In a historic and friendly debate held on 23 December, the Sangbaykha constituency candidates, PDP President, Tshering Tobgay, and BTP’s candidate, Sonam Penjor, engaged in insightful discussions addressing crucial issues facing the nation. The debate, characterized by mutual respect, shed light on the candidates’ visions for the country’s future.
A key highlight of the discussion was the question posed by BTP candidate Sonam Penjor regarding the hardships faced by civil servants. Tshering Tobgay emphasized the importance of prioritizing civil servants in the country’s development. Addressing the issue, he emphasized the crucial role of budget allocation, specifically focusing on the significance of salaries.
Additionally, he disclosed the PDP’s commitment to facilitating access to loans for first-time home purchases or constructions. Mentioning the need for reform, he spoke about reviewing the pension policy to eliminate service years as a requirement for eligibility. To enhance the overall professional growth of civil servants, Tshering Tobgay pledged to implement a comprehensive professional development program.
Addressing concerns about job satisfaction, Tshering Tobgay pledged to review salaries, introduce awards for service recognition, and implement a professional development program for all civil servants.
Discussions also took place concerning the regularization of contract teachers, with Tshering Tobgay emphasizing the importance of engaging stakeholders in discussions about the advantages of transitioning contract teachers to full-time positions.
Tshering Tobgay additionally shared his party’s commitment to reducing the interest rate for housing loans to 4 percent. Recognizing the expertise within the civil service, he underscored the necessity to value and respect these professionals.
Responding to queries about the absence of a commitment to a salary increase for civil servants in their manifesto, Tshering Tobgay clarified that the party intends to reassess salary hikes for civil servants based on the country’s economic conditions. He affirmed the party’s readiness to implement salary increases if the country’s economy shows improvement.
BTP candidate, Sonam Penjor, emphasized on the imperative to enhance the country’s economy. He advocated a strategic focus on hydropower projects, as outlined in the BTP manifesto, aiming to launch additional hydropower initiatives totaling 8,886 MW. These projects, spanning large, small, and alternative renewable energy sources, are intended to be implemented through efficient and mutually beneficial operational approaches.
In addition to hydropower, Sonam Penjor addressed various societal concerns, including the need for improved road connectivity, access to clean drinking water, the establishment of child daycare facilities, the formulation of policies for the elderly, and addressing apprehensions about declining fertility rates.
In response to Tshering Tobgay’s inquiry about BTP’s pledge to improve fertility rates, Sonam Penjor discussed the importance of a growing population for economic vitality. He outlined the BTP’s commitment to introducing a yearly Alu Sarkey Tendrel Thue of Nu 15,000 for all newborns up to 18 years, contingent on the stability of the country’s economy.
President Tshering Tobgay discussed the necessity for tax reforms, emphasizing the importance of reviewing and adjusting taxes over time, including land tax, house tax, and income tax. He stressed the need to consider people’s capacity to pay, also noting the dissatisfaction of people with heavy land taxes in Thromde. He expressed a desire to reassess land tax policies, suggesting that, despite Bhutan’s upgrade from an LDC, diplomatic budget support could still be sought before gradually increasing taxes.
He highlighted concerns about the significant increase in vehicle taxes, stating that continued hikes may render vehicles unaffordable for the public. Tshering Tobgay underscored the role of stable hydropower projects in facilitating tax reforms, linking taxes with people’s income, and income with the country’s economy, and emphasizing the necessity to enhance the overall economic situation before implementing significant tax changes.
Sonam Penjor focused on revising the pension policy. The BTP aims to supplement retiree pensions with additional funds and provide financial support to older individuals unable to work, recognizing their past service. Sonam Penjor detailed plans to revise pension schemes based on the annual inflation rate and basic cost of living, aligning with the BTP manifesto. Additionally, he shared the pledge to introduce universal basic income (Phamai Drinlen Zurpho) for non-pensioner senior citizens above 65 years.
In response to a question from Tshering Tobgay about whether old age pension applies uniformly to all civil servants, Sonam Penjor clarified that it depends on their basic pay. The applicability of the pension varies, as some civil servants earn only enough to cover their needs during service.