Recent issues of subsidy withdrawal by the Indian side on LPG and Kerosene took center stage as Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidates tossed the topic back and forth during the constituency debates while roping in topics of relations with India and China as points of argument.
“With recent hike in the price of the LPG and Kerosene, the Indian Government has withdrawn the Chukha power tariff and discontinue the excise duty refund,” the PDP candidate Dophu Drukpa said while speaking on what he called an economic downturn faced by the country.
He said the situation would affect many households since a LPG cylinder costing only Nu 496 now will be priced at Nu 1,200. The excise duty generated the revenue of Nu 3bn, and the withdrawal will worsen the Rupee crisis in Bhutan.
He also questioned the DPT candidate on the budget allocated for hydro projects construction and the cost escalation of the Punatsangchhu projects by 250 to 300% more.
In response, DPT’s Namgay Penjore justified the debt that was incurred in the last five years.
He said national debt stands at Nu 80bn, of which 54bn is invested in hydro-plants construction, 10bn from borrowings made to meet Rupee crisis by Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) with interest of 5%, and 16bn borrowed from World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), Japan and Austria Government and other countries without having to pay interest for building road, health centre, and education centre.
He estimated that by 2017, the country would complete hydropower plants and generate a yearly income of Nu 45bn. Thereafter, within two years’ time, the debt could be easily paid off.
Breaking down the book of accounts, the DPT candidate laid down the expenditure figures for his opponent.
Within five years, the Bhutanese people purchased 35,000 vehicles of which 20 billion cash outflow is for Indian cars. Currently, there are 67,000 vehicles and fuel costs Nu 5bn a year, 800 students seek higher studies in India which accounts for Nu 1.66bn, 2,500 buildings are under construction in five years, and cost estimated for one building is Nu 10mn, which comes around Nu 25b. Add to that, within five years, the people also invested Nu 70bn of Bhutanese currency.
While laying down his areas of priorities, Namgay Penjore said he will invest to educate the younger generation through easily accessible and qualitative systems.
He also pledged to provide adequate health workers, specialist medical personnel, advanced medical equipment, additional ambulance for Punakha hospital, and short-term and long-term solutions for the shortage of water in irrigation.
Topics of regional lines of division within the country and the Bhutan-India ties were also discussed at the debate forum.
PDP’s Dophu Drukpa said that the Bhutan-India friendship existed since the third King’s reign, and the relationship must be further strengthened and protected.
He pledged to build a strong democracy strengthening and supporting the constitutional bodies like Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), Royal Audit Authority (RAA), Office of Attorney General (OAG), Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB), and a free media.
Within its 100 days in government, the PDP through its “economic stimulus plan” would resolve issues like Rupee crisis, bank loans, incentives and tax exemption to small and medium businesses.
Dophu Drukpa has a master’s degree in agricultural system from Chiang Mai University, Thailand. He has worked as an agricultural economist with the agriculture ministry (MoA) for 10 years. He also served as prevention officer at ACC for 19 months and held the position of managing director of Mountain Hazelnut venture before joining politics.
Namgay Penjore has a master’s degree in business (marketing and finance) from Bangalore University, India. He worked as finance officer at Penden Cement (PCAL) and as officer on special duty for the Penden Rock Project in 1991. He served as general manager of Forestry Development Corporation for 3 years and was general manager of Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC) before contesting for National Council (NC) elections in 2008.
The debate was held on July 7 at the Punakha High School and the constituency has 8,632 eligible voters.