The PM’s first “State of the Nation” report highlighted importance of the King, country and the people
The Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay presented the report on the state of the Tsa-Wa-Sum to the joint sitting of the Parliament as per article 10 (10) of the Constitution on September 30.
In a deviation from the previous government’s approach of presenting the report from a GNH perspective, the new PM’s report was titled, “State of the Tsa-Wa- Sum: King, Country and the People.”
The Prime Minister said that since the government is just over two months old, the report was more focused on future plans rather than on the achievements of the government. The Prime Minister expressed his gratitude to His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo and His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo for their constant royal guidance and initiatives undertaken for the welfare of the country and the people.
The Prime Minister also said that he is hopeful that the people’s aspirations would be fulfilled in the 11th FYP with the blessing of kencho sum and under the royal guidance of the His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo.
“It is a matter of great pride and happiness to report that we, in Bhutan, have had such Kings who continue to work with compassion and selfless commitment to improve the well being of the people and to safeguard our national interests. Our nation has witnessed far-reaching changes and unprecedented socio-economic development and emerged as a progressive modern nation state under the enlightened leadership and farsighted vision of our Kings. We must always acknowledge the huge debt of gratitude that we owe to our beloved Kings and the sacred institution of Monarchy,” Lyonchhen reported.
“His Majesty the King and His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo are models. We need not look elsewhere. Our Kings have always led by example and are true leaders in every sense. They have bequeathed to us a strong nation through their hard work, personal sacrifices and extraordinary leadership. It is now our responsibility to do our part. We must work hard and consciously strive to live by the high standards set by our beloved Kings,” Lyonchhen said.
Security, Law and Order
Lyonchhen expressed his condolences for the twelve brave soldiers of the Royal Bhutan Army who died in a tragic accident in Haa last month. “They lost their lives in the service to our nation. Several other soldiers were injured. We mourn the loss of the lives of our fallen soldiers and pray that the injured will make a full recovery,” he said.
“The brave men and women of our armed forces (Dhakha-Sum) continue to serve our nation with great dedication under the leadership of our supreme Commander in Chief, His Majesty the King. Indeed, the peace, security and sovereignty of our nation are in the most capable hands. His Majesty the King continues to inspire, motivate and provide outstanding leadership to our armed forces,” Lyonchhen said.
He said the armed forces deserve a special credit for safeguarding the security of the nation and the law enforcement agencies working hard to keep cities, towns and villages safe. “They deserve our appreciation for their service to the country. In addition to securing our borders and protecting our nation, the armed forces including the Desuungs continue to play a vital role in search and rescue and relief operations in times of disasters,” Lyonchhen added.
Lyonchhen said Bhutan is recognized as a responsible member of the international community and the country’s foreign policy has been deftly crafted over decades by successive Monarchs.
“Our Kings set the course of Bhutan’s foreign policy to safeguard our sovereignty and territorial integrity and promote socio-economic development. Today, His Majesty the King remains actively engaged in promoting goodwill and friendly relations with all countries. Among others, His Majesty’s visits aboard have not only enhanced Bhutan’s profile and stature, but generated considerable goodwill and further strengthened our relations with many countries,” Lyonchhen said.
Lyonchhen touched on his first foreign visit after assuming office, which was to India on the invitation of Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India from August 30 to September 4, 2013. “It was a fruitful visit. Government of India committed to support our 11th FYP to tune of Rs. 45bn and also committed an additional Rs. 5bn for the stimulus plan. On behalf of the people of Bhutan, I would like to place on record, our deep appreciation and gratitude to the people and Government of India,” Lyonchhen said.
On the border issues with China, Lyonchhen said the demarcation of northern borders with China is making progress. “Within the first month of the government’s tenure, Bhutan hosted the 21st Round of Boundary Talks in Thimphu from August 21-23, 2013. As agreed during the recent boundary talks, a Joint Technical Field Survey of Bayul Pasamlung area was undertaken from 6-9 September 2013. The report of the survey will be submitted to the two governments by the expert. The demarcation of our northern boundary is important and we will continue to remain engaged with the government of the Republic of China to demarcate our northern boundary,” Lyonchhen said.
The civil service, Lyonchhen said, is the nation’s backbone. “ The government will commission a comprehensive review of the civil service in the coming year. A genuine concern of the civil servants is that salaries and allowances are inadequate. Fuelled by inflation and spiraling rents, the cost of living has continued to rise. So to address this matter, PDP government will form the Pay Commission within the next month to examine the salaries and allowances of civil servants, local government functionaries and other public officials,” he added.
“His Majesty the King continues to nurture and support the democratic process in Bhutan with great personal interest and enthusiasm. This is why our people continue to participate in the democratic process and electing their representatives. This is why the second Parliamentary elections held this year was a success,” Lyonchhen said.
Lyonchhen said the first Parliament has served the country well. The National Council, National Assembly, and that within the National Assembly, the ruling and opposition parties, have shouldered their responsibilities successfully.
He thanked all the political parties for participating in the country’s democratic process. “On behalf of the PDP, I thank people of Bhutan for giving us opportunity to serve the Tsa-Wa-Sum. My party humbly accepts the mandate given to us by the people of Bhutan. The first Interim Government headed by Chief Advisor Sonam Tobgye and Advisors deserve our appreciation for shouldering the reins of government after the dissolution of the Parliament,” Lyonchhen added.
He also applauded the constitutional bodies and CSOs for doing their part to strengthen democracy and promote rule of law.
“Our local governments are an integral part of our democratic setup. Our Constitution provides for more power to be devolved to local governments including Thromdes. PDP government has increased funds available to them, including Nu 2mn per gewog to use as they see fit,” Lyonchhen said.
Lyonchhen highlighted on the importance of media and said media has a critical role to play in the development of a democratic culture. A free, independent and vibrant media, he said is essential to inform the public, to highlight important issues and challenges that we as a nation face and to play the role of a watchdog.
“The situation of media in Bhutan is not very encouraging; most of the private newspapers are struggling. Our government has no intention of interfering or influencing the media. But we need to do something as their health is critical for a well- functioning democracy,” Lyonchhen said.
Lyonchhen also said the government intends to finalize required regulations and permit the establishment of private TV stations soon.
“The vulnerability of our economy became painfully evident over the last two years. For the first time in our history, our currency was not accepted in shops across the border. The RMA had to borrow Rupees at commercial rates to pay for imports. Vehicles, alcohol and furniture imports were banned and house construction loans were stopped. Rupee and other foreign exchange available to Bhutanese were drastically curtailed,” Lyonchhen said.
He said the national debt of Nu 96bn has spiraled out and in the last two years USD 400mn of the country’s foreign exchange reserve has been sold to repay short- term Rupee debt.
“Thankfully, we have for now been handed a respite, owing largely to the generosity of our friend, India. The Financial assistance they committed to releasing, including funding our economic stimulus plan to the tune of Nu.5bn, will help ease liquidity in the market and breathe life into our economy,” Lyonchhen added.
Lyonchhen said youth unemployment is still a serious issue. “Our national unemployment rate at 2.1% considered low by international standard, but… during the meet the people, about 90% of those unemployed are youth seeking jobs. On an urgent basis, the government will implement the economic stimulus plan, injecting funds into financial institutions to ease liquidity and make loan available for productive sectors. Within the year, government will formulate a Private Sector Development Plan (PSDP) in consultation with all stakeholders. We will make sure that the plan is fully implemented,” Lyonchhen assured.
Lyonchhen said the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) and its member associations have a vital role to play in developing the private sector and economy. “They will be invited to jointly lead the process of formulating and implementing the PSDP,” he added.
Lyonchhen said the nation’s traditional way of life and culture, religion and pristine environment are the main tourist attractions. Lyonchhen attributed the preservation of it all to the beloved and farsighted Kings. “Our high value, low impact policy has evolved into a widely admired responsible policy. Moving forward, we will continue our high value, low impact policy. Given its tremendous potential for our economic development, job creation and earning foreign exchange, tourism will be a top priority for our government,” Lyonchhen said.
Lyonchhen reported that with about 9,500 km of roads in the country today but most of the recently constructed roads are unpaved gewog feeder roads and farm roads that are already in varying states of disrepair.
“The government will prioritize to complete construction of our national highways network including the southern east-west highway and various north-south highway, upgrade existing sections of our national highway network such as the northern east-west highway to improve safety and reduce travel times, repair existing farm roads, blacktop gewog roads, construct or upgrade roads to hydro-project sites and use environment friendly technology in road construction to minimize impact,” Lyonchhen said.
Lyonchhen said the government intends to fully leverage the potential of its investments in information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and capacity building, young people that is quick to adopt new technologies and the many Bhutanese who have diplomas and degree in computer science and engineering. “We will use ICT to interact with people, present Bhutan to the world, promote e-business, create jobs and improve health care and education,” he added.
Lyonchhen said the regular prayers by the Zhung Dratshangs led by His Holiness the Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Chhoeda as well as by our Choedays and other religious leaders have kept the entire nation secure and peaceful.
“ Culture forms the essence of our identity. Our arts, ceremonies, music and festivals are not remnants of a bygone age; they continue to have a significant role in our everyday life. Our dzongs and ancient temples have scared Nangtens blessed by great Lams and Rinpoches. It is our responsibility to care of them and hand them down to the next generation,” Lyonchhen said.
The Constitution requires at least 60% of the nation’s land mass to be maintained under forest cover for all times to come. Currently, about 70% of the country’s total land area is under forest cover and 50% of the country is protected in form of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
“Climate change threatens not only our fragile mountain ecosystem, but also poses a serious challenge to sustainable development and livelihoods of the people. Waste management is another serious challenge. We will also explore opportunities for public- private partnership and engage with entrepreneurs like Greener Ways to play a bigger role in waste management,” Lyonchhen said.
Gross National Happiness (GNH)
“GNH is a precious gift from our Fourth Druk Gyalpo to the Bhutanese and to humanity. For me the government’s job is to implement policies and programs that enhance GNH within our own country and that is what this government will do,” Lyonchhen said.
Reiterating on PDP’s ideology of Wangtse Chhirpel, Lyonchhen said democracy is about empowering people. “Wangtse Chhirpel is fundamental for a vibrant democracy. Through the devolution of power and authority to our local governments, our people will be socially, economically and politically empowered,” he added.
Agriculture Lyonchhen said farming still remains the country’s most important sector. “The governments will bolster existing programs to help our farmers such as making available high yielding seeds, fertilizer, and mechanization and irrigation channels. We will repair farm roads, mitigate wildlife crop destruction including schemes for crop insurance, introduce innovative financing mechanisms, incentives and subsidies, promote agro-based business and established effective marketing and distribution networks and take a pro-active approach in facilitating farmers cooperatives, community forestry and such other programs,” he said.
“A chronic problem facing our country is rural-urban migration. The population of our cities is growing at a rate of 7.3% compared to overall growth rate of 1.3%. We will create opportunities in agriculture and other cottage industries in rural areas and seriously pursue the development of regional economic centre’s to slow the rate of rural-urban migration,” Lyonchhen said.
Housing and human settlements
Lyonchhen said cities such as Thimphu and Phuentsholing face a severe housing shortage, particularly for the low income group. He said the government is making sure that all Bhutanese have access to safe and affordable housing, including home ownership, which is essential for enhancing the happiness of people.
“We have already begun discussion on the Tenancy Act in the Parliament with view to control spiraling rents and plan and support the creating of regional hubs, particularly considering the locations of future hydro-power projects, inorder to create new growth centre’s and promote balanced regional development. The 11th plan envisages construction of 800 low income rental units and about 100 units for ownership by low income civil servants,” Lyonchhen said.
Lyonchhen said every Bhutanese child deserves the best possible education. “We want our children to grow into mentally and physically healthy and productive adults to pursue their dreams and to serve Tsa-Wa-Sum. Our teachers are the most important factor determining the success of the child’s education. We must work hard in recruiting, developing, supporting, retaining and rewarding outstanding teachers. Our goal must be to have a great teacher in every classroom and a great principal in every school.
Women and youth
Lyonchhen said PDP will take concrete steps to improve women’s participation in all important areas of political, economic and social sectors. The government will form a committee comprised of women to study this situation and we will be guided by their recommendations. The PDP government, Lyonchhen said, is proud to have the first ever women minister of the Bhutan, which serves as an inspiration for women across the country to join politics.
Lyonchhen said the government will do everything possible to find productive jobs for youth. “The government will soon conduct a thorough study of the state of the youth and will roll out various schemes to deal with all youth issues. PDP government will come out with policies and programs to provide employment to youth, unemployment stipends and student loans,” he added.
Civil Society Organization (CSO)
Lyonchhen said, “Under the patronage, support and guidance of their Majesties the Queen Mothers, we have numbers of CSOs such as RENEW, Tarayana Foundation, Royal Textile Academy and Youth Development Fund. These organizations continue to do commendable work related to poverty reduction for vulnerable individuals and communities, empowerment of women and girls, youth development and preservation and promotion of our traditional art of weaving.”
Lyonchhen, in his closing note expressed gratitude to the international development partners and particularly to the government and people of India for their generous assistance for the 11th FYP.