PDP’s sea of promises faces a pond of limited budget

Compared to the 2008 General elections where parties made promises more in sync with the draft 10th plan, the 2013 elections saw all political parties making ambitious promises even going far beyond the draft 11th plan.

PDP which got elected is now facing the unenviable task of fulfilling its share of promises made to the electorate by incorporating them in the draft 11th plan.

Estimates show that PDP will require funds far in excess of what even draft 11th plan had envisioned to fulfill all its party manifesto promises including local promises made by MPs at the constituency level.

Of the draft Nu 213.966 bn 11th plan Nu 121 bn is for current expenditure like salaries, TA/DA, maintenance etc.

The remaining Nu 92 bn is for capital works where almost all the pledges come in like building roads, drinking water etc. Estimates show that if each and every one of PDP’s pledges is incorporated in the plan then this Nu 92 bn will have to increase by at least double

The Nu 92 bn in capital works is divided between the Local government like Dzongkhags and Gewogs getting Nu 25 bn and on the other hand Central Ministries and agencies get Nu 67 bn.

In the Nu 25 bn Local Government capital Budget the Gross National Happiness Commission had kept aside Nu 5 bn under the heading of ‘Local Government Empowerment Program’. “We kept this Nu 5 bn aside so that the new government can use it to fulfill its local government pledges,” said a GNHC official.

Of the remaining Nu 20 bn budget Nu 5 bn has been allotted to three Thromdes and Nu 15 bn to 20 Dzongkhags and 205 Gewogs based on plan activities sent by the local government. The MPs or government cannot alter this fund as it was finalized as per the authority given to local governments under the Local Government Act.

So it is from the Nu 5 bn ‘Local Government Empowerment Program’ set aside that PDP’s popular pledges like Nu 2 million every year per Gewog, power tiller for every chiwog, a utility vehicle for every gewog, black topping of all Gewog Center roads, clean drinking water for all have to be met.

According to a GNHC official the Nu 5 bn barely covers many of PDP’s local government pledges and to comprehensively cover them around Nu 20 bn would be needed.

Currently under Nu 5 bn around Nu 3 bn has been budgeted for blacktopping 40 Gewog Center roads as compared to PDP’s pledge to blacktop all Gewog center roads that would by itself cost Nu 13 bn.

PDP’s pledge to provide Nu 2mn every year to every gewog itself comes to Nu 2.2 bn in five years.

So by logic the 5 bn would be exhausted in just blacktopping 40 Gewog center roads and providing Nu 2 mn every year per gewog.

Other PDP pledges budget heads under the limited Nu 5 bn include Nu 205 mn for utility vehicles, Nu 900 mn for power tillers, Nu 100 to Nu 150 mn for 20 excavators for 20 dzongkhags, Nu 250 mn has been budgeted for Rural Water Supply Scheme to all but according to a GNHC official the actual requirement would be around Nu 1 bn. There is a Nu 1 bn requirement for continuation of construction of 18 Gewog roads including a mule track to Lunana.

If this wasn’t enough the individual constituency level promises of around 27 PDP MPs come to around Nu 12 bn with the remaining 20 constituencies yet to be received by GNHC. “Of the 12 bn figure only 2 bn are in incorporated in the local government plans.”

As a result MPs are now learning to their disappointment that though they have made many local level individual promises they have no power to change the plans made by the local government to incorporate their promises.

“The only way for MPs now is to either discuss with the local government and convince them to change it or get the government to increase the budget ceiling uniformly for all Gewogs,” said a GNHC official.

The GNHC official explained that MPs could not also make sure a certain Gewog or Dzongkhag got more budget then others as the budget ceiling was already allocated as per a formula.

In the 10th plan the formula proposed by GNHC and approved by the then cabinet was 70 percent population, 25 percent poverty and five percent geographical area.

In the 11th plan the formula gives 45 percent weightage to Multi Poverty Index  which apart from income includes health and education, 35 percent to population, 10 percent to Transportation cost index and 10 percent to Geographical area.

So for more pledges to be incorporated in the local government plans the government would first have to pump in money into all 205 gewogs using the formula and then convince the local governments to authorize or accept the local pledges.

“In 2008 MPs convinced the local governments to reprioritize but there were also some cases where the local governments refused to cooperate,” said a GNHC official.

The GNHC official said that the idea behind giving full authority to local governments over local budgets was mandated under the Local Government Act and also as part of Bhutan’s decentralization process.

In case of the Nu 67 bn capital budget meant for central agencies like ministries, autonomous bodies or all non local government bodies the PDP’s general manifesto pledges are applicable.

However, here too there could be problems as a cost estimate of all of PDP’s pledges show that the Nu 67 bn would go well beyond Nu 100 bn plus.

A GNHC official said that in many cases PDP’s pledges were already there in the draft plan but there were also other pledges not in the plan like for e.g. three colleges in the east etc.

GNHC Secretary Karma Tshiteem said, “Overall the 11th plan already has many of the PDP’s pledges at both the local and national level and additional changes can be made by the new government as per their priorities and it is only they who can approve the final plan.”

He said that though direct calculations may show huge amounts being required from PDP’s pledges there were many areas where the government instead of investing directly could opt for public private partnerships in terms of building colleges in the east or Industrial estates in the South.

He said, “No government in the world has enough money to meet all requirements which is why plans are made to focus on the main priority areas.”

However, even if the PDP government can successfully incorporate its pledges in the plan and get additional funding another challenge facing it will be a limited implementation capacity especially among local governments. This is due to the limited number of staff, engineers and also the nature of Bhutanese terrain where small villages were spread out in difficult to reach areas making both construction and monitoring a challenge.

In terms of financing the draft 11th plan of the Nu 213 bn around Nu 139. 8 bn will come from internal revenue to finance mainly the current expenditure, Nu 58.6 bn will come as grants from donors with a fiscal deficit of Nu 15.5 bn. The deficit which averages to around 2 percent a year for five years will be met either though increasing revenue or cutting wasteful current expenditure.

A GNHC official said that DPT also faced a similar challenge in 2008 but ultimately it had to reprioritize and focus on more important areas.

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