Having completed his tenure as the opposition leader, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) President Tshering Tobgay gave up his official duty vehicle granted to him. In a press conference the former Opposition Leader (OL) also requested the interim government to lift the personal security arrangements made for him.
“While I am deeply honoured to be granted the right to personally receive the official vehicle that was dispensed for my official position for the past five years, I would like to submit that my conscience does not permit me to retain it for reasons that are well known to every Bhutanese,” said Tshering Tobgay in the letter addressed to the Chairman of the Interim Government the Chief Justice Sonam Tobgay.
The former OL presented the following as reasons that led to his decision to return the vehicle.
According to the former OL’s letter His Majesty the King was requested by no other than the Prime Minister to grant the official Land Cruiser and Prados to the Prime Minister, Ministers, Speaker, Chairman of the National Council and the Leader of the Opposition.
“…Which is morally wrong and tends to set a precedent in future which will eventually become a right? I strongly believe that it is wrong for the elected leadership to submit a plea of Kidu for personal gain which tantamount to total disrespect for the countless Bhutanese people who struggle to meet their daily sustenance and who are the real ones deserving His Majesty’s compassion through the institution of Kidu,” stated the letter.
The other reason stated was that the country is on the brink of an economic crisis.
“Our national debt is more than Nu 83bn, which amounts to 82% of GDP, and is projected to grow exponentially in the next few years. Furthermore, the short term rupee borrowing has already crossed Rs 21bn and is spiralling out of control creating an unprecedented Rupee Crisis,” stated the letter.
The letter further stated that there are no indications that this crisis will be resolved in the near future. The reckless borrowing and excessive spending by the DPT Government during the past five years have directly contributed to this dangerous economic condition, and our people are already facing the brunt of this crisis.
“In such an unfortunate economic situation where strict austerity measures have now become inevitable, I, as an elected leader of the people, cannot morally accept the vehicle which will only contribute to accentuate the problem as the next government will be compelled to resort to importing new vehicles for the next batch of elected leaders.” stated PDP President Tshering Tobgay in the letter.
Ban on import vehicles and vehicle quotas
The OL said that in light of the current economic problem, the elected government imposed a ban on import of all types of vehicles and citing the same problem, the government also discontinued the vehicle quotas for civil servants and directed the banks from giving loans for import of vehicles as a whole.
He shared that at a time when the vehicle ban and the discontinuation of vehicle quotas prevent the people from purchasing a simple family car, exercising the right to take official vehicles and compelling the next Government to import new and expensive vehicles with taxpayers’ money, is morally wrong for all elected leaders.
Excellent condition of the vehicle and can serve new leader for next five years
According to the Opposition Leader Tshering Tobgay the existing official vehicles of the elected leaders are in excellent condition and can still serve the new leaders for the next five years. He added that buying new vehicles would entail huge costs at a time when the government should be cutting down its expenditure. “I strongly believe that the elected leadership should be mindful of such exigencies,”
He added that the move is also being justified by some on the grounds that other MPs were given Nu 700,000 and a duty free import quota to buy vehicles at the beginning of the term while the Prime Minister, Ministers, Speaker, Chairman of the National Council and Opposition Leader did not receive the amount.
The former OL’s letter concluded that entitlement of the MPs is guaranteed by the Parliamentary Entitlements Act, and as such was accorded to them by the law. On the other hand, there is no legal basis for other elected leaders to take possession of their official duty vehicles, “and therefore receiving them in the name of the Golden Throne is morally wrong and is a blatant misuse of the political authority vested on us.”
The move which claimed the moral high grounds on the former OL’s part was received under skeptical eyes from the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) who interpreted it as ‘a cheap political move’ to gain political mileage.
“We are deeply saddened by the fact that the Soelra from His Majesty is being made an issue before the elections. This is a deliberate distraction that the people of Bhutan cannot afford at this juncture,” a response from the DPT stated.
The DPT response further stated that Soelra is an integral part of Bhutanese culture and a symbol of gratitude and appreciation that exists between the ruler and those serving him.