Bhutanese come forward to help government financially

Ugyen Penjor

With Nu 1,000 per person per day, incurred on food alone, while in mandatory quarantine, the cost, which adds up to Nu 14,000 for two weeks is going to dig a big hole in the government’s coffer.

There are around 1,917 people undergoing the two-week long quarantine.  Most of them are in hotels, some in three-star rated hotels in Paro, Thimphu, Phuentsholing and Punakha.

To ease the pressure on the government there is a momentum, although not gaining pace as fast as the virus or fake news, to lift the burden from the government. While some are paying the bill for their children or relatives, some are contributing to the Covid-19 response fund.

One of the earliest to do so, Chimi, popularly known as Prostration Man, said that he was worried to see government paying bills for people who were quarantined. Prostration Man deposited Nu 14,000 in the Covid-19 relief fund and shared it on Facebook to encourage fellow citizen to share the burden.

“My country gave me so much, it is time to think as a responsible citizen and contribute,” he said. He is also suggesting the Royal University of Bhutan to divert student’s stipend to the fund until the situation improved.

Another parent who has a son in quarantine said that it was his son’s idea to pay the bill. “My son said the government has given them free education and it was time to help. We decided to pay our bills,” said the father Sangay Dorji, a businessman in Thimphu. “I am hopeful that this encourage many more people to do the same. I feel that this will lift the burden on the government.”

There is no official record of people who volunteered to pay their bill. There is a standing rule not to share the account number unless someone asked for it.  

However, those who shared their stories on social media said the intention was to encourage people to contribute in their small ways to the government’s fight against Covid-19. “Most of the people quarantined at Hotel Olathang belong to the elite class,” said a parent. “Many can afford to pay for a dozen people quarantined.”

Calling it a drop in the ocean, the chief executive officer of Tbank, Pema Tshering contributed Nu 50,000 “to the noble cause of fighting Covid-19.” “Let us not just be mere spectators while the government is tasked with insurmountable challenges,” he wrote urging fellow Bhutanese to come forward and make “small humble” contributions. His daughter is quarantined in a hotel in Paro.

The message is clear. Many are encouraging each other to rise to the occasion. A tour operator who contributed about Nu 2 million to the government’s relief and Covid-19 fund said that the tourism sector despite being the hardest hit should come forward. “We have all made money during peaceful times. There is no better time to giveback to the government,” he said.

“The government is re-appropriating the 12th Plan budget because of Covid-19. The most affected will be the people rural Bhutan as the fund meant for development is directed for emergencies,” he said.