Essential items enough to last six months 

Yangchen C Rinzin

To meet expenses of Covid-19 activities during the lockdown, the finance ministry had to free up about Nu 2 billion (B) from the total allocated capital budget, according to finance minister Namgay Tshering.

Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said that as per the Disaster Management Act, 2013, during a pandemic, the finance ministry can “free up budget unconditionally” to meet mitigation measures or activities.

“The ministry who is responsible for ensuring the availability of budget is trying every possible means to readjust the budget to support activities related to Covid-19 in all the dzongkhags,” Lyonpo said. “We’ve also asked dzongkhags to free up budget from the planned activities to use for Covid-19 activities without having to wait for directives.”

Lyonpo said dzongkhag administrations should adjust from the budget only if necessary. The dzongkhags can free up from the plans that can be deferred or cancelled.

Lyonpo said that this adjustment in budget would not affect the salary of civil servants and the ministry will not do away with the allowances. “It’s a stressful situation right now. We’re trying our best to arrange the budget from the available budget to meet the Covid-19 expenses,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo said that it would also not hamper any significant activities or activities of the 12th Plan. Major activities would be carried out immediately after the pandemic situation subsides.

State owned Enterprises were recently asked to come up with their own reasonable salary packages as an interim measure should they have to adjust budget because of the pandemic.

The finance ministry is also working with the agriculture ministry regarding the supply of vegetables and providing immediate budgetary support to buy back vegetables from farmers, as farmers cannot sell during this lockdown.

“We don’t want the budget to be the reasons for the failure in the mitigation activities for Covid-19 during the lockdown,” Lyonpo said. “We’re saving every little budget that we can .”

Lyonpo said the government is also looking into strategies with the economic affairs ministry to carry out work at the mini dry port to not hamper import of essential items into the country.

The government is sending about 20 custom officials from Paro airport to Phuentsholing as everyone in the regional revenue and customs office in Phuentsholing is quarantined including the loaders. “However, we still need to figure out how to arrange loaders, as there are no more loaders to load goods now.”

Few trucks are stranded in Jaigaon with goods.  There is a requirement of about 200 loaders at the dry port.

Economic affairs minister Loknath Sharma said that it would be difficult to facilitate in bringing goods into Bhutan with Phuentsholing being now declared as a red zone.

“We will have to sanitise the entire mini dry port area, arrange loaders and officials before we can operate. We’re still working and exploring ways.”

However, lyonpo said people should not worry because there are enough essential goods that were imported from January and additional import of goods was carried out since March.

Although the minister did not mention the figures, Lyonpo assured that there are enough essential goods to last for at least six months.

“People may not have choices, but basic essential items will be available. So, even if the country is under lockdown, we’ll not be in a situation where the country will run out of essentials.”

The ministry is also looking into the possibility of diverting the imports of goods from other entry points.

However, if the situation worsens and should the lockdown prolong, Lyonpo Loknath said that the ministry is worried about the supply of LPG cylinder and petroleum oil lubricants (POL), which is expected to last only for a month.

“We do have enough to supply right now, but we don’t have enough space to store additional LPG and POL,” Lyonpo said. “POL may not be the issue since there are no vehicle movements, but there might be a problem in supplying LPG cylinders.”

This, the minister said, was because LPG cylinders are subsidised and supplied on a quota system, so additional import to store is not possible.

“But we’re looking into alternatives to import these two products from other entry points like Gelephu, as Phuentsholing is under complete lockdown. People should not panic and we’ll work out on the import.”

Lyonpo said the ministry is also supporting and assisting the supply of essential goods. However, it was not efficient on the first day, and the ministry has decided to assist and let private shops, which run online to take orders and deliver door-to-door.