The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
Click over the map to know the differences

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Who is afraid of WTO?: Achyut Bhandari

Check Prime Minister's View here: HERE

Part I


When a Bhutanese delegation was in Geneva in June for negotiations on accession to the World Trade Organization, a debate went on in the Bhutanese media about the benefits of joining WTO. The timing of the debate could not have come at the worst time for the delegation which could not have negotiated from a position of strength. An uncertainty on the government position on accession not only undermines our delegation’s credibility to negotiate but more importantly it destroys the morale of the negotiating team some of whom have been engaged in the process for almost ten years. It is not easy to complete all the needed documentations and conduct negotiations with global trade experts. The job is more difficult when we have only a handful of officers conversant with WTO and its technicalities. Moreover, the government has spent a lot of time and resources in undertaking the preparatory work. The new Government must take a firm decision soon on the membership taking into account the long-term interests of the Bhutanese people.

It is good to know that in a recent press conference, the prime minister said that he was not against Bhutan joining the WTO as such; but he saw the need for more debate and better understanding on its full implications before taking the final decision. He particularly mentioned his apprehension on WTO’s impact on the policy of GNH and on lives of our farmers. I agree that there has not been enough public discussion on the effects of WTO. We need to do more on this front.

The fear of WTO arises from general misunderstanding of its role and impact on a small developing country like Bhutan. Put simply, WTO’s mandate is to promote free and fair trade amongst its members who themselves are responsible for devising the trade rules. Free trade however does not mean a complete absence of tariffs; it implies that trade creates optimum benefits when tariffs are low. Regional Free Trade Agreements (FTA) within SAARC and BIMSTEC are aimed at progressive reduction or elimination of tariffs within an agreed time frame. In contrast, the bilateral Trade Agreement with India is truly free as no tariffs are levied on trade between the two countries. Fair trade on the other hand means that trade is conducted within a framework of globally agreed rules so that no country is discriminated or unfairly treated by its trading partners except provided for in bilateral or regional FTAs that are allowed under WTO.

There are five main areas of concern for those who question the benefit of WTO for Bhutan. These are WTO’s perceived incompatibility with the concept of GNH, opening of Bhutanese economy to foreign participation, our small volume of trade, circumspection in policy flexibility and exogenous factors.

GNH is an evolving philosophy. Even as efforts are being made to define it more objectively, it still remains an ephemeral concept. If economic growth measured by GDP is a reflection on the quest of excessive materialism, then how can we justify that a poor Bhutanese family living in a remote village is contend with their bare income and material possession? Would Bhutan’s GDP per capita be around US$1,400 today without economic growth generated by domestic investments and foreign aid? Without a certain level of personal comfort that can only arise from economic growth, there can be no happiness and peace of mind unless one denounces everything from this world and chooses to live a hermit’s life. On the other hand, it is accepted and known that materialism does not give personal happiness. Within Bhutan’s small and predominantly Buddhist society that is supposed to shun greed, the drive for material gains is only too apparent. So, we have to find a middle path in the true Buddhist sense between a holistic approach to development which takes into account our socio-cultural values and needs on the one hand and traditional approach to development based on sheer economic growth.

GNH is generally explained in Bhutan through four pillars – sustainable and equitable development, environmental protection, cultural preservation and promotion and good governance. How does WTO interface with each of these pillars? WTO per se has no authority to impose any trade and investment policy or rule unless a member country is a party to the relevant WTO Agreements. Hence, it is entirely up to us as to the type and extent of dispensation that we want to seek during the accession negotiations.

Sustainable and equitable development is being promoted universally today. The only difference is that some countries have been more successful than others. There is a complete national consensus in Bhutan for the judicious exploitation and use of its natural resources (forests, minerals and water). It will be difficult for any future government to alter this policy substantively. WTO will have hardly any impact on this matter.

The same is true for environmental protection. In fact, there is a Committee in WTO addressing trade and environmental issues to which Bhutan as a member could make meaningful contributions to its work. Our membership will also enable us to produce, manufacture and trade in environmental and other niche products without compromising our policies. Bhutan is best placed to take an active and leading part in all global fora on the environmental front. Our membership in WTO will equip us better to assume this role.

WTO has no direct bearing on culture except through commitments that Bhutan will have to make in opening some service sectors such as media and broadcasting and the notion that WTO members will push for excessive exports to Bhutan. Again, culture is not static; it evolves as a nation makes socio-economic progress. It is inevitable that in this process the good aspects of culture will remain or transform while the not so good parts get discarded. What is important for us is to protect and preserve the real essence of the Bhutanese culture. As for our fear of the market being flooded with imports, the small size of the market will be the limiting factor combined with the rates at which Bhutan will bind its tariffs on agricultural and manufactured products. Here too, it is still in our hands to negotiate the necessary safeguards.

For promoting good governance, WTO will have a positive impact as we have to make our policies consistent and transparent and introduce the needed legislations.

Given our historically cautious approach in dealing with the outside world, one can understand some apprehension on the consequences of our membership. This fear is about foreign participation in and ownership of business and commerce with its ramifications on Bhutanese entrepreneurship, infant industries and employment. The fear also arises out of the “small country syndrome” whereby we sometime become over sensitive and emotional about our sovereignty. While national sovereignty is indivisible, we must also accept the fact that we live in a highly inter-dependent world characterized by globalization, liberalization and competition. Our productive capacity is limited; the domestic market is not only weak and small but there is very little purchasing power amongst the Bhutanese. The traditional objective of economic self-sufficiency is unattainable. Whether we like it or not, our dependence on imports is inevitable. Within the limit set by our small domestic market, strong competition will reduce prices of imports and benefit the Bhutanese consumer in many ways. Bhutanese export products will become more competitive in the long run as the producers will be forced to improve the standard and quality to conform to WTO rules, though they have to adjust and adapt to the new situation in the short run. Many other countries have gone through this phase but they have eventually gained by way of higher incomes and wealth.

To reduce our heavy dependence on foreign aid, we have to mobilize investments from abroad. The DPT’s Manifesto also talks on FDI that has to be made attractive through a stable and transparent FDI policy. Otherwise, with our small market and high transportation and labor costs, foreign investment may not flow in except in hydropower, tourism and a few service sectors. The parliament has already laid down the rules on foreign ownership of assets in Bhutan that can only be registered through a Bhutanese partner. Foreign investment has to be regulated through a well defined FDI Act that protects our vital national interests. We should select the economic sectors for foreign participation carefully during the negotiations and should not exceed the commitments made by other new least developed members like Nepal, Cambodia and Cape Verde.

Part II

What about WTO’s impact on national entrepreneurship, infant industries and employment? Here, it is the Bhutanese business community that fears from outside competition. Their fear is misplaced. Membership in WTO would mean that the government has to accord the same treatment to a foreign participant as given to a Bhutanese entrepreneur though some temporary concessions can be negotiated to encourage the growth of infant industries. We can also control the number of expatriates to be employed in Bhutan. We all know that the Bhutanese private sector is stagnating for a long time. It is only in the recent past that some new industries have come up, a few with foreign collaboration (hotels, for example). A number of them are no longer viable as they were set up purely on duty and tax differentials between India and Bhutan. If the processes in production, products quality and standard, managerial and labor skills and marketing are to improve and become more competitive in the region and the world at large, and if we want to induct new technology for economic efficiency, WTO will bring about a positive change in the private sector.

As Bhutan’s share in world trade is negligible, it is said that Bhutan will not gain from joining WTO. It is indeed our sovereign right to decide whether to join or not, and we do not necessarily have to join the waiting line for membership. The point is that we are already required to apply WTO rules even in honoring our bilateral (India and Bangladesh) and regional (SAARC and BIMSTEC) commitments as these trading partners are all WTO members except Afghanistan. Five years back, our exports to India and Bangladesh were disrupted temporarily as we did not have a proper mechanism for export certification on health and quality standards. We had to negotiate bridging arrangements with them till such measures are developed in Bhutan. This was possible only because of our close relations with the two countries. In regard to regional trade agreements, the principles and rules are the same as those of WTO. So we have no alternative but to follow them. Further, even smaller and economically more vulnerable countries such as the Maldives, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Tuvalu have joined WTO. Others like Afghanistan, Seychelles, and Samoa are negotiating for accession. I do not know of any major problem that new members like Nepal, Cambodia, and Vietnam have faced. Bhutan can learn from their experiences if desired before joining.

The main obligation of membership is that we have to arrange a WTO review of our trade policy once in two years, an exercise that would itself provide an opportunity for us to articulate and clarify the policy. In addition, there are some costs associated with instituting a legislative framework and attending major meetings in Geneva where we already have an official presence. The cost would partly be offset by the technical and financial assistance that we can get as an LDC. The required national measures and focal points some of which are already in place or are being developed (intellectual property rights, sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures, technical barriers to trade and customs valuation) would rather help us to build our internal capacity on trade which is required in any case in meeting our bilateral and regional commitments.

Perhaps the biggest fear among the decision-makers today is that they would no longer be able to exercise flexibility in taking policy decisions on economic and trade issues because these have to conform to WTO rules. But in reality, this has most often been the case after we became a member of the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other international and regional organizations. We have never compromised our vital interests and it would be the same with WTO. Further, with the introduction of parliamentary democracy, the government will be required to make its policies clear, consistent and transparent for the benefit of the electorate. This is what WTO requires and so our membership will be consistent with the new system of government.

The last concern may arise from the negative publicity and image of WTO projected by civil societies registered mostly in developed countries. They see WTO as being synonymous with globalization. Though there is a close relation between globalization and world trade, the former is a far broader phenomenon involving, among others, cross border location and movement of factors of production for economic efficiency. Their main complaint is on losses of jobs and impact of trade on agriculture and environment. Anti-WTO lobbies in developing countries on the other hand are concerned about the stiff competition from imports from developed countries on the price of their agricultural and manufacturing products due to market liberalization, high production incentives and tariffs maintained by industrialized countries on their agricultural products, and increase in the cost of medicines and its effect on public health due to patent protection by multinational pharmaceutical companies. As Bhutan’s share in world trade is negligible, these issues will not affect us adversely. Rather, these should alert and sensitize us for taking proactive action where needed.

Addressing specifically the prime minister’s concern on the impact of WTO on our farmers, I see no reason for us to worry. Yes, agriculture has been by far the most controversial and sensitive issue in WTO. This has to do with major agricultural producing and exporting countries. Most industrialized countries have high tariffs against agricultural imports; for example, Japan on rice as it wants to protect its rice farmers. A major agricultural exporter like Australia is fighting for greater market access to both developed and developing countries. Cotton and banana producing developing countries on the other hand are worried at the low prices of and export barriers to their products, and have received special considerations at different times. So, if the WTO Doha Development Agenda has stalled once again as seen last week, it is due to the difficulty in finding a common position on major issues affecting the members on global agricultural trade.

Bhutan is neither a significant agricultural exporting country nor it is likely to be so due to limited available land for commercial agriculture and our commitment to protect the forests. It can export only a few niche agricultural products (fruits, vegetables and spices), the bulk of it to the neighboring countries with which we have preferential trading arrangements. The only point that we remember is monitor the volume of agricultural imports that compete directly with our niche agricultural exports. We should not however forget that our agricultural exports and imports are seasonal in nature with imports completely outweighing the exports. With the proposed binding of tariff on agricultural products at about 49% and the principle of differential treatment for developing countries as a cushion for Bhutan, there is no room for us to be alarmed.

We have completed about 90% of the work for accession during the last five years. The work so painstakingly done for a decade will go in vain if we were to abort the plan to accede. If a future government were to reconsider the decision, the whole preparatory process has to start again. The longer the wait, the more costly and onerous the accession process will become, especially as Bhutan may graduate from the LDC status in the near future.

In sum, apart from trade and economic reasons that I have given, the accession will be yet another step in our gradual steps to strengthen our sovereignty and play a constructive role in international relations. The WTO is by no means perfect; it is young and evolving. The developing countries today have a stronger position in promoting their national interests in WTO compared to the period of its predecessor, the GATT. An observer does not have any weight in the corridors of power in WTO. Bhutan’s voice will be heard only if it becomes a member. The prime minister and three senior ministers have sufficient knowledge on WTO. I am sure that they and their colleagues in the cabinet will have the vision and wisdom in taking the right decision for the benefit of the Bhutanese people.

Achyut Bhandari:was the Director-General of Trade from 2000 to 2004

Check the Prime Minister's View: HERE

Saturday, April 4, 2009

B.C. opens the door to Bhutan refugees

By Darah Hansen, Vancouver SunMarch 27, 2009Comments (16)
StoryPhotos ( 1 )

Kharcila Kafley shops with her daughter Bishnumaya and son Bholanath Kafley in Vancouver’s Chinatown.Photograph by: Jenelle Schneider, Vancouver SunA mother and her two adult children are quietly making history in British Columbia.

Kharcila Kafley, 65, son Bholanath and daughter Bishnumaya, both in their 20s, arrived in Vancouver last week amid little fanfare to become the first Bhutanese refugee family to call the region home.

They are the vanguard of an estimated 5,000 newcomers destined for Canada from the South Asian kingdom, best known for measuring its residents’ quality of life in terms of Gross National Happiness. Of those, about 900 people, or 40 families, will settle in British Columbia.

Ethnically Nepalese from southern Bhutan, the families have been living in refugee camps in neighbouring Nepal for the past 17 years after cultural and political clashes with the government in Bhutan rendered more than 100,000 people stateless.

Through a Nepali-speaking interpreter, Kharcila Kafley said she reluctantly fled to the camps with 10 of her 12 children after losing her family’s fertile farmland in the early 1990s.

She was told she would be killed if she did not sign over the property and cattle to the government, she said.

Kafley said she took part in several protests in the years following her eviction, including participating in a hunger strike with other displaced Bhutanese residents. Her hope always was to to return to her village, she said. But over the years, that hope has faded.

Now, she said, “there is no way back home.”

When she learned through the United Nations about the possibility of resettling in Canada, Kafley said she and her family — which now includes several grandchildren — jumped at the chance. Kafley was fast-tracked to her new home because of her daughter’s medical needs, while the rest of the family is scheduled to arrive in the coming months, or possibly years.

The trio touched down in Vancouver last week, and admit they have much to learn about their new home.

“What can I say, I am satisfied so far,” said an exhausted Kafley only hours after settling in to temporary housing provided by Immigrant Services Society of B.C. in downtown Vancouver.

“I am proud to come here. My only regret is that I cannot share my happiness because of the language,” she said.

The family’s low-key arrival marks the first time in years B.C. has welcomed a brand-new cultural and ethnic community within its borders, according to Chris Friesen, director of settlement services with ISS.

That means there is no pre-existing social network — no family or friends — to help the newcomers adjust to unfamiliar surroundings, Friesen said.

“That is highly unique compared to other refugee populations,” he said.

Plans have begun to settle the refugees in Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam.

As government-sponsored refugees, each family or individual is required to begin repaying within one year the transportation loans granted for their travel to Canada. In the meantime, the families are given federal support at a rate similar to provincial welfare.

Up to 40 per cent of the Bhutanese refugees are school-aged children. Friesen said many of the children already speak English, and most have attended schools in the refugee camps. Their parents and grandparents, meanwhile, will be offered English-language classes as well as vocational and skill-based training to help them gain employment.

Friesen said Metro Vancouver’s Nepalese community is welcoming the newcomers, but many more volunteers are needed to help the families settle in.

Anyone interested in volunteering with the Bhutanese refugees should contact ISS at 604-684-7498.

“These people have been waiting 17 years to rebuild their lives,” Friesen said.

The Vancouver Sun

Open Information Night - 28 January 2009 - Bhutan

Submitted by kylie.smith on 21 January 2009 - 12:20pm.
Open Information Nights are held at Melaleuca from 5:30pm on the last Wednesday of each month and are a initiative of the community development team. The aim is to raise community awareness about refugee-related issues and provide an opportunity where information and experiences in relation to such issues can be shared and discussed.

January's theme is "Bhutanese Refugees".

Due to the Royal Government of Bhutan enforcing citizenship laws and stressing its Tibetan-based Bhutanese culture in the late 1980's, ethnic unrest occured in 1990 and saw more than 100 000 Nepali-speaking Bhutanese living in the south forced to flee and seek refuge in eastern Nepal. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) has recently begun planning for large-scale resettlement and other durable solutions for Bhutanese refugees.

Melaleuca will be welcoming families from this area in February and March 2009 to Darwin for the first time. There is a lot we need to prepare and learn about prior to arrival so we can do our best in making these new families feel most welcome. Please bring your thoughts and stories along to share, or just to listen to others. We plan to have some people share their stories about their time spent in Bhutan.

Entry is free and everyone is warmly welcome.

BCCI elects new President and Vice-Presidents

April 2: The Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (BCCI) elected Topgyal Dorji the co-owner of Tashi Group of Companies as the new BCCI president. He was elected at the annual general meeting of BCCI today.

The Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry began its annual general meeting with the election of the president and vice presidents.

The elections were conducted using electronic voting machine. Topgyal Dorji, co-owner of Tashi group of companies, has been elected as the president and Chen Chen Dorji and Thinley Palden Dorji as vice presidents. Chen Chen Dorji is runs a private IT institute. Thinley Palden Dorji runs manufacturing and mining business.

Topgyal Dorji succeeds Ugyen Dorji who served as the BCCI President for over 18 years.

The Economic Affairs Minister Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk in his opening address said the government and private sector have a collective responsibility for the economic development of the country.

The three day meeting will see discussions on various issues related to private sector and approve this year’s annual budget. Over 50 representatives of business communities across the country are attending the meeting.

The Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry was established in 1980 to promote private sector in Bhutan. Currently it has over 200 registered business members.

Peradeniya University in Sri Lanka to take Bhutanese students to study medicine

March 30: The Peradeniya University in Sri Lanka will take between five to 10 Bhutanese students every year to study medicine. An agreement to this effect was signed by the Education Minister Lyonpo Thakhur Singh Powdyel while he was in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo to attend the first meeting of SAARC Education Ministers this week.

The agreement will be implemented for five years initially.

While in Colombo, Lyonpo Thakur Singh Powdyel also had bilateral meetings with his SAARC counterparts and discussed possibilities of collaboration in areas like Fine Arts for Bhutanese students in Bangladesh.

The Education Minister said similar MoUs will be signed with the University of Kelaniya and the University of Colombo. The delegation also met Bhutanese students in Colombo and Thailand.


Gosaling’s bone of contention – a slaughterhouse

Besides hurting villagers’ religious sentiments, the abbatoir is accused of contaminating the entire place, water source and all
3 April, 2009 - Gosaling villagers in Tsirang just celebrated, what they call, a peaceful month. With the month of March coinciding with the first auspicious month in the Bhutanese calendar, farmers were spared from witnessing the butchering of cattle at the slaughterhouse located in their village.

With 70 percent of the village’s population Hindu with a deep regard for the sacred cow, villagers say that the sight of cattle being taken to the slaughterhouse was painful. “It hurts our sentiments as it is located in the middle of a community where people worship cows,” said a resident, Tamang.

But it’s not just religious sensitivity that has farmers complaining about the abbatoir. According to farmers, it was also the environment they had to live and work in.

“It’s time to bear the foul smell again,” said a villager, calling it a torture. “We’ve spent sleepless nights and had to miss meals at times as the smell is too foul,” he said.

The one-storied abattoir of stone kills about 40 to 50 cattle every month. It is located in the heart of the upper Gosaling within a five-acre land belonging to the owner of the abattoir.

A 48-year-old father of four said that, although the cattle were slaughtered on the owner’s land, dogs scattered the discarded parts and waste in the village. “It defiles the whole community and we’re falling ill,” he said.

The source of the village’s water supply is located about 200 m away from the slaughterhouse and residents accuse the place of contaminating their drinking water. Sura Bir Alley, 62, whose mandarin orchard borders the abbatoir, said that he had lost orange trees, as his orchard was filled with skull, horns, tails and other carrion waste. “It’s becoming difficult to hire hands to work in my orchard. They feel dirty and disturbed,” he said. “My investment in the orchard will be wasted.”

Residents also said that the owner of the place of death had misused kidu land by turning it into a slaughterhouse. “He should cultivate the kidu land and slaughter somewhere else if he has the license for a slaughterhouse,” said an angry neighbor.

Gosaling gup, K B Tamang, said that the gewog took the matter seriously since it was affecting the water source and hurting the sentiments of the people. “W discussed the matter in the dzongkhag yargye tshogdu (DYT) thrice,” he said, adding that dzongkhag has now intervened.

Tsirang dzongda, Lhendu Wangchuk, said that the dzongkhag respected the public sentiment. “The slaughterhouse lacked proper standard before but lately it constructed proper drainage system and disposal pits,” he said.

Meanwhile, the dzongkhag’s livestock sector is in the process of identifying a new location. “There is a site at Mithuntar, about 32 km away from Tsirang proper, but we’ll have to finalise the process,” said the dzongkhag livestock officer, Dorji Dukpa.

The slaughterhouse owner, Penjor, is not deterred. He said that he obtained a permit to butcher animals when the livestock department introduced the policy of reducing unproductive cattle. “I consulted the dzongkhag and gewog before opening this slaughterhouse,” he said. “The then dzongkhag livestock officer and gewog officials forced me to open the slaughterhouse before I was even ready.”

Penjor said he did not contaminate the water and added that the water was not supplied for people’s consumption but for an outreach clinic. There are other settlements living nearby the source, he said, adding that he spent about Nu 750,000 in constructing and renovating the abattoir. “I‘ll only shift if they compensate my money,” he said.

Tsirang Lam Neten, Namgay Wangchuk, said that the dratshang tried to stop the slaughterhouse but it clashed with the government’s policy to reduce unproductive livestock. “I fully understand the agriculture ministry’s policy and also that it will uplift poor farmers, but that’s a temporary measure,” he said. He said that the dratshang is discouraging people from buying meat for rituals.

By Tashi Dema

Bhutanese student arrested in India

13 March 2009

A Bhutanese student was among 100 people arrested by police on the outskirts of Bangalore, India, in the early hours of March 8.

The Indian media reported that the people were attending a rave party at a farmhouse near Bangalore. The police raided the farmhouse after the locals complained about the party.

The 21-year-old Bhutanese girl was bailed out on March 10, according to Tashi Wangdi, the president of the Bhutanese Students’ Association (BSA) in Bangalore.

Tashi Wangdi said that it was not the first time that such a thing had happened to Bhutanese. “There have been cases where Bhutanese students were arrested for drug-related cases. There have also been deaths because of drugs,” he said.

He said that the girl had not taken drugs but police charged her on other grounds. He, however, added that drug-related cases among Bhutanese students in Bangalore have increased and that most students there were into drugs. Thirty-nine of the arrested were non-Indians. Besides a huge quantity of liquor and over 40 vehicles, musical instruments, cash and cell phones were seized. Although no drugs were found, the police arrested them on various charges.

There are around 558 Bhutanese students studying in Bangalore.

Bhutan Observer

Gearing up for local government elections

2 April, 2009 - The election commission of Bhutan (ECB) expects to start the formal process for conducting local government elections by August 2009.

The ECB, during its first annual conference, reviewed work on delimitation of local government demkhongs (constituencies) and proposed a strategy to conduct local government elections.
“If the law (Local Government Act 2007) is in place by July or earlier, the process could begin by August,” said election official.

The LG Act will be discussed in the coming summer session of parliament.

It would start with the public hearings of the draft delimitation plan for local government demkhongs.

The nomination procedure of the LG election process will start with the test of functional literacy, followed by the process of calling zomdues in the demkhongs to the offices of gups, mangmis and tshogpas, and thrompons, dzongkhag thromde tshogpas, dzongkhag thromde thuemis and yenlag thromde thuemis to dzongkhag tshogdus.

Meanwhile, the chief election commissioner (CEC), Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said that national council candidates, who were not elected, would be allowed to seek nominations to contest in the LG election.

The same rule would apply to unsuccessful national assembly election candidates and other members of political parties, so long as they meet the requirement of having resigned one year prior to the filing of nominations to contest LG elections.

Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said that the zomdues would be held after conducting the test of functional literacy, so that eligible persons, including those issued with the certificate of functional literacy, could file nominations to contest the elections.

Meanwhile, Bhutanese journalists will find more restrictions covering elections in the future with ECB drafting new rules.

Election officials said they would regulate the time limit for media visiting polling stations. “We may allow them to be in the polling station for around five minutes,” said CEC Dasho Kunzang Wangdi.

Reporters, wanting to interview voters, will do so from a distance of at least 100 m from the polling station.

Dasho Kunzang Wangdi told Kuensel that, unlike in the past parliamentary election, all media would be treated equally. He said that, in the past, some media were given access while others were deprived.

“As we wanted to share all footage, Bhutan broadcasting service was given privileged access during the counting of votes. On the other hand, other reporters filed online stories and it was alleged that other media agencies covered the results while BBS could not do so even with access to counting centres,” he said.

“This will not happen in the future,” said the CEC.

Media agencies will also not conduct opinion or exit polls before the election results are declared.

By Nima Wangdi


Police beat three boys in Thimphu

March 11: In Thimphu, three young boys have been beaten by the police on suspicion of stealing a wallet from a neighbour’s house in Changjiji. The boys are 11, 12, and 13 years old. They were beaten by the police on Saturday evening after a neighbour who has lost a wallet complained to the police and named the three boys as suspects.

None of the parents of the three boys knew that their children have been beaten by the police. They knew about the incident only after they arrived on the scene after they were informed by the neighbours. The father of one of the boys said they took the children to the hospital the next day because they could not sleep on Saturday night- complaining of pain.

A doctor at the national referral hospital said the boys have been beaten with cable wires. He said the mark of the beating was visible on their thighs.

Later the parents and the neighbour who complained to the police reached a compromise. The neighbour gave the three boys Nu. 500 each.

Police admitted to beating the boys but they said they gave each boy a single lashing because they were talking back. Police said their intention was to scare the boys so that they will cooperate.


Japanese grant to reduce poverty

16 March, 2009 - The Japanese government has committed a grant assistance of 442 million Yen (about USD 4.9 million) to Bhutan.

The grant is an extension for the two projects, which the Japanese government has been supporting: the food security project for underprivileged farmers and the reconstruction of bridges (phase III) project.
The food security project will get 180 million Yen (USD two million) of the total grant amount. Two wheel tractors and attachments, ploughs and spare parts will be provided to underprivileged farmers especially in rural areas under this project.

The Phase III project received 62 million Yen (about 689,000 USD) of the total grant. The grant will be used to implement the detailed design of the reconstruction of bridges on the National highway No 5. Japan has also supported phase I and II projects.

The remaining 200 million Yen (about 2.2 million USD) is a non-project grant aid given to developing countries to promote economic developments including poverty reduction. This is the first time Bhutan has received such a grant from Japan.

Agreeing the extension of the grant, the formalising notes were signed yesterday at the Embassy of Japan between the Japanese ambassador Hideak Domichi and Bhutan’s ambassador to India Vestop Namgyel.

FROM Kuensel

His Majesty grants land kidu to farmers of Tsenkar geog

March 11: His Majesty the King met with more than 1,000 people from Tsenkar geog and granted land kidu to landless people and issued Kasho granting the excess land to the people and waiving the excess land payment.

Those who have been living on government land have also been issued Kasho granting them the land they have been occupying so far. For the more than 1,000 people from five chiwogs of Tsenkar geog who gathered at Domkhar village, this was an unforgettable day. Many of the people had genuine problems with excess land. They had come in the hope of receiving kidu. But they had also come to meet their King who had come on foot to their village to meet them personally and discuss and solve their problems. Today, they went home happy, their hopes answered, their land related problems solved once and for all.

Talking to the people, His Majesty the King said land issues are the single most pervasive problem for the people. He said it is the prerogative of the King to grant land kidu to the people. His Majesty said the kidu is being granted to the people for their wellbeing and solve their problems.

His Majesty said it is his hope and prayer that the kidu will benefit not only them but also their children and their children’s children. His Majesty urged the kidu recipients to protect and use their land properly. His Majesty then met with the kidu recipients individually to discuss their problems.

His Majesty also distributed coronation coins to the people. Most of the kidu recipients who talked to BBS had problems with excess land. They said they were blessed that His Majesty himself came personally to their village in person to their very door step to look into their problems. Many said they were deeply moved by the concern and devotion of His Majesty for his people. Most of the kidu recipients said as poor subsistence farmers, they cannot afford to pay for excess land and they have been worrying day and night over this.

His Majesty also met with the representatives of the 537 households who came to the meeting. Tomorrow, His Majesty will trek to the villages and meet the people who could not attend the meeting today. Around 800 kidu cases have been identified by the office of the Gyalpoi Zimpoen in Tsenkar geog. Yesterday hundreds of people waited along the highway from Sengor to Lingmithang in Monggar to meet and offer Khadhar to His Majesty the King.

His Majesty is accompanied by His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck and Her Royal Highness Ashi Dechen Yangzom Wangchuck and the people’s representative to the parliament from Lhuentse, officials from the National Land Commission, dzongkhag officials from Monggar and Lhuentse and local leaders.

Source: BBS

Conference to initiate the translation of Kanjur into English ends

March 21:The five day landmark conference to translate the teachings of Lord Buddha –the 108 volume kanjur into English ended yesterday. The conference was held in the tiny village of Bir in northern India.

The translation will be done under the guidance and leadership of His Eminence Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche.

Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche who initiated and hosted the conference at Deer Park Institute in Bir said the survival of Buddha dharma could depend on the Kanjur being translated in other languages which will make the teachings of the Buddha available to millions of people.

The conference decided that they will complete the monumental task of translating the Kanjur into English in 25 years. It was also decided that in one hundred years, they will translate and make the entire Buddhist literary heritage universally accessible.

Already, enthusiastic expression of support has been received from all parts of the world, with more than 11,000 people sending letters of appreciation to translators in the conference. Among the letters, the appreciation letter sent by the Prime Minster of Bhutan, Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley to His Eminence Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche was also read out at the conference on Thursday. In his message, the Prime Minister said the translation of the Buddhist text into English will make the sacred words of Buddha available and accessible to countless number of people. He said it will also benefit the people of Bhutan especially the youth most of whom have come through the modern education system and therefore cannot understand Chhoekey.

Lyonchhen Jigmi Y. Thinley said the task is enormous and daunting. However with best scholars and practitioners translating under the personal guidance of His Eminence the Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, he is confident that this venture will meet with success.During the conference the translators also made plans to train more qualified translators, improve their tools and resources, and strengthen collaboration between western translators and Buddhist lineage masters and teachers.

Courtesy: BBS

First private school to rise in the east

19 February, 2009 - Students in the east, who could not make it to government schools after class X, can continue their higher studies closer to home with the opening of the first private higher secondary school in Mongar.

Sherub Reldri higher secondary school at Yakgang, two kilometres away from Mongar town, will open to admission next month. The proprietor Lt Colonel (retd) Rinchen Thinley said that the school would take in 500 students. The school offers all three disciplines, with two sections each of science and commerce and one of arts. Sherub Reldri provides boarding with indoor and outdoor sport facilities.

Since the school admission opened from February 13, at least five hundred application forms were sold and more than a hundred have registered with the school as of yesterday, according to the proprietor.

The first private school in the east is just only convenient for easterners, but has drawn interest from students elsewhere.

“There are admission requests from as far as Thimphu, Phuentsholing and Dagana,” Rinchen Thinley told Kuensel. “The highest requests were, however, from the east, especially from the four eastern districts of Mongar, Trashigang, Lhuentse and Trashiyangtse.”

Chimi Wangmo from Changmi, Trashigang, a class X graduate with 51 percent said that the private school opened at the right time. “I’ve no relative in Thimphu and there’s a conducive learning environment here,” said Chimi, who will study commerce.

The proposal for a private venture was submitted and sanctioned by the education ministry in 2005 and its construction started in May 2007 at a cost of Nu 24 million.

Rinchen told Kuensel that a number of students from the east ended up in Thimphu to continue their higher secondary education and, in the process, got caught up in city life. Fooding and lodging was another problem. “The private school will ease the problem for both parents and students of eastern Bhutan and should serve as a good option to parents in western Bhutan,” said Rinchen.

It is the seventh private higher secondary school in the country and first ever in the eastern region. Thimphu has three and Bumthang, Phuentsholing and Zhemgang, one each.

By Tshering Namgay , Kuensel