Politics: Among the many issues the Opposition Leader (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho highlighted during his meeting with the people of Gelephu yesterday, the negative impact of signing the Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal (BBIN) transportation agreement tops the list.

Should the government agree and pass the BBIN agreement through parliament, that the border towns like Gelephu could have more disadvantages, he said. The Opposition Leader said that the agreement will not only snatch business from Bhutanese truckers and taxi drivers, it will also compromise the country’s age-old culture and traditions.

He urged people to raise the issue with their respective members of parliament (MP), so that the agreement is not passed.

“Your concerns have to be heard before MPs cast their votes for the agreement in Parliament,” he said. “Once it reaches Parliament there is not much the Opposition can do.”

Local leaders of Sarpang also shared concerns that the BBIN agreement is likely to have a negative impact on the country. They recommended that it should be thoroughly discussed before a decision is finalised.

Chuzargang Gup Sangay Tshering said if numerous vehicles from neighbouring countries are allowed to ply on Bhutanese roads the security of the country would be threatened as it would take away business from Bhutanese. “We kept silent although we heard the agreement was already signed, since it’s yet to be discussed in parliament. I feel that the government should consult people before agreeing to sign such regional agreements,” he said.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay met with the representatives of local truckers, taxi drivers and other businesses to discuss their concerns last month. According to government officials, the meeting was a success as many of the representatives were unaware of the details of the regional agreement.

However, this newspaper learnt that there were still concerns lingering among some of the representatives.

The government has maintained that the BBIN agreement has enough clauses to protect Bhutan from being swamped by vehicles from neighbouring countries. In addition, the government has requested both Bangladesh and Nepal to limit their trucks and buses to the border.

Another issue the Opposition Leader shared with the gathering was the six-month extended maternity leave for civil servant mothers. He said that although the extension has already come into effect for female civil servants, it was time that the government seriously also consider women in the private sector and women farmers.

He highlighted that should the issue not be resolved soon, it could have negative consequences in the near future. “Few generations later, one may be easily able to distinguish the children of a civil servants, from children of women in the private and corporate sectors, and that of farmers,” he said. “Government has to ensure uniformity.”

Sharing his views on the country’s goal towards becoming self-sufficient, he said that the way progress is being reported at the Mid-Term Review (MTR) meetings is concerning. Citing an example of livestock production in Bumthang, according to reports submitted during the MTR, he said, each house hold earned at least Nu 500,000 by selling livestock products. “But the reality is different,” he said.

“Such unverified progress has serious risks of putting the country into the ‘developed country’ category,” he said.

By graduating from the least developed country category, the country will receive less aid.

The Opposition Leader also highlighted that local governments must gear up towards making the country self-sufficient. And should the country become self-sufficient, production has to increase and expenditure minimised. Minimising imports and increasing exports should receive more focus, he said.

The Opposition Leader will meet the people of the two gewogs of Chuzargang and Umling in Gelephu, today.

The Opposition Leader is on a six-day tour of the dzongkhags of Sarpang, Tsirang, and Dagana.

Nirmala Pokhrel