The Opposition Party in a press conference pointed out what they said were drawbacks, unaddressed issues and even repackaged issues in the Prime Minister’s annual report.
Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said, “I would like to respectfully say that the State of the Nation Report (SOTN) was much ado about nothing.”
He said as per the Constitution the report should include legislative plans, annual plans and priorities of the government. But he pointed out that around 80 percent of it was a progress report.
The MP said that he had read all three years reports and he had found that the 2015 report had content which was already there in the 2013 and 2014 reports and at times even the language and the grammar was the same.
He said the past reports had mentioned that next year work would begin on four hydro projects but nothing had started in two years. He said the government talked of completing the East-West highway in the south but in fact one stretch had been given up.
He pointed out like in this year’s report the government in 2013 itself had talked about conducting a review of the Tourism policy to unleash its potential. Similarly he said 800 low income rental units and houses had been promised but nothing happened.
Referring to the 2014 report the MP said that it had talked of doing a drinking water survey and providing 24/7 drinking water to rural areas and also to urban areas within three years. He said this was mentioned again in this year’s report.
The 2014 report’s mention of establishing private schools and colleges and the failure to do so was also pointed out.
The 2015 Visit Bhutan year scheme announced by the PM in the report came under criticism for being already mentioned in the previous year’s report.
MP Dorji Wangdi said, “The SOTN should have identified the problems and the broad direction and way forward which was completely missing.”
The Prime Minister’s five jewels of hydropower, agriculture, tourism, small enterprises and mining also came in for some critical scrutiny.
He said that there was no talk of how self reliance will be achieved and in fact self reliance had already been derailed by the government as of the 10,000 MW by 2020 only around 3,000 MW would realistically come online.
Lamgong-Wangcha MP Khandu Wangchuk said that the only hydro projects happening were the ones that the former government had started. He said that in the last two years around five projects were supposed to start construction but nothing had happened. He said that the Detailed Project Report (DPR) for Sunkosh had been ready since 2013 but nothing happened there too. The MP pointed out that in big projects like Kuri –Gongri the DPR had not even started and Amochu was sidetracked. The MP said that it was a huge failure in not carrying out three major inter-governmental projects and the government would be losing around Nu 44 bn a year
in potential revenue due to the delay and non implementation of these three projects.
Opposition leader Dr Pema Gyamtsho said that the five jewels were old wine in a new bottle and repackaging for special effects. He said that an agriculture growth rate of three percent does not happen overnight and a lot of work has to be done.
He pointed out that the major Taklai irrigation scheme revamp had started in 2012 with help from JICA. He said irrigation had suffered in the 90’s as the irrigation engineers had been assigned to the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement. This he said this was changed during the former government’s period. He said this is why the irrigation budget is now high in the 11th plan. He said the former government also carried out projects like electric fencing, accelerated vegetable production, farmers cooperatives and increased production of milk and eggs.
The Opposition leader (OL) said that the government seems to have backtracked from the slaughterhouse issue. The OL pointed out that the government had made the mistake of trying to get into a business that should only be for the private people who in any case should not be stopped by the government.
On mines the OL said that mines and minerals are not a straightforward area as it affects GNH and there are environmental concerns and so a lot of compromises and tradeoffs have to be made. “The government has a simplistic way of thinking that it will generate profits and so the government should get into it,” said the OL.
MP Dorji Wangdi said that the government under pressure from private miners was already backtracking on the role and scope of State Mining Corporation.
South Thimphu MP Yeshey Zimba said that there was so much talk about Small and Medium Enterprises but he had felt that the job being done by BOiC was something that the Bhutan Development Bank and the SME department should have done with one giving loans and the other promoting SMEs.
“There is still no clear cut thinking in promoting SMEs which has the potential in generating maximum employment and they are still not clear about what needs to be done, what kinds of policies and plans are needed for administrative and human resources, managerial capacity, technical skills and domestic market,” he said.
Zimba said that FDI investment was not doing well as FDI investors did not have the confidence to invest in Bhutan.
In tourism the OL said that he agreed it was time to review the policy as the policy that worked in the 70’s may not work now especially with the aim to spread the benefits, increase the numbers and generate employment.
The OL said that he was happy that GNH is back on the agenda along with the issue of self reliance. He said for self reliance projects have to be started as there were no other clear revenue generating or export oriented programs. On the other hand he said the government had more and more expenditure programs like Central schools, helicopters and its maintenance expenses and freebies like power tillers, free electricity and no taxes for rural businesses. He said this was happening when the population of the country was just getting weaned away from depending too much on the government to create a tax paying culture in building the nation.
The Nubi-Tansibji MP Nidup Zangpo said that the PM’s SOTN failed to inspire confidence in the government and inspire the people. He said that was concerned as a citizen that the government had not achieved much in the field of economy in the last two years. The MP said that at this rate the five years could become a waste of time for the country.
The OL concluded saying that the Opposition had always and will continue to support the Tsa-Wa-Sum of King, Country and People and would like to congratulate and support the government in the 60th anniversary celebrations of His Majesty the Fourth King.