Members of the Parliament questioned Finance Minister Namgay Tshering yesterday on the legality of allocating 19 million (M) from the General Reserve Fund (GRF) to carry out the developmental activities in Paro.
Jomotsangkha-Martshala MP Norbu Wangzom said that the minister had misused his authority and was in breach of the Constitution.
Citing the misuse of the GRF, Gangzur-Minjey MP Kinga Penjor asked whether it was a tradition passed down from past governments.
Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that the government allocated the GRF as per the Constitution.
Article 14 (3) of the Constitution states: “Public money shall not be drawn from the Consolidated Fund except through appropriation in accordance with the law.” The fund from the GRF, he said, was as per the Public Finance Act 2017 and Financial Rules and Regulations 2016.
The GRF, Lyonpo said, is part of the annual budget approved by the Parliament along with the Budget Report, Budget Appropriation Bill, and Supplementary Budget Appropriation Bill for the fiscal year (FY).
“With technical adjustments, the budget is allocated from the supplementary budget from one activity to another,” Lyonpo said.
Lyonpo said that Zhemgang, for example, was allocated a supplementary budget of Nu 30M over the already allocated Nu 43M in the FY 2020-21.
He said that the previous government had utilised Nu 55M from the GRF for the hospitality and entertainment of cabinet ministers and equivalent positions in a year.
Citing article 18 of the Constitution, Lyonpo said that the opposition had the right not only to oppose the government, but also to help bring unity in the country.
Unity, he said, was more important than attempts to differentiate between people, dzongkhags, and regions.
Maenbi-Tsaenkhar MP Choki Gyeltshen asked the minister about the country’s increasing debt and government borrowings.
Non-hydro debt, he said, was a concern that has grown by Nu 20B in the FY 2020-21.
Lyonpo said that hydro-debt is also risky since the cost of Punatsangchhu-I, which was started in 2008 with Nu 35.7B, has now escalated to Nu 93.8B.
The total national debt stands at Nu 234.8B, out of which Nu 162.3B is hydro-debt, he said.
“When Punatsangchhu-I is completed, a unit of electricity will have to be sold at Nu 50. Who is going to buy it?” Lyonpo asked.
He added that the fiscal deficit in the 12th Five-Year Plan as presented in the Parliament was Nu 29B, 70 percent of which would be met from the external borrowings.
Lyonpo said that the government would borrow depending on changing situations and requirements. “The government will look for low-interest external borrowings and invest in human resource development and public infrastructure.”