Challenges for the new government

With the candidates and supporters of Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) both calling a win, the results on July 13, 2013 is anybody’s call.

However, irrespective of whichever party that forms the government, be it DPT or PDP, there are several challenges in store.

The biggest challenges will be economic in nature. Any government that comes to power will have to first deal with the withdrawal of subsidy on LGP and Kerosene in Bhutan by India.

Despite the fairly insulated urban middle and upper middle class making bold proclamations of self sufficiency, the removal of the subsidy has hit the hardest on the lower income bracket in urban and rural areas.

If this is not enough, the short term Rupee borrowings of up to Nu 22 bn by the Central Bank and the Nu 79 bn national debt also looms large.

The new government will have to ensure that the credit from banks, which is currently at a freeze, is revived again without upsetting the Rupee balance.

The new government must look at securing the Nu 4.2 bn that is due from India for the 10th five-year plan (FYP) and also secure the Nu 235 bn fund that was pledged for 11th FYP, although there are no concrete commitments as yet.

The target of achieving 10,000 MW of hydropower by 2020 looks more ambitious by the day, given the construction delays and funding issues. The new government will have to take the bull by the horns on this issue to ensure that our hydropower projects meet the set targets without which the goal of self sufficiency by 2020 will remain unfulfilled.

Thus, the new government, in the short and middle term, will have to seek for help from our developmental partners or donors, especially India. The government, however, should ensure that long term solutions are also put in place so that Bhutan can truly become economically self-sufficient.

The new government should also address the fog of confusion in terms of relations with India.

The institution of Monarchy should be respected and treasured in both words and actions, and the constitutional mandates of the Monarchy should be held sacrosanct by the new government.

The new government will have to go on a war footing to strengthen the private sector to address youth unemployment, solve the Rupee crisis, and create genuine self sufficiency.

The quality of rural infrastructure will have to be improved and strengthened, especially the farm roads so that it can withstand the weather, like the monsoon rains and make travelling safe. Rural infrastructure like drinking water and rural access also need continued care and top priority.

A pertinent issue that will need to be addressed is the quality of construction. The majority of the 10th and 11th FYP consists of construction activities. Examples like the non-functional domestic airports outlined in the 10th plan can be tracked down to poor quality construction works. The whole tendering system along with regulatory and monitoring systems needs to be relooked as well.

A related issue is the fight against corruption. The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) has a strong governance framework to fight corruption that must be adopted in letter and spirit by all government agencies. The new government should show strong ‘zero tolerance’ towards corruption, which according to ACC and RAA reports are increasing every year.

While the government owned media houses are only getting bigger and stronger, the private media, an important indicator of democracy must be nurtured as well. The new government must do more to ensure that the media in Bhutan is vibrant and diverse.

The new government will also have to improve good governance by ensuring that service delivery to citizens can be given in the shortest time possible, and with minimum costs. Red tapes need to be cleared away at all levels so that the productivity of businesses is not hampered. The new government should pass the Right to Information Act on a priority basis and implement the Act with all due sincerity.

Food self- sufficiency is another important goal and the new government has, more than ever before, the need to ensure that Bhutan attains food self-sufficiency to face any potential to counter any food shortages.

Bhutan, in the 11th FYP, also needs funding and planning for urban renewal. The sight of sewage lines bursting open on the main streets, drinking water shortages, crowded living space and growing traffic jams are only the early signs of what is to come, if measures are not taken from early on.

Before Bhutan’s tremendous youth potential turns into a source of social instability, the new government needs to move quickly and comprehensively to understand and address youth issues and harness the human resource.

Whoever gets to forms the government on July 13, 2013 will have little or no time for festivities, but will have the heavy mantle of leading a small and vulnerable nation with gigantic issues and problems.

A well balanced, inclusive approach, according to certain standards and ideals, is essential for the proper governance of any country.
Laisenia Qarase

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