The Opposition Party has come out with its own 3,000 word ‘official response’ report to the governments 37,000 word State of the Nation which had primarily highlighted their achievements in the last five years.
The Opposition party’s response has focused on critical issues like the State of the Economy, Rupee Crisis, Unemployment, Corruption, lack of Transparency, lack of consultations and etc. The report has also pointed to omission of issues like Education City, McKinsey, HIV scenario, growing crime rates, etc.
“As the opposition party, PDP would like to commend the DPT on its achievements but also reiterate that the country needs to evaluate the performance of the ruling government by juxtaposing ground realities with the rosy picture painted by the DPT’s report,” says the Party response.
Misleading Growth Rate
The Opposition said the GDP growth rate is 8.8% was mainly a hydropower driven growth. “During the past three years, more than Nu 10 billion per year has been invested for the construction of hydropower projects. Remove that and the attractive growth rates would almost be eradicated,” says the report. “To get an idea of the real growth figures, it is important to look at the growth rate exclusive of hydropower contribution. If one removes earnings from earlier hydropower projects, we would have experienced only negligible growth. It also means that the structure of the economy is not sound, not vibrant and not healthy,” says the report.
“The high debt levels (Nu 78.65 billion which is 78.4 percent of the GDP), acute rupee shortage, and a growth figure fuelled from a very small base make’s the growth unsustainable,” says the report.
It says with the rupee crisis, the economy was nearly frozen with banks stopping credit facilities but the DPT growth figure for 2012 is 9.9%. “The 2012 figure is also the second best figure in the past five years which is highly unlikely as exports and imports in 2012 were greatly impacted following the rupee crisis,” said the report.
The Opposition party said that the rupee crisis is one of the biggest economic problems the country has ever faced. But the government refuses to even acknowledge it as a crisis.
“The Central Bank has done its share by trying to tweak monetary policy instruments to make rupee available and give short term relief but we have not seen any major fiscal policy interventions from the finance ministry to ease the problem in the long term,” says the report.
The Opposition said that under such a scenario, all indications point out that the rupee crisis is only growing and will only get worse.
The report says that the balance of payment situation is going out of control with a Nu 14 bn deficit in 2012 alone and with no solutions from the government.
“The Lyonchhen also claims that the rupee crisis can be solved because of the increase in forex reserves. Wrong! In 2010, reserve was US$ 900 million while Lyonchhen reported that the current reserve stands at US$ 866 million,” said the report.
The Opposition pointed out that that the government’s argument that the Rupee Problem started with Bhutan’s planned development from 1961 onwards was not acceptable as many of the cabinet ministers had served as ministers in the past and should have anticipated the problem.
“The government’s inability to oversee such an inevitable problem only validates that all is definitely not well on the fiscal front. Not taking responsibility of the rupee situation also says that all is not well on the leadership front,” said the report.
Lack of Consultation
The Opposition party also criticized the inability of the government to consult the people before taking decisions like Pedestrian Day, Passing the draconian Tobacco Control Act and declaring Bhutan carbon neutral.
“In hindsight, the government claims that it listened to the people and made appropriate changes but it should be understood that they were literally forced by public opinion to amend un-implementable and bad regulation,” said the report.
The report acknowledged the government’s monthly meet-the-press sessions but pointed out that more often than not, the monthly meeting with the press turned out sour for the media with the cabinet ministers blatantly accusing the media of unfair reporting and targeting the government.
“In 2012, the media minister went to the extent of issuing a circular directing government agencies to stop giving ads to a particular newspaper following a series of investigative stories that accused some of those in power,” said the report.
The report says that decreasing volume of government ads in 2012 weakened the private media like never before and many are on the verge of closing down without being able to pay salaries on time. It also resulted in a mass exodus of journalists, mostly senior journalists, from the private media.
After welcoming private TV government also delayed and thus failed to provide license to private television channels following which one applicant declared its intention to take BICMA to court.The Opposition also said that the government went back on its initial promise to bring in the Right to Information Act.
Challenging the Judiciary
The Opposition criticized the government’s reaction on losing the first constitutional case. “It led the elected government to even warn that it is considering resignation. One minister proclaimed that the court decision would arrest the functionality of the government. The verdict from the highest court in the country was not received in acceptance but with helplessness,” said the report.
The report said that the country saw a lot of elected leaders, including a minister, the speaker and the Vice President of the DPT, accused of corrupt practices and as each case was revealed, the ruling government hardly reiterated its policy of zero tolerance to corruption.”Top leaders being accused of corruption is a threat to democracy,” said the report.
“In the Gyelpozhing case, the untimely revelation of the case finding by the Office of the Attorney General prompted debates whether the OAG was being patronized to defend the accused,” said the report.
The report said that the government chose to ignore ACC’s recommendation after it found out in late 2008 that the selection of its new Managing Director for Bhutan Post was not in adherence to rules. On December 2010, the National Assembly endorsed the Anti Corruption Act only after making major changes by lowering the severity of penalties.
The ACC intended to make corruption “costly and risky” by coming out with stringent laws but the purpose was defeated. On its website the ACC then asked, “What does the policy of ‘Zero Tolerance for Corruption’ mean when the National Assembly members take a tolerant stand? Is smoking more dangerous to the country than corruption?” “The ACC’s stand directly questions the DPT government’s policy of zero tolerance to corruption,” said the report.
The PDP commended the DPT for achieving resounding numerical success when it comes to the construction of farm roads. But it said many of the newly constructed roads are already giving way and it is apparent that the maintenance costs would not be sustainable.
The Opposition questioned the unemployment rate of 2.1% .The opposition said the same report also says that in 2012 alone, 2,397 graduates applied for 394 jobs in the civil service alone. “It shows how skewed the unemployment figures can be when the Ministry of Labor and Human Resources which has the responsibility of solving unemployment also produces the official unemployment figures. It can also present a case of conflict of interest,” said the report.
Though the government has said the problem is not about unemployment but the mismatch between jobs and expectations of applicants, the Opposition asked what has the government done to ensure that the jobs available meet the expectation of job seekers. The Opposition said another mismatch is between availability of jobs and the required qualifications. “It is important to ask here where the current education system prepares our youth for the challenges ahead. If not, we need to review the school curriculum and prepare our youngsters for the job market. This will be a priority for the PDP,” said the report.
GNH travels, Tourism and IT Park
The Opposition said that though PDP agree that government ministers needed to travel to propound GNH the travel costs were still a deep secret and never revealed.
“As a poor country, we need to know the cost details. Only then can we rightfully assert whether the cost warrants the desired end or whether we could have done the same thing at a much lesser cost,” said the report.
The report also questioned the government’s failed bid for the Security Council seat.
On Tourism the Opposition pointed out the numerically impressive increase in tourism numbers from about 27,000 in 2008 to 105,402 in 2012 was due to the change in the definition of “tourist” just to achieve the government’s targets.
“In the past, tourists only included dollar paying tourists but now, tourists include anyone flying into Bhutan with a non-Bhutanese passport,” said the report. The report said tourism in Bhutan still suffered from being a seasonal event confined to only a few parts of the country and its benefits does to trickle down to the ordinary Bhutanese.
The Opposition also said that the Nu 285 mn IT Park of the government was a failure which was being subsidized by the government and not contributing anything near to what it was supposed to.
The Report also pointed out some omissions of the government. The Opposition asked why had the government left out the Nu 432 mn McKinsey project and also asked if it had benefitted the country at all. The omission of the Education City project was also questioned given the various controversies surrounding it including a law just designed for the project. The Opposition also questioned why Lyonchhen had left out the growing cases of HIV and also growing crime in the country. The report also questioned why the government’s other unfulfilled promises was not included.