Assembly: Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay was questioned on the varying figures of agriculture and livestock production targets in the dzongkhags and the situation of media independence in the country at the National Assembly’s question hour session yesterday.

Leader of the Opposition (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said a drastic increase in agricultural and livestock yield and production were highlighted during the mid-term reviews of the dzongkhags.

While the increase could be attributed to government support, he said the varying figures are alarming, which could have an impact on policy and planning activities. Citing the example of his constituency, (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said there was a big difference in targets for 2010 and 2015 in Bumthang with an increase of about 1,000 percent.

For instance, he said cheese production in 2012 stood at 200,000 and increased to 1.3 million (M). Even in 2013 and 2014, he said the increase was almost 300 percent. “Farmers also agree that the figures are alarming and that it how government officials calculated,” he said.

Dr Pema Gyamtsho said that the government should recheck the figures and the method of calculation. “If there is nothing wrong, it’s well and good. If not, we need to correct it so not to mislead.”

Panbang representative Dorji Wangdi also asked the prime minister on the situation of media independence and press freedom today stating that many seniors have also left their profession affecting the quality of news.

“Has the quality dropped as reporters are self censoring or because the government interferes in their affairs, as we hear frequently,” he said, while highlighting the importance of press freedom as cited in the Constitution.

Responding to the queries, Lyonchoen said that support for agriculture and livestock production has always been the government’s priority.

Lyonchoen said that the government does not blindly accept whatever figures the dzongkhags and gewogs present at the mid-term reviews. But when it comes to agriculture and livestock figures, he said there is no need for a separate study as a system is in place for a long time now, which the opposition leader is well aware of, based on which the figures are worked out.

“But as we’ve to verify the figures for which a committee from the good governance department and Gross National Happiness have already started working,” he said. “This is done not to find faults but to verify the facts presented to plan activities accordingly.”

Regarding Bumthang, Lyonchoen clarified that calculation in 2012 was wrong for which officials couldn’t provide an explanation. For instance, he said cheese production that year was in terms of weight and not in numbers. In 2012, cheese production stood at 414,000, which translates to 2.7M cheese balls, a drop compared to last year.

However, when it comes to milk production, Lyonchoen said the production increased drastically in 2014 compared to 2012 given the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the dzongkhag that year. Lyonchoen also attributed the increase in yield to the additional cattle that the government distributed and those that people bought availing loan through Business Opportunity and Information Centre (BOiC). In all, BOiC approved 196 projects worth about 32.99M.

However, (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said that varying figures in weight and cost was an issue, which the government must monitor. Besides a handful of new poultry and livestock projects, he said there was nothing visible that could be attributed to the increase. “I haven’t heard of any cattle being distributed by the government,” he said, adding that merely buying cattle through a project will not lead to increase in production.

On the situation of media independence, Lyonchoen said that they have always supported media since their tenure as the opposition. The press freedom ranking of 94 out of 180 is one of the best in the region, he said.

“As soon as I received this question, I made my officials call editors of media organisations,” Lyonchoen said, giving the names of the editors contacted. “We’re told that they never had issues of government interference.”

“If any of the Parliament members are aware of government agencies interfering or pressurising the media, you should inform me and I’ll take action accordingly,” Lyonchoen said. “If not, we shouldn’t be discussing issues that aren’t true here.”

Presenting the list of senior reporters and editors who left their profession between 2008 and 2013, Lyonchoen agreed that many of them have left but to explore better opportunities.

The current media scenario, according to Lyonchoen is not as bad compared to the situation in other countries. However, there are issues in commercial activities of the private media. When business fails, Lyonchoen said private media organisations are unable to pay reporters leaving them with no choice but to explore other opportunities. “There are more newspapers than readers in a small country like ours, which is the problem,” he said “When I met the private paper owners, I had also suggested mergers of the papers.”

On the news quality, citing the Gyalposhing, Denchi and education city issues of the past government and the BHEL issue during this government’s tenure, Lyonchoen said news coverage also depended on issues. “The past government’s good initiatives such as the meet-the-press session is still being continued,” Lyonchoen said.

Meanwhile, Lyonchoen and the home minister was also asked on the starting of a new telecommunication company and construction of the Kheng Tobrang road in Trashiyangtse that was removed from the Plan activities.

Kinga Dema