The first issue of The Bhutanese launched by then CEC Dasho Kunzang Wangdi on 21 February 2012

A look at our biggest impact stories as The Bhutanese completes 10 years

The Bhutanese paper launched with a bang on 21 February 2012, 10 years ago on the 32nd Birth anniversary of His Majesty The King with the then Chief Election Commissioner, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi as the Chief Guest.

2012-2013

Stating our investigative intent from day one, we launched the first issue with the lead story being a 10-acre land scam of the then Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) Vice President Chang Ugyen committed in Lubding, South Thimphu in his capacity as the Gup of Chang.

The then government and Prime Minister gave him a clean chit, but the stories resulted in an ACC investigation and his conviction. It also contributed to other land related investigations in South Thimphu.

The sixth issue on 10 March 2012 had a story on how the timber mafia in India, in collusion with local tribes and corrupt law-enforcement officials in India, were felling logs in the thick forests of southern Bhutan from Samtse to Gelephu to Manas and were transporting it to India. To get an idea, just in February 2012, 37 truckloads and 231 handcarts of Bhutanese timber coming from Manas, Bhutan were seized by Indian forest officials. 

The 14 March 2012 issue carried a story on how the drivers of some ministers were being forced to do household chores and even work in the apple orchards of ministers in Paro and Punakha even on their holidays. Some of them were even paid government DSA.

On the 24 March 2012 issue, the lead story focused on how villagers in Bjemina and Khariphu turned down three quarry proposals by the then Speaker of the National Assembly Jigme Tshultim, Singye Group of Companies and Kinley Wangchuk of Hotel Riverview due to the environmental and water problems faced by villages from current quarries at Namseling, Kariphu and a closed one at Dalukha.

This story was followed up by another one on 28 March which talked about the health impact on TB patients and leprosy patients in Gidakom due to the two stone quarries and one Marble quarry, and another 4 upcoming quarries in Bjemina.

This 28 March 2012 issue also carried a story on the ACC investigation into the Gyelpozhing Land Grab confirming the various facts first brought out by this reporter in some investigative stories while working as the News Editor in Business Bhutan. The case involved almost the entire elite set of Bhutan cutting across political or other divides.

The OAG controversially later declined to prosecute the case which this paper criticized, and the ACC had to prosecute the case on its own after winning a case in court on its right to do so.

The then Prime Minister accused this paper and writer of attempting to be the ‘prosecutor, jury and judge’ in the case.

The case was convicted by the Mongar Dzongkhag Court which was upheld by the High Court and Supreme Court. It resulted in the then Speaker and Home Minister being ineligible to contest for the 2018 elections.

On 31 March 2012, the paper started a three-part investigative series of a till then confidential High Level Committee report into excess land registration in Thimphu. 186.45 acres had been encroached by 48 mainly influential individuals and they were allowed to replace land from other Dzongkhags. The report named all the above individuals who again represented the top sections of society from all possible camps or factions and political sides.

It also involved 274 individuals occupying 262 acres of government land in the extended municipal area.

The case was also about how 170.64 acres of community Tsamdro were illegally transferred to 29 Judges and Court officials. This paper named all of them. The paper also named the Dzongkhag and National Land Commission officials involved.

On 21 July 2012 the paper carried a story on the lowest bidder not winning a Nu 44 mn City Bus tender with the winning company belonging to the son-in-law of the then Prime Minister.

The Denchi Land Compensation Scam was the lead story on 11 August 2012 followed up on 23 August and 25 August, and it essentially focused on how the cabinet illegally approved three times the land compensation rates of the government Property Assessment and Valuation Agency (PAVA) rates of 2009 with the main beneficiary being the Prime Minister’s Aunty.

The land was for establishing the Denchi town. The same courtesy was not extended to the residents of Duksum town in Trashiyangtze.

On 12 January 2013, the paper questioned the several generous concessions being granted to Education City project far in excess of what other projects in the country or in the region were getting. The government was pumping in Nu 479 mn, not taking an equity stake for the 1,000 acres land, giving a 100% tax holiday till 2030 and only taking 2.01% revenue of the project and 50 acres land.

The involvement of the Prime Minister’s son and nephew in the project did not help matters.

A few months later in June 2013 the paper carried a story on how cabinet ministers or their spouses owned land not very far from the Education City project.

On 13 March 2013, the paper did a story on how government offices and even corporate offices made a beeline for buildings owned by sitting ministers or their spouses.

Prados was the main focus on the 24 April 2013 issue as the paper reported on an office order from the Finance Ministry that allowed ministers to keep their Prados and office equipment like lap, printers, I pad and mobile phones bought for office use. The Prados would cost the new government around Nu 52 mn to replace them.

On 27 April 2013 the paper reported that while the Prime Minister took a public stance against mining, his own family members operate and applied for multiple mines.

2014-2017

The 31 May 2014 issue of this paper roundly criticized the civil service pay hike by the PDP government coming at a time when the economy was still in trouble, and also the generous pay hike for ministers and others where the salary of the PM and Minister’s increased by 78 percent.

Stung by the criticisms, the PM pledged to donate Nu 50,000 of his new salary to charity every month.

This was followed by the 14 June 2014 issue that criticized the MPs for passing an entitlement bill that gave then more perks and salary than what the Pay Commission recommended.

The paper later pointed out how unfair it was that while MPs have an unlimited vehicle quota a 180 percent tax had been imposed on all high end luxury vehicle imports.

On 16 August 2014 The Bhutanese did the first ever investigative story on the Lhakhang Karpo case involving the Foreign Minister Rinzin Dorjee when he was the Haa Dzongda, which went even beyond the ongoing ACC investigation to the point that the ACC decided to do some additional investigation.

The paper in its editorial called on the PM to ensure that there is no interference to try and protect the government’s image and the case is prosecuted by the OAG. The Minister who stepped down was exonerated by the Supreme Court. 

From 4 October 2014 onwards, The Bhutanese did a series of stories on an illegal Nu 240 mn commission by BHEL for a Bhutanese company BVT from 2010 onwards for supply of electro mechanical equipment in Punatsangchu II and Mangdechu. The investigative stories resulted in an ACC investigation which said that the hiring of the agent is wrong and asked for their removal.

On 29 November 2014, this paper did another investigation into a private monopoly explosives dealer which had both a PDP candidate and a former DPT co-founder and had controversially got a license in 2010 without any bidding or transparency. There were also safety issues. The license was cancelled.

The same issue also questioned why the PDP had not implemented its 18-point draft code of conduct for MPs and Ministers where they can be removed by the PM on the recommendation of the party’s executive committee for major breaches of conduct.

Prados were again the lead story in 14 February 2015 when the paper pointed to the fact that MPs from both parties had ordered Prados and were even driving them before their quotas were even approved, as the Entitlement Bill had not yet received Royal Assent.

On 22 August 2015, this paper did a story showing how Nu 6.603 bn in fiscal incentives from 2010 to 2014 went mainly to big business houses and the government.

From 10 October 2015 the paper highlighted the case of the eminent traditional medicine master Dungtsho Sherab Jorden who had contributed a lot to traditional medicine in Bhutan and helped establish the traditional hospital, but was now not being allowed to practice traditional medicine by the Medical Council. After widespread outrage, the Medical Council Board allowed him to practice in December 2015. In the same month he was awarded the Druk Thuksey for his services to the nation by His Majesty The King on National Day.

In 23 January 2016, the paper did an investigative story of how 16 fake Indian lottery companies are posing as Bhutan Lottery since the original Bhutan Lottery was shut down in 2011. These companies did billions of business in Bhutan’s name and would pose a challenge to restarting the Bhutan Lottery in India again.

In 28 January 2017, the paper investigated the fast growing Bhutanese pilgrimage package to India organized by local operators as a Bhutanese pilgrim died in a road accident and several other pilgrims complained of ill treatment. The story resulted in new regulations and stricter monitoring.

The Bhutanese investigated the National Film Awards in its 11 March 2017 issue as there were allegations of impropriety in the selection of the three best films that won Nu 1 mn each over issues of criteria change by the Bhutan Film Association that benefitted the films of the board directors and other issues. The ACC investigated the issue and also found malpractice in the selection of the films.

From 17 June 2017 onwards, this paper did a series of stories on how consultancies in Bhutan are engaged in human trafficking sending Bhutanese girls in Kuwait and other middle-east countries with promises of good pay and good jobs only to be paid minimal amount for a lot of work, their passports were being seized and they were being subject to abuse.

On 29 July 2017 the paper did an investigative story behind the systemic lapses that led to a Nu 576 million Over Draft loans fraud in the Bhutan Development Bank Limited.

2018 – 2022 February 

In 14 April 2018, the paper did an investigative story to show how the Vice Principal of the Bjemina primary school arrested for molesting 9 school children had been convicted for rape in 2004 as a government teacher, but he managed to hide this and got a job at the school.

On 6 October 2018, the paper did a story on how more than 600 Bhutanese youths are trapped in a Ponzi scheme in Siliguri that falsely marketed itself as renowned fashionable garment dealer and trapped many Bhutanese youths with their family savings. Bhutanese officials took action on the issue.

From 15 December 2018 onwards to 2019 The Bhutanese launched a series of investigative stories on the  Japan ‘Learn and Earn’ scheme where the Labour Ministry helped send 735 students to Japan from April 2017 onwards taking a loan of Nu 700,000 each to take Japanese language courses and ‘earn and learn’ while studying too.

The private company,  Bhutan Employment Overseas (BEO) which took the money and sent the students painted a rosy picture of good money and jobs, but the reality was 2 Bhutanese students dying, 1 coma case, 2 paralysis cases, 30 TB cases due to poor diet and overwork, two mental breakdown cases and many trauma cases. Most were not doing well as the tuition fees was very high, there were no jobs or poor quality jobs with their salary cut due to illegal commissions collected by the Japanese partner agent and no proper accounting of how the Nu 700,000 was spent.

There was also active collusion by the Labour DG Sherab Tenzin in facilitation of an illegal license for BEO, ignoring student complaints and instead defending BEO. The paper also criticized the DNT government for its robust defence of the DG and inaction. The investigative stories led to an ACC investigation and RBP investigation and currently both cases are in court.

The stories also first brought out the case of 27-year-old Sonam Tamang who was 99.9% brain dead due to an illness while working there. This lead to a lot of social media attention and donation drives until Sonam passed away later.

From 27 April 2019, the paper started a series of stories on how Brand Bhutan and the concept of high value and low volume tourism was under threat as Bhutan was being sold as a cheap destination in India, cheaper than even mass tourism sites in India. Packages were being sold as low as Nu 999 a day inclusive of hotel, breakfast and vehicles.

This eventually resulted in the government coming up with the Nu 1,200 per day SDF for regional tourists.

 On 31 August 2019, the paper carried the story of how a one month and 14 days old baby died in Lajab BHU in Dagana as the local ambulance was out of fuel. The story generated a lot of outrage and a review of how ambulances are managed in 20 Dzongkhags by the MoH.

On 21 December 2019, the paper did a story on how Bhutan’s national football team members only get Nu 10,000 per month as the salary. In February 2020, His Majesty through a Royal Command to DHI increased this to Nu 30,000 per month for 30 national players.

From 18 January 2019 onwards the paper did a series of stories on Bhutanese women trapped in Iraq with false promises in tough conditions with some not even knowing they were heading to Iraq.

On 13 June 2019, as the controversy raged over the auction of the Chunaikhola Dolomite mine being cancelled on 1 June, the paper did an investigation and found that the actual price of dolomite in India was around double of what the last private operators JMCL was selling it at. The was proven true when the SMCL later took over the mine and got the prices which the paper reported on.

From 17 October 2020 onwards, the paper did stories on various issues with the PPP Thimphu Thromde Multi Level Car Park which has resulted in an ACC investigation.

The Bhutanese in its 9 and 16 January 2021 issues did two investigative stories that showed how the second outbreak had happened due to an infectious flight, numerous lapses at various levels, weaker monitoring due to the focus in the south, not quarantining the city bus and school drivers who drove positive patients, laxer protocols in transporting passengers and keeping them at hotels, complacency and widespread movement of positive cases.

On the 23 January 2021 issue the government accepted the lapses and strengthened measures around Paro airport.

From the 20 February 2021 issue on, this paper did a series of stories to bring the facts to light on much talked about Criminal Conspiracy and Sedition case involving Khandu Wangmo and others.

This paper from 6 March 2021 launched a major investigation into allegations of corruption in the export and transport of Gypsum. The ACC later investigated the case, but could not collect vital data from Nepal and India and halted the investigation saying it will open the case again if new information comes to light.

From the 15 May 2021 issue this paper did a series of stories on the Penjore Vs OAG case as a major freedom of speech case and also on the powers of the OAG. The Thimphu District Court later threw out the sedition case against Penjore though the RBP with OAG approval filed a separate defamation case which is ongoing.

In the 11 September 2021 issue, this paper also did a story showing that the new Labour Minister’s IT company had won a Nu 81 mn tender in 2020 and so this would be the first minister whose company is implementing a government project. Lyonpo committed to transfer his 80% holding of the company to his family members.

From the 18 September 2021 issue onwards, the paper did a series of investigative stories to show a nexus of journalists, SSB, Customs and a local political actor in Jaigaon extorting Bhutanese exports and even imports into Bhutan and larger corruption in the border area. Some enquiries were started in India on the issue and a major Indian media outlet also reported the paper’s findings.

On 9 October 2021 The Bhutanese brought out and investigated the Sherubtse Harassment case where 10 female students had filed a harassment complaint against assistant lecturer Dorji Phuntsho where the college had taken very limited action. This resulted in a RBP investigation, the suspension of the lecturer and an ongoing legal prosecution.

On 20 November 2021, an investigative story showed how certain cabinet ministers had a second luxury duty vehicle in the form of the Nu 3.2 mn Hybrid Toyota Camry.

In 22 January 2022, the paper did an in-depth investigation of how the Wangdue outbreak happened due to a combination of very infectious workers, the leaking out of the virus from the quarantine center, general laxity, not stopping import of workers when Omicron was spreading in India combined with the decisions taken to bring them to Wangdue due to hydropower pressures.

In the 29 January 2022 issue, the paper started a series of stories on the Enagic Water Ionizer or the Kangen Water Multi Level Marketing and how Bhutanese were losing money in a deceptive Pyramid Scheme where the two main beneficiaries were two Canadians Mike Dreher and Darren Ewert sitting on top of the Pyramid in Canada.

The stories also questioned the questionable health claims of Kangen water. The Office of the Consumer Protection is investigating the case while the Royal Monetary Authority is also looking into it.

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