Choki Wangmo 

National Council members called the government to be prudent with its budget given the uncertain economic situation triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic during the budget deliberation yesterday.

Eminent member Phuntsho Rapten said that the current times are different—reduction in domestic revenue—and demands changed strategy in budget allocation.

Citing the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) reports on misused budgets, he said that Bhutan could no longer afford to spend millions on projects and activities which have no impact.

For instance, the financial audit of Thimphu Thromde’s current deposit account for the financial year 2018-19 revealed that the thromde had made excess, over, inadmissible payments and also payments for work not done to various contractors amounting to Nu 7.596 million in the construction and maintenance of roads, drains and footpaths.

“We need realistic spending because the loopholes pointed out by the RAA show us that we are wasting the resources,” he said, adding that the budget allocation should be need-based.

This, he said could be achieved through timely periodic monitoring so that the limited fund is used prudently and the project objectives are met.

To ensure need-based budget allocation, he recommended collaborative action among RAA, Gross National Happiness Commission and the finance ministry.

Covid-19 should be an opportunity to work collectively instead of in silos to reduce expenses, he said.

“The available budget might be sufficient through intelligent spending on projects with huge socio-economic impacts,” he said.

“We need measures to stop wasteful spending, reprioritise the funds which have been allocated because the times are different.”

Although the audit report recommends actions to cut unnecessary spending, he said it was doubtful whether the agencies implemented or not.

The members acknowledged the government for its commitment and dedication, at different fronts, towards minimising the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

House members Dorji Khandu and Sangay Dorji asked about the activities planned. As lawmakers, MP Dorji Khandu said that the Parliament should frame stringent quarantine and illegal border crossing rules, in case the situation worsens.

MP Sangay Dorji shared his concerns about the risk of dengue outbreak in the southern dzongkhags and if there are strategies in place.

After two days of deliberation on the budget, the House directed the Economic Affairs Committee and the concerned members to re-deliberate on relevant sections and prepare final recommendations for adoption.

The House will adopt the Bills along with the recommendations on Monday.