Economic self-reliance is a 55-year-old dream that must see a vibrant end and sustainable future, the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) president said.

Meeting with the people of Chapcha on October 4, the DPT President Pema Gyamtsho explained how the party would work towards achieving economic self-reliance by 2025.

Self-reliance, he said is not a new aspiration born overnight but a national goal that has been dreamt since the beginning of the first Plan. “Still we rely on donors,” he said. “Once self-reliance is achieved, the rest is ensured.”

He said the country is endowed with resources. The only national asset is the country’s natural resources, including water. Expediting the three-mega hydropower projects of Punatshangchhu I, II and Mangdechhu is the top priority for DPT, he said. “DPT started these projects and if people chose us again we will give it a remarkable conclusion that could be cherished for years,” he said.

But this, he said is not enough. He said agreements with the government of India for other hydropower projects already exist. He said that rumors are already rife that if DPT comes to power, hydropower projects would land up in the hands of few private individuals. 

Let alone the private sector, he said the entire country does not yet have the capacity to build mega hydropower projects. “We have to rely on India and it is because of the country’s unyielding relation with India that the country was able to reap more than 1600MW of power,” he said.

However, the micro and mini hydro plants, small scale solar and wind projects could be taken up by the private sector. The power generated from these plants could be sold to Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC). “This is what we meant by promoting private sector participation,” he said. “Private investment should be explored beyond selling groceries and clothes,” he said.

While the people of Chapcha asked if Bunakha project could be taken up, the president said the party couldn’t decide at this juncture. “Because we have to also seek the consensus of the government of India on which project to implement under a mutually agreed modality, we cannot identify specifically,” he said. However, he said Bunakha and Wangchu are more doable.

Tourism is another priority the DPT plans to tap to increase the national earning. The tourism policy, he said must be thoroughly reviewed.  Its scope, he said must be explored beyond visits to dzongs, lhakhangs and trekking trails. Its benefit, he said must be spread equitably among all stakeholders and dzongkhags.

Agriculture is another area to boost local production. An independent agriculture bank, free of government interference and fully guided by the banking regulation would be set up, if DPT forms the government. “The government would institute a policy and loans would be offered at the same four percent, but it would be completely independent and governed by the central bank,” he said.

If more small and cottage industries are set up in the villages, he said the current single-phase power is not enough. DPT plans to increase the power to three phase across the country. 

Private sector development, he said would be just on papers, if the reality is not unearthed. Besides doing retail business and small contracts, he said the private sector lacks access to finance in order to take up bigger activities. Foreign Direct Investment, he said is one of the means to augment the local capacity. “But the current policy permits only FDI if the investment is more than USD 1M, which means relatively smaller businesses cannot get investors,” Pema Gyamtsho said. “We will lower it to USD 300,000 and provide all the necessary incentives,” he added.

DPT also plans to complete the industrial estates and facilitate more power intensive industries.

To achieve self-reliance, he said people should equally contribute, by simply doing whatever they can. Raising the national daily minimum wage to Nu 450 is easy, he said, but in reality, in Laya, for instance the daily wage is Nu 1,000. But, he said, it will hit the youth coming in conflict with law as the thrimthue in lieu of prison term is calculated in terms of daily wage.

“For parties is easy to promise things, but the people have the bigger responsibility to foresee short-term gains over long-term and whether it is doable or not,” he said.

Tshering Dorji | Phuentsholing