People are overreacting and raising questions on the use of helicopter by Cabinet ministers, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said.
The issue of helicopter use went viral on social media earlier this month after an anonymous post alleged that the Prime Minister had travelled 98 times in the helicopter in the past two years.
A few days later, the Prime Minister’s office posted the list of the ministers’ travels stating that it was unfortunate to see false information being spread on the helicopter services availed by the Prime Minister and other Cabinet Ministers. According to the PM’s office, the Prime Minister has availed only 18 flights between 2016-2017.
When the PM met members of the media recently, he said that one of the reasons why he travels by chopper is to establish that it is safe. “Because people still get scared,” he said.
“But firstly, let’s accept the fact – aren’t we overreacting?” he said. “Should we use helicopter for development purposes or not. It is almost like we are misusing government resources. Travelling to remote gewogs otherwise takes two days. Isn’t there some value to the Prime Minister’s time?”
Lyonchhen said he even thinks that raising the helicopter issue could have been the work of a political party.
“I can understand from social media because it is either going to be DPT, DNT. I doubt it is BKP, or it will be somebody who hates my guts by putting these things anonymously,” he said. “Why are we taking it so seriously?”
Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay said of the 18 helicopter rides, including the four for national disaster relief he had taken in the past two years, every one of them had a purpose.
He said on his last trip, a gewog visit to Silambi in Mongar, he returned on a helicopter, which allowed him to attend a prayer session for Thailand’s former King His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Kuenselphodrang.
Lyonchhen said that his office is reduced to tracking what he does travelling via helicopter. “What are we nitpicking about? Is it because we’re wasting money or I am going on a happy ride and wasting my time?”
He said that if he doesn’t use helicopter and take two days to travel by road and during the road trip, if he does not do anything meaningful, people should be upset.
“Let’ get over with it and if anything we should be demanding people to use chopper service,” he said.
Earlier it used to take three days to reach Samdrupjongkhar, and with stops in between serving lunch and dances, and all that money, no one said anything.
“Here we’re trying to be professional and get work (after) work done instead of partying and people are doubting it,” he said. “I am talking about the public now, that has become the perception.”
“Now I feel ashamed to travel by helicopter. Can you imagine that?” he said. “I’m the Prime Minister travelling by helicopter to save time.”
“So is there something wrong with this whole thing?”
He said if the chopper was owned by a foreign country or a private company in the country, then people have reasons to be concerned.
“If I know why the people and media are concerned and if you are right I will stop using the chopper,” he said.
While Prime Minister travels via helicopter, other officials travel by road.
He said that government vehicles are sent only if it is a one-way helicopter trip. “Yes, it’s going to be more expensive but calculate the amount of time by minister or PM travelling by road. We’ll have to balance.”
The question is, is it really about attacking helicopter service to undermine PDP and the pledge about helicopters because it is so wildly popular?
“Everybody is saying wow we never thought its possible but PDP has done it,” he said. “If that is the case, I suspect it’s not about concerned people raising legitimate questions rather it is to undermine PDP on an achievement that is wildly popular.”
Agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji returned from the Royal Highland Festival 2016 in a helicopter and communications minister took a return trip from Yongphula to inaugurate the airport. Lyonchhen said these flights were booked under other heads and the ministers were travelling as officers-on-duty.