Yangchen C Rinzin

The 12th Plan is being reprioritised based on four key priority areas related to Covid-19 pandemic with health as the number one priority sector, followed by education, food security, and infrastructures, Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) officials said.

Establishment of a mini dry port in Gelephu, installation of fuel (POL) reserve depot in Mongar, and granular sub-base work (GSB) of 201 farm roads are the new activities  in the 12th Plan following the reprioritisation.

These are new activities in the plan as per Covid-19 related activities, the GNHC secretary Thinley Namgyel said.

Other new activities are the construction of Gomtu-Tading road, construction of Samrang-Jomotsangkha road, and establishment of a mini dry port in Samtse.

“Reprioritisation of the plan will be more of a regular kind of an exercise now, as the pandemic is uncertain,” the secretary said. The reprioritisation of the Plan was done to create fiscal space for new critical activities.

The secretary said that the purchase of personal protective equipment, Covid-19 testing kits and mandatory quarantine were activities out of the 12th Plan.

“This is why we had to reprioritise other activities to create fiscal space to meet these expenses. Almost Nu 2 billion (B) has been spent,” he said.

Thinley Namgyel said that Gomtu-Tading road had to be included to facilitate the transport of cement export from Gomtu where about Nu 300 million (M) has been allocated as of now.

“The importance of this road was felt during the lockdown. The budget, however, is subject to change,” the secretary said.

Another Nu 29M is kept for the Samrang-Jomotsangkha road where the detailed project report (DPR) is completed and Project DANTAK will construct the road. The road is being frontloaded so it would help people of Jomotsangkha.

Although the 12th Plan had only DPR of mini dry port in Gelephu, it is now being fast-tracked and tentatively about Nu 460M has been allocated for the project. Department of Trade is already working on the establishment of the dry port.

The secretary said that besides this, a small mini dry port was also established in Samtse to enhance the export of  boulder. 

Another Nu 600M was adjusted for the construction of a new Mother Child Health care hospital in Mongar at the Royal Guest House.

On the farm roads, the secretary said that the plan is to have one GSB farm road in each gewog in the first phase and Nu 2.5B has been mobilised.

“For this, we don’t require foreign workers as the work can be carried out with the locally available resources and materials,” he said.

The plan is to start with 201 farm roads with the mobilised budget, which means 1,552Km is expected to complete in the next seven months. However, it would require Nu 15B to cover all 2,311 farm roads.

Deferred activities 

Thinley Namgyel said that following the reprioritisation of activities, some major activities were deferred so that the allocated budget could be used for new activities. The deferred activities are construction of Shingkhar-Gorgan highway, Lhamoidzingkha-Sarpang highway, and Maokhola bridge.

“The budget allocated for the deferred activities were re-allocated in the new activities planned for Covid-19 related activities. We deferred activities that were not critical at the moment or during pandemic and activities that did not have resources mobilised yet,” the secretary said.

Other deferred activities include the construction of dzongkhag courts for Thimphu and Chukha, construction of offices, staff quarters, training, study tours, workshops, and establishment of premiere institutes or schools.

“While reprioritising the  activities, it was not easy to shelve activities because the resources or budget available were not our’s,” the secretary said. “Out of Nu 116B total capital budget for planned activities, Nu 68B is from external grant.”

This means the GNHC should have concurrence from donor countries or seek their agreement for reprioritisation although many donors have been forthcoming.

As for Government of India, although the discussion is still on, the secretary said that they have agreed in May to reprogramming of almost Nu 3.5B worth of activies and re-allocate them. “In certain cases, it’s difficult since they’ve to have agreement from the headquarter and they have their own priority activities.”

The secretary said that although there is a plan to boost the economy by spending and slashing some of the activities, it was difficult with limited resources and resources tied with external financing. “We want to invest but we need resources to invest. So, we need to reprioritise or cancel activities.”

The reprioritisation of the Plan created Nu 4.5B for the economic contingency plan for tourism, agriculture, GSB of farm roads and Build Bhutan project.

Almost Nu 600M was created for the agriculture sector in addition to its regular allocated budget. The plan focused on construction of green house, three cold storages, distribution of seedlings, and poultry, among others.

While domestic resources have decreased, the expenditure related to Covid-19 has increased.

The secretary said that the only way to cover the expenses was to defer the less important activities to the 13th Plan or continue in the later part of the 12th Plan.

“However, this would happen only when the domestic revenue improves or the situation improves,” the secretary said.

The GNHC also plans to review the progress of road construction projects that were awarded but work not started.

“If we find that the work cannot be completed,  we’ll reprioritise and use the fund for activities related to Covid-19,” the secretary said. “Whatever the reprioritisation will be, we want to make sure construction activities are continued although getting skilled labour would be a challenge.”