dealing with perception conflict of interest, judges said.

Men embroiled in matrimony cases choose male judges, a lady judge revealed at the Anti-Corruption Commission’s conflict of interest workshop for judges on January 14.  She said they fear women judges would be stricter, so they appeal for a male judge.

“This kind of conceptual conflict of interest would be difficult to point out,” a judge said.

However, such cases occur mostly in the capital.

Dzongkhags having only one judge is a problem, in case there is a conflict of interest for the judge in the case.  At one time, both the Wangdue and Punakha judges could not sit over a case and the high court asked the Gasa judge to do so.  However, there is no cost for the litigants, as the judge from other district moves to the district where the case is registered.

The problem, according to them, is that the majority of litigants represent themselves, and they have poor understanding about the law, or conflict of interest in particular.

“In most cases, I have to explain the law repeatedly,” a judge said.  Lawyers represent only about five percent of the cases in the country, he said.

The losing party would always have a reason to point out conflict of interest but judges said there has been no reasonable appeal regarding the conflict of interest.

“It could also be used to avoid a strict judge,” a participant said.

A judge said it also has a lot to do with the maturity of the society.  If the judgment were against a person, then the person would somehow come up with some allegation, either through conflict of interest or other means.

Is it a conflict of interest for the judge, if he has an account in the bank, and the bank is one of the litigants?  Not necessarily.

Judges said the debate never ends on how much the code of conduct for judges could be applicable for their family members. “Because they also have their own businesses too,” a judge said.

In the end, there is no one to defend the judge in all matters.  “So our conscience is the internal guide and our judgment its external manifestation,” a district judge said.

By Tshering Palden 

Putting an all but end to monopoly

Workshop: No monopoly will be created or allowed in the market, whether such a position is enjoyed by state-owned enterprise (SOE) or  private party.

This is one of the objectives of the draft National Competition Policy 2014, which is being reviewed by the Gross National Happiness Commission.  The policy was presented among stakeholders at a workshop earlier this week.

Trade officer Choki Tshewang said once the policy was adopted, there would be a fair competition in the market among SoEs and people from the private sector, at least from the policy point of view.  Also, in a sector where a monopoly exists, government will encourage the entry of fresh players.

“This is expected to facilitate structural reforms and create fair competition, while reducing entry barriers for new enterprises including, in particular, cottage, small and medium enterprises,” Choki Tshewang said.

In such a situation, the trade officer said, consumer welfare is maximised, and there will be enhanced levels of innovation, efficiency and economic growth in the country.  For instance, he said consumers would benefit from the creation of fair prices of goods through a healthy competition in the market.

The policy lays down broad parameters within which the conduct, operation and practices of firms will be regulated.

It comes as good news for the private sector, which has been complaining of lack of a level playing field in the market.  One of the promoters of the Institute of Management (IMS), Tenzin Lekphel, said there was a lack of a level playing field due to the existence of SoEs, which enjoy all the advantages over private firms.

Such a situation, he said, hinders the growth of private sector. “Royal Institute of Management, for instance, hinders our growth. SoEs must exist only, where private players are not able to. But once the private sector is nurtured, they must help the private grow,” he said.

However, government may make conditional arrangements, under which it can exclude and exempt certain economic activities or firms from the ambit of the competition policy.  For instance, power generation is currently a legal monopoly though government policy proposes to open this sector to competition, but not before 2020.

Timber and sand are also legal monopolies.  The Natural Resources Development corporation limited  is the sole agency for production and supply of sand in Bhutan, except where the corporation does not operate.

“The private sector is relegated to a fringe role,” states the policy.

It states that government will continue to retain monopoly in electricity generation and, where necessary, to provide major infrastructure facilities, while at the same time opening up activities like distribution, tourism and transport to private sector.

The trade officer explained the government would weigh the pros and cons of allowing private players in such sectors. “The government will retain monopolies if the extent to which social benefits to be gained from exclusions and exemptions outweigh the costs,” he said.

With the adoption of the policy, both public sector procurement as well as allocation of scarce national resources by government or other public sector bodies will be based on market mechanisms that are transparent and non-discriminatory.  A system of competitive bidding will be incorporated.

Today, certain sectors of the economy are either under legal monopoly or de facto monopoly.  Little competition exists in these sectors and the number of competitors is small.

“Much of this has been attributed to government policy, the specific conditions prevailing in the Bhutanese market such as its size.”

In order to fulfill the objectives, institutional arrangements to review and monitor implementation of the competition policy and its related legislation will remain the responsibility of the prime minister’s office.  Each ministry will be responsible for the implementation of this policy.

By MB Subba

Murder most foul

It is not often that we hear of cold-blooded murders in the country.  But the once in a while a case is enough to give us the shivers.

The now apparent murder of a young man at the Central Plaza shopping complex in Lungtenphu, earlier this week, came as a chilling reminder of safety, or rather how of unsafe Thimphu has become.  It was a gruesome murder.  And it happened at a busy place, with some areas under camera surveillance.  From the way the face was mutilated beyond recognition, it was clear it was no accident, and that whoever was behind it was buying time to get away.

More worrisome is that a murderer or murderers are on the loose.  It has been four days and it is still not clear who was responsible, forget apprehending them.  If they are around, prowling, it is a cause of a concern, and not just for residents in the area.  As we still enjoy the reputation of being a peaceful country, news of murder scare people, especially expatriates working and living here.

We are losing that reputation, if we have not already lost it, as crimes like robbery, rape and murder, make occasional headlines.  An expat yesterday said it was scary to walk alone, as they could be targeted for being foreigners.  Our memory is short, but digging through files we find at least one murder case registered every year.  That is too much for a small and peace loving country.  It is the second such incident in the same area of Thimphu.  Last year, an Indian engineer was robbed and killed hereabouts.

If it is not killing or raping or robbing, the capital city has become a sleepless city.  There is an increasing restlessness among the youth.  This is apparent from the frequent scuffles, fights and injuries, which are not even newsworthy now.  While visitors keep complaining of the noise into the wee hours, residents are getting used to disturbances caused by those returning from late night discos.

Outside Thimphu, our small towns are already beginning to see the same trend.  Surprisingly, we are beginning to accept this as being inevitable.  We are developing and urbanising.  As long as we have bars, discotheques, and other nocturnal entertainment centres, we will have this form of violence.  And it would be unrealistic to expect that we will be able to prevent it.

The notion that hardcore crime doesn’t exist in the country is not true anymore.  Crime is getting out of control, although those apprehended are punished according to the law.  Prevention will always be a challenge.

The onus should not be left to the police alone.  The concept of neighbourhood watch, and ensuring safety of tenants by providing security guards, is becoming necessity now.  The urban village demands more than living in close proximity.

One body recovered; search on for the second

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Accident: More than 40 people, comprising the Gyalpoizhing police, army and powerhouse staff, combed the banks of the Kurichu yesterday in search of the bodies of two men, after the car they were travelling in veered off road on January 12 night.

A police source from Gyalpoizhing said the incident occurred when the men were returning from Mongar town after attending a baby shower of one of their friends.

On January 13, powerhouse staff informed police that one of the men, who worked as a foreman at the powerhouse, had not returned home.  Police then informed Mongar district police division and Bumthang police station.

Police and the powerhouse staff had begun searching for the body by the road when they were informed yesterday that the Santro car the men were travelling in had veered off the road and plunged into the river.  The incident had occurred more than three kilometres from Gyalpoizhing town at a sharp turning just after the Kurichu dam house.

Around 3pm yesterday, the dam had to stop the water flow for a while for the police to fish the car from the river.  The body of the 40-year old foreman was found about 200 to 300m from the car.

From Domkhar village in Tshenkhar, Lhuentse, the foreman, Sonam was a divorcee and is survived by two children.

Meanwhile, search is still on for the body of 38-year-old man.  From Bangtsho village in Dewathang, Somdrupjongkhar, Tshering was working with Chukha hydropower and temporarily at the Kurichu hydropower project.  He is survived by a wife and five children.

This is the second fatal accident reported in Mongar this month.

By Tashi Phuntsho, Mongar