Govt. will continue to work in earnest: PM

Report: Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay focused on the objective of achieving self-reliance while presenting the state of the nation report to the Parliament yesterday.

In about four hours, lyonchoen presented the state of the nation in the “TsaWa Sum: King, Country and the People” chronology, while some aspects were presented through the four pillars of Gross National Happiness.

The state of the nation is the annual report on the performance of the government to date, on the country’s progress, achievements and challenges.  Lyonchoen said that the government was doing its best to carry out all activities in the 11th Plan without fail. “I assure you that the government will continue to work in earnest and spare no efforts to sustain the pace of social and economic development,” lyonchoen said.

Lyonchoen said that, for a small nation sandwiched between two giant nations, security is of utmost priority.  Lyonchoen reported that Bhutan had achieved remarkable progress and development in all spheres within a few decades. “Our achievements are noteworthy and have won accolades from well-wishers in the region and beyond,” lyonchoen said. “It wouldn’t have been possible without the selfless leadership and unwavering commitment of our beloved Kings.”

Jewel 1 – Hydropower

In 2014, hydropower’s share of the GDP was 14.3 percent.  About 7,147M (million) units of electricity were produced in 2014, of which 72.5 percent was exported, earning a revenue of Nu 10.7B (billion).

Despite the delays and challenges, lyonchoen reported that the country was headed in the right direction, in terms of hydropower earnings, with the completion of the ongoing projects.  Druk Green Power corporation, lyonchoen said, was making significant contribution to self-reliance and capacity building. “I assure the nation that the government will continue to ensure that the development of the hydropower is in our national interest and benefits people of Bhutan first,” lyonchoen said.

Jewel 2 – Agriculture

With a three percent growth for the first time, lyonchoen said, agriculture amounted to 16.2 percent of GDP.  Efforts are on to increase cereal production and horticulture, cash crops and vegetables aimed towards self-sufficiency.  Lyonchoen also touched on farm road, irrigation, electric fencing, green house, and livestock development, among others. 

A major constraint villagers faced today is access to finance.  To the existing 19-gewog banks that Bhutan Development Bank established, lyonchoen said a bank each would be established in all 205 gewogs by next year. “Our farmers will no longer have to travel to the dzongkhags,” lyonchoen said, urging all farmers to open bank accounts and avail the banking facility. 

Jewel 3 – Tourism

Lyonchoen reported that the government would continue to support the “high value low impact” tourism policy.  About 11 new trek routes are to be developed in the upcoming fiscal year, with a focus on eastern Bhutan, to diversify tourism destinations for equal spread of tourism benefits. “The development of facilities such as campsites and other services along the Salt Trek Route in eastern Bhutan have already been initiated,” lyonchoen said.

Lyonchoen also emphasised the need to promote domestic tourism, which the Tourism Council of Bhutan is working on.

Jewel 4 – Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs)

Considered vital for creation of self-employment and employment, SMEs form 4.4 percent of the GDP.  In 2014, 2,645 SMEs were established that created more than 7,500 jobs.  Similarly, Business Opportunity and Information Centre (BOiC) alone approved 589 projects for small enterprises that are spread across the country, with a total investment of Nu 178.45M, creating employment for 905 Bhutanese.

Lyonchoen said employment and enterprise establishment targets would be increased and entrepreneurship development programmes targeting unemployed graduates initiated.  A business incubator at Changzamtog to support small business startups is expected to complete by 2017.  The 110-acre Bondeyma industrial estate at Mongar is being developed to mainly focus on SMEs.

Jewel 5 – Mining

The sector registered a growth of 32.2 percent in 2013/14, a marked improvement from the negative growth of 2.2 percent in the previous year.  There are currently 29 active mines and 36 quarries in the country covering 3,471 acres.  As an important source of revenue to the government, it contributed Nu 282.4M in license fee and royalty in 2014.

Health

Lyonchoen reported about the increasing number of people in the country opting for traditional medicine as an alternative means of treatment. “Bhutan can create a niche market in traditional medicine services,” lyonchoen said.  He also presented the government’s priority to ensure universal access.  In 2014/15, Nu 143M was spent on repairing rural water supply schemes, while this year, Nu 210 million has been allocated for the same.

On rural sanitation, lyonchoen said only 68 percent of rural households have proper sanitation. “Despite high water and sanitation coverage, the incidence of illness due to water, sanitation and hygiene related diseases is still high,” lyonchoen said.  Diarrhoea continues to be a top-10 disease in Bhutan, as a result of poor sanitation practices, besides the poor state of toilets and facilities.

Education

It was reported that with 551 schools and 107 extended classrooms, almost every child is in school.  This year 172,303 students were enrolled from PP to class XII.  The net enrollment rate stands at 98.7 percent. “With 8,572 teachers we’ve an impressive teacher student ratio of 1:20,” lyonchoen reported.  Lyonchoen also said that the government achieved significant success in expanding access to early childhood care and education, with 210 centres from 165 in 2013.  Of these, 32 percent of the centres are run through private participation.

Economy

Although Bhutan achieved remarkable socio-economic progress over the years, sustaining development through its own means continues to be a major challenge.

Lyonchoen said that with various initiatives taken by the government, the economy had not only shown positive signs of recovery but was bouncing back, as evident from 2.05 percent in 2013 to 6.8 percent growth in GDP last year.  Growth projections by the World Bank are even better at 7.9 percent for the fiscal year 2014/15, and 8.4 percent by 2016.  The Asian Development Bank has projected similar growth figures.

Disaster Management

Lyonchoen said that the government has established the National Disaster Management Authority and district disaster management committees in all dzongkhags. “We’re now in the process of strengthening the offices and building the capacity for disaster management,” lyonchoen said.

The government has also established Bhutan Red Cross Society, which will be involved in initiatives that promote disaster preparedness and response, and provide emergency relief and assistance. “We’re grateful to Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen for graciously consenting to be the president of the society,” lyonchoen said. 

Women and Youth

Given the importance the government places in investing in children and youth, lyonchoen said there was a need for greater strategic investment in our youth. “Unemployment, drug abuse, depression, crime and the rising number of suicide cases are some of the challenges that our youth face,” lyonchoen said.

To address the unemployment issue, lyonchoen said the government had taken various initiatives in addressing the issue of unemployment over the past year. “As a result, we were able to bring down the national unemployment rate from 2.9 percent in 2013 to 2.6 percent in 2014. Similarly, youth unemployment rate dropped to 9.4 percent in 2014. “There are 3,680 unemployed youth today,” lyonchoen said.

Lyonchoen also spoke on the government’s continued efforts towards improving women participation in elected offices and at the workplace.  In supporting working mothers, lyonchoen said the Royal Civil Service Commission had started reviewing measures to make working conditions more favourable for breastfeeding mothers like flexi-timing.  “In doing so, if the commission requires budget for it, the government is willing to provide,” lyonchoen said.

By Kinga Dema

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