As the government finishes its third year and as 2018 looms closer, the Opposition party has shifted itself to a higher gear in both criticizing the government and pointing to shortfalls, including election pledges made in 2013.
In the most detailed and arguably the longest press conference till date the Opposition on 21st July came prepared with several facts and figures and launched multiple attacks ranging from the use of duty vehicles by ministers to warning of a ‘national financial emergency’.
In response to a question the Opposition leader Pema Gyamtsho said, “Earlier it was too premature for us to comment but now as the government has finished its mid-term review and presented a state of the nation report we have the facts and figures and basis to comment.”
He said that the party had also interacted and received reports from the field on whether people have benefitted or not and this also gave a solid basis for feedback.
On a question of whether this more aggressive strategy by the DPT would mean that the current issues would also become election issues in 2018, the Opposition leader said it would depend on whether the government would succeed in its plans in the next two years. He said the Opposition would keep going issue by issue.
MP Zangley Drukpa said that it was not about 2018 but rather about the concern of the health of the people and the economy.
MP Ugyen Wangdi said that on 23rd August 2013 the government initiated austerity measures, which for the cabinet included surrendering dedicated WagonR service vehicles, reducing security personnel, minimizing foreign travel and not procuring new duty vehicles.
The MP said that, however, the PM and Ministers hiked their pay from Nu 78,000 to Nu 180,000 and Nu 130,000 respectively, procured new cars despite having comfortable and reliable duty cars, used additional duty cars apart from WagonRs and undertook excessive foreign travels with most ministers travelling more in the last three years then the total amount of travel undertaken by former ministers in five years.
The Opposition said that the austerity measures were only introduced for civil servants and the government must take accountability for misinforming and misleading the nation.
Bringing up another issue MP Ugyen Wangdi said that though the Opposition party and the National Council proposed for revision of the tax slab of the upper income group up to 30 percent from 25 percent it was not accepted by the government.
The MP said that one of the justifications provided was that the PM and the Cabinet Minister would not fall in this bracket. However, the MP said contrary to their claims they were found to fall in this tax bracket. “We feel the proposal was rejected purely on the grounds of conflict of interest and to evade higher tax,” said the Opposition release.
The Opposition also alleged that in 2014 the government revised five percent sales tax on mobile vouchers despite objections from the Opposition party. The Opposition said there was no hesitation here as minister and MPs were paid voucher allowance. The Opposition said all of this would lead to widening gap between the rich and the poor.
MP Dorji Wangdi said that the present pace of increasing debt and falling reserves, coupled with widening current account deficit is most likely to lead a ‘Financial Emergency’ or economic crisis in the near medium term.
He said national debt had increased by Nu 39 bn or 38.16 percent from June 2013 to a total of Nu 140 bn. Reserves had fallen from USD 917 mn in June 30, 2013 to USD 784 mn in February 2016. He said recently both the USD and Rupee reserves were falling.
In the meantime the current account deficit had increased by Nu 6 bn in the last two years from Nu 20 bn in June 2013 to Nu 26 bn in June 2015.
MP Khandu Wangchuk said that the former government had aimed at achieving self sufficiency by 2020 as it would be good for the country’s self-reliance, sovereignty and security. He said for this to happen there needs to be an increase in income and decrease in expenditure which was not happening.
He said there needs to be increase in agriculture but instead around 30,000 acres of land is being lost to the 20 Dzongkhag thromdes with 300 prime paddy acres being lost in Paro Thromde. He said there have been no major factories and industries opening up and instead the existing ones are in trouble functioning only at 50 to 60 percent capacity.
The MP said on hydropower the former government had started three projects and another seven was supposed to start from 2013 but there is not much progress on that front too. The MP who was also the former Economic Affairs minister said that nobody from the government consulted him on the modalities and understanding of the 10,000 MW by 2020 including on what basis the four joint ventures were given after getting commitment to six inter-governmental projects.
He said that even tourism was coming down and all of the above would affect self sufficiency.
The Opposition party also covered other issues like Unemployment, Rural Enterprise Development Corporation and the Dagana Lhamoizingkha road (see separate stories on pages 5, 11 and 8 respectively).
Meanwhile the Finance Minister Lyonpo Namgay Dorji said that the government would look at the concerns of the Opposition and accordingly respond.