Lyonchhen (Dr) Lotay Tshering, during the Friday press meet said the government has neither committed any political discrimination nor does the government have any political interest in replacing Zhemgang with Sarpang for the tourism flagship program.
Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that re-appropriating Nu 11 million (mn) from a total of Nu 1,000 mn which is allotted for the tourism flagship program from Zhemgang to Sarpang does not violate Public Finance Act nor the Constitution of Bhutan, in contrast to what Opposition has pointed out in its letter.
The government said it has consulted the Office of Attorney General (OAG), the legal advisor of the government, and the OAG said it is legal for the government to re-appropriate or cancel within the provisions of the Act.
Lyonchhen said that the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) identified four dzongkhags; Dagana, Zhemgang, Lhuentse and Gasa for the flagship program. Lyonpo Tandi Dorji, after consulting TCB, recommended replacing Zhemgang with Sarpang because Sarpang is suited for the flagship as it will help to develop Gelephu, which will serve as the southern gateway, and that will in turn boost tourism in Zhemgang.
Lyonchhen reflected on how development of Phuentsholing has benefitted Chukha, Thimphu and Paro dzongkhags. Similarly, development of Sarpang would boost tourism in Zhemgang and other places.
The Opposition and National Council accused that the government has violated relevant laws including the Constitution by re-appropriating Nu 11 mn from Zhemgang to Sarpang stating that government has no legitimacy to change the provisions of an Act (Budget Act) once it is passed by the Parliament.
Lyonchhen said, “The various institutions pointed out that government decision over Zhemgang is not legal or government does not have any authority over any Act passed by the Parliament. Government consulted its legal advisor OAG and was informed there were hundreds of activities re-appropriated and cancelled in the past, but this has to go through Ministry of Finance which will decide whether they can do it or not.”
He said, “If it is not legal, the Ministry of Finance will stop us and if there are any legal provisions, the Ministry of Finance will look into it and advice us.”
Lyonchhen added that there is no point to politicize the whole issues. He said the flagship program in Sarpang will focus on Gelephu as it is the hub of the dzongkhag. He said the government is keen on developing dzongkhags like Zhemgang, Dagana and Pemagatshel.
“I told TCB that I don’t have any problem in keeping Sarpang as one of the four focus dzongkhags for the flagship program, and I don’t mind even if Zhemgang is put back for the flagship program because at the end I want Zhemgang developed,” Lyonchhen said.
He said that the four dzongkhag are identified as focus dzongkhags for the tourism flagship program but the focus might change next year.
“These four dzongkhags are not identified for next four years. Obviously, we don’t have to do much with Thimphu, Paro, Punakha and Bumthang but there are so many things we have to do with the East,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lyonchhen said he has met TCB and GNHC to decide on whether to remove all the four dzongkhags and make all the 20 dzongkhags the focus dzongkhags.
He said, “People of Zhemgang are misled by this because our intention is to bring more tourists to Zhemgang. There are so many activities, like bird watching and eco tourism among others and to make best use of this projects and activities.
We must increase the number of arrival. If we are increasing the number of tourist arrival in Zhemgang, I feel that we have to keep Sarpang as the focus dzongkhag.”
Zhemgang is allotted the seventh highest budget in the 12th Plan, with the highest budget being allotted to Samtse followed by Trashigang, Mongar, Pemagatshel and Dagana. According to the government, the share allotment has been done in a very fair manner.