Politics: Bhutan could be hampering its Vision 2020 target of becoming self-sufficient should the current practice of closing revenue generation sources and increasing government expenditure continue, the Opposition Leader (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho has claimed.

This was one of the messages Opposition Leader delivered to the people of Tsirang and Gelephu during his six-day tour in the south. He said that one thing which has been bothering the Opposition was the government’s actions on cutting down means to generate government revenue.

The free 100 units of electricity for rural homes as pledged by the government has resulted in significant loss in revenue generation at the national level, the Opposition Leader said. Bhutan Power Corporation estimated a loss of Nu 3.3 million (M) last year.

(Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said that while the country boasts about hydropower as the driving factor for economic development, such moves could backfire. He added that all Bhutanese should be able to afford to pay their electricity bills today.

Another area where the government loses a substantial amount of revenue is tax exemption for small or micro businesses introduced last year, he said. This exemption was also one of the pledges the government made during the campaign. It was estimated that about 11,122 taxpayers were exempted.

“While both the moves benefit people, it will hit hard on the country’s taxation culture in the near future,” he said. “Once the system is in place, it will be difficult to undo but it’s not too late to rectify now.”

He added that although the government may reduce tax if it was too high or increase it in times of need but doing away with it totally is a concern.

The people of Gelephu also expressed concerns regarding the free 100-units of energy. They said that with the change in government, new policies are introduced. While the free electricity is benefitting rural people, its sustainability is doubtful, one of the villagers of Chuzargang, Tshering, said.

“If the free 100 unit power is pulled out later, it will create problems,” he said.

Another area of concern the Opposition Leader highlighted was the central school system. The system, he said is no doubt a noble initiative of the government. But it requires certain changes with proper consultation. He added that the opposition has time and again reminded the government about the sustainability of the Central Schools.

He said it will be affordable in the beginning but it will cost the government significantly later, which will only increase government expenditure. “Increasing government expenditure and closing sources of revenue will not help the country achieve self-sufficiency,” he said.

Estimating that there are at least 170,000 students and just 20,000 of them being enrolled in central schools will bring serious issues of inequality in the education system, he said.

The opposition leader also said that the central school policy risks widening the gap between parents and children. When children should be cared for and loved by parents, they will be struggling in hostels away from parents, he said. This could lead to a notion that parents are not taking care of their children’s expenses, which might weaken the bond between them.

“We still have room for change, to make the system sustainable and equal for all,” he said.

(Dr) Pema Gyamtsho also reminded the people that it is because of the country’s Kings that Bhutan has been able to maintain peace, unity and stability, which is the key for development. Becoming self-sufficient is important to maintain continued sovereignty, he said.

Every Bhutanese is equally responsible for making Bhutan self-sufficient as much as the government, he added. For that, he said, the country needs to increase production and cut down expenditure. Likewise minimising import and increasing export is key to self-sufficiency.

Meanwhile, the Opposition Leader will meet people of Dagana today.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang