The government will resort to aggressive awareness programmes on the harmful effects of tobacco to offset the impact of lifting the ban, according to Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji.
During the deliberation of the Tobacco Control (Amendment) Bill in the National Assembly (NA) yesterday, he said that the rules and regulations are being strengthened for sale and consumption of tobacco and tobacco products in the country.
The Bill seeks to lift the sale, distribution and import of tobacco and tobacco products for commercial purposes. The ban on cultivation, production and manufacture of tobacco remains.
The foreign minister said, “The lifting of the ban does not mean that tobacco products will be available everywhere.” He added that shops in the vicinity of institutions like schools and lhakhangs would not be allowed to sell tobacco and that sale tobacco to persons below 18 years of age will not be allowed.
Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said that the government would also encourage consumers to quit tobacco by encouraging the use of products like nicotine chewing gums.
Gangzur-Minjey MP Kinga Penjor said that shopkeepers should not be allowed to display tobacco products to reduce the impact of the lifting of the ban. “We have to control the visibility of tobacco to prevent people from being tempted to consume it and government agencies should make rules and regulations accordingly,” he said.
The House also deliberated the Tax Bill 2021, which seeks to do away with the 100 percent sales tax on tobacco products.
The proposal has been made so that tobacco is available at the cheapest rates possible and shopkeepers and consumers do not resort to smuggled products.
MPs supported the amendment of both tobacco and tax Bills. However, Drametsi-Ngatshang MP Ugyen Wangdi said that the customs duty on tobacco should also be removed for equity in implementation of the law.
“Tobacco products imported from across the border will be tax-free. But if people import tobacco by air, then they would be paying customs duty,” he said, adding that such provisions would create discrepancies.
The deliberations in the NA on the Tobacco Bill and the Tax Bill concluded yesterday. The Bills will be put to vote today.
The Bills will be forwarded to the National Council (NC), which will send them back with or without recommendations to NA. A joint sitting will be called if disputes arise between the two Houses on the Tobacco Bill during the ongoing session.
The Bills were introduced on June 22 as an urgent Bill. Introducing the Bill in the NA, economic affairs minister Loknath Sharma pleaded that all the sins of amending the tobacco Act befell him and that all the merits befell on the king, country and the people.
The Act also prohibits buying tobacco or tobacco products in the country, but the Bill repeals the clause.
The clause in the Act, which states that possession of tobacco or tobacco products without proof of tax and duty payments or beyond the permissible quantity and type determined by Parliament is illegal, will also be repealed.
The permissible quantity for import of tobacco or tobacco products per month are 800 sticks of cigarettes or 1,200 sticks of bidis or 150 pieces of cigars or 750 grams of other tobacco or tobacco products. This will be repealed.
The Act is being amended in view of increased tobacco smuggling cases, which officials say is the main cause of Covid-19 transmission in southern dzongkhags.
Edited by Jigme Wangchuk
Joint sitting endorsed Lhengye Zhungtshog 2020 Bill
Yangchen C Rinzin
Despite concerns shared by many members on the dilution in the functioning of Cabinet Secretariat, the Joint Sitting yesterday endorsed the Lhengye Zhungtshog Bill 2020 with the new Chapter on the Cabinet Secretariat.
According to the new Chapter recommended by the Joint Committee, the government may establish Office of the Prime Minister (PMO), but within the Cabinet Secretariat. This is in contradiction with the National Assembly’s recommendations to have PMO headed by the principal secretary.
The new Chapter also requires PMO to be adequately staffed with specialised professions.
However, the Joint Committee recommended that the Royal Civil Service Commission shall provide specialised professions from the civil service. The Bill also states that in an event, if certain professionals are not available within the civil service, such professionals could be recruited on contract.
“But the contract recruitment should be as per the Civil Service Act of Bhutan.”
This means the PMO cannot politically appoint staff according to the vice-chairperson of the Joint Committee and National Council member from Haa, Ugyen Namgay.
“In absence of legislation the recruitment of staff to PMO during past two governments brewed controversy. Keeping this in mind the Committee came up with the Chapter to strengthen the manpower.”
He added that in the event of absence of certain specialised professionals are not available within civil service, the PMO can recruit such professionals on contract, but as per the Civil Service Act.
The Bill states that the remunerations, allowances and service conditions of these employees will be governed by the Civil Service Act and other relevant laws and not determined by the Prime Minister like past experiences.
In addition to existing Chapter 3 of the Lhengye Zhungtshog Bill, the Joint Sitting also endorsed that the Prime Minister in consultation with the Lhengye Zhuntshog shall nominate officials in the regional and international offices.
“For this, the Lhengye Zhungtshog shall prescribe procedures for nomination,” the Bill states.
National Council eminent member, Phuntsho Rapten, said that it was important to ensure that allowing such chapter to have PMO within the Cabinet Secretariat would not cause dilution in the functioning of the Cabinet Secretariat or concentration of power in the PMO.
However, the Joint Sitting endorsed all the recommendations from the Joint Committee and adopted the Lhengye Zhungtshog Bill of Bhutan 2020 with 55 “YES” votes.
With this, the 1999 Lhengye Zhungtshog becomes obsolete.
Although some members opined that there was a need for clear definition of disaster or kinds of emergency specified, the House also endorsed that as per the Bill the quorum for sessions shall be at least two-thirds of its ministers’ members. However, an exception may be made in the event of natural calamities.
It was also proposed that a member of the Lhengye Zhungtshog shall respect the apolitical nature of public service servants.
It was also endorsed that the Lhengye Zhungtshog shall be dissolved following the completion of the five-year term of the National Assembly in accordance with Article 10 (24) of the Constitution.
However, the Lhengye Zhungtshog shall continue office until the appointment of the interim government in accordance with Article 19(3) of the Constitution.
“But the Lhengye Zhungtshog during that period shall not be entitled to take any policy decisions or enter into any agreement with foreign government or organizations,” the Bill stated.
Edited by Jigme Wangchuk
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Mass testing will help decide whether to further relax, restrict, or impose lockdown in Mega Zone 2 in Phuentsholing, according to the Southern Covid-19 Task Force (SC-19TF).
However, the mass screening, including eventual relaxation, restriction, and lockdown will be decided after 72-hours (black out phase) lockdown and contact tracing.
Just five days after more relaxations were announced in Phuentsholing, the Megazone-2 went into a 72-hours lockdown yesterday.
The decision came after six Covid-19 positive cases were detected from the community.
The cases were discovered after two individuals from the heart of the town tested positive at the flu-clinic.
After the two were found positive, the entire building was screened. Four more tested positive. The six of them are from two families in the building.
Kuensel also learnt that one of the six positive cases had not been tested during the last mass screening, which commenced on June 10 and concluded on June 17. However, other family members had all tested and came out negative during the screening.
Considering Mega Zone 2 was mass screened at the last among the three mega zones, and the incubation period (of three to five days), they could have been exposed to the virus between June 18 to June 19.
Mega Zone 2 covers areas such as Core 1, Core 3, Core 4, and Rinchending Zone.
As per records shared by the SC-19TF, as of yesterday, Phuentsholing saw 345 cases since April 16.
The Mega Zone 2 alone has seen 147 cases (excluding the cases from primary contacts in the quarantine facilities), which is almost 50 percent of the total cases that were detected so far.
The task force chairman, Sonam Wangyel, pointed three primary reasons as to why positive cases are still detected from Mega-zone 2. Compliance issue is one.
“It is due to residue from the last mass testing. I think there are some who did not turn up for the mass testing,” he said.
Positive cases are also emerging because there is a high concentration of business places and activities in Mega Zone 2. And most of the quarantine facilities are located in Mega-zone 2.
Sonam Wangyel said: “By now, we all know that in order to protect oneself, we must use face masks properly, wash hands with soaps regularly and avoid gatherings even in a small crowd of three people. Practice these and make it a daily habit.”
However, the task force advises all to stay home as far as possible. Along with yesterday’s positive cases, others in the recent past confessed that they visited friends when the lockdown was relaxed.
“One local resident had not come forward for the mass testing organised recently. There may be others also who must have avoided intentionally despite our appeal and our repeated requests to undergo the mass testing,” the chairman said.
The task force underscored that RT-PCR tests are costly and organising mass testing is expensive, requesting to come forward whenever there is a mass testing.
Meanwhile, it is the 70th day since Phuentsholing went into the third lockdown and has not opened fully. On June 19, the bordering town saw some relaxations but Mega Zone 2 still had more restrictions compared to Mega Zone 1 and 3 were given.
Many businessmen, especially shopkeepers in the town, have shared that the prolonged lockdown killed their business.
A businessman, Namgay, said businesses were going through a tough time.
Edited by Jigme Wangchuk
Those driving electric vehicles can now travel across Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Wangduephodrang, Chukha, and Haa without any trouble. They can now plug into the 11 fast chargers and 10 semi-fast chargers that became operational in these dzongkhags yesterday.
A small inauguration ceremony was held for the public charging station in Thimphu, yesterday.
A fast charger can fully charge a car between 30 minutes and an hour. The semi-fast charger takes between two and three hours. A charging station can charge two cars at a time.
The project will install 15 fast chargers and 10 semi-fast chargers in 14 locations across six dzongkhags. However, two charging stations each in Paro and Phuentsholing are incomplete.
Information and Communications Minister, Karma Donnen Wangdi, said due to the pandemic in Phuentsholing and difficulty in sourcing electrical components from Kolkata, four charging stations couldn’t be completed. “However, we expect to resume the remaining work soon.”
Project Manager Phub Gyeltshen said that as people preferred to buy different brands of electric vehicles a customised charging station was required. “In CHAdeMO only Japanese electric vehicles can be charged and CCS is compatible with a certain brand of an electric vehicle.”
However, he said, electric vehicles could be charged at home.
In Thimphu, two charging stations are installed in Changlingmithang, one each in the vicinity of Lungtenzampa and Jigme Namgyal LSS, and Centenary Farmers’ Market. A charging station each is set up in Haa town, Bajo, Khuruthang, and Gedu. In Paro, one charging station is installed in old taxi parking.
Two charging stations in a multi-level car parking building and another in the parking lot near the new lower market in Phuentsholing, one near Tamchog Lhakhang near the Tourism Council of Bhutan’s toilet, and one at Paro International Airport are yet to be completed.
Ten semi-fast chargers are distributed among the 11 locations based on priority. Two semi-fast charger are installed in Changlingmithang taxi parking, one each near Revenue and Customs office in Thimphu, Centenary Farmers’ market, vicinity of Jigme Namgyal Lower Secondary School and Lungtenzampa, Paro old taxi parking, Punakha, Wangduephodrang, and Haa.
Phub Gyeltshen said that it was equally important to install charging stations in other dzongkhags. He said Nu 69 million for charging stations is an approved activity under the 12th Five year Plan. “ The amount is approved in principle.”
Edited by Tshering Palden
Kelzang Wangchuk | Nganglam
The Nganglam Drungkhag Covid-19 Task Force (DC-19TF) in Pemagatshel declared lockdown in Nganglam Throm following the risk after profiling clustered Covid-19 positives cases in the Dungsam Cement Corporation Limited (DCCL) premises yesterday.
This is after completing the 72 hours blackout period.
The DC-19TF has declared Dhob bridge until the Gashari Bali checkpoint, including the Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) and DCCL colonies, Tshenkari, Dungsam Polymere Limited (DPL), Sokporong, Rognowang and Kangrize as the red zone.
While Army Pokto until Dhob bridge, including Khalaktangzor, Tshojab, dratshang, Drungkhag Court, drungkhag area, and Drangsajab are declared yellow zones and the three gewogs in the drungkhag are announced as a green zone.
According to the notification issued by the DC-19TF, no movement of people and vehicles would be allowed in the red zone, while the DCCL and DPL shall operate strictly in self-containment mode, and ferrying of raw materials and finished products should be carried out in bubble mode.
The DCCL management shall collect the essential items from the Dhob bridge and distribute them to the DCCL colonies and all the containment areas, while the DPL chief executive officer and BPC manager shall collaborate with the Tshenkari tshogpa and cater the remaining areas.
The schools in both the red and yellow zones shall remain closed, but the teachers should facilitate online teaching during the lockdown.
The notification stated that although the movement for vehicles is restricted in the yellow zones (Nganglam Throm-zone I and zone II), people can move with their movement cards to purchase essential items only from the shops identified by the DC-19TF.
People are allowed to move with their movement cards to ensure they have easy access to essential items during the lockdown and carry out crucial activities without compromising public health safety.
Each zone has three shift movements for two hours: morning 9am to 11am, afternoon 12pm to 2pm, and evening 3pm to 5pm. The movement card shall be carried by one member from a household only at a time. The card is not transferable.
The identified shops should display the price board for essential items, mark prices for all goods, pre-pack essential items to reduce the contacts, use Druk Trace App, or record in the visitor’s register and encourage internet banking usage.
The shops in the green zones will be allowed to replenish stocks from their respective zones but shall be delivered until the buffer between the yellow and green zones.
Strategised mass testing for the yellow zone will begin on June 26 and on July 10 for the red zone.
Edited by Jigme Wangchuk
Much to the disappointment of many following the Mines and Minerals (Amendment) Bill 2020, the Speaker’s decision to decide the fate of the Bill in less than two hours came as a shock. What is surprising is the indefinite deferment which comes after extensive effort in framing the Bill, deliberations in both the National Assembly and National Council and after six meetings of the joint committee in two years.
NC had been vocal about their stand. They argue upholding the Constitution and ensuring that wealth from the mining sector benefits the people of Bhutan. Article 1.12 of the Constitution, which the NC refers to, vests ownership of the mineral resources in the State. It also includes resources that the NC is ready to let the private sector mine like stones or boulders.
NA or the government initially wanted the State to operate strategic mines and auction non-strategic mines to the private sector. There was also a proposal to divest up to 49 percent to private shareholders. Assembly members are unhappy that the media, swayed by NC’s narratives, is not doing justice to the issue.
The NA conducted public hearings in all mining sites and concluded that the affected community should accrue the benefit through public and equity shareholding. They didn’t want a state monopoly. NC’s proposal, however, also did not shut the private sector out of the mines and minerals business. Private sectors could participate in the operation of it. However, available data show that those in the mining sector are not representative of the whole private sector. Only a few are milking the benefits of the lucrative mining sector.
As a small country battling the widening gap of inequality, excessive wealth concentration in the hands of few is an emerging problem. Income and wealth disparity has an immense impact on social justice and harmony in the country.
The government was bold to table the Bill, but not in passing it. Allowing Parliamentarians to vote on whether the Bill should be deferred or discussed would have cleared many suspicions, including the perceived interests from lobby groups. Notwithstanding the outcome of a vote, the joint sitting session had the opportunity to vote.
A start had been made with the government already allocating a few mines to the State Mining Corporation Limited. What was it that the government, represented by the ruling party in Parliament stopped the Bill from discussing?
For the Department of Geology and Mines, the umbrella authority over the management of mines and minerals, the moratorium of not accepting any new applications for mining lease, the deferment of the Bill, if it is only for a year, might not make much difference.
Parliamentarians should use the time, as they referred to as the cooling period, to understand and ensure the important economic jewel benefits all citizens and not just a few. The two houses should be least bothered about who will take the credit for amending what has now become a controversial Act.
Legislation for the benefit of all Bhutanese, after all, is their primary duty.
… farmers planning to grow more this winter
Tshering Namgyal | Mongar
The vegetable farmers’ group in Jangdung village in Mongar, that is picking the last remains of the chilli planted months ago, had a bountiful chilli season.
The group expects about 300kg of chilli from its last harvest.
The group is uprooting the stalks to empty the field and ready for paddy cultivation.
The 19-member-group, Geza Duejung Tshogpa harvested, 3,263kg of hybrid green chilli (SHP-2884). Of that, members reaped and divided 234kg for self-consumption.
The group earned more than Nu 600,000 so far.
According to agriculture officials, the production for such hybrid chilli lasts until September for one season and can bear fruit for up to three years if the plants are preserved. However, the production rate declines with age.
The group planted chillies on two and half-acre paddy fields using mulching on trial last winter. They raised the nursery in October, transplanted it in December last year and collected the first harvest in April this year.
Tsenzabi-Masangdaza tshogpa Sonam Dema, who is also a member of the group, said the members are happy with the success and that the group was planning to double the area under cultivation this winter.
“It’s labour intensive and needs much care but we’re happy that our hard work is rewarded,” she said.
Jangdung winter chilli plantation programme is one of the activities carried out through the economic contingency plan (ECP). It was expected to cater to the rising demand for chilli in the dzongkhag mainly in winter.
Similarly, winter chilli was grown by a Tsakaling farmers’ group at Litishong which also harvested about five metric tonnes from the 10-acre field.
The 15-member-group decided to plant chilli on fallow dry and wetland using a mix of conventional and mulching techniques.
The group sold about 2,500kg earning more than Nu 700,000 while the rest was consumed or donated.
The programme was initiated with technical support from the gewog agriculture extension.
Gewog agriculture extension supervisor Sonam Delkar said it was an ad hoc programme and the group plans to expand this winter making it a technically well-established system with a proper irrigation system and fencing.
“A trenching of a kilometre pipeline with the gewog support of Nu 0.147 million was completed recently, and we’re planning to include fencing and reservoir construction this financial year,” she said.
Vegetables from these villages were mostly sold in Mongar, Gyalpoizhing, and Lingmethang vegetable markets. The surplus was sent to Trashigang and Lhuentse. Early harvested chilli fetched them Nu 500 a kg and the price has dropped to Nu 100 these days.
Edited by Tshering Palden
Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue
For the past three days, residents of Bajo have been carrying jerry cans walking to the nearest water source to bring drinking water home.
Some have travelled to Menchuna, others to Rinchengang, some to Rabuna, and a majority to the nearest drupchu above Bajo town. Some had to make do with mineral water.
Bajo’s over 12,000 people didn’t get water on the evening of June 19. On June 21, they were supplied water for a short time. On June 22, there was no water until late evening.
A resident of Bajo said that drupchu was crowded. “For cooking we have to go to get water. We get water right now but it isn’t drinkable.”
A bar owner said: “Others are taking their cars and going to fetch water. I had to take a taxi to Rabuna to bring water.”
Wangdue’s Municipal Engineer, Sangay Lhamo, said that due to heavy rains, the water canals were filled with sand and blocked. Around 13 municipal staff also went to clear the sand out of the channel on Sunday (June 20), she added. “It took the staff the whole day to clean it.”
The cleared canal was blocked again on June 21. Although there are nets to filter twigs and leaves, when the stream overflows, sands fill the canal.
A Bajo resident, Kuengaa Dorji, said that the water crisis continued in Bajo even after the installation of bore water near taxi parking. “Residents have to pump water in their building.”
Murky water in taps of Bajo town is a usual sight during monsoon. A water filter was installed in 2012 to provide clean water to residents.
Sangay Lhamo said that turbidity at the current water source was really high.
Dzongkhag has also been proposing for a new water source since 2015.
The current water source for Bajo residents comes from Baechhu, which flows from Baelangdra. During monsoon, water from the road and from irrigation fields in Kazhi gewog flows into Baechhu.
As the water flows downstream, an open canal diverts water from Baechhu for the residents.
The municipal has identified a water source in Wakhashong, located around 25km away from Bajo. Designs and clearance work are under process.
Edited by Jigme Wangchuk
… school-going children walk hours to school
Seven-year-old Kezang Dema, living in Begana walks more than two hours to Kuzhugchen Middle Secondary School (KMSS) every day. Her parents drops and picks her from the school. As soon as they reach home, Kezang Dema complains of being tired and collapses on the bed.
This has been the routine for almost two months now. About 20 students in Begana take a long detour to reach school after the bailey bridge that connects Begana chiwog, under Kawang gewog with the Pangrizampa-Kabesa road was removed in February.
Between March and April residents and students used to cross the river by a wooden bridge constructed by the residents with support from the Department of Road (DoR). With the on-set of monsoon, the wooden bridge was washed away.
The bailey bridge, built in 1985 with a carrying capacity of 20 metric tonnes (MT), was supposed to be replaced with a steel composite bridge with 70MT. As a temporary measure, a steel footbridge was supposed to be constructed by May. The residents are growing anxious about the slow progress in the construction of the temporary steel footbridge.
The school, gewog offices, and the primary health centres are across Thimchhu opposite Begana.
Residents said the bridge was important to them and it was removed before a temporary bridge was constructed. Earlier, they used the bridge and reached the offices and school in less than an hour on foot.
Residents who have vehicles use the alternative route via Pangrizampa-Kabesa road to visit the offices and school.
There is a suspension bridge at Changtagang, which is downstream from Begana and closer to Kabesa. School going children of Begana use this suspension bridge to reach school. The distance between the suspension bridge in Changtagang suspension bridge and Begana is four km. The children after reaching the suspension bridge have to climb uphill to reach their school which takes another 20 minutes.Parents are worried that their children have begun to hate going to school. They begin walking to school at 6:30am and arrive by 8:20am.
Children complained that they could not concentrate in class because they were tired and reached home by 6pm.
“I hope the suspension bridge is constructed as soon as possible,” one of them said.
Jigme Norbu’s three children study at KMSS. Dinner time has not been happy for the last two months with all the family members exhausted. Jigme Norbu and his wife take turns to pick and drop their youngest daughter who studies in class one.
Two families from Begana have rented a place in Kabesa. One of them, Leki Tshering said although he did not earn much to pay two rents he didn’t have a choice. “Moreover, it is summer and the path is muddy with rain. I could not bear to see my children covered in mud and drenched.”
Chief engineer with Regional DoR Office Thimphu, Chador Gyeltshen said they felt for the residents of Begana and that they had been trying to import prefabricated beams for the temporary steel footbridge from Kolkata. “It is expected to reach within two days.”
Assistant engineer Phub Kinley said as of 4pm yesterday materials entered Bhutan after completing formalities with the Indian customs department.
He said the I-section beam had been stranded in Jaigaon for over three weeks. “After many requests and fulfilling the approval procedures we finally got the approval to bring in the I-section beam to Thimphu.”
Chador Gyeltshen said that the bridge could be launched within three days after the materials arrive.
Edited by Tshering Palden
The joint sitting of the Parliament on June 22 adopted the Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) recommendations of the performance audit report on urban planning and development in Thimphu throm.
PAC pointed out the need to streamline relevant laws and policies with different agencies to address the ambiguity surrounding Thimphu thromde’s urban planning and development.
According to the committee’s findings, although the Thimphu Structural Plan (TSP) is the primary document on thromde’s development, lack of legal mandate and lack of seriousness by principal agencies led to non-implementation of the plans as intended. “The components of the plan were either regularised or authorised by the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement (MoWHS) or Thromde tshogde on a case-by-case basis.”
This, the findings revealed, has created precedent to regularise and authorise other cases.
Lhuentse’s National Council (NC) member Tempa Dorji said that the TSP that is under the ministry’s review and expected to be complete by next year, is good in writing but the implementation has been a failure.
He said that failure is due to lack of planning and coordination among implementing agencies like the divisions in the thromde and the ministry.
He cited the example of how roads are dug up to lay electric lines, water and sewerage one after another. “Poor planning and coordination are draining the national resources.”
PAC findings also reported that there was inaction by principal agencies responsible for implementing the TSP, coupled by confusion over the institutional framework with regard to the TSP resulting in significant deviations from the actual intent of the plan.
The committee recommended the government to table the Spatial Planning Bill 2019 and the need for a holistic urban planning and development framework for Bhutan.
MoWHS Minister Dorji Tshering said the ministry submitted the Spatial Planning Bill to the Cabinet but was instructed to draft the Housing Bill, human settlement plan and residential plan. “We will be able to table the Bill in the winter session.”
Punakha’s NC member Lhaki Dolma suggested relevant agencies to look into exorbitant house rents in the capital.
She said that hiked house rents affected public servants below P5 level, which is 59 percent of the population in Thimphu. “Findings show that 40 to 98 percent of their income is paid as house rent. The policies need to change with changing situations.”
She also said that the landlords did not follow Tenancy Act, which has led to many failures in urban planning and development in Thimphu.
Lyonpo Dorji Tshering said the Housing bill would amend some of the clauses in the Tenancy Act.
The resolutions of the House is referred to the ministry and agencies, who will then report the implementation status of the resolutions in the winter session.
Edited by Tashi Dema
The joint sitting of the Parliament supported establishing road asset and information management system, close monitoring and coordination, and mandating adequate labour and equipment for routine maintenance.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) made the three recommendations to ensure the quality of roads as per Road Act, enhance planning and prioritisation of maintenance and improve the working environment and cost-effectiveness.
PAC made the recommendations while presenting the review report of the performance audit report on road maintenance works on June 22.
The review report was based on the performance audit conducted by the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) on road maintenance works in the Department of Roads (DoR) and its five regional offices (ROs) between 2013 and 2018.
PAC observed non-compliance to the prescribed standards of roads as per the Road Act of Bhutan 2013, as most roads were constructed before the guidelines was framed.
It also found regional officers were ill-equipped in terms of equipment and technical capacity and inadequate monitoring of roads.
Trongsa’s National Council (NC) member, Tashi Samdrup, said PAC’s recommendations were relevant.
He, however, said RAA did not cover the status of all farm roads in the country. “Farm roads lack quality. RAA should do a proper audit on it.”
Today, there are 9,882.2km of farm roads in the country.
Thimphu’s NC member, Tshewang Rinzin, said proper plans and policies are needed to narrow the gap between highways and farm roads in terms of maintenance.
He said rural people whose lands are damaged by farm road construction should also get compensation.
According to Maenbi-Tsaenkhar’s MP, Choki Gyeltshen, some roads are never maintained after blacktopping for more than 10 years.
He said blacktops only last for four to five years. “Blacktopping of Gasa, Trashiyangtse and Dagana dzongkhag roads are not complete today.”
Kengkhar-Weringla’s MP, Rinzin Jamtsho, said that the government should plan road activity focusing on quality, climate resilience, and proper budget allocation.
Works and Human Settlement Minister Dorji Tshering said that the ministry would ensure quality roads.
He said that the ministry would initiate micro-surfacing of existing blacktopped roads to increase their life span, adding that the government had increased the daily wage for the private construction workers from Nu 230 to Nu 460, which would address the growing discrepancy.
Lyonpo Dorji Tshering also informed Parliament members that the Road Safety and Transport Authority had conducted road fitness test of Thimphu-Phuentsholing highway and would conduct the same for Thimphu-Trashigang highway.
Meanwhile, the audit report pointed out that DoR does not have a plan for periodic maintenance works, did not institute formalised prioritisation system and did not carry out periodic maintenance of roads.
It stated that during the financial year 2017-2018, 51 monsoon structures of the 155 planned were not constructed, resulting in under achievement of planned targets by 32.90 percent.
It also stated that 71 structures were constructed by ROs without an approved budget.
Edited by Tashi Dema