MB Subba

New forms of policy and political corruption have proliferated while corruption in all forms remains unabated, allege the Opposition Party.

“The latest Annual Audit Report 2020-21 points out the emergence of newer forms of policy and political corruption,” Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi said at the Opposition Party’s press conference yesterday.

He said that His Majesty clearly spelt out the threat of rising corruption “to our nation and her future” in the recent National Day Address.

“The Opposition Party assures its full support to the government, Anti-Corruption Commission and other relevant agencies in fighting this social ill,” he said.

He added that “rising corruption” had become one of the biggest issues.

As per the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) Annual Report 2020-21, abuse of function or power accounts for the highest (5.60 percent), followed by embezzlement (29.80 percent).

Transparency International reported, the opposition leader said, that Bhutan’s transparency score had remained stagnant in the last three years, although the international ranking had improved slightly.

The opposition leader said that the party was mandated to review and provide an assessment of the government’s performance by Article 18 of the Constitution.

“Given the difficult situation posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and its implications, we decided not to give our critical assessment of the government’s performance in full, but point out some important issues it needs to consider,” he said.

OL Dorji Wangdi said that employment was one of the most important indicators of the health of the economy and the state of the nation and that unemployment has been on the rise over the years.

According to the Opposition, the country’s unemployment rate of 5 percent and youth unemployment rate of 22.6 percent have surpassed all previous records.

“The most worrying trend is the disproportionately high rate of youth unemployment,” he said, calling on the government to come up with strategic interventions to create employment.

The opposition leader said that the economy was in “a bad state”. The economic growth rate has fallen by 15.84 percent in the last one year, from 5.76 percent in 2019 to –10.08 percent in 2020. This can be attributed in large part to the pandemic.

“This means we are poorer now than in 2017 and more people have fallen below the poverty line,” the Opposition stated. “The political parties, especially the ruling, must translate the Royal Economic Vision into action as soon as possible.”

OL Dorji Wangdi said that the education sector was still short of appropriate policies to see a major revamp.

The present education system, he said, has not been able to address systemic shortfalls such as teacher shortages, lack of principals, and uplifting the morale of educators.

According to the Opposition, 191 schools across the country do not have principals, affecting proper management of schools and timely implementation of programmes, and delays decisions.

Highlighting the “acute shortage” of teachers in rural schools, he said that the shortage of teachers was estimated at 400. He said that last year’s annual academic progress reports of students were “deeply worrying, with an unusual number of casualties.” The latter issue can be attributed in part to the pandemic and difficulties associated with facilitating academics during lockdown.

The Opposition also highlighted the government’s unfulfilled election pledges, which it stated are a binding social contract between the political parties and the people.

According to the Opposition, some of the popular pledges that remain unfulfilled are enhancing health facilities throughout the country, provision of monthly allowances for birthing mothers and increasing the daily minimum wage to Nu 450.

“We suggest the government be transparent and honest with the people about whether its pledges can be fulfilled,” the opposition leader said, adding that only about 20 percent of the pledges were fulfilled.

However, according to the government, Bhutan has improved steadily over the years from 26th position in 2017 and 25th in 2019 in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index.

“Preventing corruption is the responsibility of every individual and all agencies,” Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering stated in his recent State of the Nation report.

According to him, there is “no one magic bullet” that will resolve the unemployment issues. The government states that it will intensify efforts to ease the unemployment scenario.