In principle, the 12th Plan is the nation’s last script of Bhutan’s development journey as least developed country (LDC). However, it is not a formula to transform the country dramatically overnight.
This was the message from the government as the members of the Opposition Party lobbied for an ambitious target on economic growth, youth unemployment and on poverty alleviation.
During the deliberation on the 12th Plan in the National Assembly yesterday, the Panbang MP, Dorji Wangdi pointed out several indicators that are “apathetic and contradictory with government’s objectives.”
For instance, he said, “narrowing the gap,” the slogan of the government during the campaign period is not a priority given the gini coefficient target of 0.38 in the 12th Plan, which is same as today. “Technically, gap between rich and poor is going to remain the same,” he said.
Gini coefficient is a measure of inequality where zero represents perfect equality and one represent perfect inequality, meaning one person corners all the income.
From 0.42 in 2003, the gini coefficient came down to 0.35 in 2007 and slightly increased to 0.36 in 2012.
Likewise, the multi-dimensional poverty in the 12th Plan is projected to be lowered to 5 percent, from 5.8 percent. “It can be comprehended that there is not much efforts since it’s a reduction of 0.8 percent,” he said.
The target to reduce youth unemployment rate to 6 percent, he said is not enough.
Dorji Wangdi said that for a developing nation, where capital investment is a necessity, average GDP growth rate of 5 to 6 percent in five year is timidly small a target for a record Plan size of Nu 310B.
The growth target in the previous two Plans, he said, was ambitiously set at 10 percent. The achievement in 10th plan was 7.2 percent and 5.6 percent in 11th. “From the past experience, the result always comes lower than the target,” he said adding if the target is about 5 to 6 percent, the result may be even lower.
Overall, Dorji Wangdi said the plan adequately covers the programmes that is the need of the hour and would benefit the country. “But going by the figures, the plan seems to backtrack on the progress made thus far.”
The GNH approach
“Figures are mere numbers, it is not important,” Lyonchhen Dr Lotay said. For a country that considers inclusive growth and prosperity, he said, GDP is not the sole indicator to measure progress.
He justified that the growth figures achieved in the 10th and 11th Plans are not achievable in the 12th Plan because the GDP base has drastically increased and per capital income has tripled over time.
An average growth of 5 to 6 percent, he said is a realistic target. “What is the point of setting high target when it’s not achievable. It makes us complacent,” he said. “I am a surgeon and I will do what is possible and realistic.”
More than the figures, he said inclusive growth with prosperity is what makes Bhutan a GNH state. Since the day Bhutan embarked on development journey, the prime minister said that the country has been cautious in maintaining a balance between GDP growth and happiness.
“Should we push for a GDP growth as high as 10 percent, we might compromise the wellbeing of people,” he said citing examples of some developed countries and hardships the people therein have gone through. “We must not over burden the current generation to achieve higher growth because they too deserve prosperity,” he said adding that the country must take one step at a time.
However, he said the growth of 5 to 6 percent is the minimum GDP growth that the economy can achieve. If things favour, Lyonchhen said a growth of 8 to 9 percent is possible.
On narrowing the gap and poverty, the foreign minister said that the government is going beyond the numbers. For instance, the health and education services and roads and communication networks are minimum infrastructures that every citizen must enjoy. More so, ensuring that the rural lots and poor enjoy the same kind of services as the urban dwellers, is essentially narrowing the gap.
On the economic front, the government was questioned on the policies relating to taxation, economic development, fiscal incentives, export promotion and foreign direct investment.
The Opposition members advised the government to improvise the existing policies first and then start implementing.