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Bhutan Weekly News-Roundup 26 May – 01 June 2012

The weekly news-roundup for politics in Bhutan, compiled from Kuensel Online, Bhutan Observer, Bhutan Today, Business Bhutan, BBS, The Journalist, and The Bhutanese.

Business Bhutan, 26 May 2012

Young voters will rule 2013 elections — Come 2013 elections, most of the voters will be youth below the age of 25 as more than half of the country’s current population are youth. While figures were not available on the exact number of youth between the age of 18 and 30 who will be voting in the elections it is estimated that more than 50% of the voters will be youth. Bhutan’s current population is 720,680 and more than half of it is youth below the age of 25. In the last parliamentary elections 30% of all voters in the constituencies were below 30 years. According to politicians, youth will play a major role in the upcoming elections.

LDCs call for a quick decision of the second period on Kyoto Protocol — The least developed countries (LDC) including Bhutan are pushing for a decision on the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol in order to move forward in the climate negotiations. The chair of the Group of 48 LDCs, Pa JarjuOusman, said Kyoto Protocol is an urgent issue that must be solved in the next three weeks. “First we must set the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period at five years, so that action begins fast – and early. A longer commitment period would simply delay action, and the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries simply cannot afford for this to happen.”

Development mandate makes MoWHS the most un-green ministry — Developmental activities undertaken by the MoWHS has had the most visible impact on the environment, a recently completed study on environment, climate change and poverty (ECP) reveals. The study which identified how activities undertaken by each ministry impacted the environment was developed by a ECP Reference Group through a series of consultation with relevant stakeholders. The group has recommended various alternative options to address the environment impacts of the activities of each ministry.

Is Bhutan economically independent? — The highest ever increase in petrol price has brought India to a standstill. Critics, economists, state governments, and political parties have already started lambasting the UPA government for failing to advocate proper policies to control the price of essential commodities. There are also threats to organize Bharat Bandh – a national movement comprised of strikes, demonstrations, road closures, rallies – on May 31. The agitation has taken over the whole subcontinent. In north India, Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has expressed his frustration on twitter citing a joke of a man ordering a petrol pump attendant to spray Rs 2-4 worth of petrol over his car so that he can burn it down. In the south, Kerala Chief Minister OomenChandy has written a letter to the prime minister, UPA Chairman Sonia Gandhi, and the petroleum minister to withdraw the price hike. The price hike of Rs 7.50 a liter has literally spurred a national uproar.

Bhutan Observer, 26 May 2012

Health ministry gets more modern in HIV medication — National STI and HIV/AIDS Control Programme has worked on the possibility of introducing fixed dose combination (FDC) treatment for HIV/AIDS patients in collaboration with Pharmacy Department. However, due to lack of drug testing facilities, treatment could not be implemented immediately. With the FDC treatment, HIV/AIDS patients will have to take their medicines only once in a day instead of three times. Department of Public Health will procure FDCs and carry out pilot study to study the efficacy of the FDCs on patients. In the first phase, FDC for AZT+3TC+NVP will be procured.

Kuensel Online, 26 May 2012

The greying of green lands — Farmers hard at work on acres of paddy fields, some ploughing the wet soil using power tillers while others level the mud beating lumps of hard soil with spades. This was a usual view from the roadside at this time of the year on agricultural areas in Punakha and Wangdiphodrang. The sight today is unusual with the area undergone a sea change with conversion of most agriculture land (wetlands) into dry land for infrastructural development and private construction. Buildings are seen in place of what used to be green paddy fields and small and medium commercial constructions ongoing on other arable land.

The Bhutanese, 27 May 2012

Former Health Secretary, in talks with DPT & DMT — The elections are almost a reckoning-day away and up-and-coming parties are on the hunt for potential candidates, in a dearth of candidates’ pool. Those with the right laurels are unavoidably hounded with big promises. This piece of innuendo has been flashed on the political grapevine: The former Health Secretary, Dasho (Dr.) Gado Tshering, who had shown an inclination toward politics is said to have been ‘in talks’ with the ruling party and the new party, the Druk Mitser Tshogpa (DMT). “Yes, there have been some discussions with the DPT and the DMT and that is all,” said Dasho (Dr.) Gado Tshering.

National Council to discuss High Level Investigation Committee Report on land — The National Land Commission on the request of the National Council (NC) made a presentation on the 2003 High Level Investigation Committee report on illegal transaction of land in Thimphu. This comes in the backdrop of a series of stories on the High Level Investigation Committee report by The Bhutanese. “Since the paper wrote the stories, we were concerned and wanted to be briefed on the whole situation and also know the updates on the implementation status of the report,” said one NC member.

From the Gewogs and Dzongkhags —  As a follow-up to an initiative taken by Mendrelgang gewog to acquire fund, for a Thangka (religious scroll), a total amount of Nu. 0.8 mn was handed over to Mendrelgang gewog from the . From the grant amount, Nu.  0.4 mn and Nu.  85,000 were spent on the Thangka for Mendrelgang’s lhakhang at the gewog. The gewog will receive the thangka next month. “The drive for fund was initiated by the gewog for the thangka and we also discussed with the Lam Neten who was very supportive,” said the Mendrelgang Gup, Yeshey. Out of the total amount, Nu. 75,000 will be used for the construction of a public toilet for the lhakhang. The Gup also said that the construction works will begin as soon as the Dzongkhag engineers ready the map. The remaining balance will be used for the side developments for the lhakhang.

New SAARC Secretary General — “Bhutan has not only progressed but has matured a lot in its political system since its transition to democracy,” said the new SAARC Secretary General Ahmed Saleem who made his first visit to Bhutan since he assumed the post last March. During his visit he met with Bhutanese counterparts from the foreign ministry and the SAARC division under the ministry. Some of the main issues discussed during the meeting were about making the SAARC institutions more effective and efficient. The Secretary General said one of the issues discussed was about the efficiency of various SAARC centers in the region.

D.N.T not PDP part 2 — The Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa has strongly denied all rumors currently doing the rounds in both public domain and in the political fray, about the DNT’s attempt to rope-in all former People’s Democratic Party (PDP) members. “The question of DNT gunning for the Ex-PDP members is not at all true,” clarified the DNT spokesperson, Dr. Tandi Dorji. The rumor mills started spinning on DNT when speculation was rife that DNT already had three former PDP members in the party and had plans to bring in the others. DNT Spokesperson, Dr. Tandi Dorji, admitted to the presence of three members who are former PDP candidates, one being himself. The party has however, refused to disclose the identity of the two others as they have other obligations at present, and if revealed it could complicate things for them.

Kuensel Online, 27 May 2012

Once more into the fray! — The election commission of Bhutan is conducting one more round of functional literacy and possession of skills test today, in an attempt to fill in the local government constituencies that were left vacant, despite two rounds of elections last year. About 68 demkhongs in 18 dzongkhags were without a gewog tshogpa or a thromde thuemi. Chief election officer Phub Dorji said the test is being conducted in 15 dzongkhags.

BBS, 28 May 2012

ECB and AEC to share experiences — In a move to mutually strengthen relationship in election administration and opportunities for the exchange of information and technology a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Election Commission of Bhutan and Australian Electoral Commission. The signing, which took place today, is expected to further strengthen the relation between the two Commissions in supporting election management and capacity building. It was signed by the Chief Election Commissioner, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi and the Deputy Electoral Commissioner of Australia, Tom Rogers. “This MoU is very important for us; it is a great vehicle for both the AEC and for the ECB to strengthen our relationship but particularly in the area of staff exchanges and more training because people are fundamental to running good elections,”  said Tom Rogers.

BBS, 29 may 2012

Strengthening Bhutan-Bangladesh trade — To facilitate further promotion of trade and investment between Bangladesh and Bhutan, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries and Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry today. Both countries will now exchange regularly information about the economic development to open up possibilities for increased trade and expansion of economic and industrial cooperation between the enterprises and organisations of the two countries. It was signed by President of Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Tobgyal Dorji and the President of Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries A.K. Azad.

The Journalist, 29 May 2012

Let’s not be politics shy — Many say it’s time for political candidates to declare their political allegiances instead of pretending to be independents. Ask any of the aspiring political candidates which party they are joining and the answer that you will get is that it is just a rumor. Sadly, the whole country is talking about that particular candidate’s allegiance to a certain political party and he/she is still in denial or waiting for the right time to declare the truth. Take for instance; everyone knew a new party was being formed. The media tried to dig it out and friends of people associated to the core working people of the party kept throwing questions, but the party, later to be known as Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa refused to let any information out.

Good for DPT. Bad for democracy. — Currently, the other political parties appear to be in no position to seriously challenge the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) in the 2013 elections even as politics is beginning to dominate the local media headlines. The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), by virtue of having been in the opposition, could have been the main challenger but the refusal of Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup to return to politics has left the party in a quandary-of-sorts. While several PDP candidates from 2008 have left politics for good, a few prominent ones formed their own party, the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa, a clear signal of their refusal to rally behind the Opposition Leader Tshering Tobgay. The much weakened PDP is kept together by some of its former candidates and supporters but it is also widely known that some of them are merely waiting for a good platform, another party, to switch their allegiance.

The Bhutanese, 30 May 2012

PDP not just a show horse, OL — The horse is saddled and the stirrup is set, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has tightened its reigns, with acquired skills from the last elections and the party is raring to go. The PDP has started strengthening its institution in two fronts; fund raising and voluntary contributions, and strengthening its office and man power. According to the Secretary General, Yogesh Tamang, on the fund raising front, the party is tinkering on the idea of fund raising events. “It is just a thought for now, we are thinking something along those lines but only time will tell,” said Yogesh Tamang. The works on fund raising and voluntary contributions comes after the Election Commission of Bhutan’s (ECB) deadline of clearing off its debts by the end of this month.

Candidates remain incognito in fear of making ruling party’s ‘blacklist’ — Getting the political parties to come out of their closets was hard enough, now the candidates are flying below the radar so that there is a ‘safe’ time for them to appear publicly. The political scene faces a dearth of potential candidates and reasons are many, but no one would have guessed it to be a ‘tit for tat’ situation. The lead up to the next election is set given the rise of two new parties this year and a probable fifth one rumored to make its debut soon. But where are the candidates? Political pundits say the one thing that has not seen any growth so far is the enabling environment for the aspiring political candidates. It is the fear of being perceived as a political opponent by the ruling government that has made them hide from the public eyes, say the few that The Bhutanese talked to. However at the same time, it is also to some extent a party’s willingness to disclose as well, which they feel is too soon to be done owing to its budding stage.

Jo Stiglitz and UN-DESA say USD reserve management and government deposits in banks exacerbated rupee crisis — The Nobel laureate said that Bhutan’s USD reserves is too high with low yields creating more debt through rupee borrowings and that government deposits in financial institutions fuels credit growth. Noble laureate Professor Joseph Stiglitz pointed out weaknesses in Bhutan’s monetary (banking and financial regulation) and fiscal (government expenditure and taxes) policies that are also major causes of the Rupee crisis. This was further underscored by senior representatives of the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), yesterday, present at the same forum on macroeconomic policy here in the capital. Professor Stiglitz and the UN-DESA representatives made the recommendations amidst an impressive array of luminaries including Prime Minister, Jigme Y Thinley and the cabinet ministers among others. While speaking on the overall macroeconomic policies and challenges for Bhutan, professor Stiglitz also highlighted the issue of the Indian Rupee (INR) shortage.

Kuensel Online, 30 May 2012

Nobel laureate certifies it’s not crisis — The word “crisis” to describe the current issue of Rupee crunch the country was faced with, Professor Joseph Stiglitz said, was a “misnomer”. That confirmation, coming from an economist, a Nobel laureate and a professor at Columbia University in the US, came as a breather. A breather for people, who were unsure if the country was in an economic crisis of a sort, and particularly to the government that has been continually reiterating it was a problem, and not a crisis, per se. Crisis, Prof. Stiglitz went on to elaborate, could occur, when countries spent on consumption far beyond their means, and lenders then demanded the borrowed money back.

BBS, 30 May 2012

RTI Act- Is it needed? — Should Bhutan have Right to Information Act or RTI? Experts have been called in to share experiences on how RTI actually promotes democracy and public participation in governance. A two-day seminar is underway in Thimphu to create awareness among stakeholders on RTI. The RTI, in many countries, is looked as an important tool for assuring public participation in governance. However, the government indicated that RTI is not a priority.

BBS, 31 May 2012

Need to share more news within SAARC — Fifteen representatives from media organisations within the SAARC region recommended that there should be a common platform and a web portal to increase cooperation among news agencies of SAARC. The representatives, attending the three-day seminar in Paro, said it would allow sharing of accurate and authentic information and news within SAARC. It is also expected to support objective reporting on SAARC related issues.

Bhutan and Bangladesh can trade more — The business delegation from Bangladesh met with the Prime Minister, Jigmi Y Thinley today. Speaking to the delegation, the Prime Minister said Bhutan and Bangladesh already share a good relationship. He said the visit by such delegation will help further promote the relation between the two countries, especially in area of trade and commerce.

No vehicles in core Thimphu every Tuesday — With effect from June 5, coinciding with the World Environment Day this year, every Tuesdays will be observed as vehicle free day in core Thimphu area. The vehicle free day is mainly initiated to save environment, reduce traffic congestion, avoid the ever rising fuel price, and to control the major outflow of Rupee. It is also to encourage healthy living. On an average Nu. 26 million is being spent every day on fuel. As per the recent national green house gas inventory submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, transport sector has been one of the major contributors to green house gas and projected to increase substantially every year.

Bhutan Today, 31 may 2012

DNT’S PRESIDENT IDENTIFIED — The Druk Namrup Tshogpa (DNT) is beefing up for the 2013 elections by confirming candidates and looking for more. Additionally, many people from around the country have expressed their interest to be party workers. Moreover, the party’s president has been identified. This was underlined by the party’s spokesperson, Dr Tandin Dorji, who said that party workers will be registered after the party is formally registered with the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB).

GOVERNMENT WON’T BACKTRACK: LYONPO ZIMBA — If the people of Bhutan are well-off and living their lives above the poverty line it is because of the expenditure that the government made. Moreover, the government will assure that the pace of development is maintained by providing credit to the private sector. The Minister of works and human settlement Yeshey Zimba said during the discussions revolving around the Rupee issue at the convention center here on Tuesday. However, Lyonpo Zimba cautioned that there should be regulation. “We should go for selective credit facility,” he said, adding that government was streamlining the financial system, due to which credit has been suspended.

WEAPONS DEFINED THE GNH WAY? — The increasing numbers of stabbing cases – reported and those compromised – indicates that most of our youth carry knives and daggers. While some that this paper talked to are ignorant about the consequences of carrying such weapons, there are others who know that the amended Penal Code of Bhutan (PCB) gives them more room to carry and use it. Section 487 of Penal Code of Bhutan (2004), considered the offence for displaying a weapon a felony of the fourth degree – minimum three years and maximum five years of imprisonment. However, the amended one has segregated weapons into two groups; fire arms and others.

Kuensel Online, 31 May 2012

All but 3 of 59 hopefuls get past first hurdle — Of the 59 applicants, who took the third functional literacy and possession of skills test conducted by the election commission last week, only three could not make it through. Initially, a total of 79 applicants had registered for the test that was arranged in preparation of the local government elections in the 68 constituencies left unfilled after the two rounds of election last year.

Wrong about right to information — Certain sections of Bhutanese society, including our legislators and a few journalists, are bent on thinking that it is the media that is more interested in the right to information legislation. Therefore, this push to introduce the law at the earliest. But as experts of RTI from the region and the US, who made up the panellists at the ongoing two-day awareness seminar on the subject, spoke from their experience in their nations, and through studies, said a majority of the users were the average citizens and villagers.

Crying need for a common platform — A common platform and a web portal has to be created to increase cooperation among news agencies of SAARC, it was recommended at the end of a regional seminar in Paro, yesterday. The creation of a common platform and web portal is expected to allow sharing of information and news on social, political, cultural, economic, and sports issues within SAARC.  It is also expected to support objective reporting on SAARC-related issues.

Are we ready for RTI yet? — Whether the time was right to introduce the right to information legislation in the country was what dominated the discussion at the ongoing two-day awareness seminar on RTI yesterday at Terma Lingka resort. On one side were the Bhutanese participants, comprising a few members of Parliament, civil servants, media spokespersons representing various government agencies, and reporters, who quizzed a panel of experts on RTI from the region. It was mostly with scepticism, and a sense of apprehension, that participants viewed the introduction of the law in the country any time soon.

Kuensel Online, 01 June 2012

Tuesday – Time to reduce your carbon footprint — On Tuesdays, roads across the country will have more people walking than cars plying on them. In a move to remain carbon neutral, the Cabinet yesterday decided to observe Tuesdays throughout the country as Pedestrians’ Day starting June 5, to coincide with World Environment Day. “Tuesdays will be a day when Bhutanese citizens would seize the opportunity to contemplate the fragile nature of our precious Himalayan mountain ecology and make a small contribution,” the press release from the Cabinet stated. “This will also be a day Bhutanese all over will walk for their health and promote joy of walking, together with friends, family and colleagues, and thereby promote interaction and community vitality.”

BBS, 01 June 2012

His Majesty appoints new NA secretary general — His Majesty the King conferred Dakyen to the new Secretary General of the National Assembly at Tashichhodzong in the capital, today. Kinzang Wangdi, the former Sarpang Dzongdag, has been appointed as the Secretary General of the National Assembly. Kinzang Wangdi was granted a patang and white kabney without fringe, as ex-officio symbols of office. According to the Article 2 section 19 (n) of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan, the Druk Gyalpo shall, by warrant under His hand and seal, appoint the Secretary General of the respective Houses on the recommendation of the Royal Civil Service Commission.

Bhutan Observer, 01 June 2012

Alcohol control act in sight — An alcohol control act may be in the making. Ministry of Health (MoH) is leading a group of stakeholders to pave the way for the act. At a stakeholders’ meeting on the implementation of National Policy and Strategic Framework on the Harmful Use of Alcohol last month, the participants recommended that the policy on the harmful use of alcohol be submitted as a bill in the parliament. The policy and strategic framework, which will soon be presented to the cabinet, aims to reduce the harmful use of alcohol systematically. The meeting decided that a lead agency will be soon identified at the highest level of the government to implement the policy effectively. The agency will comprise representatives from the prime minister’s office, cabinet secretariat, GNH Commission and MoH.

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