In response to questions on the performance of the government which completed a year in office, the Prime Minister and other ministers highlighted various activities and successes in the past one year.
The Home Minister Lyonpo Damcho Dorji said the government has done ‘fairly well’ in the last one year after citing a host of activities and programs from the 11th plan to the ESP.
The Prime Minister Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay, who cited a long list of achievements and programs also, had an interesting new take highlighting how the new government had strengthened democracy during this period.
The Prime Minister said, “On the democracy front I take a lot of satisfaction in assuming the role of the ruling party which has not gone on any witch hunt and not targeted any business person and civil servants accused of being political and has also not targeted any ex-MP.”
He said, “People make take this for granted but it is a strong indicator for democracy.”
The PM said that despite what the media has said weather it was Bhutan Broadcasting Corporation (BBS) , Kuensel or others none of them have been targeted or threatened. He said that fact that no segment of the media had been targeted was very important for democracy and that it must be celebrated.
“Bhutanese democracy is not vindictive and divisive and there will be no witch hunting,” the PM added.
Lyonchhen pointed out that after a smooth election this was the first time that one political party had taken over power from another and that the transition had been smooth and managed well.
11th plan and ESP
The Prime Minister said that the government after coming into power had completed several left over works from the 10th plan which did not have any funds. He said the people who completed the works were also paid for it.
Lyonchhen said that the foundations for the 11th five year plan had been laid in record time and they could get funding for it through generous grants from the government of India and other donors as well. Lyonchhen also mentioned the ESP and said that it was already benefitting the economy.
The Home Minister said that the Prime minister’s visit to India could secure a sizeable amount of Nu 45 bn for the 11th plan and Nu 5 bn for the ESP.
He said based on the policies and priorities of the 11th five year plan the office of the Prime Minister from day one ensured that the pledges and programs were thoroughly crystallized and put in the limelight by the ministries.
He said that the ESP was also given a lot of priority in view of the fact that economy had to be overhauled, the rupee crisis had to be resolved, and jobs had to be given. The minister said that the seeds for a successful five years plan had been planted with a sufficient and sizeable budget and they were hopeful that by the end of the five year term there would be vast difference in the living standards of the people, increased exports, import substitution and reduced current account deficit.
The Home Minister also said that the government in the manifesto had made a 100 days pledge and most of these pledges had been fulfilled.
Economy, taxes and jobs
The Prime Minister said that due to the various measures taken by the government the economy had improved in the last one year. Referring to the pay hike and taxes the PM said that the government took some strong decisions that rectified short term health of the economy and it had also laid the foundations for the long term health of the economy in terms of activities like roads, agricultural development, urban development and others.
“The taxes were implemented for the sake of the economy but yet there were various segments of our society who went all out to undermine the government. I suppose that’s okay as it is about a healthy check and balance even though many people were intent on purposely not presenting all sides of the argument,” he said.
The Finance Minister Lyonpo Namgay Dorji said the government immediately removed the ban on alcohol and furniture but vehicles took longer as taxation had to be imposed. He said that people across the nation had criticized the taxes on vehicles and also fuel but it was being done to correct the Current Account Deficit of the country. He said the people should know the reason why the government had imposed taxes.
The FM said that in 2008-2009 the rupee loan was Nu 3.6 bn which increased to Nu 26.5 bn by the end of the previous government’s term. He said the current government had paid Nu 15.6 bn of that loan which included Nu 6.5 bn from SBI bank, Nu 3.6 bn from Punjab bank and Nu 5.4 bn in a currency swap arrangement. He said that a Nu 200 mn interest also had to be paid. The Minister said that what remained was a Nu 10 bn GoI line of credit of which one installment would be paid by 2015 and another by 2018.
The Labour Minister highlighted that 3,724 youth had been employed so far and more would follow (see separate story on pg 1).
Lyonchhen said that one important change brought about by the government was in terms of rural development and empowering rural communities.
He said that though the Bhutan Electricity Authority had increased tariff rates rural people would get the first 100 units free every month. He also said that small businesses outside the four major cities were exempt from business tax to enhance the rural economy. The PM also talked about the benefits of the Gewog Development Grant. He said that the government was identifying and Thromdes in different Dzongkhags and also urban areas beyond Dzongkhag Thromdes.
In terms of roads all gewog and farm roads in rural Bhutan were being improved. The PM said that the government has undertaken a massive exercise to identify poor households not just by numbers but also by name. Once this is done targeted intervention measures could become much more effective according to the PM.
Other achievements were also highlighted like implementing the autonomy of schools which according to the PM was bringing dividends. He said that the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National referral hospital was made autonomous. On the hydropower front the Lyonchhen said that all ongoing inter-governmental projects were within the time frame except for Punatsangchu 1 whose problems had been rectified. He said that two projects were in fact ahead of schedule. Lyonchhen said that the east would get its first major hydro project in the form of Kholongchu.
The PM said that the State of the Nation address had more details on the government’s activities in the last one year.