Tshering Palden 

In light of the Covid-19 situation, the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) has reworked on the 12th Plan programmes and activities in consultation with the local governments. 

Some of the deprioritised activities are mainly constructions which are not yet initiated, such as office construction, staff quarter construction, fencing, study tours, workshops, and training. 

GNHC secretary Thinley Namgay said, “In their place, activities related to tourism, mainly focusing on activities that can be implemented immediately like roadside amenities, and construction sector has also been rescaling.” 

In the agriculture sector, the focus is on improving market access so that farmers are incentivised to produce more. 

Thinley Namgay said the government would target improving about 9,239km of farm roads at the cost of Nu 14 billion (B) in the next three years which would be in phases. The first phase will cover about 1,400km costing close to Nu 2.3B. 

Online education is a new priority in the education sector, for the ICT sector priority is given to increasing the bandwidth and making the internet affordable.

He said the Department of Roads and Project DANTAK have agreed to make the road at least pliable. 

The amount for the local governments in the Plan remains the same, he said.

He said that the GNHC had told the local governments to prioritise health and food security activities, but it was up to them to decide.

The secretary briefly updated the media during the Meet the Press session yesterday where he fielded questions from the press. 

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the degree of implementation of the prioritised Plan activities would depend on how long the Covid-19 situation continue.

He said that the topography of rural settlements and limited interaction with others from outside the community served as a natural barrier to the spread of Covid-19 in those areas, so the prioritised activities seemed feasible. 

The local governments have to prioritise farm roads that connect villages away from the gewog centre, benefit the most number of households, and those that can help promote agriculture.

“Based on the criteria, each gewog choose a road for the government to begin base course work immediately,” Lyonchhen said. 

He said improving the roads has been prioritised as the activity is doable by local contractors and materials are readily available locally.

He said that it would also help farmers in accessing markets for their farm produce and boosting agriculture in general.

The 12th Plan has a total budget outlay of Nu 310B of which Nu 193B is the current budget, and Nu 116B is the capital budget. “There is no change in the overall budget.”

Of the 17 national key result areas (NKRAs), Thinley Namgay said there are some concerns in the case of four key result areas. 

The first two NKRAs is on economic diversity and gross domestic product growth (GDP). “While we are still at an early stage, when we look at the present situation, there are some concerns whether we would achieve our economic growth target,” he said. 

The GDP growth target for the 12th Plan is 6-7 percent on an average annually. “Based on today’s situation, the forecast average GDP growth is 4.7 percent. So there are some concerns whether we would achieve the GDP target if the situation continues,” the GNHC secretary said. 

There are also concerns whether those NKRAs related to health, education, and employment would be achieved owing to the Covid-19 situation as schools remain closed and plan activities reprioritised. 

“Hopefully, if things improve, then we may be able to do.”

India committed Nu 45B for the 12th Plan. 

India’s ambassador to Bhutan, Ruchira Kamboj said that India’s assistance to Bhutan had always been shaped by the priorities of the government of Bhutan.

“As we understand this, the Government of Bhutan is formulating plans to fast-track the implementation of 12th Five Year Plan activities and wherever possible, frontload investments. To this end, we have been consulted, and we are in close touch with your side.”

She assured that India would stand in solidarity with Bhutan as it re-calibrates its development pathways in the wake of Covid-19.

During Lyonchhen’s latest conversation with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Indian PM agreed to the reprioritisation of activities and projects supported by the government of India. According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Lyonchhen said such adjustments would make it convenient for the government to align with the Covid-19 situation.