The government has so far spent a whopping Nu 43 million on purchasing 14 Toyota Prados for Cabinet ministers and equivalent post holders.
As part of its austerity measures, the government had announced that it would not purchase new pool vehicles for Cabinet ministers until the economy improves.
We are told the economy has improved. But even if it has, the question remains why the government still has to spend between Nu 2.9 to Nu 3.2 million for a single vehicle that will primarily be used only by one person.
The economy has only just improved. But in an improved economy we shouldn’t be repeating the same mistakes that would have contributed to the problem in the first place: excessive spending.
Our Cabinet ministers should have comfortable four-wheel drive vehicles for practical reasons. They have to travel across the country frequently. There must also be a certain prestige associated with holding a Cabinet-level post. Large four-wheel drive vehicles are status symbols globally.
But there are other prestigious four-wheel drive vehicles that can be purchased at lower costs. Does it have to be a Toyota Prado?
There are other areas that require investing. We regularly hear from government agencies of lack of budget hindering development and of field officers complaining of having to depend on old and unreliable pool vehicles.
Another example is that our cities and towns lack enough footpaths and a reliable mass public transport system. Improvements are being made. For instance, more buses have just recently been purchased for Thimphu and Phuentsholing. More footpaths are being constructed. But with more money, improvements can be sped up and perhaps vehicle imports actually decreased.
As citizens we would like to do our part. We want to walk more. We would like to use the mass public transport system more. We would prefer not to contribute to rising emissions and traffic congestion.
But then, we need examples. Hearing that Nu 43 million has been spent on large gas-guzzling sports utility vehicles is not one.
It would indeed set an example to sometimes see our representatives going to office using public transport, cycling or walking. By using these modes of travel, our representatives would also be exposed to the challenges of the common citizen which could lead to improvements in leaps and bounds. In fact, it would not be unrealistic to dream that one day Bhutan has one of the best pedestrian footpath networks and public transport systems in the region, or even globally.
The bottomline is that we need to invest more wisely. We are a small nation attempting to become self-sufficient. It would do good to be frugal in certain areas.