The opposition leader, Pema Gyamtsho (PhD), during a meeting with the officials and communities of Samdrupjongkhar on June 12 shared his concerns on the government’s move to corporatise the national referral hospital and the establishment of central schools.

Highlighting the role of the opposition in a democratic system, he said that although the title has a negative connotation, the opposition’s job is not only to critique and contradict the government’s decisions.

Pema Gyamtsho said that for democracy to flourish and to enable good governance, check and balance is required. “We don’t oppose things just for the sake of opposing. We have contributed only constructive opposition.”

He said the corporatisation of JDWNRH was opposed as it was against the constitutional right that allows free basic health service to all Bhutanese.

“Although it was a move from the government to provide doctors with better remunerations and encourage retention, it would have been better if the government had routed through the pay commission, as it’s the designated body to carry out such activities,” Pema Gyamtsho said.

He said the government had pledged to ensure 100 percent employment in the country if they come to the power in 2013 but today, with their term as the ruling party almost ending, unemployment still remains the biggest challenge.

The private sector, he said, is the backbone of any economy and is called the engine of economic growth. The government, he said, should not be competing with the private sector and get into areas where the private sector has already established their competence.

Citing an example, he said sanam tshongkhangs have become replicas of erstwhile Food Corporation of Bhutan’s (FCB) fair price shops of the 1970s and 80s, adding that instead of selling just agricultural inputs, they have started selling items that are sold by small shopkeepers.

Pema Gyamtsho said that providing loans is the core business of the banks but the government has created Rural Enterprise Development Corporation Ltd (REDCL) to provide unviable loans at huge overhead costs instead of subsidising the banks to do the same.

“With all the good intentions and benefits as proclaimed by the government, I feel that these interventions are weakening our economic base and undermining our goal of attaining self-reliance. If we do not review and reset our optics, I do not see our country becoming self-sufficient any time soon,” Pema Gyamtsho said. “Getting into the lending business is not a good precedence that the government has set as it might encourage political parties in future to offer loans at even lower rates to attract support and thereby distort the whole financial service sector. We also feel that this will open the doors for corruption.”

The opposition leader said that closing extended classrooms (ECR), early child care development (ECCD), community schools and primary schools in remote places and establishing central schools (CS) is not in line with the previous policy of universal access to education.

He said parents might think that CSs are too far and their children would not be able to take care of themselves. “The values and lessons that the children get from parents, and communities will also be missed out and this is in conflict with our holistic education policy,” he said.

“It is important for the people to know that we were only suggesting the government to rationalise the criteria for establishing CSs and make some changes so that our long-term goal of having not just educated citizens but also responsible and caring ones is not compromised while at the same time, ensuring sustainability and equity,” Pema Gyamtsho said.

He said that the debts at the moment have reached the zenith because the government is spending too much in central schools, procuring boleros and power-tillers and other such projects that are cost intensive. “In 2013, the total debt was about Nu 95 billion but today, it has reached nearly Nu 200 billion.”

Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdupjongkhar