- December 12th, 2020
- 539 views
December 10, 2020
The construction of the 500kW mini-hydro power plant in Lunana would start next year, according to Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma.
Lyonpo informed this while responding to a question from the Gasa Member of Parliament (MP) Dorji Khandu during the question hour in the National Assembly. The MP asked about the funding status of the proposed mini-hydro project in Lunana.
Dorji Khandu said that the government had allocated Nu 7 million (M) in the financial year 2019-2020 to conduct the Detailed Project Report (DPR) of the mini-hydropower project.
The DPR, prepared by the Druk Green Power Corporation, states that the estimated total power demand for electrification of 187 households in 11 villages and institutes (existing and upcoming) is about 500kw exclusive of Wachey village.
Lyonpo said that considering the climatic conditions in Lunana the project would take two years to complete—until the first quarter of 2023.
The estimated cost for the project, Lyonpo said, was Nu 663.55M.
“The project detail was submitted to South Korean Government’s official development assistance programme (ODA),” Lyonpo said.
Lyonpo said that electricity coverage in the country was not 100 percent because of protected areas from where the overhead power lines could not be taken.
In places without access to grid electricity, solar photo voltaic system would be installed, Lyonpo said.
- November 13th, 2019
- 838 views
Laya Run, considered one of the most scenic high-altitude run in the world, has become a crucial part of the Royal Highland Festival. But the run’s popularity among the highlanders has been decreasing.
This year, only two Layaps participated in the run. Choki, a lone female participant from highland was awarded winner for the second time this year.
Highlanders feel that the run should be for the people of the highlands. All top eight winners of Laya Run this year were from the armed forces.
This, a runner from Laya said was demotivating for the highlanders. “We already know who are going to be the winners.”
Sangay Wangchu has won the run for the third time. This year, he came third.
He said he deliberately ran late this time to give the opportunity to the new participants.
“I feel that the participants are not happy to see me win every year. I will not participate next year because I would be preparing for the international snowman run,” said Sangay Wangchu.
Former Laya Gup Kinley Dorji said that the highlanders should host the festival instead.
He also said that the Laya Run should be only for the highlanders and for others. “The highlanders are demotivated to take part in running competition because they know that they cannot compete with other runners.”
The event would be unique if the run is only for the highlanders, he added.
National Council representative from Laya, Dorji Khandu, said that the whole purpose of the Royal Highland Festival was to attract tourists and national participants to visit Laya. The run, he said, is one of the most important attractions.
“I can sympathise with the highlanders. But what is more important is to attract as many participants from outside the highlands,” Dorji Khandu said.
He said that Laya Run, like any other activity of the festival, should not impose any restriction. “There are street vendors from other dzongkhags.”
Laya Gup Lhakpa Tshering said that the run should not be restricted to anyone. “We should in fact be happy that the participation is increasing by the year. ”
Some say that the natives of the highland have the advantage; they are not able to win the run because they often do not prepare adequately.
Choki said that she did not have time to practice. “But I walk every day through the valleys and over the mountains. I think my daily chores prepare me for the competition.”
Ninety-three runners took part in the 4th Laya Run on October 23.
There were runners from India and the US besides seven different countries.
Phub Dem | Laya
- November 13th, 2019
- 833 views
Oct 28, 2019
In its fourth year, the Royal Highland Festival has come as a boon for the people of Laya Gewog in Gasa. Locals say the annual festival has contributed significantly to boosting the community’s socio-economic conditions.
Otherwise a quiet village, Laya turns into a hub of celebration once every year. People from all walks of life gather to celebrate the Royal Highland Festival, a festival that showcases innovation and exhibits the highlands as the pride of Bhutan. Highlanders from around 10 districts take part in the annual event.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering graced the opening ceremony of the festival this year.
It is around this time layaps are the busiest. Many host guests in their homestays while others are occupied at the festival marketing local products to the visitors. The hiring of horses is another trade that is most lucrative during the festival.
“The income from hiring depends on the number of horses one owns. People earn between Nu 10,000 to 50,000. Similarly, those running homestays make around Nu 30,000 to 70,000 during the festival. Moreover, the event has helped significantly in improving hygiene in the locality,” Lhakpa Tshering, the Laya Gup, said.
“Compared to past years, the festival has improved and we are receiving more number of participants and visitors. We get an allowance for bringing our cattle and horses to the festival. Although it costs the government paying us, for the highlanders, the festival has benefitted immensely,” Kinley Dorji said.
“We set up stalls during the festival which helps us make some extra money. I already sold many of my products to the visitors this time. I feel the festival has brought positive changes in our community,” Leki said.
According to the National Council member of Gasa, the festival has also encouraged people to stay back in their village.
“We are aware of the problems of the absentee household or rural-urban migration in other districts. But here in Laya gewog, we do not face such problems. Instead, the number of households here is increasing annually. Our people’s lives have changed positively after dealing with visitors,” MP Dorji Khandu said.
The two-day festival, which was held last week, also celebrates and promotes the culture of yak rearing. Yaks are brought from as far as Trashigang during the cattle show. They are adorned with various ornaments highlighting the richness of culture and traditions in the highlands.
The programme also consists of a 25-kilometre run, Laya Run, dance, music food, and other sports.
Besides being a good source of income, the Royal Highland Festival also helps preserve the age-old traditions of the highlanders. Various indigenous songs and dances are performed during the event.
A gift from His Majesty The King, the Royal Highland Festival was introduced on 16th October 2016 to mark the birth of His Royal Highness the Gyalsey, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal’s arrival into the country in 1616AD and Rabjung, 60 year-circle of Guru Rinpoche’s birth year.
- March 22nd, 2019
- 943 views
Mar 20, 2019
The third generation mobile network (3G) has finally reached Lunana, one of the most remote gewogs in the country. At mid-day on 16th March, Bhutan Telecom successfully launched the 3G network, which will benefit six villages in Lunana Gewog of Gasa.
Otherwise difficult with a 2G network, the upgraded network made possible to share the visuals of the launch from the highland.
Faster mobile Internet network has reached the remote community ahead of grid electricity and motor-able road.
“Even if our parents or relatives are separated by mountains, with BT’s 3G network, we can have conversations like they are near. We will also get to update with the latest news in the country every evening,” Dawa Penjor from Tshozhong, said.
“Now we can play WeChat and do video calls. It has become really convenient. Before, we couldn’t even connect a regular call properly,” Tshewang Tashi said.
It took three days for Bhutan Telecom technicians to install the equipment for 3G. The initiative is part of its corporate social responsibility.
The office spent about Nu 5 M for the project, which includes the charges for hiring helicopter service to transport equipment.
The general manager of BT’s marketing division said, “It gives us immense pleasure to be able to play a role in improving the livelihood of people in the remote areas. By doing so, we believe that we are playing an important role in the attainment of GNH.”
As per the 2017 Population and Housing Census record, about 700 people reside in the six villages of Lunana Gewog.
- September 24th, 2018
- 1,263 views
Sep 14, 2018
The development works at the new Gasa town in Kolikha located about a kilometre away from the dzong has begun.
“We have completed the construction of a waste disposal site and also carried out a feasibility and preliminary survey of an alternative water source at Samjaynachhu because the current source is not sufficient,” Tanshan Bhattarai, the Municipal Engineer, said.
“In the next three to four months, we will complete the pipeline alignment.”
The land in the current town belongs to the government.
29 shopkeepers received lagthrams of their plots in the new township last month.
The plots were granted to the shopkeepers as land kidu by His Majesty The King.
“We will now have a permanent place to stay and do business. We are thankful to His Majesty,” Namgay, the town representative, said.
However, the plot owners have to wait for the basic amenities to be in place before they can start constructing houses.
“It might take around two to three years. Only by then, we will be able to provide approval for private construction,” Tanshan Bhattarai said.
The Dzongkhag is planning to develop the new town into a model town.
“All the structures will be traditional in architecture and designs. The houses will be two-storied and constructed with traditional materials like mud, stones and timber,” Dorji Dhradhul, Gasa Dzongda, said.
The dzongda said the present town area below the Dzong will be developed into an institutional area, while the new town will serve as a commercial hub for the Dzongkhag.
“In the commercial area, we will have business-related structures and activities only, and in the institutional area, it will be basically offices and NGOs.”
The over 74-acre new township area will have separate car, taxi and bus parking areas and children’s park among others.
- September 5th, 2018
- 1,109 views
September 1, 2018
The Pioneering First Laya Run
Two years ago, without hesitation and any prior training for high altitude racing, I signed up for the first Laya Run. This would be my second memorable trip to the majestic hidden land of Laya after four years, and just as awe-inspiring as the first, albeit more physically demanding because of its competitive element and the difficult physical endurance of the run. Despite my lack of training, I was happy to complete the two-day 53-kilometre race, and celebrated the accomplishment high up on the festival grounds by participating in many fun and engaging activities, including the strongman/strongwoman race. This pioneering race laid the ground the annual Laya Run, a shorter one-day race that now takes place every year at the same time as the Royal Highland Festival.
The second Laya Run
I was ecstatic when the second annual Royal Highland Festival and Laya Run was announced in early 2017. The initial hesitation of this amateur mountain racer was replaced with excitement at the allure of a shorter 25-kilometre distance with a gain of 2000 metres over one day of racing. The festival organizers thought of everything, from our special Laya Run race jerseys, unique race numbers, luggage transport on horse-back, medical teams to accompany the race, special dinners, accommodation at the Gasa hot springs guest house, home stays in Laya, high energy snacks and refreshments along the route, garbage pits to accommodate trash, special rest tents for runners on the festival grounds, medals and certificates to commemorate our run, and much more. We were very well taken care of throughout the journey.
On the day of the race, we left Gasa hot springs early in the morning in a caravan of cars under the drizzle of rain. The race started from Ponjothong, on the country road that will eventually connect Laya. Inspired by moving speeches and words of encouragement from Gasa officials, and an enthusiastic cheering crowd, 73 men followed by 23 women runners began the stunning Laya race. Beginning with a criss-crossing descent into the valley, we ran along the dirt road to Koina, where we crossed the crystal-clear waters of the Mochu. From there, the route took a sharp climb upwards, followed by several undulating ascents and descents until we reached the white sand and pebbled beaches on the banks of the fast-flowing river. We would cross the Mochu several times, across wooden bridges and planks, and eventually make a gradual ascent to the Taktsemakha army camp. At pit-stops set up every 5 kilometres along the route, Laya run volunteers welcomed us with water, refreshments, chocolate and energizing snacks to help power us on.
The assistance of the Laya Run volunteers was a great blessing, as the soles of my trekking boots gave out halfway through the race. Although I ran 3 kilometres with the soles incessantly flapping up and down as I ran along the mud-filled rocky slopes, I was extremely happy to see the medical officers, race volunteers and the army officers at the 15-kilometre pit-stop, who through bouts of contagious laughter, helped me to reinforce my boots with rope, pieces of cloth and bandages (needless to say, a lively letter is duly being written to the Vasque boot company). It is because of their kindness, support and ability to make me smile after at a point in the race where I thought I might not be able to make it that I was able to complete the race. Demonstrating extreme kindness and generosity, one Bhutanese racer accompanied me during the latter part of the race, as my boots caved in again under a deluge of rain as cold mountain weather rolled in, even though this meant he would have a slower race time. I am deeply grateful to his encouragement and act of kindness, which symbolizes the generosity of the volunteers and our Layap hosts who supported us throughout the event.
The last part of the run consisted of one final descent, followed by a steep ascent up to and through Laya town and the festival venue, Langothang, located at 4,100 metres above sea level. Just as we thought we were nearing the finish line, the route took a sudden circuitous path around and up to the hill overlooking the festival venue, from where we finally ran downhill to the colourful finish line. A cheering crowd awaited us, and we were welcomed with khatas and gold medals, followed by hot tea and lunch as we dried our rain-soaked selves around small bonfires. The champion of the race in the women’s category was Choki from Pazhi chiwog in Laya with a time of 2 hours and 41 minutes. In the men’s category, the champion was Sangay, an army officer from Paro, who completed the race in 1 hour and 59 minutes. Almost all the runners completed the race, except for two. I was happy to complete the run at a time of just over 6 hours, losing an hour or more due to my boots.
The evening following the race showcased dance performances, jokes and songs by famous Bhutanese actors, comedians, celebrities, as well as Layaps during a happy and festive evening of celebration. Despite constant rain, the event drew large crowds who huddled around blazing bonfires to stay warm. The event was once again kindly graced by His Majesty the Fifth King of Bhutan Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, who mingled amongst the crowds, and upon seeing me, greeted me warmly and with great kindness. I was awestruck by his vision and passion for this historic event, which was inspired under the initiative spearheaded by the Gasa dzongdag.
The Third Laya Run Next Month
The third edition of the Laya Run will take place on October 23rd from Panjothong to Laya. Covering a total of 25 kilometres over one day, it is considered one of the most scenic high-altitude runs in the world. This year, the race will feature two competitive categories for both women and men: the open category (under 39 years old) and veteran (above 40 years old). For questions about: the Laya Run, the Royal Highland Festival please visit www.gasa.gov.bt, or contact 16288181, 16288134, 16288127, 16288100 (RHF) and 16288124/16288115 (LR). The third part of this article about the epic Snowman Run scheduled to take place in 2019, for whichthe Laya Run was the pilot and precursor, will appear in the next weekend issue of Kuensel.
Ethical and Mindful Travel to Laya and Beyond
As word spreads about unique and special off-the-beaten-path locations in northern and eastern parts of Bhutan, the Laya Run, the Royal Highland Festival and other unique venues are likely to draw a greater number of foreign tourists this year and into the future. However, the ability to visit culturally preserved communities comes with great responsibility and the need for profound mindfulness. It is also calls for the need for ethical and culturally sensitive travel which sincerely respects local social norms and customs that exist in culturally fragile locales, as well as the importance of treading lightly to preserve and respect local culture, ecologies and spiritual practices of unique, unfrequented areas in Bhutan. To ensure that revenue from tourism remains in Bhutan to benefit the sustainable development of the nation and local communities, means bookings directly with Bhutanese tour operators, ensuring on-line booking apps are Bhutanese owned and operated, and that travel respect sustainability, ethical and non-exploitative principles of tourism that are congruent with Gross National Happiness.
Dr Ritu Verma
Senior researcher and strategic adviser for the Tarayana Centre for Social Research and Development, and associate professor College of Language and Culture Studies, Royal University of Bhutan. Parts of this article were previously published in Tashi Delek, the inflight magazine of Drukair, Royal Bhutan Airlines.
- August 28th, 2018
- 1,143 views
August 25, 2018
The Roof of Bhutan: the Majestic Hidden Land of Laya
Laya, nestled high in the mountains at nearly 4,000 metres, is arguably one of Bhutan’s most stunning and culturally preserved places. Surrounded by euphoric views of mountains towering more than 6,000 metres above sea level, including Gangchen Tag, Tshendegang and Masagang, the majestic hidden land of Laya is as breathtaking as it is humbling.
My love affair with Laya began in 2012 when I trekked, part of the epic snowman trek, from Paro to Jumolhari base camp, Lingshi, Laya, and Gasa. It was hard not be immediately, irrevocably taken by Layaps and their unique pastoralist culture and semi-nomadic way of life in this picturesque mountain valley. A one-day stop on this awesome trek turned into a three-day ethnographic learning experience, one that I will cherish forever. For this was Laya, before the introduction of electricity, television, mobile coverage, internet, corporate-sponsored travel bloggers, and the fast-approaching road that is due to reach the semi-pastoralist town in the next couple of years. A culturally preserved community off the beaten path, it was, and continues to be, an awe-inspiring destination for any conscientious anthropologist or adventurer in search for an authentic cultural experience.
The First Royal Highland Festival
Four years after my initial trip to Laya, with extraordinary and unforgettable memories to reverently reflect back on, I was excited to learn that the very first Royal Highland Festival and pioneering Laya Run was being organised in 2016 (a pilot and precursor for the forthcoming Snowman Run). Spearheaded by the Gasa Dzongdag, the historic event was inspired by the vision and passion of His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, the Fifth King of Bhutan, under the initiative: A Good to Great Gasa.
Perched high on the festival grounds above the main town, the Royal Highland Festival highlights the richness and spirituality of Layap culture and traditions, including clothing, dance, music, handicrafts, food, sports, games, livestock and pastoralist practices. The highlight of the festival was meeting His Majesty The Fifth King, who graced the historical inauguration of the first-ever Royal Highland Festival, as well as the following year. As festival goers sang and danced around massive bonfires that sent bright sparks floating into the crisp Himalayan night under a glittering star-studded night sky, I could not help but pinch myself. What a special place. What an awesome night. What a moving experience. Life would never be the same again.
The Second Annual Royal Highland Festival
The majestic snow-capped mountains emerged as the clouds gently ceded to reveal a fresh sprinkling of glistening snow dusting the stunning peaks and framing the wide-open festival grounds which were dotted with black yak wool tents. Indicating the increasing popularity of the event, last year saw a surge in the numbers of foreign dignitaries, tourists, Bhutanese officials, and thousands of people from all over the country who attended the second Royal Highland Festival. It was a happy and festive celebration of the rich highland culture and pastoralist ways of life, as showcased by Layaps, as well as women, men and children from nomadic communities from Lunana, Merak-Sakteng in Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, Paro, Lhuentse, Haa and Sephu in Wangdue.
With pleasant weather during the second day of the festival, the festival ground echoed with laughter and the sounds of festivities, such as traditional dance performances, strongmen/strongwomen competition, wrestling competition, relay races, children’s activities, cultural tents dedicated to highlighting nomadic artefacts and products, the enticing aroma of Bhutanese cuisine drifting from food tents, and livestock and animal competition showcasing prized yaks, horses and Bhutanese mastiffs, a noble breed of dogs bred only in the highlands.
The comical wrestling competition drew tonnes of laughter as the competitors joked, poked fun at each other and danced and rolled around on the ground in mock combat. I participated in the three-legged race, which literally brought together ankle-bound foreigners and Bhutanese from the highlands and other regions across the country. The festival grounds were a treat for the senses. Every year, highlanders eagerly await the festival to gather and meet friends and family. Tourists get a rare glimpse of pastoralist culture and way of life, and photographers capture heavenly landscapes and iconic portraits of the highlands of Bhutan.
The next day, as the skies opened up to reveal the full impact of the dazzling snow-capped mountains reflected against the warmth of the brilliant sun, set against the clear, deep turquoise blue of the sky, I was saddened that most runners and tourists had already left Laya after the festival, missing the spectacular scenery that was hidden by partially cloudy conditions the day before. For the next three days, I had the opportunity to experience Laya under the warmth of the sun and azure blue skies, without the crowds, and enjoyed the warmth and hospitality of Layaps. During my stay, I learned more about Layap culture, spiritual practices and pastoralist way of life in the context of change brought about by the new-found pressures of modernisation, development, globalisation, climate change and tourism.
Ethical and Mindful Travel to Laya and Beyond
As word spreads about unique and special off-the-beaten-path locations in northern and eastern parts of Bhutan, the Royal Highland Festival and other less frequented venues are likely to draw a greater number of foreign tourists this year and into the future. However, the ability to visit culturally preserved communities comes with great responsibility and the need for profound mindfulness. Several experienced Bhutanese tour operators have been organising trips to Laya and other off-the-beaten locales for many years. Such tour operators are highly recommended for foreign tourists, as they understand the critical need for ethical and culturally sensitive travel which sincerely respects local social norms and customs that exist in culturally fragile locales, as well as the importance of treading lightly to preserve and respect local culture, ecologies and spiritual practices of unique, unfrequented areas in Bhutan. By doing so (right from making bookings directly with Bhutanese tour operators to ensuring on-line booking apps are Bhutanese owned and operated), revenue from tourism will remain in Bhutan to benefit the sustainable development of the nation and local communities, as encapsulated in the holistic alternative development approach of Gross National Happiness – far more robust than conventional corporate social responsibility models that donate a share of profits from tourism to charity, but focus on mass consumerism, limitless growth, and the unequal sharing of profits with local partners and communities. For me, Laya remains a phenomenal place that I have had the honour of visiting three times over the span of half a decade. One of my favourite places in Bhutan, it is deeply special, unique and humbling. Through ethical, respectful, holistic, and responsible eco-tourism, we can ensure that it will remain that way for generations to come.
Epilogue and Prologue: The Third Royal Highland
As I write this, I find myself again drawn to the magic of Laya: I am getting ready to take part in the 3rd Royal Highland Festival and Laya Run. If the first two years of the festival are any indication, this year will be likely be even more enchanting and action-packed. If you have not visited Laya yet, this is a great opportunity to do so.
The Royal Highland Festival will take place in Laya this year from October 23rd to 24th. The festival always happens in conjunction with the much sought-after Laya Run, a 25-kilometer cross-country high-altitude alpine race from Gasa to Laya (taking place on October 23rd).
Contributed by Dr Ritu Verma
Senior researcher and strategic adviser for the Tarayana Centre for Social Research and Development, and Founder/Director of Out of the Box Research and Action.
- August 20th, 2018
- 1,284 views
Jul 14, 2018
His Majesty The King graced the consecration of a Palden Lhamoi Lhakhang in Tenchoe village during the recent Royal Visit to Lunana.
The consecration of the newly restored lhakhang, held on the 6th of July, was presided over by the Dorji Lopen of the Zhung Dratshang.
The restoration of the Lhakang was carried out upon the command of His Majesty during the Royal Visit to Lunana in 2016.
Perched among the highest Himalayan mountains, the new Palden Lhamoi Lhakhang now dominates the Tenchoe village landscape.
The lhakhang houses a goenkhang of Palden Lhamo, the protective deity of Bhutan.
Located at an altitude of over 4,100 meters, locals believe, blessings from the lhakhang will benefit and spread far and beyond the country.
“We have Rabstang, Thothromi, and Lugi lake above our village. This new lhakhang will serve as an offering to those lakes,” Lunana Gup Kaka said.
“I feel the lhakhang will benefit not just Bhutan but the entire world.”
His Majesty granted tokha to over 400 lunaps gathered for the lhakhang consecration.
“This is the third time His Majesty walked all the way to Lunana gewog, sacrificing his wellbeing. We have nothing but gratitude for His Majesty,” Gem Tshering from Lhedi said.
“I am so thankful to His Majesty,” Pema Khando from Tenchoe said.
“He is our Buddha. Before, we didn’t even have a matchstick to light our homes, but now we have solar light and water. I pray for the long life and wellbeing of His Majesty The King.”
“In a remote gewog like ours, and at a time when the monsoon rains are at its peak, His Majesty braved the rain and muddy paths, and climbed to the highest mountains, sacrificing his wellbeing, to come and meet us. I am very thankful. We, the Lunaps, are very thankful,” Gup Kaka said.
While in Lunana, His Majesty offered prayers and butter lamps at the Tsho Zhob Dzong in Tshojong village and met with its people.
His Majesty also met with the people in other villages of Thangza, Dotag, Lhedi, Wachey, and Ramina.
On his way to Lunana, His Majesty met with the people of Sephu in Wangdue and cordycep collectors.
Sherub Dorji, Thimphu
- June 22nd, 2018
- 1,019 views
June 22, 2018
The National Assembly had earlier endorsed and forwarded the Agreement to National Council. The upper house today ratified the Double Taxation Agreement between Bhutan and Bangladesh.
Presenting the agreement to the house, the Finance Minister, Namgay Dorji said by ratifying the agreement, it would strengthen trade and diplomatic relations between two countries. He added by doing away with the double taxation on income would also encourage Foreign Direct Investments.
Although, many of the council members supported ratifying the agreement, few members raised questions on the negative implications of it on Bhutan. Some members also questioned on how different this agreement is from the double taxation avoidance agreement between Bhutan and India.
“While we read the agreement, there is no big impact mentioned but it tells the possibility of small negative impacts too.” said Eminent member, Karma Tshering. ” So, if the Minister could tell the house how big the impact is if there is any?”.
“There are three clauses that are different from the agreement we signed with India. There are two new articles that is article 14 which talks about Independent Personal Services, and article 29 about Miscellaneous Rules.” raised the MP from Gasa, Dorji Khandu. ” But the article about Limitation of Benefit which is in agreement with India is missing in this agreement. It is important to let people know why is it not included.”
To this, the Finance Minister shared that benefits of ratifying the agreement would outweigh the negative impacts. “The first negative impact for us is we have experts in teaching, as doctors and in the construction industry from Bangladesh. Doing away with the double taxation will impact our income, ” he said. “Another impact is on the airlines. Our airlines have to pay tax in Bangladesh currently. Likewise in future, if Bangladesh operates their airlines in Bhutan they will not have to pay tax in Bhutan. That will impact the income for Bhutan.”
The Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council moved the motion to ratify the agreement. The 21 Members present voted for the agreement. The agreement will be sent to His Majesty the King for the royal consent.
Phub Gyem, Thimphu
- June 22nd, 2018
- 924 views
June 22, 2018
Deliberation on the Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) annual report 2017 in the National Council (NC) yesterday saw the good governance committee proposing the house to pay special attention to the commission’s budgetary constraints.
This means that the house of review would provide necessary support and recommendations during deliberations on the annual budget.
To ensure that ACC carries out its mandate independently, the commission in the annual report has highlighted the need for assured annual budgetary allocation that is not dependent on the discretion of the government of the day.
The ACC was allocated Nu 140.78 million (M) for the financial year 2016-17 and Nu 124.28M in 2017-18.
“The ACC has grown in terms of human resources and reach over the years, but the annual budgetary allocation for the ACC has not increased,” states the ACC annual report.
The report states that the tentative capital budget outlay of Nu 75M for the 12th Plan is a serious concern. The indicative budget, according to the commission, is less than the 11th Plan outlay, and below the commission’s utilization capacity.
The ACC adds that the commission had sensitized the Gross National Happiness Commission secretariat on the issue.
“The political will of the country to fight corruption must be demonstrated by, among others, allocating adequate resources and safeguarding the impartiality and independence of the ACC,” the ACC report states. “This calls for measures including legislation to be in place to secure adequate resources for the ACC thus ensuring ethical accountability.”
The committee reported that although the commission has received sufficient resources so far, the budget has been largely dependent on the support of the development partners. The Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) wound up its support to ACC in June 2017.
The government has stepped up its budgetary support to fill the resource gaps in the last three financial years. However, ACC has raised concerns over whether or not it can rely on the government for adequate resources.
The committee also reported that the allocation of overall annual budget for the ACC over the last five years has seen a decreasing trend. The ACC has received not less than 0.2 percent of the total annual national budget.
Gasa’s representative Dorji Khandu said that ACC and GNHC should hold a consultation for allocation of resources.
Bumthang’s representative and member of the good governance committee, Nima, said ACC’s financial security should be strengthened. “Lack of adequate budget will affect the ACC’s ability carry out its functions,” he said.
Complaints received against local governments have consistently been the highest over the past years. The report shows that 81 out of 305 complaints received in 2017 were against local governments.
The member from Trashigang and deputy chairperson of the committee, Lhatu cited lack of adequate human resource and increasing workload of gups as some of the reasons behind the high rate of allegations against local governments. “Gups remain busy in works such as receiving government officials. We need to reduce the number of government officials visiting gewogs,” he said.
Chhukha’s representative Sangay Dorji said that the complaints were indicative of awareness among people and that it was a good sign.
“Corruption cannot be eradicated immediately. But with awareness, the incidences of corruption will decrease gradually,” he said.
The member from Mongar, Sonam Pelzom, said that awareness among people should be created.
The committee reported that given the increasing financial authority devolved to the local governments, the committee stated that transparency and accountability system in the local government functionaries must be strengthened.
Abuse of functions by public servants top the list of types the basis of allegations. A majority of complaints were reported in Thimphu and Chhukha dzongkhags.
The committee proposed that the ACC carry out targeted interventions to address corruption allegations against local governments, abuse of functions, and the two dzongkhags, which have the highest complaints.
- June 20th, 2018
- 1,002 views
June 20, 2018
The joint sitting of the Parliament adopted the Audit Bill 2017 yesterday.
The joint committee with 12 members from the two houses submitted their recommendations for the 17 disputed clauses of the Bill.
The Speaker submitted the Bill to His Majesty The King as a disputed Bill after the two houses could not agree on the clauses.
Before the deliberations began, National Assembly Secretary Sangay Duba read out His Majesty’s command to resolve the differences and to adopt the Bill through a majority vote.
An intense debate followed as to whether to keep or delete section 15. The section proposed by the joint committee stated, “In case of the decision of Parliament on national budget is delayed, Ministry of Finance shall provide the authority with interim funds, which has be at least equal to the previous year’s current budget.”
National Assembly member from Panbang, Dorji Wangdi, said that the Constitution is clear on the budgetary rights of Constitutional bodies such as the Royal Audit Authority (RAA). “There is no need to mention it in the act again,” he said, adding that the Election Commission of Bhutan Act and Anti-Corruption Act contain the section, which was a mistake. “We should stop this from becoming a precedent.”
Foreign Minister Damcho Dorji said: “The Constitution does not say that the authority should be given interim budget, and keeping it in the Bill would tantamount to violation.”
Finance minister said the section does not add any value to the Bill so it can be deleted.
Khar-Yurung MP Zanglay Dukpa said the word interim could be replaced by current budget as the ECB and ACC acts also do not mention the word interim.
National Council members from Gasa and Lhuentse argued against removing section 15 and urged the House to endorse the recommendations of the joint committee.
Gasa MP Dorji Khandu said that there is need to harmonise the laws. “How can we treat this Bill as different from the ECB and ACC acts?” he asked.
Lhuentse MP Tempa Dorji said that the contents of the Bills should not be left to the whims of the lawmakers. “If the section is removed, it will have great bearing on the motivation of the employees working with the authority, which is the least of our intentions.”
The section was retained but the House decided on deleting sections 14 and the entire chapter on establishment of the advisory board of the authority.
Other sections included section six, eight, 17, and 18.
Section 17 of the Bill gives the authority the power to determine its organisational structure but in consultation with the Royal Civil Service Commission and can administer it independently.
Section 18 states: “The authority shall have independence and powers to regulate appointments, management, and dismissal of its staff other than the auditor general in accordance with the Civil Service act.”
The joint committee conducted detailed discussions on June 11 and 13 and unanimously adopted the Bill. Of the 69 members present, 62 voted in favour of the Bill; five abstained and two voted ‘No’.
The Audit Bill originated from National Council as a private Bill and is expected to give the authority more functional independence in planning, programming, investigation, and reporting its findings.
- June 19th, 2018
- 1,018 views
June 19, 2018
The National Council (NC) members raised questions on the government’s respect for the house after the deputy chairperson, Samdrupjongkhar NC member Jigme Wangchuk submitted that the government did not respond to the 20th session’s resolution on providing legal aid to indigent persons.
While some members of the house said they should seek a verbal answer from the Prime Minister or a written response, the house yesterday decided to seek a written response from the Prime Minister.
Jigme Wangchuk explained that the discussion of providing legal aid to indigent persons surfaced during the budget deliberation of the past sessions, as it was found that although the government allots separate budget for the purpose, it has never been utilised.
The 20th NC session stated that an indigent person, according to the legislative committee, is a person who is poor, helpless and needy and who cannot afford the services of a lawyer for the conduct of a case or a legal proceeding.
The deputy chairperson submitted that the then NC chairperson submitted the final resolution with eight provisions to the Prime Minister on December 20.
“It was then followed by several reminders,” he said.
Jigme Wangchuk said although there was no formal response, it was understood that there was no response since the government is about to dissolve and there is no cabinet secretary or director. “We also understood it informally that the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is preparing a guideline.”
Haa NC member Ugyen Namgay said providing legal aid to indigent persons is important, as it would help in the uniform application of law and justice.
Eminent member Phuntsho Rapten also said that he is not satisfied with the government not responding on the issue, as providing legal aid to an indigent person is mandated in Article 9 section 6 of the Constitution.
He said the NC worked hard on the issue for more than five months and deliberated on it. “It also indicates a lack of respect between the two houses, as NC is mandated to provide check and balance to the government.”
Eminent member Karma Tshering said he was the deputy chairperson for the legislative committee then and he was not satisfied with the government choosing not to respond to the report. “Besides seeking a verbal or a written response, NC should also ensure we submit the report to the new government.”
He said OAG has framed a guideline for the service and the report was in line with it.
Bumthang NC member Nima said the NC not only looked into the provisions that mandate the service but also studied international practices before drafting the resolution and submitting to the government.
“We have also informed the people about the service when we visited the constituency and people are looking forward,” he said. “The government should at least inform on the status of the report.”
Gasa NC member Dorji Khandu submitted that if justice should prevail for both rich and poor, legal aid to indigent persons is a must. “If a rich and a poor person are involved in a court case, the rich would be represented by lawyers and the poor person would not be able to have a lawyer. Providing legal aid to an indigent person would help in such cases.”
He said the government might have either ignored the report or could have been busy with work. “It is important we seek a prompt response from the government.”
Punakha NC Lhaki Dolma said NC should seek a response from the government in this Parliament session and if there is no cabinet secretary and director, those officiating should respond.
The house decided to forward a written query to the Cabinet.
- June 11th, 2018
- 1,130 views
April 30, 2018.
Mobile network made its way into Laya in 2010, five years before electricity did. The highland community is now only months away from getting 3G service.
The service is expected to be introduced by October this year.
Teachers at Laya Lower Secondary School believe access to faster internet will help bring about a sea change in the teaching and learning process.
“It will be beneficial for both the teachers and the students,” Phub Gyeltshen, a teacher at Laya Lower Secondary School said.
“It will help the teachers in expanding our knowledge, which will have positive impacts on the quality of education.”
Thinley Rabgay, another teacher, echoed the same feelings. “Access to internet in our school would aid teaching and learning process immensely,” he said.
“Students can explore on their own to gain a broader understanding of the topics taught in classes. Teachers can do the same, which will help us teach better.”
Young people in the village too are looking forward to receiving 3G service. “We will be able to keep track of all new things,” Leki Om said.
Bhutan Telecom (BT) is the only mobile service provider in Laya. “We have transferred all the fibre cables to Laya, and after July, we will procure all required equipment and start installation works,” BT’s Gasa Officer In-Charge Penjor Gyeltshen said.
“Our work will complete before the Royal Highland Festival.”
Bhutan Telecom will carry out the works with support from the Department of Information Technology and Telecom.
Sherub Dorji, Laya