This year the economy is projected to nosedive to between negative 2 to 6 percent growth rate. It makes the worst performance in our economic history.
The shrinking fiscal space because of a hefty ‘debt burden’ of Nu.28 billion in the last two years will be a stumbling block to the economy’s performance. As of 30 September 2020, the total national debt stood at Nu 223.294 billion, accounting for 120.8 percent of the 2020-21 GDP. This fiscal year has a record fiscal deficit of Nu 15.34 billion.
The trade deficit is reported to have decreased by 32 percent in the first half of 2020. It does not pass for a positive economic pointer for it was caused by the decrease in imports of raw materials which has implications for production, consumption and the overall health of the economy.
Six months into the current fiscal year, but a mere use of 6 percent of the capital budget of Nu 37 billion, is an unforgiveable failure of execution of development activities. The economy is in recession like never before in our history, but the government fails to make use of the allocated budget.
Economy and hydropower debate
In the first half year of its operation since June 2019, Mangdechhu Hydropower Project generated Nu 6.8 billion, easily offsetting reportedly Nu 3.5 billion the government had to spend to fight the Covid-19 epidemic. Had it not been for the hydropower, the economy would have been in further deficit by that much amount.
Given that the hydropower sector is the major steady source of national revenue, the government’s stand that ‘hydropower projects should be taken slowly’ begs a policy revisit. The ruling party’s manifesto (p.21) states: “Generate additional 5,200MW of hydropower through Sankosh, Kuri-Gongri and other projects”.
Unemployment is one of the most pressing issues in the country. The Covid-19 pandemic deepened the problem. The government has not been able to come up with timely and long-term strategic interventions to address it . Even as the Covid-19 is at its rampant pace of spread, economic situation and demands of livelihood have forced our young boys and girls to return to work abroad.
Nothing concrete happened even after a year other than the Build Bhutan Project, which also has received a lukewarm response from increasing number of unemployed youth.
We urge the government to urgently look into making investments and designing strategies that will generate employment openings and help address this social menace in the long-run.
In the last year, the status of the private sector remained as it was when the political parties were on the election campaign trails about two years ago.
The Opposition Party believes that a public sector-driven economy with a weak, if not a negligible private sector, will not sustain. The private sector must be made the powerhouse of efficiency, innovation, creativity, meritocracy and economic sustainability. It is beyond high time that we took some bold and daring policy, legislative, and implementation steps to harness the potentials of this critical sector.
The collapse of private schools
The government’s education policy miscalculation has killed the private schools. The government’s plan to absorb all the students into public schools might be a double-edged sword in the spheres of both education quality and system. The government needs to come up with a clear private school policy at the earliest. The middle path that takes care of the students and private school owners is important.
Closure of the CFM
The government’s sudden decision to close the CFM in the name of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic distressed more than 700 vegetable vendors, their families and farmers. Such policy decision was ill-timed for the people were already going through difficult time. The Opposition Party stands that the decision must be revoked at the earliest. And all the vegetable vendors must be given their stalls back. The government displaced the vegetable vendors promising they will be given stalls to carry on their business at the newly constructed vegetables markets at different zones in two to three months. It is about four months since that infamous decision, but the new vegetable markets are still in bricks, cement and planks.
While the distribution of tobacco products from the duty-free centers in border towns appeared legally justifiable, but doing that from other places and taking the distribution channels to even gewog level raised some legal issues. The government should review the case after the pandemic.
PM using the government machinery to threaten the voters
The Prime Minister’s remark in the capacity of DNT president during the by-election campaign in Bumthang that the government will deliver its pledges only if its candidate wins, if not the people will have to wait, was a political aberration. The electoral laws prohibit political parties from using government machinery for campaigning. This was an issue of an incumbent government holding people at ransom trying to hamstring free and fair election. We feel that such political self-centric approach to politics and elections will deepen the divide of our small community of population. And it is a dangerous precedent.
We are confident that the electoral oversight bodies will look into the matter at an appropriate time to prevent such attempts to derail a free and fair election process in the future.
It also needs to be put on record that the PM encouraged to blatantly break the country’s strict COVID-19 protocols while campaigning during the by-election.
Political corruption and public misinformation
We believe that the government must be accountable to the people, transparent and fair. The government needs to make public the people involved in executing the Digital Druk Yul project, those involved in supplying electric cars and allied projects.
There have been public debates and concerns that the nomination of a core member of the ruling party for the post of the Secretary General BIMISTEC was a political corruption. There has been misinformation regarding the deployment of medical professionals and specialists to hospitals and grade I Basic Health Units. The government has been claiming that it has adequately deployed those medical specialists in unprecedented numbers. Those hospitals were constructed, and recruitment of medical professionals was undertaken through a decade of planning. A significant concrete contribution of DNT to the health sector so far is the recruitment of twenty doctors from Bangladesh.
Our assessment shows that until now, the government has achieved only 8 percent of its 120-day pledges.
More than two years into office, other major pledges continue to remain as election campaign pledges. For example, the promise to provide free WiFi, maternity allowance, construct Maokhola Bridge, are still in the manifesto pages. And the promise to ‘blacktop or concrete all roads to important lhakhangs and institutes, build a southern-east west highway, base course all farm roads, and [provide] adequate housing nationwide for all income groups’ (DNT manifesto, 2018) still sound attractive vote-garnering pledges.
The government still has not got any clarity on its economic vision. The government’s lengthy, at times poetic and emotional press releases, FaceBook posts, smooth talks, and political rhetoric far overwhelmed the actual delivery on the ground.
The Covid-19 pandemic cannot be an allowance for non-delivery. We pledge to work together to serve the Tsa-wa-sum with conviction and intelligent love for the nation.
We convey our appreciations to the government for the effective implementation of preventive and combative measures to fight the virus under the leadership of His Majesty the King.
By Druk Phuensum Tshogpa
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