A mid-term review for the ruling and opposition parties

The current government is well into the middle of its term and so it is taking stock through its midterm review of government ministries, agencies and the Dzongkhags.

This is an important exercise that brings about a certain degree of accountability in the system and also allows the government to know the areas that require priority.

So far most of the reviews have shown above average results with most agencies meeting their targets or coming very close to it.

However, even the former government had a spectacular mid-term review report from various ministries and Dzongkhags.

Ultimately what matters most are not just the figures achieved but more importantly the quality of the achievements.

A good example here is farm roads which were touted as the main rural infrastructure built by the former government. However, due to the hurried works and poor standards, most of them were unusable during the heavy monsoons of 2013 which also coincided with the General Elections. Another example would be the botched domestic airports which either required extensive repairs or rebuilding.

However, more importantly, there are larger issues of economy and good governance that play a very influential role apart from just plan targets and achievements.

On the Economy front there has been more hits then misses for the government partly due to its own efforts and partly down to lessons learnt from the recent past.

The restrained capital fiscal expenditure of the government, visible in its shooting down of construction of even government ministries, has brought spending under control.

The big moves have been in doing away with import bans on car, alcohol, furniture and luxury items and bringing in some taxes while doing it.

Fiscal measures by the government also allowed the relaxing of financial measures making loans more easily available.

The rupee exchange counters of the RMA has dispelled the notion of a rupee shortage and brought parity between the ngultrum and the rupee.

The Construction industry, which was the hardest hit by the 2012 crisis and its aftermath, is booming with multiple jobs.

As result of all of the above and more, GDP growth is up while at the same time ensuring that spending is not out of control.

However, the big miss has been on the private sector front as it is still the weakest link in the economy. Basic and fundamental problems of red tape, poor infrastructure and an unfriendly business environment remain. There is also a growing feeling within the private sector that the government instead of getting out of business is getting more into it with new state owned companies.

Employment has seen several schemes from GEP to sending youth abroad. This has ensured employment for many youth but the huge numbers that the government is looking for can come only from a strong private sector.

On the Good Governance front the big positive for the government is firstly in not carrying out any draconian measures that would be unpopular with the public. An example would be the Pedestrian day of the former government. This government, perhaps learning from the experience of the past, is more willing to listen and be amenable to suggestions by the public.

The other big positive is that the government has not embroiled itself in any major corruption scam either collectively or through the individual behavior of its ministers. There is no sense of a patronage system at work. It has also set a good precedent in the way it handled the Lhakhang Karpo case with a sitting minister stepping down.

The negative on the good governance front is that public service delivery still needs major improvement. Two examples will suffice here. One is the long lines in the Road Safety and Transport Office (RSTA) while another is the LPG gas issue.

So if there was an election today to judge the people’s reaction the government may not get the same results of 2013 but it would still win. However, the ultimate result will only be known by 2018, depending on how it does in the next two and a half years that it has left.

In a democratic setting the nature and strength of the opposition also plays a key role in not only the five years of the government but also the subsequent elections.

The Opposition has been vocal and active from day one baiting the government on several issues from its promises to the state of the economy.

The Opposition party also seems to have recovered from the 2013 defeat and is in the process of strengthening itself for 2018.

For a while, there was some speculation that the Opposition party would not come for the 2018 polls or even dissolve before it. This had even raised hopes for the other new parties hoping to get an entry in the 2018 polls.

However, these speculations have been and are untrue as shown by the recent tour of the Opposition leader in various parts of the country.

In fact the Opposition is sitting pretty as it got around 45.12 percent of the votes in 2013 and numerically needs just another five percent to be able to form the government. In fact it only lost in 2013 due to a series of stupendous mistakes that would have destroyed a weaker party.

It still has a strong presence on its stronghold on the east where its grassroots organizational strength is being rebuilt again. This could partly explain the Opposition’s criticism of the ‘Rising East’ issue.

The spectacular PDP win in Southern Bhutan where even two sitting DPT ministers lost seats in 2013 should be more a source of concern and less of comfort for the current government. Given the region’s higher levels of political exposure and awareness there is also a high level of anti-incumbency that runs through the region. So any poor performance by any elected government would mean paying a high price in the south.

The Western and Central regions are also anybody’s game and will all come down to performance by the current government.

The scope for the new parties despite their vocal efforts is limited at best in 2018 due to the nature of Bhutan’s democracy which favors established parties more and does not allow for coalition governments.

So the current government’s ultimate report card will come out in 2018 and it cannot rest easy or it can easily lose the Gyalyong Tshokhang to an active and revived Opposition party. In fact the 2013 polls saw the world’s smallest Opposition party forming the government.

Ultimately political competition among various political parties is the only guarantor that no sitting government, now or in the future, takes things lightly and performs to the best of their ability.

 

“People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.” 

Alan Moore

 

 

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