Not a good sign!

If what is transpiring across the border town of Phuentsholing is any indication, the signs definitely don’t bode well for the country’s economy.

Illegal trade of Indian Rupee (INR) has only ballooned and become more rampant. But what is more alarming is the rate one has to pay to get the limited supply of INR in the market. An individual has to pay Nu 106-108 to fetch INR 100 today, even though the Nu (Ngultrum) and INR are pegged to share an equivalent value.

The existing trade practices exhibit apparently as well that INR is having an edge over Nu in the town across the border in Jaigaon, India. The two different prices for a commodity say it all. For example, the MRP of a commodity in Jaigaon is INR 1,000. An individual can get the commodity at the same price if the modality of payment is in INR. However, one has to pay an extra six or eight percent over the MRP if the payment is in the local currency.rupee

Further, exacerbating the situation are some Phuentsholing residents, taking advantage of the situation. It is easy as well. Avail a VISA card from the banks, sell the INR 15,000 monthly quota, and get a little extra cash in Nu.

No denying, the restrictive measures have been successful in reducing the outflow of INR. Commercial banks are more stringent now with restriction on issuing INR and operation guidelines having been put in place for INR transaction. But a concern is that whether we have really benefited? Have we?

If the present trend is anything to go by, aren’t we paying more than what we should actually? Aren’t the traders from across the border that are reaping the benefits? For instance, the disparities in the value of the two currencies have also helped the traders who come to the auction yard in Phuentsholing from places like Siliguri and Kolkata. These traders throng the illegal exchange counters with INR, exchange that with more of Bhutanese Nu, and buy goods from the auction yard. The more Nu they can buy with the INR at exchange counters, the more goods they can buy from the auction yard.

Now that is not the currency parity we are talking about!

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Why it matters?

Little had Bhutan and its people known about the vagaries of global warming before 1994 despite having had treaded cautiously on the path of development since the 1960s after opening its doors to the outside world.

But the Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) in 1994, triggered by the outburst of the Lugge Tsho which wrecked havocs downstream in Punakha, is still a vivid reminder that Bhutan is as vulnerable as any other countries in the world to the impacts of climate change.environ

People, prior to the unfortunate incident, were in oblivion, oblivious of the reason behind such incident, and the understanding of the scenario. They apparently assumed that the disaster as a mere event where they simply had no control over it, while some believed that the catastrophe was a mere result of the clash or battle of the gods.

The incident was, indubitably, an eye opener for Bhutan, an eye opener for that age and for that time. It was perhaps the dawn of realization that we are vulnerable as well and living on mercy of nature.

The signs are becoming more apparent today. Monsoon patterns are changing and becoming more erratic. The rainfalls that usually bestowed lives to rural farms have started coming late, become more erratic and unpredictable. Additionally, extreme events are observed more frequently – unseasonal rains and drought, windstorms, flash floods and more natural disasters, and once snow-capped mountains have presently huge swathes of exposed rocks now as glaciers and are apparently retreating rapidly. And we are also living in a precarious predicament, never knowing when the 24 potentially dangerous lakes out of the total 2,674 might wreak havocs for the country.

While we may proclaim of having done more than any other country in the world and our mammoth contribution to the environment, the laurels such as champion of the earth and carbon neutral country shouldn’t make us complacent.

The fact is that environment conservation is inevitable for Bhutan despite the challenges. Conservation of the environment is just not for the sake of the environment, but for the sake of Bhutan’s own people and their future. It’s how we survive!

The contrary that is!

Little did Jigme Yonten know then, when he was chosen for a government’s scholarship to pursue Electronics and Communications (EC) engineering program in India, that it wasn’t the end of grueling times for him.

Now that he has finished his engineering program, he has almost all knowledge of the course, except for a job. The reality is that he has been jobless for two years now despite bagging government scholarship after Class XII in a selection process that sees stiff competition every year.

Imagine if this is the condition of a few of those who are chosen for government scholarship, what is happening to those who return after graduation, finding private colleges and universities within and outside the country on their own.

It has been justified time and again that the mismatch of jobs and skills in the job market is the main reason for jobseekers not getting jobs. This statement has been declared everywhere, as euphemism for the reality.

The reality, however, is that even a few slots under the government scholarship don’t match what the present job market demands. What needs to be done or could have been done instead is that these slots should be examined. Isn’t the government also contributing to the unemployment problem by continuing such practice rather than unearthing these mismatches?jobs

It’s notable, nonetheless, that the government is working to address the unemployment issue through programs such as the Employment Guarantee Program and Oversea Employment Program (OEP). Further, the government also has the Economic Stimulus Plan (ESP) that mentions clearly that a criterion to be eligible for the ESP fund centers around employment generation.

And while scores of graduates are being employed through the OEP, certain observers, however, also feel that it’s just a short-term measure. What would they do once these newly recruits complete their contract and return home? Wouldn’t that open the floodgate of jobseekers again?

It, therefore, becoming all the way more important to explore for long-term solution to this problem. We could do that from exploring what are taught in schools, training and tertiary institutes to scholarship slots and jobs that have demand not just within the country, but in the region as well.

Battling against contemporary diseases!

The weeklong blood donation drive and Non-Communication Diseases (NCDs) screening, held in Thimphu and for a day in all the other districts of the country a month back, were relevant given the contemporary times we live in.

The event, held in tandem with global commitment and aspiration to which Bhutan is signatory of addressing the threats of NCDs from 2013 to 2020, was a success if the 2,418 people who voluntarily came up for NCDs screening and 1,029 people donating blood were any indication.

However, there were also some startling revelations that should be reasons for concern. First, it’s the rate of NCDs that continue to be augmenting every year. About 336 people or 15 percent during the screening were found to be hypertensive, and 43 diagnosed diabetics.

Further, what could be precarious are the facts of several reports already claiming that at least 93 percent of Thimphu’s population are exposed to one of risk factors of NCDs, besides the latter still being the diseases that are creating a huge dent on the government exchequer.

Another revelation, subsequently more alarming, is the number of people living with HIV/AIDS. During the weeklong drive, a person was detected HIV positive and 17 were found to have sexually transmissible infections.

As these numbers were derived just from those people who had come for the NCDs screening that time, we could imagine what the actual figure is likely to be. The figure, therefore, is just the tip of the iceberg.

HIV/AIDS is, therefore, a major concern as we are not losing our close and dear ones, but also losing people in the most economically productive and reproductive age group (as per age group distribution of PLWHAs).sex

We may yet vie to have HIV diagnostic testing services available in all places across the country, but what is more wanting now is the awareness on safe sex practices or sex education. Unsafe sex is still the main cause of HIV/AIDS.

Rather considering it a taboo, it’s conceivable, besides the pivotal role of teachers and parents, a curriculum on sex education, where every child is taught that an unprotected sex can kill, will do much better.

Paving a way?

The two government secretaries having had surrendered government quarters following the circulation on housing rules by National Housing Development Corporation (NHDC) last week may be just two cases, but, nonetheless, it’s also an indication of how housing rules of government quarters are flouted, especially by people in the higher ranks of the government. changjij

There have already been reports abound in the media of people in the higher civil service ranks occupying units or government quarters that are meant for people in the lower income group.

While it’s heartening that people in the lower income group are at the centre of the government-housing-units initiative, what merits contemplation is whether they (the intended people) are getting the benefit of such a scheme or plan.

Reports abound of allotment rules being flouted emerged of the housing units in Chanjiji earlier. Perhaps, a similar sort of thing seems to be occurring in other housing units and government quarters as well. Some have occupied or been occupying these apartments for almost a decade or even more, the lower rent being the obvious reason.

Nothing, however, has been done to monitor the practice despite the allotment issues having had surfaced up time and again. It’s, therefore, a good start that NHDC is looking into the rules which it implemented in January last year in an attempt to provide equal opportunity to all the civil servants.

And as the organization envisions of making available around 800 housing units after a few years from now for those in the lower income group, it also becomes necessary to ensure that the benefit trickle down to the these people; some of those who still put up in dingy and ramshackle apartments, and some sharing a common flat – not uncommon among employees in the lower rung because of necessity than choice.

The government secretaries, meanwhile, also deserve some applause for surrendering their quarters and adhering to the housing rules. They could perhaps also be considered as an example to the remaining others who still continue to reap the benefits actually unintended for them. A way has been paved here, albeit a good beginning, but would the others follow suit?

[March 23, 2014]

Facilitating entry is not enough!

The time cannot be more befitting than now. Women have been at the centre of most events this month. And as we are about to embrace the next month, it’s heartening, therefore, that the beginning is with another significant event – a National Consultation Conference on Women in Politics from April 1-2. women

Such initiatives from BNEW and NCWC would certainly go a long way in our efforts to empower women. And there is no denying the significance of women’s participation in a democracy. Even Hillary Clinton once famously remarked – “There cannot be true democracy unless women’s voices are heard.”

These initiatives, therefore, bode well for our democracy as an increased women’s representation in Parliament or local governments for that matter will ensure that women’s voices are heard equally when it comes to making decisions that mostly affect their world.

Women’s representation is presently dispiriting in the Parliament as well as the local governments. Even the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report which was recently launched exhibits that women in Bhutan in elected positions are unfortunately rare – having been reduced from eight to four of the 67 elected Members of Parliament in the 2013 elections.

Further, the report states that women are not yet adequately represented despite positions in the higher levels of government and decision-making being open to both genders and placement of women in the higher strata of government being encouraged.

What is, therefore, going wrong when it comes to women taking political berth or assuming higher offices in the country?

Many purport the notion that politics is a male dominated field – that a man makes a better politician than a woman. Even most women continue to have the same belief as well. This notion should subtly change if women are to make a difference or if this existing number is to change. If instances are anything to go by, stereotypical attitude against women, which is rampant in rural areas, perhaps has also obstructed women from being elected in politics.

More than facilitating women’s entry into politics, what is found wanting for now is attitudinal and behavioral changes against women that stems from the inherited psyche of society. The rest would then follow accordingly.