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Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015 - 1:21 PM
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Fuel imports fall in 2014

Imports: Bhutan imported 1.7 percent less fuel last year compared to 2013 but still had to pay more.

The country imported 166,433.64 kilo litres (KL) of fuel worth Nu 8.4B. In 2013, the total volume imported was 169,315.33KL for Nu 7.9B.

The maximum drop occurred for diesel fuel, decreasing by 5,151KL in 2014. Diesel is mainly used in hydropower projects, farm road constructions and the transport sector or for heavy vehicles.

Indian Oil Corporation Ltd (IOCL) executive director for West Bengal, YK Gupta attributed the decrease in imports to improved vehicle engine efficiency while trade officials said the reasons are mainly domestic.

Trade department officials said that it could be because of the vehicle ban, which was only recently lifted, and reduced activities in the construction sector and less economic activity with the unavailability of loans.

The fuel prices rose several times within the year.

Info: Trade Department

This was revealed during the renewal of the memorandum of understanding (MoU)  between the trade department and the IOCL, yesterday.

IOCL supplied more than 50 percent of the fuel demand in the country last year. In 2013, its market share was only 47.12 percent and the rest was supplied by Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd.

The MOU requires the company to ensure that it meets the fuel requirements of the country within its purview.

The IOCL executive director said that it is even willing to increase the number of outlets if the government proposes.

The company has to reach the fuel to the three entry points at Phuentsholing, Gelephu, and Samtse. It would also share new developments in terms of technology and human resource development at its outlets in the country.

YK Gupta said that oil companies were also trying to produce more environmentally friendly fuel and in 2017, Euro 4, a more refined fuel will hit depots in the country.

By Tshering Palden

The SOE salary revision

The suspense is at last over.  Salary revision for employees working in state-owned enterprises has been finally finalised.  The revision between 19 and 25 percent at various levels will come into effect from July 1, 2014.

In other words, many will feel that it was worth the wait.  The decision to pay them an almost eight-month revised amount in arrears will come as a generous Losar gift.  With the corporate allowance also increased from 20 to 25 percent, it is a significant revision.

And the revision this time for the corporate sector, minus corporations owned or linked to Druk Holdings and Investment, will go down well with the low salaried.  The raise is more for those who earn less, and less for those who earn more.

In every earlier salary revision, whether for civil servants or corporate employees, it was those in the low-income bracket that complained most. The logic was that, if salaries are revised because of increasing cost of living, it affected them the most. A flat rate raise, they believed, widened the income gap because of the difference in basic salary, which made a huge difference in actual terms.

The order from the finance ministry, owner of the SOEs, mandates a 25 percent (highest) for those in grade XIV and below.  Although not many SOEs follow the grade system, it does make sense to give a higher raise to the lower income group.

The order also fixed a maximum ceiling at 25 percent, and SOEs are left to decide to go lower if they cannot afford. This makes sense too. There is no point in forcing a corporation to raise salaries, if it receives a subsidy from the government or cannot afford the raise.

At the same time, paying huge salaries, depending on their income is unfair.  Consider corporations that have almost a monopoly and are making huge profits. The margin comes from the protected status and not because they are the best performers.

Meanwhile, a salary revision, either for civil servant or corporate employees, is closely watched.  With more employees in corporations, there is a possibility of raising the cost of living with a salary revision. This will affect the others, those in the private sector and beyond.

In the developed world, private sector employees enjoy higher salaries and better perks. Government jobs are not as much in demand as they are here. This is because the private sector is hugely developed. In most countries, they are so powerful that they influence government decisions.

While we can do without the latter, the private sector needs to be recognised more than ever now. We keep telling our young graduates, at all levels, to look for prospects beyond the corporations and the civil service. But apart from a few big business houses, there is not much private sector in the country today.

Those working in the private sector should not be victims of a government or corporate salary raise. It is an important sector, the engine of growth, or so they say. But it should not stop with lip service.

If there is a priority today, it should be developing the private sector with appropriate plans and legislations.

3-day old forest fire rages on across two dzongkhags

DSC01414The blaze, which began on Sunday night, has razed over 100 acres of chirpine forest so far

Disaster: The local community and forest officials are still trying to contain a forest fire in Yangnyer gewog, Trashigang that has razed over 100 acres of chirpine forest, including community forests, since February 15.

The fire, which started from Khachikhar village in Durung, has also spread to neighbouring Narang gewog in Mongar.

Yangnyer gup, Karma, said that the fire started around 8pm on February 15.  Without any forest officials arriving until yesterday, about 60 villagers from the two chiwogs of Durung and Lephu took up the task to contain the fire with twigs.

“We were able to control the fire yesterday by 11am, but it started spreading again an hour later because of the strong afternoon wind,” he said. “Although the settlements weren’t affected, the fire came close to some of the houses.”

If the fire is not contained soon, villagers fear it might reach the gewog centre area, where the school and the BHU are located. “Strong winds in the afternoons and evenings are spreading the fire,” a villager said. “It not only spreads through the ground, but flames fly over trees at times.”

Forest officials said the gup informed them of the fire on February 16 around noon.  After officials arrived at the scene yesterday, control measures were in full swing.  However, they said, the difficult terrain, compounded with inaccessibility to some of the locations, was making it difficult for them to contain the fire.

“It will be difficult to contain the fire even in the next two days; even after creating fire lines, it keeps spreading,” ranger Kinga Tashi said. “We’ve asked villagers to keep guard on the areas near their houses, and we’re looking for ways to reach the inaccessible place.”

But, he said, the damage to the chirpine vegetation would not be bad. “Save for the seedlings, pole-sized and matured trees wouldn’t be affected much by the fire,” he said.

However, villagers said the impact of the destruction would be felt when falling boulders and overflow of rainwater damage the farm roads in summer.

“With the sloping land remaining barren, rainwater will easily flow into the farm roads together with boulders; we’ve seen it happen in the past,” Yangnyer gewog administration officer, Thukten Tashi, said.

Owing to inaccessibility, forest officials are yet to reach the Narang gewog side, where the fire had spread close to Rolong village.  As of yesterday, the fire had spread until Gongthung village in Yangnyer.

By Tshering Wangdi, Trashigang

BIL launches Lopthru Nyenchoel policy

A backup for students’ education in case of accidental disability or death of parent/guardian

Insurance: Covering accidental demise and permanent total disability (PTD) due to accident, Bhutan Insurance limited (BIL) launched the student care insurance, Lopthru Nyenchoel policy yesterday in Thimphu.

Parents or guardians up to the age of 65 can avail this policy for their children, who are studying.  Students aged 18 and above, as well as educational and vocational institutes, can also avail the policy.

The policy has been divided into two categories – school students (age 3 and above – kindergarten to class 12) and college students (university/college/vocational or professional institutions up to the age of 25.)

BIL officials said that, at a nominal premium, the policy could serve a backup for students’ education in the event of accidental mishap of their parent/guardian.

The starting premium for a school student is Nu 225 against an insured sum of Nu 50,000.  The maximum sum insured will be Nu 100,000 with a corresponding increased premium.  For a college student, the starting premium is Nu 450 for an insured sum of Nu 100,000.  The maximum sum insured will be up to Nu 200,000.

BIL’s general manager, Kalyan Humagai, said that, since the policy was affordable, it would benefit all families.

“Not only urban but rural families will be able to avail this policy,” he said. “It’ll have the parents/guardian prepare for the continuing of their children’s education at the time of mishaps.”

In the event of demise or PTD of a parent/guardian, the allowance will be paid, according to the sum insured, over a period of four years, without them having to renew the policy, which is expected to assist the student to continue their education.

The insured student is also covered for demise and PTD due to accident, with 60 percent of the sum insured.

Education ministry director general, Karma Yeshey, attended the launch of the policy.

BIL officials said the policy is launched to commemorate the 35th birth anniversary of His Majesty the King, in support of the royal vision in supporting continuing education even at times of mishaps.

By Dechen Tshomo

An authoritative tome about Bhutan’s premier treasure discoverer

Peling-Namthar-cover-page-2015.2

The Autobiography of Terton Pema Lingpa by Lopen (Dr) Karma Phuntsho will be launched at 1.30pm on February 21 at Tarayana Conference Hall in Thimphu

Review: History is a curious thing.  What’s more important, however, is the inquisitive nature of the people with whom the stories are indelibly linked.  Otherwise, narratives have a wonderful tendency to turn to shapes amorphous and meanings incomprehensible.

Terton (treasure revealer) Pema Lingpa, the greatest of all five terton kings, according to some accounts, is the face of modern Bhutan.  Indeed.  But what and how much of Pema Lingpa’s life and work do we really know?

Lopen (Dr) Karma Phuntsho’s new book, The Autobiography of Terton Pema Lingpa, is a rare historical gem to come out at a time when technological innovations and rumbling modern-day genius are slaughtering the Bhutanese curiosity to look up for stories of their own past.

What little we have received about the most famous Bhutanese luminary from our elders and available texts are largely based on oral transmission over long decades and centuries.  Much has been lost along the way, and much added, for the life of the saint to contain any relevance or speck of probity.

Researchers have had to refer to texts that differ in records and events of Pema Lingpa, to say nothing about widely varying linguistic and documentation methods.

“Even the most isolated and conservative kingdom of Bhutan has sadly succumbed to such linguistic and literary erosion,” says the author, a leading researcher and historian in the country today. “It has become a matter of great urgency to re/produce more works in traditional Himalayan languages to retain what is left of the fast diminishing number of people, who are fluent in reading and writing in local Himalayan languages.”

There are six different versions of Pema Lingpa’s autobiography in the country today – Gangteng, Ogyencholing, Dungkar, Yagang, Dudjom and Kunzangdra.  Lopen (Dr) Karma Phuntsho has used the version at Kunzangdra as the main exemplar, and says that to do a full text critical edition with dense footnotes would have made the book very difficult for a traditional reader, who would approach this as a hagiographic source of inspiration.  And leaving out all the philological variations would have disappointed a textual scholar.

The Kunzangdra version of Pema Lingpa’s autobiography is also the most popular in the country.  The manuscripts in Gangteng, Dungkar and Yagang are in Umed script, and the rest are in Uchen, also known as Tshugyig in Bhutan.

“I’ve tried to tread a middle way between the two and the outcome, I’m afraid, is a book which isn’t strictly a text-critical edition, but one with a heavy touch of textual criticism. I hope general readers would not find the footnote references too cumbersome.”

The old and disintegrating woodblocks from which the autobiography of one of the greatest Bhutanese saints was printed from (the Kunzangdra version), is currently with department of culture’s conservation division and are being treated and repaired.

Says Lopen (Dr) Karma Phuntsho: “One of my aims for the sampling of textual comparison is also to demonstrate the importance of comparative studies and preservation of variant readings to the local Himalayan scholars, who too often fall for a clean revised edition and have the tendency to erase all variations. I hope to instil in them a better appreciation of the value of variant readings and a keener sense of chronology in their historical analysis.”

Lopen (Dr) Karma Phuntsho’s book will be useful for anyone interested in consulting all the six versions of the autobiography.  The Shejun Agency that Lopen (Dr) Karma Phuntsho heads has also photographed and made digital copies of all the six texts that are available at the National Library and Archives of Bhutan, the Shejun Agency, the British Library and the monastic archives in the country.

If the main aim of this new edition of Pema Lingpa’s autobiography is to make it accessible and available to as many readers as possible, Lopen (Dr) Karma Phuntsho has done an excellent job.

The Autobiography of Terton Pema Lingpa will be launched at 1.30pm on February 21 at Tarayana Conference Hall in Thimphu, together with Shejun’s two other titles to celebrate the Peling tradition and His Majesty’s 35th birth anniversary.

By Jigme Wangchuk

Fire razes almost entire Sarpang town

10929947_878922472130144_8736819972895172489_nTragedy: The remnants of Sarpang town that was until the day before

Prime Minister to personally expedite new town plan 

Disaster: In less than an hour, 81 shops in Sarpang town were razed to the ground by a fire on February 15.

The remaining 51 shops escaped the inferno because a parking space separated them from the row of shops that caught fire.

Most of the shopkeepers at Sarpang Taar, located about a five-minute drive away, had closed their shops and left for home when the fire broke out.

Of the 81 shops, 49 belonged to Indian merchants.

One of the shopkeepers, Bishal Gupta, 32, said that the fire started from his shop. Bishal Gupta, who owned a general shop, said that around 8pm he closed his shop to have dinner in a restaurant located adjacent to his shop. A short while later he saw flames over the roof of his shop.

“I have no idea how the fire started, but in a fraction of second the fire became bigger and uncontrollable,” he said. “My shop was recently built, made of planks. It was windy and that made the matter worse.” Within no time the fire spread to adjacent shops.

All the shops were temporary makeshift huts partitioned with plywood and woven bamboo mats.

The fire occurred between 8pm and 9pm.

The cause of the fire is yet to be determined. However, many said that the fire could have been caused by power fluctuations.

A forty-year-old shopkeeper said that there were frequent power fluctuations in Sarpang since the afternoon. “When the fire started, it was quick and made me nervous. I didn’t know what to do,” the shopkeeper said. “Everything is razed, we’re back to zero now.”

Saprang dzongda Dawala said that about twenty shopkeepers took shelter at their relative’s and friend’s places on the night of the incident. The dzongkhag administration arranged temporary shelter at the dzongkhag’s multipurpose hall and provided basic necessities.

“The police are still investigating the cause of fire,” he said.

Bhutan Power Corporation in-charge, Tashi Wangdi, in Sarpang said the power was shut down by 5:20 pm to change to the new commissioned line.  Tashi Wangdi  explained that BPC upgraded the power capacity in Sarpang from 11Kv to 33kv recently.

On the night of the incident BPC tried to charge the transformer, which converted 33kv power to 11kv for electricity supply to the town.

“We could not charge because the circuit breaker could not be closed,” he said. “When the fire broke out, power was still shut.”

On hearing about the incident, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay headed to Sarpang the same night. He visited the site in the morning and met with the shopkeepers, the majority of whom lost all belongings in the fire.

Lyonchhoen talked with the victims about how to move forward and on how to prevent such disasters from happening again.

He also visited the new town location at Seychathang. He told officials that he would personally take initiatives to expedite works at the proposed new town site.

“Master plan of the new town is ready, we’re working on water and electricity supply,” dzongda Dawala said.

Meanwhile, Royal Insurance Corporation Limited (RICBL) officials said both RICBL and Bhutan Insurance limited (BIL) had approached the shopkeepers several times, encouraging them to get their shops insured.

“None of them came forward,” a RICB official in Sarpang said.

Army, police, desuups and students were involved in fighting the fire.

By Nirmala Pokhrel 

Community school shutdown shocks parents

But the writing was on the wall, as the remote institute had barely enough students

Education: Unlike students in other parts of the country, the school going children of Banjar village in Mongar had no school to go to when the academic session began yesterday across the country.

After it was found short of one student to meet the extended classroom criterion of 10 students, Banjar community school in Tsamang gewog had closed since February 12.

Worried about their children’s schooling, a group of 12 villagers travelled to Mongar dzongkhag, about 77km from their village, to appeal to the dzongkhag administration to reopen their community school.

They reached the dzongkhag headquarters late last evening and couldn’t meet the officials.  But the parents will have to wait for another day since Mongar gewog where the dzongkhag administration is located, will remain closed today for the gewog’s bye-election.

The gewog will elect its new gup today.

Meanwhile, one of the parents, Sithar Dorji, 50, said they were shocked to find the school closed and handed over to the gewog administration.  He said that no parents were consulted or informed about this decision. “We don’t know what to do now,” he said.

Another parent, Deki Phuntsho, 63, said his seven-year old son is studying in class one. “How can I leave behind my son in a boarding school in Tsamang,” he said. “My son needs a lot of care.”

Tsamang primary school is a day’s walk from Banjar village.

Had the school authority informed them earlier, the parents would have discussed the issue with the district education officer (DEO) and the local government, Kezang Choki, 49, said.

Sithar Dorji also said that the village had 10 students, the required number to start the academic session. “But the school principal issued a transfer certificate to a student who completed class II,” he said, adding that his mother might not even be aware of her child’s transfer.

DEO Dorji Passang said the 26th dzongkhag education conference, held at the end of September last year, had resolved that five schools – Resa PS, Broksar PS, Bakla PS, Banjar PS and Takhambi PS – were unsustainable, and that it would be converted to extended classrooms (ECR) from the 2015 academic year.

But, he said, Banjar PS had no new PP enrollment and has only nine students, four in class I and five in class II.

A note sheet the DEO had submitted to the dzongda for approval states that besides the other students, the school had only one student in class III. “It isn’t viable to have just one student in class III and we’re admitting him in Tsamang PS as boarder,” the DEO had written. “With that, the school will have only nine students which does not meet the ministry’s set criteria to remain the status of even an ECR. The existing students of Banjar PS will be admitted as boarders in Tsamang PS as boarder.”

After the school was closed, its principal, also the school’s only teacher, was transferred to Bajeing PS in Dremetse.

Principal Tsheltrim Dorji said he had informed parents, who had come for to school for the results last year that the school was likely to close because of lack of students.

He also said that he didn’t force the parent of the class two student to go on transfer, and that the decision to issue the child with a school leaving certificate was taken after consultation with the DEO and the parents.

However, DEO Dorji Passang said that, even if the lone class III student had remained in the village school, he would need a teacher to teach him mathematics, English, Dzongkha and EVS. “The quality and knowledge he’d receive here wouldn’t be up to the mark,” he said. “He’d get better education if he joins a primary school.”

By Tashi Phuntsho

Shortlisted candidates question re-advertisement of post

PHPA I: The two candidates, shortlisted for the post of chief environment officer of Punatsangchhu I hydroelectric power authority (PHPA I) some four months ago, were confused when they saw the post re-advertised once again this month.

The two candidates, both senior forestry officials, were shortlisted by the economic affairs ministry’s human resource division some time in September last year.

Of the four, two were shortlisted and told that they would be contacted soon after.  When they called in later, they were told some formalities were not yet complete.

“Now the project has again advertised the post with the same criteria and requirements, which we don’t understand,” one of the candidates said.

Candidates applying for the post required a minimum qualification of a master’s or bachelor’s in forestry environment or management, with at least 15 years of experience at P1 level.

The earlier vacancy announcement came from the economic affairs ministry’s human resource division in September first week.

MoEA’s human resource officer said that their task ended with the shortlisting. “The selection process will be done by the PHPA management as per PHPA requirement and selection criteria,” the official said. “We shortlist civil servants at the chief level for secondment.”

The project authority re-advertised the post earlier this month.

While the economic affairs ministry’s vacancy was for in-service civil servants only, the project authority’s recent posting extended to private employees for contract employment.

This time civil servants were to submit their applications directly to the project’s personnel section and not to the ministry.

Kuensel learnt that the economic affairs minister, Norbu Wangchuk, who is also the project authority’s chairman, instructed the management to seek more applicants to make the post competitive.

“With two short listed candidates, it would be difficult to do the selection, and the minimum requirement is also three candidates, which we’ve been maintaining,” a project official said.

But the candidates disputed the rule, saying that the former chief environment officer in the project was selected from two shortlisted candidates.

“As far as we know, the recruitment rule says that the post would be re-advertised if there’s only one candidate,” one of them said.

However, the applications of the two shortlisted candidates remain valid for selection.

The chief environment officer’s pay scale is Nu 29,840-745-48,465 for three years, with 30 percent housing allowance, if not provided project housing, 25 percent project allowance, 30 percent deputation allowance, and 20 percent Punatsangchhu allowances at basic pay.

By Tshering Palden

Uncertainty about new trekking routes

IMG_3030-2-copyJomolhari trek is one of the most popular treking routes

Tour operators recommend improving existing trails rather than investing in new ones

Tourism: The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) is not yet sure where the 11 new trekking routes, announced by the Prime Minister recently, will be located as part of the Visit Bhutan year.

TCB officials said they have not received any instructions from lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay, who is also the chairman of the council’s board and that new trekking routes are not in the plan either. Even the 11th Plan document on tourism only mentions the development of two new routes to the existing 31.

Lyonchhoen at the closing of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) conference in Thimphu on February 6 announced that the new trekking routes would be opened this year besides hiring of helicopters for tourists and organic farming as part of the Visit Bhutan year.

The government could not be reached for comment.

The announcement comes at a time when the existing popular trekking routes in the country are in dire need of maintenance plagued by a host of issues. Opening of new routes, tour operators said was good news but the existing routes required further improvement with facilities along the trails.

Facilities include toilets, proper campsites, and mapping of the routes that are missing at present.

Development of a new trekking route is estimated to cost about Nu 1M while maintenance costs are estimated to be between Nu 30,000 to Nu 150,000. After TCB receives a proposal for maintenance of a particular route, the cost estimate is done after which budget is sanctioned to the gewog, dzongkhag or park services under which the route falls.

Although known for its pristine nature, Bhutan is rather seen as a cultural destination with comparatively less number of trekking tourists every year.  In 2013, records with TCB show that trekking tourists constituted about seven percent of the total international arrivals. About 52,798 international tourists visited Bhutan that year.

Tour operators said most tourists complain that trekking in Bhutan was not worth what they paid owing to the garbage filled trails and lack of infrastructure or development along the trails.

The Bhutan tourism monitor 2013 also cited lack of public toilet facilities and restrooms along highways, trekking trails and campsites as frequent complaints from tourists.

Trekking in Bhutan is a part of nature based tourism activity with treks varying from one to 40 nights. Rather than investing in new trekking routes, tour operators said the existing ones should be improved to attract more trekking tourists.

Despite the same minimum daily tariff of USD 250 and 200 during the peak and lean season for both cultural and trekking tourists, tour operators said it was easier to sell cultural tour packages owing to such issues.

Most tour operators have not been able to tap trekking as a tourism product despite the huge potential. Save for some old travel agencies that are able to provide all trekking facilities, majority are not able to provide the required services for a hassle free trekking experience.

Rather than trekking, tour operators said walking trips or hiking was picking up.

“During the peak season, we’ve to rush to reach a campsite before other trekkers get there as the camp sites are packed owing to limited areas for camping,” a tour operator said.

Despite the annual increase in international visitors, records with TCB show a gradual increase in trekking tourists in 2010 and 2011 after which it started to decline. In 2010, the country recorded 2,753 trekking tourists that increased to 3,402 in 2011. However, it dropped to 3,165 in 2012 while in 2013 about 2,943 of the total international arrivals were for trekking.

By Kinga Dema

HP to open product and service centre in Bhutan

Tech: In what should enhance technical and trouble shooting support for technological devices in Bhutan, Hewlett-Packard (HP) has partnered with a local company Yangkhor IT Solutions, to provide after sales services in Thimphu.

As the company is also involved in the education sector, it has also chosen to sponsor the training of 10 IT graduates annually, starting this year.

HP business manager for Bhutan, Kazi Shohidul Islam, said that 10 IT graduates will be trained locally by Yangkhor IT Solutions.

He said that they will be trained in technical IT skills focusing on products and solutions. The training will take between six months to one year.

Upon completion, the partnership company will employ those that meet their criteria. They will serve as HP representatives in Bhutan.

He added that HP will provide its local partner with the required certification and technical knowledge so that it can provide IT support for large organisations in the government and private sector.

He said that the company will provide services and support solutions for services like cloud computing, servers, and security, among others. He added that HP has also asked its local partner to establish a centre in Phuentsholing by this or next year. “HP is very focused for this market,” he said.

Yangkhor IT Solution’s Phub Gyeltshen said that the current trend is for foreign IT companies to come to Bhutan, market their products and supply it. He said that with IT skills lacking in the country, after sales support and a local point of contact is usually a problem.

Phub Gyeltshen said that with HP’s entrance, this problem should be addressed. The partnership is expected to not only benefit users of information communications technology, but to strengthen the IT sector in Bhutan, said Phub Gyeltshen.

By Gyalsten K Dorji