The government of Japan renewed its support for Bhutan’s socio economic development, during the 12th annual consultation on economic cooperation between the two countries yesterday.

Since its inception in 2006, the annual consultation continues to serve as an avenue for the two countries to review and exchange views on ongoing and future bilateral cooperation programs, a press release from the foreign ministry stated.

With the visit of Princess Mako this year, the minister counselor for economic and development from the Japan embassy in New Delhi, Kenko Sone said that the ties between the two countries has become stronger. “While we will continue our assistance, the relation between two countries should not limit to donor and beneficiary,” he said. The relation, he said should be horizontal where businesses in both the country are equally important.

During the consultative meeting yesterday, the Bhutanese side had proposed 10 projects for consideration under technical cooperation and four grant aid projects in the field of health, agriculture and infrastructure restoration.

Director general with the bilateral department, Kesang Wangdi, who led the Bhutanese delegation acknowledged the Japanese assistance of USD 73.53M in the 11th Plan, which has benefited in the country’s socio economic development.

Japan’s assistance to Bhutan is focused in the sectors of agriculture and rural economy, infrastructure development, social development and strengthening good governance. There are also three funding windows  – the grant aid scheme, technical cooperation and grass root projects besides other adhoc projects.

The Japanese delegation announced that 353 power tillers would reach the country by the end of this year. Officials from the Gross National Happiness Commission acknowledged that Bhutan has received 3,589 power tillers since the inception of KR-II grant in 1983 and that the government has proposed for another 400 to enhance farm mechanisation.

In the field of health, the government has proposed infrastructure for radio imaging, blood transfusion centres and infection control centres in six regional, national and dzongkhag health centres.

The Bhutanese delegation also proposed for a grant of Nu 250M for the restoration of Budhini Bridge, which connects eight gewogs of Samtse to the Dzongkhag administration and the rest of the country. A member from the Bhutanese delegation said that the bridge was washed away in a flood last year and that the department of roads has come up with a short-term measure with a temporary bypass road, which is not reliable.

Another proposal Bhutan made was regarding the improvement of machinery and equipment for maintenance of rural agricultural road. A GNHC official informed that machinery and equipment received from Japan earlier has contributed to construction of 3,193km of farm roads out of the targeted 8,396km.

“However, the existing fleet of machinery including the ones received during the third phase will not be enough to support the existing and new farm roads maintenance requirement, which is about 2,500km,” she said.

A request for study, design and implementation of riverbank erosion control measures along the Kurichu River in Gyalposhing town was also made. This, the official said will result in a safe and harmonious town in Gyalposhing, which has the potential to create jobs and provide economic opportunities.

Japanese assistance will also be sought to develop a new Fablab at the College of Science and Technology in Phuentsholing. The proposal includes design and development of fablab, training of trainers on digital fabrication, curriculum development and coordination.

The minister counselor updated the delegates on the ongoing projects and remained affirmative on most of the proposals.

Officials from GNHC presented the outline of the 12th Plan along with fiscal projections.

It is estimated that the capital expenditure will cost the country Nu 115B while the current expenditure is likely to increase to Nu 189B from Nu 185B in the current Plan.

Even after domestic revenue covering the entire current expenditure and some portion of the capital expenditure, the country is likely to face a resource gap of Nu 44B, which is expected to cover from grant and loans.  The grant portion is estimated at Nu 54B.

Both sides appreciated efforts that were put in to iron out issues that lingered from the past meetings, including the visa procedures for the Japanese volunteers.

While the Japanese delegation commended Bhutan’s progress and efforts made to achieve its last mile toward LDC graduation, the director general of the bilateral department said that Bhutan do not wish to fall back in the LDC trap after graduation. For this to materialise, he said that the country would require further assistance.

Diplomatic relation between Japan and Bhutan was established in March 1986.

Tshering Dorji