Mired in delays, designed or otherwise and geological surprises, something is not going right with the hydropower projects in the country.
All three elected governments have been involved at various stages of developing the on-going hydropower projects and all continue to cite the same reasons for the delays. Concerns raised on massive debt the country is accumulating are allayed with the self- liquidating rhetoric. No concerns are raised on why these major projects are unable to generate employment opportunities while the country continues to grapple with growing unemployment problem. The hydropower sector is reported to employ only 0.8 percent of the labour force.
Whether the third government would be able to witness the commissioning of one project at least remains debatable. While revenue from Mangdechhu project is already included in the plan, it has already missed several deadlines. Punatshangchhu projects’ geological surprises and the delays it triggers no more surprise the Bhutanese anymore. A one-year delay of a mega hydropower project is reported to reduce GDP growth by 3-4 percentage points.
The sluggish pace of hydropower projects has left everyone concerned but none appears to be doing much in resolving these issues. Tourism, the second revenue earner after hydropower sector continues to grow, in terms of arrivals and now aspires to be the top driver of the economy.
However, the industry has not been able to spread tourism and its benefits across the country. The tourism council’s inability to build roadside amenities shows that besides external factors, the council as an institution itself has perhaps been its biggest challenge.
While hydropower and tourism remain the main drivers of the economy, we continue to tout the private sector as the engine of growth. But the scathing audit observations on the performance of Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, an organisation that works towards promoting private sector development reveal that the chamber has underperformed. Put that with the state’s dominance of the economy, and we have a stunted private sector.
Against these challenges, we have an ambitious 12th Plan, the implementation of which would graduate the country from the least developed status.
At such a time, the government’s stress on diversifying the economy and investing in human capital has resonated well with a generation that is growing impatient by the pace and lack of opportunities in these major sectors. Our investments in education have inundated the market with graduates who however, do not have the skills the available jobs demand.
As we roll out the 12th Plan, it is necessary to take stock of the realities confronting the people. The government’s policy to invest in human power must go beyond scholarships to class X students. For the government to narrow the gaps, its policies must be inclusive. That would call for a review of the challenges and opportunities in the major sectors and assess their contribution to the society’s needs.