Assembly: As if the National Council (NC) calling the economic affairs minister Lekey Dorji for a second time to the house was not enough, National Assembly (NA) members, both from the government and the opposition, chose to ask him most of the questions during the question-hour session, yesterday.

Five of the eight questions asked were directed at Lyonpo Lekey Dorji.

The minister was grilled on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), tourist tariff undercutting, the Chamkharchhu hydropower project, probable revision of electricity tariff, and the fuel depot in Duksum in Trashiyangtse.

While the minister got away with the first question on the fuel depot in Duksum with ease, tougher questions awaited.

On the government’s claim of economic growth, Gangzur-Minjay representative Karma Rangdol asked Lyonpo Lekey Dorji to share details on the progress. “Many FDI projects and industries may have been initiated, though there is no need to mention all, if just five of these projects could be mentioned,” Karma Rangdol said.

Lyonpo Lekey Dorji said that while the number of FDI projects were approved, GIC Bhutan reinsurance which is worth Nu 500 million (M) was started. “The others are KCR Pvt Ltd, Ice Beverages Pvt Ltd, which is being planned in Samtse, Dragon Spirit Ltd and Generic Pvt Ltd that plans to produce synthetic industrial diamonds,” Lyonpo Lekey Dorji said.

The minister said that there are still many FDI proposals some of which came after he took over the ministry recently. “There was also a proposal for a smelting plant for ferro silicon and aluminium but that had to be put on hold because of the problem of power shortage in winters,” Lyonpo said.

The government has also approved a number of larger industries in the country like Kinjur Beverages, Bhutan Venture Beverages, Lhaki Beverages,  and resorts. But more than FDI, the minister said that it is the development of the small and cottage industries which should be accorded priority.

“FDI is important but even more important is the development of domestic industries,” Lyonpo said. “But more important than even our domestic industries is small and cottage industries and service sectors.”

Next, Wamrong representative Karma Tenzin asked the minister what is being done to address undercutting in the tourism industry. However, the minister responded that after corresponding with the Tourism Council of Bhutan no undercutting was found to exist.

“Tourism Council of Bhutan has told us that there is no such undercutting since all transactions are done through its bank account,” Lyonpo said, adding that the Council has also so far received no such complaints.

Responding to Kengkhar-Weringla representative Rinzin Jamtsho’s question on the government’s plans to raise electricity tariff for domestic users, Lyonpo said that it would be decided by the Bhutan Electricity Authority. “The government has no part in domestic electricity tariff because it is the sole authority of the Bhutan Electricity Authority,” the minister said, adding the revision is done every three years as stated in the electricity Act.

On some industries having to shut down because of removal of subsidised electricity, the minister said it was decided long before the present government came to power. “Subsidy on high voltage was removed since 2011,” Lyonpo Lekey said.

The minister’s counterpart from the opposition, Panbang representative Dorji Wangdi asked about the stalled Chamkharchhu hydropower project. Dorji Wangdi said that the project despite the government’s reassurances has failed to begin its construction.

“Earlier, the government told us that Chamkharchhu hydropower project would begin right after the joint venture project Kholongchhu hydropower project starts, but while the latter has already begun, the former is still languishing,” Dorji Wangdi said. He added that the delay is now worrying the people of Khengrig Namsum.

The minister began by thanking his counterpart from Panbang for raising the concern of Khengrig Namsum people but also reminded that it was lyonpo himself who pursued the project vigorously until now. “More than anyone I am the most concerned person about this project since it is in the area I am from,” Lyonpo Lekey said.

He however assured that the project would begin as soon as the present hurdle is over. “As of now the project could not begin because of some hurdles in share-holding and concession agreements in Kholongchhu hydropower project, which will be the basis for the Charkharchhu hydropower project,” Lyonpo said.

“Since it is a new mode of project, it is taking sometime because of certain more important things to consider,” Lyonpo Lekey said.

Tempa Wangdi