Nu 1.27b spent so far on Covid-19 activities

Younten Tshedup 

The government has spent Nu 1.27 billion (B) so far for Covid-19 response and containment plans, of which Nu 988 million (M) was spent on buying essential food items and fuel.

Latest figures with the finance ministry show that the economic affairs ministry has purchased about 1,200 kilolitres (1.2 million litres)  of fuel and about 20,000 liquid petroleum gas (LPG) cylinders for both commercial and domestic use.

The Food Corporation of Bhutan has stocked over 8,000 metric tonnes (MT) of rice worth Nu 197M, 824MT of edible oil and about 300MT of pulses.

The health ministry received Nu 146M for the quarantine centres and the procurement of medical equipment and drugs.

Nu 48M was released to the cabinet secretariat for the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) suits and goggles, N-95 mask and the logistical expenses for the quarantine centres in Thimphu.   

Where will the money come from?      

The government has been saving money from all the non-essential undertakings that were planned in the current fiscal year to be used for Covid-19 related activities.

About Nu 2.3B has been identified as possible saving so far.

Using technical adjustment, which is allowed in the Public Finance Act, the possible saving, for now, has mainly come from three sources –general reserves, amount surrendered by agencies during the mid-year budget review and from the indicative savings from agencies after the outbreak of Covid-19.

Under general reserve, budget is provisioned for activities, which are common expenditures spent on new appointment of officials, third country travel, acquisition of properties, and disaster contingency among others.

Of the Nu 7.9B provisioned under general reserves for the current fiscal year, Nu 610M has been identified as possible saving.

Another Nu 920M has been saved from the amount surrendered by different agencies during the mid-year budget review held in December last year. These are the amount surrendered by agencies for not being able to carry out certain activities from the approved budget prior to the review.

The indicative savings, which is Nu 780M, is the budget from activities that could not be utilised further due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, officials from the finance ministry said that the possible savings are not real savings, but are the unused budget that was appropriated for each agency in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

An official said that the Nu 2.3B saving, which is being used for Covid-19 related activities is just a notional budget figure, meaning that there is no real money being saved for Covid-19. “If we have to spend this budget, we have to borrow this money from the domestic treasury,” he said.


Budget surrenders 

Of the Nu 1.2B allocated for the human resource development of civil servants in the 2019-20 fiscal year, the education sector alone has Nu 632M including Nu 60M for professional development of teachers provisioned under the dzongkhags.

The National Assembly has a budget provision of Nu 178.6M of which Nu 5.4M is for the parliamentary exchange programme and Nu1.5M each for the Speaker and Opposition Leader’s in-country travel and official visits.

Of the Nu 87.8M provisioned for the National Council, Nu 1.5M is for the chairperson’s in-country travel and official visits.

The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) has a budget allocation of Nu 9M for mandatory training of its new recruits in the current fiscal year.

From Nu 358.5M recommended for the Royal Civil Service Commission, Nu 216.7M is allocated for human resource development and management services, and Nu 5M for workshop and coaching skills for managers. Nu 35.5M is allocated for badges to be given to all civil servants.

With the government now reprioritising it planned undertakings, most of these activities would be slashed, diverting the budget to the possible saving pool.

Under the current expenditure budget outlay for the 2019-20 fiscal year, Nu 1.9B is earmarked for in-country travels. For out-country travels, there is a budget appropriation of Nu 256.6M.

With the current travel restrictions, majority of these budgets will also be diverted to the possible saving pool.