The incumbent government boasted of having delivered almost every promise it made during its five year term in office. This was made clear in the confident statement of Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley’s fifth and last state of the nation report presented to members of the parliament.
However, political parties feel that the PM’s state of the nation report is too optimistic and downplays some obvious and serious problems in the nation.
Lyonchhen began his speech by highlighting on the strengthened sovereignty of the country which he said was the most important priority of the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT).
Lyonchhen stressed on the government’s efforts in gaining recognitions by other countries for Bhutan by signing diplomatic ties with 50 nations which stood at 21 before the government took office in 2008.
He said “the ultimate test of democracy and an elected government is how it makes itself accountable to the people for the promises it has made, for those that it has kept and for those it has broken.”
The Prime Minister said that his party, committed itself to “Growth with Equity and Justice” through some 153 broad pledges in its manifesto of which 135 (88%) were fully met and 15 (10%) were partially fulfilled. Only three pledges (2%) were not fulfilled.
While the DCT president Lily Wangchuk acknowledged that the government did achieve something, she said “they cannot hide their failures behind some figures, which in itself are debatable, and tell people that everything was fine, especially when people know that everything was not fine.”
Improved living standards
The PM pointed out the milestones achieved by the government in improving living standards of people and to a certain extent reducing the poverty rate. Rural poverty, Lyonchhen said was brought down sharply to 16 percent in 2012 from 30 percent in 2007.
“We can take considerable satisfaction that we are moving very rapidly in the right direction, and we know with certainty that poverty eradication in Bhutan is possible,” he said.
Lyonchhen, in his report also stated his government’s success in connecting every Gewog with motorable roads, electricity, drinking water, mobile phone connectivity, and education and health services. He said 49 out of the 56 Gewogs that had no road access in 2007 have now been connected with farm roads out of the total 205 Gewogs across the country.
“Except for the communities under Lauri and Serthig in Samdrup Jongkhar, which will receive electricity by the end of 2013, all the remaining communities in the country will be electrified within the 10th plan period,” he said. He also stated that 99% coverage has been achieved in terms of mobile phone connectivity and that 33,848 households have been electrified in the past five years.
Reiterating on his earlier statements, Lyonchhen said domestic dairy and egg production has increased significantly.
President of Bhutan Kuen-Ngyam Party (BKP) Sonam Tobgay said “one should not complain as long as such impressive statistical indicators have translated to ground realities of socio-economic development. The best judgment on this will be passed in the upcoming elections.”
He also said, “Democracy is all about rule of law and transparency, and therefore one need’s to examine the figures closely before drawing unilateral conclusions.”
He also said “one must make a distinction between genuine rural developments vis-a-vi fulfilling a check list of campaign promises. For example, rural access in terms of farm roads is non-performing in terms of the investments made.”
Economy-“all is well”
On the economic situation of the country, Lyonchhen re-assured that the Indian Rupee (INR) shortfall is only temporary and various measures have been taken to abate the crunch. He cited growth in the foreign exchange reserve of more than USD 866mn.
Despite recent reports by the National Council on the alarming economic situation and loopholes in the fiscal policies, Lyonchhen said the power projects would generate more INR returns than what is needed and can be used to easily pay off past or present loans.
He assured that external imbalances will begin to be corrected within the year. The country’s total debt as of December 31, 2012 has touched Nu 78.65bn which accounted for about 78.4 percent of the country’s GDP.
Lyonchhen also highlighted on the increased number of trade licenses issued, hike in tourist arrivals, various developments in the education sector and progress of the hydropower projects.
However, President of Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT) Lily Wangchuk said “one of the most critical things that this government has not been able to address is the economy. The growth of 8.8 percent has not translated into creation of new jobs and opportunities for people and, most importantly, for our youth. It has been, at best, a jobless growth. The government has also bungled on the Rupee crunch which has brought down the private sector down to its knees. Hundreds of people have lost their jobs because of the Rupee crunch.”
The BKP president Sonam Tobgay said “the new government will need to address grave problems of economic slowdown with particular reference to balance of payment problems (rupee crunch), increasing unemployment, FDI, and many more.”
Lyonchhen, referring to DPT’s manifesto, said it was a matter of national pride that a small country like Bhutan continued to rise in stature as world leader in environmental conservation and that Bhutan’s policy initiatives and ground actions have received international recognition.
He cited a host of events over the last five years that helped enhance Bhutan’s status as a world champion in environment conservation.
However, the National Council in its report on Mining and Quarrying presented during its last session concluded that existing mines and quarries are not regulated and managed to optimize equitable public socio-economic benefits and lack environmental soundness. The house provided a host of recommendations for the government on how to better manage the mining sector.
On its pledge towards good governance, Lyonchhen said the government has maintained a small cabinet of 10 ministers. He brought to light various measures taken by each ministry to create, improve and deliver services in the most timely, accessible and cost effective manner.
Lyonchhen referred to activities such as the acceleration of Bhutan’s socio-economic development (ABSD) project, G2C project, organizational changes in the government, mainstreaming gross national happiness (GNH) policies, promotion of rule of law, enhanced civil service, foreign policies and the proposed 11th five year plan among others.
Lily Wangchuk said “One of the finer points of leadership is also being able to own up to one’s mistakes. And that did not come out of PM’s state of the nation report.”
Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s (DNT) spokesperson Norbu Wangchuk acknowledged the achievements of the government over the past five years but said “they as the first elected government could have done more to set a precedence of good democratic culture.”
“The job isn’t finished yet as the next government has to make sure all the investments or achievements of the current government must now translate into positive impact in the lives of the people,” he added.