Tshering Palden 

The government is planning on clubbing major activities from the entire 12th Plan to be executed in the next two years as it mulls on the way forward post-Covid-19. That is considering the Covid-19 pandemic ends this year.

Next year, activities planned for 2020 will also have to be implemented. Similarly, those activities in 2023 will be brought forward.

The flagship programmes are expected to be pursued at the earliest to augment the economy. The rest of the activities of the Plan are to be implemented within 2022.

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that activities planned for 2022 but are feasible during the Covid-19 pandemic have to be frontloaded to next year and have to be implemented. “Accordingly, we have to negotiate with donor agencies and arrange the funds,” Lyonchhen said.

During his 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.

“Most of the activities seem to be difficult to implement within 2020, which is why the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) is asked to move them to the following year,” Lyonchhen said.

For example, programmes in agriculture production that have the potential to create jobs will be pursued.

Frontloading of activities and focusing on bigger projects are opportunities to stimulate the economy that will also complement the two interventions of top-down and bottom-up, Lyonchhen said.

This would mean activities that do not add value could be either dropped or deprioritised. Accordingly, other activities and investments would be designed as the economy enters the revival mode.

There could be a lot of preparatory work in planning but Lyonchhen thinks this strategy would help revive the economy.

Until then, to ensure there is money in the market for some economic activity, the government is going to continue investing in activities that could also engage those affected by Covid-19.

The Tourism Council of Bhutan has already drawn up the Tourism Stimulus Package that would engage more than 2,000 from the tourism and hospitality industry. Similarly, the government has other packages being worked out simultaneously.

Bhutan’s economy is small and mostly comprised of informal sectors, it would take a few years to recover, Lyonchhen said.

For instance, tourism would take at least take a few years to recover and the income from that sector would be down.

To keep a lifeline for the economy, he said that all ministries have been instructed to conduct preparations for all capital works including tender preparations.

“Even if they tender out the works, the contractor who gets the work knows that he has got work when the pandemic ends,” lyonchhen said.

Lyonchhen said that the plan activities building schools, hospitals, irrigation canals and other capitals works would continue unaffected because the budget for these activities is already with the finance ministry and the GNHC.

Lyonchhen said that while he is concerned that his government may not fulfil what his party has pledged, the bigger concern is their pledge to serve the nation.

“Serving the nation at this point in time is to ensure that Bhutanese are not infected by the virus and to provide the best of care and treatment in case people are infected,” Lyonchhen said.

“The whole priority has changed for now.”

Concentrating on meeting the pledges and not focusing on containing the virus would be like losing the war, he said.

“We can deliver on the pledges, some we may accomplish fully, others partially, but it will all depend on how long Covid-19 will last.”