Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s (DNT) slogan “Narrowing the Gap” means narrowing income inequality, the party’s spokesperson Dr Tandi Dorji explained at a press conference yesterday.
He said while the party has mentioned on several party events and promotional materials about narrowing the gap, many have come up with their own interpretations.
“Some section of the population are not happy thinking that the party will snatch their benefits while some are happy that we are targeting certain people,” Dr Tandi Dorji said. “So, we wanted to clarify and explain what our mission and vision for the 2018 election is.”
The party came up with the slogan after wide consultation across all the dzongkhags and within the party members and coordinators and after looking at available data such as the Bhutan Living Standards reports and multi-dimensional poverty index, Dr Tandi Dorji said.
“When we talk about narrowing the gap, we explicitly mean income inequality in terms of income indicators,” he said.
In the past decade, since the institution of parliamentary democracy in the country, he said, the economy has grown and so has income disparity. “The data clearly shows it.”
Dr Tandi Dorji said that during Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s time, the Gini coefficient increased which means inequality has increased and during the People’s Democratic Party’s tenure, Gini coefficient has further increased.
In terms of Gini coefficient, inequality declined from 0.42 in 2003 to 0.35 in 2007 but increased slightly to 0.36 in 2012. In 2017, it increased to 0.38.
Gini coefficient measures income inequality. A Gini coefficient of zero expresses perfect equality, meaning every household has equal wealth possession. A Gini coefficient of one (or 100%) expresses maximum inequality; meaning one household holds all the wealth.
Between 2012 and 2017, income poverty has reduced from 12 percent to 8.2 percent while multi-dimensional poverty dropped from 12.7 percent to 5.8 percent.
Dr Tandi Dorji said His Majesty had highlighted the issue of growing income gap in his address to the nation.
“DNT’s slogan, Narrowing the Gap for the 2018 elections is not only timely but also visionary, inspired by the leadership of the monarchs,” he said.
DNT’s North Thimphu candidate, Dechen Wangmo said Gini coefficient also has a huge impact on the security of a country. “If Gini coefficient increases, inequality increases and there are many evidences that show that these will result in instability of the country,” she said.
While the party talks about income inequality, Dr Tandi Dorji said the party is as concerned with the growing gap in other areas like health, education and living standards as shown in the multi-dimensional poverty index.
“Although poverty levels have been taken into consideration in allocating resources and developing policies, we want to prioritise in the growing income gap and go still further, to address the gap in other areas such as in accessing services and opportunities,” he said.
Until now, Dr Tandi Dorji said the government measures output through GDP, number of boleros distributed, roads they have constructed and central schools were established.
“But how have these impacted the lives of the Bhutanese? Have they made our people happier? Did the people get equal benefits of the facilities made available? This has not been measured,” he said.
Given the opportunity, Dr Tandi Dorji claims that DNT will measure outcomes like how Gross National Happiness is done. The policies and programmes will be measured to see if and how it has impacted the lives of the people, in addressing income inequality and narrowing the gap.
“This is what we aim to do,” he said. “When we present our manifesto later, you will see that in every sector, it is directed towards narrowing the gap.”
If people become rich through innovation, hard work, skill and talent, Dr Tandi Dorji said this must be supported. “We will do everything in our power to help them grow richer.”
He said management of natural resources would be a great equaliser. Narrowing the Gap here, applied through proper strategies, can make laws that enable all Bhutanese to benefit from Bhutan’s natural resources as enshrined in the Constitution and as envisioned by His Majesty The King.
“In continuation of the 2013 Nyamrup pledges, we will pursue the ‘mi-ser thoblam chathrim’which proposed that each citizen should be given an equal share of the country’s natural resources,” Dr Tandi Dorji said. “We believe that the national resources belong to every citizen of the country and we are not denying anyone to be rich but we cannot allow unfair means or nepotism or corruption to be the sole reason for people to become rich,” he said. “We feel that our wealth is concentrated in the hands of a very few because of these discrepancies in our policies.”
Dr Tandi Dorji said the poorest of the poor do not have the capability to carry out economic activities and need to be supported. “We are most fortunate to have His Majesty’s Kidu office, which has magnanimously cared for them and ensured that no Bhutanese goes hungry or is left on the street.”
He said the middle and lower middle-income groups have the capability to carry out economic activities but are encumbered by unequal opportunities, policies and credit. “The economically rich ones are not only capable but have capacities to back their capabilities and are favoured by better opportunities, policies and access to credit.”
DNT wants the middle and lower-middle income groups to grow faster economically in the next five years so that the income gap decreases. This will, in turn, have a positive effect in narrowing the gap in other areas as well.
Dechen Wangmo said the party is also mindful of the threats that run across the process when narrowing the gap. “In all our strategies, gender is mainstreamed. We are very mindful of the gender disparity or the gender gap that currently exists and the opportunity gap that exists for our youth.”
She said there is big recognition from DNT that youth is the nation’s asset. “We respect that. We want to cultivate that and want to let our youth grow and thrive and these are some of the strategies that we will come up with in terms of enhancing the sense of equality or narrowing the gap.”