With the government and the opposition remaining adamant on their respective stands, the political fallout from the government’s decision to replace Zhemgang with Sarpang in the tourism flagship programme is showing no signs of going away anytime soon.

The government is calling on the opposition, which says that revoking the decision is the only solution to the problem, through the media to come for talks. But foreign minister and Tourism Council of Bhutan’s (TCB) chair, Dr Tandi Dorji maintained that the inclusion of Sarpang in the tourism flagship programme would not change.

“Why can’t we sit and discuss? The opposition has not come forward for discussion,” Dr Tandi Dorji said.

Opposition spokesperson and Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi preferred not to comment, when asked if the opposition was open to talk with the government on the issue. 

He said the issue was a serious one, stating the government violated a law passed by the Parliament.

Dr Tandi Dorji insists that it was the opposition that needed to approach the government for a discussion. Lyonpo said he had explained to the opposition leader about the rationale behind the decision and the government’s plan for Zhemgang before the opposition wrote to the Speaker.

However, it was learnt that the opposition leader was not satisfied with the foreign minister’s clarification.

The opposition has written to the Speaker stating that the government came up with the decision despite the former having told the latter in the parliament about the implications on the law and the budgetary procedure.

If the government implements the proposed programme, it will be the first time that a tourism programme is implemented in a southern dzongkhag. The government maintains that the decision is in line with the National Assembly’s decision to open an entry point for regional tourists in Gelephu.

The decision to take the flagship programme to Sarpang came amid doubts about the government’s political will to implement the National Assembly’s resolution.

However, MP Dorji Wangdi said that the government’s decision contradicted its earlier assurance. 

He said the government had said that it would initiate other programmes in place of the proposed Chamkharchhu project, when it was scrapped.

He said that so many development needs such as roads and hospitals have been pending because they were expected to come along with the Chamkharchhu project.

Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that the secretariat and its lawyers were yet to respond to the opposition’s letter as they were attending a training programme.

Meanwhile, the government is determined to implement the flagship programme in Sarpang. On the legality front, the foreign minister said that the question would not arise so long the government does not actually implement the programme and it does not overstep the total budget outlay.

“If it is illegal, then we can propose the same in the next budget. The decision to include Sarpang is permanent,” he said, adding that the government’s lawyers were reviewing the issue.

The National Assembly on June 14 passed the National Budget Report 2019-20, which allocated Nu 11 million each for Zhemgang, Lhuentse, Dagana and Gasa for the tourism flagship programme.

However, 10 days later, the cabinet secretary wrote to the GNHC secretary on June 24 announcing the Prime Minister’s approval of the TCB proposal to replace Zhemgang with Sarpang. The prime minister chairs the GNHC.

The cabinet secretary’s letter had stated that the decision was taken to ensure regional distribution in selection of the focus dzongkhags.

The National Council has also written to the prime minister, saying that the government’s decision to swap Zhemgang for Sarpang was in contravention of the Budget and Appropriation Act and must be reconsidered.

 MB Subba