Party Presidents identify the biggest national issues for the 2023 race

The tenure of the current third National Assembly and government will come to an end on 31st October 2023 after which the race of the Primary and General elections will start.

In the lead up to the big race, The Bhutanese asked all five party Presidents on what they see as the three or four big national issues for the elections.

The parties are listed in alphabetical order with DNT being allowed to reply in the end.

Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP) President

Dasho Pema Chewang, the President of the BTP said they need to address the problem of mass exodus which is still no showing any sign of slowing down.

The next big topic was the economy. Here Dasho said given the economic situation Bhutan is in, there’s absolutely no room for fiscal expansion.

“We need to explore ways and means of how to reduce NPL in banks given the fact the many people are leaving the country and majority of the loan portfolios being in construction and hospitality sector. Building up of foreign reserves is another problem that we have to address on immediate basis. Current account deficit is another issue. The gap is increasing every year,” said Dasho.

He said that on economic governance front, they need to address the issue of excessive and redundant rules and regulation, inefficient public service delivery, systemic flaws and structural barriers.

He said energy security is also very important given the fact that domestic demand is expected to rise in near future.

Dasho said improving productivity in agriculture sector is very crucial given the fact that majority of Bhutanese are employed in agriculture sector.

“We need to look at how we can improve the quality of education. Drugs abuse is another problem that we need to seriously think about doing something before it’s too late la,” added Dasho.

Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) President

The Opposition Leader and President of the DPT, Dorji Wangdi said, “The economy undoubtedly has to be the most important issue.”

“Given the potential of the tourism policy that can help this nation I feel that the tourism policy will have to be one of the key debates. Not because of other things but with tourism we can benefit substantially if we get the tourism policy correct and when we talk of restoring the economy this can make a huge difference,” added the OL.

He said that if the government makes the SDF USD 100 per day then they can maximize the opportunity from a business point of view.

He said another major issue is Demography.

“We are talking of reviving the economy. My specialization in the Masters Degree was Corporate Strategy and Economic Policy. When you talk of economics the most important thing is aggregate demand. What are you talking about economics when there is no demography as demography and economy move together? The stronger the demography you have a better economy,” he added.

The OL said that around 70 percent of the debate has to be on the economy. He said even tourism and demography are both about the economy.

He that as per the international trend most of who have gone will not come back.

He said the role of the government vis-a-vis the private sector also needs to be talked about.

Druk Thuendrel Tshogpa (DTT) President

The DTT President Kinga Tshering said, “The three pressing issues are lack of economic Philosophy, lack of economic Perception and lack of an economic road map.”

“Within that ambit, one of the main issues for us would be preparing the country and its people for the greatest economic opportunities, beginning with a mega project, that we may chance on in generations,” said Kinga.

“How do we get the nation and the people at every level of the Bhutanese society to brace for the great waves of change that is coming? How do we prepare ourselves for the short-term challenges and sacrifices the roles we play will demand in realising the greater vision of a more prosperous, economically independent and self-reliant nation that we can proudly hand down to our children,” asked the DTT President?

He said that all other issues of today like emigrating Bhutanese, hydropower impasses, private sector dilemma, public service transformation – like the little pieces of a puzzle, will fall into place if we look at the big picture to guide us through the specific details to work on.

Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President

The President of the PDP Dasho Tshering Tobgay said, “We have several existential threats like the economy, migration and population. If any country has to deal with one existential threat then it is bad enough and very challenging, but it looks like we have multiple threats and threats that have a multiplier effect. I have been spending sleepless nights on many of these issues.”

“These are not very hopeful times and it is just that we have a very small window period where we can take major action to address these multiple crises, and if we can do that then we can emerge stronger and better and come of age. If we don’t then our viability as a nation will come under threat,” Dasho added.

The PDP President said that one issue is the fundamentals of the economy like our dwindling foreign exchange reserves, decreasing revenue, increasing Debt, high inflation with uncontrolled and rising prices and inability to access credit for the private sector.

He said in the private sector it is difficult to do business as there are still stifling regulations, access to capital and loans are being curtailed, access to workers is an issue and the regulations are not private sector friendly.

He said within the private sector the Construction sector does not have any work.

“The tourism sector is bleeding and similarly for the overall hospitality sector.  The CSIs should be the bed rock of the economy and they are not getting any support and guidance,” said Dasho.

He said the tax burden is also too high due to heavy new taxes.

“The economy is in trouble and it needs to be rescued if you can’t do that then we are going to become a basket case,” said Dasho.

He said that one of the main issues that must be addressed now to prevent problems in the next few years is migration. 

“How do we retain our best and brightest to take part in nation building and the only way is to ensure that salaries now are competitive with the ones they earn abroad. That is a major issue and if we don’t address it now then the country is going to hollow out and everybody can see that. It is an immediate issue,” he said.

“For that you need FDI and economic growth and really a strong plan. The country needs big investments both private and government for jobs and we also need FDI at a scale we have never seen or imagined so far to create jobs that can compete and be attractive to those going abroad,” he added.

“We are going to bear the brunt of the migration in the near future and basically it needs to be addressed now and if we don’t address now then when the effects come it will be too late.”

He said other issue is education as the education system seems to be spiraling down. 

“Unless we are able to take corrective measures in the near future we are going to suffer the consequences of having a generation of people who have spent a lot of time and energy in school and vested their hopes and aspiration in schools, but our education system would not have provided them with the broader skills to take on a meaningful life.”

Dasho said the population is shrinking as fertility rates have fallen and to make matters worse, our most productive age people are leaving and they can be expected not to have families.

“If today we are alarmed with the decline in population then in the near future it is going to assume critical dimensions. This is an existential threat,” he added.

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) President

The DNT President and current Prime Minister Dasho (Dr) Lotay Tshering said the election is not at the back of his mind as he has a major task to handle which is to govern the country.

“Issues are well known and the issues in our hands will always be on our desks in a different version. Which country has no economic issues? Which country is doing well without the economy doing well? Economy will always be there for all generations,” said Lyonchhen.

 He said he is meeting all ministries and he just finished four of the nine ministries taking stock of the reforms and seeing how it is going.

He said there is no magic bullet for ease of doing business and it must stem from every individual and officer to do certain tasks assigned as soon as possible.

“Whatever we do has a direct impact on economy. Economy is not only about FDI or trading with big foreign country, but also about how how it has become much easier to run your family,” he said.

“For things going well I asked then to go ahead and for things not working I asked them to fix it or even change it back. I told the Tourism Department DG that if he feels TCB is better then DoT and then if he can justify then it can go back. In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade, I asked about the component of external trade and how it can even be left out. Since you are given the mandate it does not mean you have to do it. I am going around for stock taking and efficacy that we need to bring about. When we have an efficient system isn’t that the economy?” asked Lyonchhen.

Lyonchhen said he met the Ministry if Education and said that by any means education must get the priority of any government. For him there is no election or 13th plan and he has to sort it out for now.

“On attrition I cannot take care of it immediately. If anyone has brilliant ideas, I want to know. Let us not wait for tomorrow and let it damage our system.”

Lyonchhen said there is no way to not let go as those who want to go should be allowed to go.

Lyonchhen said to solve it they have to increase recruitment among teacher graduates, doctor graduates and nurse graduates.

He, however, said while numbers can be filled up seniority and experience cannot be replaced.

In terms of addressing the shortage, the PM said he has recommended to the RCSC to do recruitment twice or even quarterly, increase recruitment, give mandate to overstretched staff doing the job of others who have left and pay accordingly and to even hire superannuated staff who can come back on contract.

He said they haven’t really resorted to getting foreigners to work for the system and the few Indian STEM teachers are only for STEM and not due to teacher shortage.

“We cannot solve attrition for four to five years and it will slow down our economy. Once economy picks up, which we will have to design, and once jobs opportunities meets expectations in the country then lesser numbers will go and slowly we will have equal numbers coming back. Reform will bring the equilibrium point closer to now. Until then we have to bear with system and nature, do more with less and be less conditional.”

He said while the economy is a problem, it is picking up and projected to pick up better and revenue will improve as per the forecast of the Ministry of Finance. He said in a transition year all spillover activities and key newer activities will be supported to prevent dip in the transition and the budget amount is similar to last year.

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