A vigorous Presidential Debate

Druk Phuensum Tshogpa for equity and justice

Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), said the country’s economic situation will drastically improve if the on-going hydro projects can be completed within a three-year time period. The party pledged to promote a vibrant and sustainable tourism, to explore the untapped potential of the industry by revising the tourism policy to help in the generation of huge employment opportunities. “We will also make sure the benefits from the mining and agriculture sector are shared equally among the people to achieve national economic self-reliance by 2025.”

The DPT President, Pema Gyamtsho, in his opening speech during the first Presidential Debate, said that DPT will be guided by their ideology of Equity and Justice to promote Gross National Happiness at all times. “In order to offer equity and justice to everyone, DPT has three main areas of focus- firstly we will strive to fulfill His Majesty’s aspiration, and we will ensure the security and sovereignty of our nation. DPT will remain steadfast in its pledge to enhancing the peace, harmony and unity among all sections of our people.”

“When the party pledge on equity, people perceive that we are planning to strip wealth off the wealthy section of the people and distribute it with those less fortunate, but this is not what we plan to do.” He said equity means providing equal opportunities for everyone without any discrimination. “For instance, if we achieve better economic growth, everyone will be benefitted from it. That is why we aim to achieve national economic self-reliance by 2025,” which the party president said will be achieved by focusing on hydro projects and promoting sustainable tourism.

Justice he said can be provided by abiding by the laws of the country and improving transparency without involvement of corrupt practices.  “We should also allow the autonomous, constitutional bodies and media to carry out their roles and responsibilities without any interference, whereby, we can achieve a just society.”

The President of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Tshering Tobgay, questioned the DPT on their ideology of Equity and Justice which DPT said can be achieved by maintaining a sound economy. PDP President said the rupee crises in 2013 after economy instability resulted in the import ban of vehicles, and prohibition on the construction of houses. “The current scenario in Thimphu alone records construction of 1000 houses, import of around 30,000 vehicles, bringing down the interest rate on loans from 13.4 percent to 10.6 percent to encourage growth of the private sector.”

“Nevertheless, during PDP’s tenure, despite such measures, we did not face any rupee crisis,” said Tshering Tobgay, and solicited justification from the DPT President on why such an issue arose during their tenure.

The President of Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), Lotey Tshering, said that DPT’s developmental approach has been more of a capitalistic in every aspect rather than socialistic, which he said is not in line with DPT’s ideology of Equity and Justice. “I’m quite skeptical of DPT’s pledge to achieve national economic self-reliance by 2025, whereby it takes around two to three years to even construct a single house. I wonder how DPT will achieve economic self-reliance within four or five years.”

The President of Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) also raised similar doubts on the economic self-reliance by 2025.

Responding to the queries from the three party presidents, Pema Gyamtsho said that it would be unfair to judge the performance during their tenure as the ruling party based on the rupee crisis in 2013. He said the Asian Development Bank presented Bhutan as the fastest growing economy in the Asian region. “The rupee crisis in 2013 should be attributed to the increase in the number of major hydro projects being initiated, and increase in construction activities during that time. We constructed thousands of kilometers of roads, which is the very reason the PDP government was able to distribute Boleros to every gewog.” The DPT President that PDP was able to achieve the economic progress as it complemented the plans and projects that was initiated during DPT’s tenure.

“DPT reduced the poverty in general from 20.4 percent to 12 percent. The poverty rate in the rural areas also decreased from 32 percent to 16 percent during our tenure, due to construction of gewog roads and rural electrification, which is all about promoting equity in the society,” said the DPT President.

Wangtse Chirphel as People’s Democratic Party guiding principle

PDP President, Tshering Tobgay, said that democracy in Bhutan has been exemplary to the outside world and is inspired by His Majesty’s vision. He said PDP has been serving the nation and people with the ideology of Wangtse Chhirpel which is one of the important tools to promote GNH in country. “We have served with humility, putting the interest of the people and the nation above all else with Wangtse Chhirpel as our guiding principle. It believes that policymakers at the central government should only facilitate and help people to organize and implement their aspirations.” He said the principle of Wangtse Chhirpel lies in devolving

power to all the relevant agencies, and most importantly to the local government.

“We have successfully completed the 11th FYP and achieved commendable economic growth. Moreover, we have devolved power and provided resourceful support to the local government which resulted in immense development of the rural areas. I’ve personally visited 205 gewogs and after wide consultation with the people of Bhutan, I observed that due to strong foundation of Wangtse Chhirpel people are happy and content.”

Tshering Tobgay said that people have been forthcoming in expressing their concerns freely during his tenure without any inhibitions as accused by the DPT. He reaffirmed that people in Bhutan are much happier and content than ever. Responding to an allegation by DPT on the repression of press freedom during PDP’s tenure, , Tshering Tobgay said “We have never meddled with media in carrying out their roles and responsibilities, however biased. Rumors are rife that Dawa (the former anchor of the popular BBS talk show- Dawai Kudron and now a DNT candidate) has been going around the villages, crying and accusing the government of sacking him out of his job from the state broadcaster. I was concerned and when I enquired with the MD of BBS, he said that Dawa has resigned voluntarily and even expressed immense gratitude to the management in his resignation letter.”

Tshering Tobgay said that the Nu 2 mn grant provided to the local government annually has been utilized very well, which has led to several developmental activities around the country. He said that people are now seeking accountability and transparency on the utilization of the gewog development fund which is a positive sign.

“After observing that the gewog development fund has been utilized to the optimum, PDP, if elected, promises to increase the grant to Nu 5 mn in the 12th FYP. Moreover, we also plan to provide additional Nu 20 mn to identify projects and utilize accordingly,” said PDP President.

Clarifying on the DNT’s doubt over the dollar reserve, Tshering Tobgay said that foreign exchange reserves have instead increased from US$ 920 mn to almost US$ 1.2 bn of which, Indian Rupee reserve stands at INR 18.6 bn which he said is an improvement since

2012 when the country was still reeling under the impact of the rupee crisis. During that period, Rupee reserves fell to INR 1.5 bn.

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa- narrowing the gap

“For Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa, the unequal distribution of wealth is a major concern, which if neglected, could mean a wider gap. When we say narrowing the gap, people should not be misled into thinking that we’ll devoid the wealthy people the opportunities of growth and create opportunities only for the poor. We only mean that if people become rich because of their talents, hard works, knowledge or inherent skills- we will support such individuals to further grow rich. At the moment we are of view that the wealth is concentrated in the hands of few people because of the discrepancy in some of our policies,” said the President of Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), Lotey Tshering.

According to the DNT President, the gap in providing equal health services is very wide right now, and he pledged to narrow such gaps. He announced that it is important for the people to elect a new government during this election in order to narrow the gap between the haves and have-nots before it is too late.

Responding to the PDP President, Lotey Tshering said that the former government should have solicited critical feedback from the public on the rural services instead of focusing only on the positive side of the story.

Lotey Tshering said that DNT will continue the projects and schemes initiated by PDP and give due credit to them instead of boasting of it as their success. The party president also said that people at the decision making body have been oblivious to such gaps in availing health services, and it never occurred to them to come up with any solutions to solve one.

“If we continue to be ignorant or oblivious to such prevalent gaps in proving health services to our people, the life expectancy of people in rural areas are bound to drop. When I stress more on the health issue, it is not because I’ve a medical background, it is because bringing such issues to the forefront has huge benefit to the people from the rural walks of life,” he added.

Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party- corruption free Bhutan

The President of BKP, Neten Zangmo, said that the party including all the coordinators and supporters have pledged to never engage in corrupt practices, which she said, creates income disparity, favoritism, nepotism among others, and leads to the loss of trust in the system.

She argued that the foundation of democracy in Bhutan is not very strong because there is fear among the people to speak out freely.

“I think it is very important for the party presidents to lead by example and always refrain from engaging in corrupt practices, and take immediate actions if anyone of their member or supporter is found to be engaging is corruption. Same goes for the local leaders and citizen as a whole to curb corruption at root.”

Neten Zangmo said that corruption is quite rampant in politics, and thus appealed to all the political parties and people to refrain from engaging in corruption and to report corruption practices to the authorities in order to build a strong foundation of democracy in the country.

She alleged that some people in rural areas had been misled into thinking that people would know whom they voted for. She called upon people to ask questions to themselves.

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