Let me share some of my thoughts as the economic affairs minister of the Government.
- Our rivers are our most important resource. Since 1974 when we first signed the Memorandum of Understanding on hydropower cooperation with Government of India, we have harnessed 1606 MW of Hydropower. We are presently constructing 3658 MW of Hydropower with 3 projects at the advanced stages of completion. Five hydropower projects are in the pipeline to be constructed – 2585 MW Sunkosh, 770 MW Chamkharchu, 1125 MW Dorjilung, 180 MW Bunakha and 570 MW Wangchhu will add another 5230 MW when complete.
The work is on to study the DPRs for Chamkharchu-2, Kurigongri, and several others. While we will be constructing hydropower projects, the carrying capacity and the health of our economy to ensure diversification is the key to how we implement the projects. 100% of our electricity comes from clean renewal hydropower and 99.6% of our country is electrified. That is a great achievement for a Least Developed Country. Bhutan Sustainable Hydropower Policy continues to guide our hydropower development.
- On diversification of economy, the government has already started work on it and will give greater impetus during the 12th Five Year Plan formulation and implementation. The five jewels of our economy will continue to receive greater care and focus as enshrined in the EDP 2017 but other important sectors like ICT, Construction, industries, etc will receive importance as well. The government is currently building 756 acres industrial park in Jigmeling, Gelephu; 350 acres industrial park in Dhamdum, Samtse; 150 acres industrial park in Motanga, Samdrupjongkhar; and Bondeyma industrial park in Mongar. Although we often discount the contributions from our industries, it is in the excess of Nu. 10 bn annually.
MoEA is also working on identifying small and sustainable industrial parks in each Dzongkhag to encourage industrialization of the districts.
One of the main reasons for constructing the double lane roads for East-West and North-South highways is to create conducive environment for economic diversification and to reduce inequalities in our society. The double lane roads together with district roads and blacktopped Gewog Center roads, and ever increasing farm roads connecting most villages of the country will be an enabler of the economic diversification.
Correcting mismatch between supply and demand in Bhutanese agriculture market with excess vegetables in rural villages and total dependence on import of vegetables to quote an example will reduce inequalities. The government is supplying power tillers to every Chiwog, reducing interest rates and creating institutions like Rural Enterprise Development Corporation to enable better and cheaper access to financing for our rural people. There government is ensuring zero taxes for people doing business in the rural areas, opening central schools in rural areas to improve quality of education and providing free electricity up to 100 units to people living in the rural areas. The government is giving utility vehicles to each of the 205 Gewogs, Nu. 2 million annual grant to each Gewog and Nu. 7 million annual Dzongkhag grant to each dzongkhag without any intervention by the central government, etc. These are some of the policy initiatives of the government to empower people through Wangtse Chhirpel and reduce inequality.
The Government has signed the most liberal trade, transit and commerce agreement with our most important trading partner, India.
- Minerals have been seen to aggravate inequalities in our country. MoEA is finalizing Mines and Minerals Management Act revision and Mineral Dev Policy to bring predictability and enhancement in allocation of mines and minerals in the country, and thereby spread the benefits of the national wealth to all citizens. The government has increased the royalty charges and mineral rents since June 2016 despite resistance to it. The intention of the government under the hardworking and well meaning Prime Minister is genuine and for the people of this great nation.
Under the government Bhutan has achieved economic growth rates of 5.7% in 2015 up from 2.06% in 2013. Corruptions perception index as per Transparency International has improved from 33 in 2013 to 27 among 190 countries in 2015.
Bhutan is the highest ranked nation in Ease of doing business in South Asia at 73 in 2016 and the government is committed to doing everything possible to enhance this rank.
CNN has recently dubbed Bhutan one of the 17 countries must-visit in 2017. Bhutan has ranked consistently in the top 10 for happiness Index. I am positive that Bhutan under the benevolent guidance of Their Majesties the Kings, and the government under PM Tshering Tobgay is committed to enhance the happiness of its people and is going in the right direction.
I would encourage people to give us feedbacks and constructive criticisms so that we serve our people well and fulfill the mandates given to us by the people.
By lyonpo Lekey Dorji
The writer is the Minister for Economic Affairs and the views published are his own.