Says it is a worrying political development and that neither DPT or PDP governments ever did something like this
Opposition says it also also an attempt to muzzle a vocal parliamentarian and the opposition
Of all the questions at the Opposition press conference, the issue that had most resonance and took the longest time was the removal of Zhemgang from the list of four priority Dzongkhags under the tourism flagship program.
A clearly upset Opposition party said that the issue is not just about Zhemgang or tourism but it has implications on equitable development, muzzling of opposition MPs, development of opposition constituencies and violation of the Parliament’s decisions.
The Panbang MP and DPT spokesperson Dorji Wangdi said, “It is a deeply worrying political development that has never happened in the past and all said and done, whatever the justifications the cabinet may give, it is nothing more than outright political discrimination.”
Dorji Wangdi said, “We are all Bhutanese and this is a big worrying political development. The government needs to work on the basis of equity as per the constitution and they should remember that they took an oath to the Tsa-Wa-Sum when taking the oath of office for the cabinet and the MPs’ post.”
The Bartsham-Shongphu MP (Dr) Passang Dorji said that the government’s move is a clear attempt to muzzle a vocal parliamentarian and to discriminate against constituencies held by opposition MPs.
He said that this attempt to muzzle a parliamentarian will have huge implications for democracy and that members of the press should be aware of this.
“The government is showing a dangerous example for the future,” he added.
The Opposition Leader (OL), Dr Pema Gyamtsho said that the tourism flagship program was already there in the draft 12th plan, and when the government came it went through it and approved it and it was hence budgeted in the 2019-20 annual budget with Zhemgang as one of the four focus Dzongkhags.
The OL said that the budget clearly mentioned Zhemgang along with Dagana, Lhuentse and Gasa from each region. He said the budget was approved in the National Assembly and it was endorsed by the NC as well.
The OL said that the government’s decision to the remove Zhemgang and replace it with Sarpang is in violation of the Parliament passing the money bill and not in keeping with the budgetary process. “This is not a good example,” said the OL.
Bringing up the issue of equitable development, the OL said that some parts of the country are not equally developed and some are backward like Zhemgang, which is one of the poorest Dzongkhags.
He said the Dzongkhag was looking forward to the Chamkarchu project but that is not coming for now.
He said that the former government had agreed to build a college in Zhemgang and it was already in the 12th plan but that was removed by the current government.
He said without a hydro project, it was thought that tourism would bring development and now even that has been removed.
Responding to the accusation from the Foreign Minister Lyonpo Tandi Dorji that DNT cannot be held accountable for the lack of development in Zhemgang during the time of the first two governments, the OL said that it is not true.
He said that in 2008 he remembers the road being only till Buli but he had to walk to Panbang and other places. He said the second government built bridges and black-topped the roads.
He said that both the governments extended electricity lines and mobile connections with a lot of electrification being done in the time of the first government. He said the minister’s statement could be due to the fact that he had not visited Zhemgang.
The OL said that a big difference was made in 10 years and with the infrastructure in place the next aim is to increase the income of the people, which is where tourism comes in but with the removal of Zhemgang its income would be affected.
The OL said that Zhemgang in-fact has high tourism potential and products: with very rich and diverse flora and fauna, river rafting, trekking, diversity of birds and the Manas Sanctuary itself.
Rejecting the Foreign Minister’s explanation that Sarpang had to replace Zhemgang since there was no separate budget for opening up the entry point of Gelephu, the OL said that Zhemgang is a budgeted issue and the opening up of entry points is a policy decision.
He said there is no linkage between the two issues.
The OL said that the Zhemgang decision has political implications beyond Zhemgang and it can impact other constituencies with Opposition MPs. He said the message going out is that if one makes noise then it can impact the plans and programs in a constituency.
The OL said that this is unprecedented and it is something that did not happen either during DPT or PDP’s time in government.
MP Dorji Wangdi asked if the issue is really about opening entry points, then why only Gelephu and why not Samdrupjongkhar, Nanglam, Panbang and Samtse which are among the five points recommended to be opened through a NA resolution.
He asked if the fact that Samdrupjongkhar, Pemagatshel and Zhemgang having DPT MPs and Sarpang having two DNT MPs made a difference in the opening up issue.
He said DPT is not against Sarpang getting budget which can get budget as a fifth Dzongkhag, but it should not be at the expense of Zhemgang.
The DPT’s Bardo-Trong MP Gyambo Tshering said that the money is already budgeted and he hopes that wisdom prevails on the government. He said that if the DNT carries through this decision than it will not just impact Zhemgang but have much wider implications.
The Dramedtse-Ngatshang MP Ugyen Wangdi said that the issue of the opening of entry points was discussed in February 2019 and since then the government had around five or six months to think and plan and so he refuses to accept the excuse that the Zhemgang budget has to be used for Sarpang. He said that such an allocation would also be illegal.
The MP alleged that even Lhuentse’s status could have been taken away had it not been that they had one DNT MP from there. He said that there is a big danger with such a move in Zhemgang.
The OL said that the job of the Opposition is to provide check and balance, but if the government does this, then it means that one has to keep quite to gain the government’s appreciation, otherwise developmental works would be cut.
He said that if the opposition remains silent then there will be no check and balance and it will affect democracy.
The Kengkhar-Weringla MP Rinzin Jamtsho said, “During PDP government’s time my constituency got the highest budget even though it was under DPT because it was based on how backward or poor it is. In the case of Zhemgang it is the first time that something like this is happening.”