…despite other political parties expressing concerns 

Vehicle: The government will procure 199 utility vehicles for the gewogs across the country in a month’s time according to the finance minister, Namgay Dorji.

Once procured, these vehicles will be sent to 199 gewogs with access to road connectivity. But no utility vehicle will be given to those six gewogs without roads. These gewogs will be able to avail chopper services at 50 percent discount.

Lyonpo Namgay Dorji, who is currently in Bumthang said the funds to procure utility vehicles were ready since last year but it was delayed due to some procurement procedures. “The Government of India provided a little more than Nu 146 million as grant to purchase the vehicles,” Lyonpo said.

According to the finance minister, the utility vehicles should have an engine rating of 2,000cc, a double cabin, four-wheel drive and power steering. “The criteria has been set since roads in some of the gewogs are rough,” Lyonpo said.

Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP), in a perspective contributed to this paper, acknowledged the move as a good idea since it will strengthen the principles of decentralisation and empower local government. The party, however, expressed concerns over cost implications because of the huge sum of money required to procure the vehicles.

“The Bhutanese people must be informed as to from where are the funds being sourced,” the party states. The party also questions the morality of the decision.

Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party also opined that such spending patterns risk the country slipping further into financial debt if the campaign pledges are overwhelming government expenditure.

Such spending if left unchecked, the party argues, will render current monetary measures taken by the Royal Monetary Authority unable to address any future financial problems.

BKP also questioned if the decision to import utility vehicles, which further fuels import, is  justifiable for an economy driven by aid money and import. “Therefore a thorough economic rationale is mandatory prior to executing such policy decisions that is … unsustainable, and eventually counter productive towards nation building,” the party says.

Lyonpo Namgay Dorji, however, said that as local government is an important arm of the governance, the utility vehicles are essential to the gewogs. “It’s aimed at helping them carry out planned works and serve them during emergencies like serious sickness and during the times of disasters,” he said.

Lyonpo added that these utility vehicles must be kept at the gewog centres and used only for official purposes. Citing an example, Lyonpo said that the Langthel gup could use the vehicle to come to Trongsa for the dzongkhag tshogdu along with the tshogpa and mangmi. “Utility vehicle is not meant for only the gup as many people assume but it is meant for all the  local government officials and civil servants in the gewogs,” Lyonpo said.

Otherwise, the vehicle is to be parked at the gewog center he added.

Both the opposition party and BKP also expressed concerns over conflicting government policies. Opposition Leader (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said that the opposition is concerned not only with capital but is more worried with maintenance costs.

“On the one hand the government is collecting pool vehicles and on the other hand they are buying the new vehicles so the whole purpose of curbing misuse of pool vehicle is defeated,” (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said.

BKP president Sonam Tobgay said that the import of utility vehicles would further escalate fuel imports and running parts. He also urged the government to enforce a transparent procurement process to avoid certain brands getting any defacto opportunities.

“Thus, careful procurement audit with no due advantage to any particular dealer needs to be enforced providing a level playing field to avoid damaging principles of good governance,” the party states.

The vehicles will be procured through open tender and any Bhutanese vehicle dealer can take part in the tender according to the finance minister. The Department of Local Government of the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs will conduct the procurement.

Lyonpo said Nu 60,000 will be allocated for each gewog for fuel and maintenance. “Government will see how it works and make necessary changes if required,” Lyonpo said, adding gewogs must spend from their budget if the maintenance and fuel cost exceeds the allocated amount.

Tempa Wangdi and Nima Wangdi