MB Subba 

When the prime minister announced the new phase of Covid-19 management on BBS from Gelephu on March 2, it was expected that the government’s focus would immediately shift towards economic recovery.

A month since, however, the government is still working on an action plan to revive the economy. The GDP growth has slumped to negative 10.08 percent.

Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said that the government was working on fiscal and monetary measures and improving economic policies.

The government, he said, was charting out an “action matrix” that will determine what would be done as part of the short-term, medium-term and long-term recovery plans.

“The normalisation of the Covid protocol which is happening now itself is the biggest part of the recovery plan,” he said, adding that fiscal incentives that are also being rolled out would also contribute to economic recovery.

Citing an example, he said that export of boulders would be expedited immediately in the short-term.

Similarly, borrowings would be invested in economically viable long-term projects and programmes that would last beyond the present government’s term, he added.

The areas of the long-term investments include renewable energy, human capital development formation and ICT infrastructure, according to the finance minister.

Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that improving the access to credit would be one of the main priorities. The finance minister has written to financial institutions, asking the latter to reduce interest rates amid a sluggish credit growth.

The economic affairs ministry, he said, was working on the policy front to accelerate the growth of industries. “We are coming up with some radical action plan,” he said.

Lyonpo said the reduction in the quarantine period for international tourists would also help the tourism sector to pick up gradually.

The government, he said, was also closely following the economic trends of India as the two economies are closely linked. The data of inflation trends and fuel prices in India were being studied for the government to act accordingly, he said.

The government has stated that its strategy going forward would be to try and prevent infections as much as possible without lockdowns, which will be imposed only if the cases surge beyond the hospitalisation and bed occupancy threshold, or if a new deadly variant emerges.

However, critics say that relaxing the Covid-19 protocol and doing away with lockdowns would not be enough to revive the economy and that the government should implement a “tangible” recovery plan as soon as possible.

The People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) general secretary, Kuenga Tashi, said that there was nothing concrete the party knew for now about the tangible economic recovery plan of the government.

“But more than such plans, we would like to iterate that the government must implement all planned activities of the 12 Plan before completing their tenure. Our economy has suffered enough and we have no option than to revive it to pre-Covid level as a baseline to move forward,” he said.

The government, he said, must pursue to recover the economy by “picking the low hanging fruits” and prioritising those activities that foster a robust economic regrowth.

Opposition MP Ugyen Dorji said that now that we the country is transitioning to a new normal, the government must put in concrete and sincere measures to rebound our economy.

“Apart from hydropower and tourism, ours is a trading economy, so, the government must facilitate the revamping of all hitherto stalled trading activities, mostly with India and Bangladesh,” he said.

The Opposition Party, through a recent press release, suggested the government to work on “some concrete and serious” fiscal and financial measures on economic recovery and submit to Parliament.

It added that the government should also work closely with the central bank on monetary and credit measures.

The Opposition also suggests the government to complete Punatsangchhu-II and Nickachhu hydropower projects by mid 2023, and expedite other hydropower projects.

The Opposition states that the projects can be completed if Punatsangchhu-II is provided with additional 1,600 workers and Nikachhu with 90.

Others said that the government should implement programmes that will employ a large number of people.