The government’s pledge on airport infrastructure development, improvement of public transport, and to provide online service delivery have been partially fulfilled.

The government had pledged to improve safety standards and expand the infrastructure at the Paro international airport and the domestic airports. “People’s Democratic Party (PDP) will look into the possibility of having one more international airport.”

No new international airport was established in the last five years.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay in the state of the nation report states that for a small landlocked country, an efficient and reliable air services is a necessity and an integral part of economic growth. “Tourism industry, which is one of the highest Gross Domestic Product contributors, depends primarily on the efficiency and reliability of our air services.”

He said that the government, recognising this expanded and improved Paro International Airport catering to almost double the passengers to 314,000 in 2017 from 182,000 in 2012. “Towards increasing the availability of flights, the Royal Government also supported Druk Air to purchase a new Airbus and an ATR aircraft,” he said.

“In parallel, improvements were made to the domestic airports in Bumthang, Gelephu and Yonphula which saw an increase in domestic air travel from just 970 passengers in 2012 to 12,000 in 2017.”

Although the domestic airport at Yonphula in Trashigang was completed at the mid of last year flights were not operational until end of the year.

The government in October decided to provide national airlines Drukair with a subsidy of Nu 0.30 million per flight with Nu 7.6 million as one time additional cost to cover the expenditure that would be required in establishing offices in Gelephu and Yonphula.

The subsidy would cover Paro-Gelephu-Yonphula-Gelephu-Paro route.

However, the flights were suspended and cancelled in the next months due to technical and weather issues.

Karma Tashi, a civil servant in Trashigang had said that he had missed an important meeting in Thimphu as his flight got cancelled. “Given the short notice I was given, I thought travelling by air would be reliable.”

Another corporate employee said that people prefer air transport for its safety and the short travel time. “However, if such cancellations continue, it becomes unreliable.”

Taxi and Bus services 

The government’s pledge to have designated seats in public transport for senior citizens, pregnant women, mothers with toddlers and people with special needs was met but promoting eco-friendly buses and taxis have not been fulfilled. “Tax incentives will be given for import of all green vehicles including taxis,” their pledge states. “We will introduce business licenses to run taxi services.”

No business licenses to run taxi services were introduced. According to the 11th Plan final report, three thomdes have 51 city buses- 46 city buses in Thimphu, three in Phuentsholing and two in Samdrupjongkhar.

Internet services and entertainment industry 

The government had also pledged to strengthen internet and telecom infrastructure, construct a film studio and support the entertainment industry for professionalisation, and to draft a National Film Policy.

According to the 11th Plan report, the government provides Nu 3 million annually to Bhutan Film Association for National film award to improve and promote the film industry. “94 percent of rural Bhutan has mobile connection,” the report states. The film policy is approved while the grant of Nu 3 million came under Anti-Corruption Commission radar following issues on the selection of the award winner.

The report states that from 2013 to 2017, 126 villages have been connected with mobile services. “64 more villages will be connected by June 2018 achieving almost 100 percent cellular coverage in the country.”

A press release from the information and communications ministry in June states that the with the commissioning of internet connectivity and reception of BBS channels I and II in Naro and Soe gewogs, Thimphu, all the gewogs have been connected with internet.

A Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority’s (BICMA) survey, done at the beginning of last year, however, found the data network performance of the cellular operators – TashiCell and Bhutan Telecom (BT) to be under satisfactory.

With constant fluctuation in both the call and data services, users especially of BT have been left frustrated recently.

An official from Bhutan Telecom (BT) said that poor data performance was mainly a result of congestion due to the exponential growth of data users. “The ever growing number of data users per se is due to BT’s affordable tariffs and coverage,” said one of the officials.

The government in their efforts to reduce administrative cost in public service delivery also introduced 123 eServices and 15 mobile app services.

Karma Cheki