The crucial year

With the ongoing Losar celebrations and also the 35th birth anniversary of His Majesty the King, the nation and also the government will be in a celebratory mood.

However, this new year should serve as an important reminder to the government that it is close to completing two years of its term which would leave it with only three more years to implement and fulfill its programs and promises.

In essence if the government flounders in its third year then it will be difficult for the country or the government to recover.

Of the priorities the most important is the economy. One major weakness of the previous government was producing a host of economic policies like EDP, FDI and others but not being able to convert it into tangible economic growth.

The government of the day should no longer be enamored with just policies. There is already a wealth of policies many of which only need minor tinkering.

It is good to see that many projects from the Industrial Estates to State Mining Corporation have been given the green signal and are on the move. It is also encouraging to see actual ground level efforts being made to link policies to what is actually possible. The promise of getting EDP ready by the middle of this year and then immediately allotting plots in the Industrial Estates based on the EDP is one example.

However, the government of the day can fall into the trap of attempting to dictate unrealistic policies to different ground realities. One issue already picked up on by the Opposition party is that so far the government’s many economic pronouncements are not any different from its own policies when in power.

One key policy, the Mineral Development Policy is still not finalized. This delay can hold back the effectiveness of the State Mining Corporation and the mining sector as a whole.

In hydropower, the Indian government has made it clear that it will be taking up only a certain number of projects in line with its own budgetary capacity. The government here has to have a game plan for this new development and then take the necessary steps to move on.

Tourism though growing is hampered with the lack of adequate infrastructure, the lack of variety of tourism products and strong seasonal flows. It also does not help that the domestic airports are not functional.

The banking sector needs a closer look by the government and central bank. Bhutan’s banks charge some of the highest interest rates in the region with the aim of making fat and easy profits and they then wonder why no customers are availing loans.

The government needs to keep an eagle’s eye on its various infrastructure and social projects in rural areas and ensure quality and timely completion. A great weakness for the former government was though it built a record number of farm roads the poor quality of many of them led to its work getting neutralized.

A perennial and worsening problem, important for both health and agriculture, is the drinking and irrigation water crisis which seems to be getting worse by the year. The government should take this as one of its emergency priorities and devote more funds and efforts into it.

Youth employment is also a problem that will not go away unless the economy takes off and  youth are linked with the right skills and training to such job opportunities.

The previous government’s efforts through McKinsey to get rid of unnecessary red tape seems to have borne limited fruit as Bhutan is still encumbered with red tape from even the number of TV channels we can watch to doing business in Bhutan. The government instead of doing some light touches on the surface will have to carry out deep and if necessary earth shaking reforms.

One of them could be the ongoing Performance Management System of the government. The PMS currently needs to be fine tuned further so that the individual performances of civil servants can be tracked. Then there should be a reward system to make sure the performers gain something out of the whole exercise. DHI’s own new system linking annual increments to performance would be worth a consideration for the government.

There has been some controversy over the RBP’s proposal to frisk suspicious youth for weapons. Though this is being done with the right intentions, the government should be careful and mindful that some disasters from the past like Tobacco Act and Pedestrian Day were also done with the right intentions. Bhutan is a democracy and there should be some basic level of research, consultation and trial and error before moves like this are finalized and implemented on a mass scale.

The government of the day should not only focus on speedy service delivery but also transparency and empowering ordinary citizens to get their rights.

The time is limited and the priorities will keep piling up and soon the public will start asking for results. Nobody is looking for miracles, but just that the government gets the basics right.

A well balanced, inclusive approach, according to certain standards and ideals, is essential for the proper governance of any country   

Laisenia Qarase



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