Without a doubt the gewogs merit utility vehicles aimed to unleash latent potential improving effective and timely delivery of public services at the local levels. But only after a thorough need assessment owing to affordability and net gains.
Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party raises a serious economic argument, and questions the government if a study has been carried out on any possible incremental economic gains that can be achieved at the local level from such an unsettling public expenditure. Or has there been any empirical evidence testifying lack of mobility or transport amenities in the past as being an impediment to gewog development and growth. Are there any plausible findings that the government has on measurable economic benefits that can be derived from such unwarranted spending?
For instance, will agriculture and livestock production outcomes double and reduce food imports? Or will it lead to better school attendance and more jobs, less diseases, gewog per capita increases and the likes. For that matter, will it even lead to tangible democratic progress? Or is it simply exposing a myopic view of PDP to fulfill party pledges that was less deliberated on its economic costs and benefits during the campaign period.
Second, importing of utility vehicles will further widen the trade deficit gap with India leading to more outflow of Indian Rupee (INR). Alongside external debt to GDP looming at 116 percent, is it a sound economic decision to force consumption expenditure with total disregard to fiscal prudence under circumstances where we need to work within our means. According to recent Royal Monetary Authority reports, the country is laden with over USD 2 billion in debt, of which USD 585 million is in convertible currency driven loans, while more than Nu 100 billion is in INR debt.
Third, what happens after the vehicle life ends? How can we sustain the facility in terms of maintenance, driver salary, running parts and fuel expenditure? Do we have the road conditions adequate enough to drive these vehicles, how long is the intra-gewog travel distances to force such a purchase?
While we appreciate the generosity of the Government of India supporting Bhutan’s development agenda through various grants and assistance, the government of the day in Bhutan must be equally responsible and accountable enough to translate such benevolent support into greater economic gains. One must understand that the INR 146 million grant money belongs to the taxpayers of our Indian friends and unquestionably they too will want it transformed into larger economic development and growth for Bhutan rather than funding party promises alone.
With such a facility started now, it will be difficult to discontinue, prompting hue and cry at the gewog level understandably not able to comprehend macroeconomic dynamics at the centre. For example, in the past voluntary labour (Shabtog Labmi, Dru-dom or six man labour, Sum-dom or three man labour) provided opportunities for communities to contribute towards nation building. After getting it monetised, it has now become a rightful demand even for a day’s wage, for a public work at the doorstep.
Therefore, such short term rent-seeking initiative amongst many others is not only costly but bound to invite a culture of entitlement, and serves as a disincentive to any sort of innovation and enterprise. Given the choice, BKP would rather secure economic development with meaningful outcomes of wealth creation and national gains first, and then deservingly such benefits of kind will definitely be provided to gewog leaders, but only when we get there ourselves first as a nation jointly contributing towards His Majesty’s vision of self reliance.
BKP will support any measure that brings about economic gains to the country and urges the government not to depart from the overall objectives of economic development and growth. BKP alerts the government to avoid embracing political decadence overwhelmed by party pledges by doling out such handouts because it is simply unsustainable for the country in the long run.
Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party