Who should be held responsible for the INR shortfall? asked Opposition Leader (OL) Tshering Tobgay to the finance minister at the Q&A session in the National Assembly (NA).
The OL said in the last session “When I said there is a problem, the government denied it”.
Today, apart from selling USD 200mn, INR borrowings from government of India (GoI), state bank of India (SBI) and Punjab National Bank (PNB) has collectively reached INR 15bn.
The OL said loans will exhaust someday so will the USD reserves but the government still says there is nothing to worry about. “I am deeply worried because of which it is important to know about who should be held responsible?” he asked.
Finance minister Wangdi Norbu said the entire nation is responsible for such a shortfall. “If you look at what caused the INR shortfall you will also learn about who is to be held responsible for the shortfall”, he said.
He said the current issue is confined to INR shortage and not at all an economic crisis and It is not a solvency issue and it is not that government is unable to repay INR loans.
“This is neither a question of sovereignty nor security of the nation”, he said as a rejoinder to OL’s ‘concerns’.
The current USD reserves would suffice 20 months of essential imports which is beyond the constitutional requirement.
Lyonpo Wangdi Norbu aid few problems may exist or arise as a result of the shortfall but major problems are unheard of as yet.
The NA speaker Jigme Tshultim said the issue is not very serious. “People didn’t die in our country because of the issue”, he said.
The finance minister said hydropower has been the backbone of our economy and will remain so. “Hydropower projects once operational will reap huge revenue to balance trade”, he said.
The works and human settlement minister Yeshey Zimba said the responsibility and accountability falls upon the elected government because of which the government has adopted measures to curb the INR shortage.
He said INR borrowings are necessary and will continue for some years. “If government doesn’t borrow from India, private sector development will be hampered. Private sector is not entitled for grants, loan or aid from foreign countries,” Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba said.
There is no question of national security and INR shortfall will be contained once the hydropower projects are operational.
“In future, if not excess, there will not be a shortage of INR”, he concluded.
The Opposition MP Damcho Dorji said there is too much of dependence on hydropower. The hydropower dams could be damaged by natural disasters anytime which will lead to default of all the INR loans.
“The government shouldn’t be so sure that hydropower will take care of the issue,” said Damcho Dorji who thought the government was perhaps being too optimistic and not being analytical.
The NA speaker questioned OL on who in his view, within the government should particularly be held responsible for the INR shortfall.
The OL quoted Article 14 Section 5 of the Constitution which states that, “the government shall exercise proper management of the monetary system and public finance”, and according to which the government must assume full accountability.
He said that persons within the government must be identified to fix accountability in keeping with the practices of good governance.
Damcho Dorji said “normally when it comes to moral responsibility, first and foremost is the prime minister, second is the cabinet and third is the finance ministry”.
The opposition MPs who spoke to The Bhutanese after the session said they were not satisfied with the answers.
The OL said instead of straight answers the finance minister, and the MoWHS minister, went to great lengths to explain the ‘causes’ of the rupee shortfall, and what the government was doing to address the situation. Neither minister answered his question directly by identifying who should be held responsible for the situation.
Damcho Dorji said the government wouldn’t acknowledge when the issue was raised in the last session of NA. “After the INR crunch worsened, the minister during a panel discussion on live TV said he did not expect nor foresee such a shortage. If that is the case it is a big concern for us”, he said.
He said, the current issue is not like an earthquake or an accident which happens all of a sudden.
“I think the government should at least know the consequences of their own actions”, he added.
He said it is the responsibility of every citizen to contribute to resolve the INR shortage. “But we have entrusted this job to the government and the government cannot throw the ball in our court and say that we are equally responsible. We are not capable of taking care of the macroeconomic affairs of the country that’s why we have the government, the finance ministry, the RMA and finance minister”.
The minority in numbers cited as a reason, the assembly did not deliberate on the issue of who should be responsible for the INR shortfall.