Experience must matter

Thinley Namgay

Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s (DPT) President Dorji Wangdi devoted his presidential debate focusing primarily on pledges to achieve long-term economic prosperity for the country.

The party vowed to establish three new hydropower projects in the country if elected ensuring equity and justice.

The president also pledged to invest in tourism, mines and minerals, the private sector, and quality roads.

Considering the potential of Druk Holding and Investments (DHI) and its companies to boost the economy, the party pledged to invest and help all 19 DHI companies, and also relax the rules and regulations for investment and boost businesses.

Dorji Wangdi said that the DHI remains one of the primary sources to achieve economic independence.

Chain link fencing, drinking and irrigation water, and exporting agricultural produce also figure in the DPT’s core economic development plans.

DPT President extolled the party’s hydropower construction drive when it formed the first democratically elected government in 2008. He said that the party had commenced the construction of five major hydropower projects: Dagachhu, Nikachhu, Punatsangchhu I and II, and Mangdechhu totalling 3,184 megawatts of electricity.

Dorji Wangdi said that some of these projects were completed and few are nearing completion except for Punatsangchhu I where the progress has been slowed by geological issues.

Regarding the delay of Punatsangchhu I, he said the second government should have proactively tackled the issue as the landslide at the dam site occurred during the People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) tenure.

PDP’s President Tshering Tobgay retorted that DPT had changed the dam site of the project which caused the current problem. However, Dorji Wangdi maintained that the decision was taken based on the expert’s knowledge.

DPT’s tenure also witnessed the highest economic growth rate in the country at seven percent, the president said.

Dorji Wangdi thanked the people for their unwavering support for the past 15 years. “Based on the rich experience we have gained through serving in the Parliament for three terms, DPT is determined to execute our pledges from day one if elected.”

Other party presidents quizzed Dorji Wangdi on the rupee shortage issue that emerged in 2012, its performance as the Opposition Party in the National Assembly, and public debt.

Dorji Wangdi spoke at length on the different borrowing schemes and how hydropower debt was self-liquidating. “What we need to worry about is the non-hydro debt,” he said.

He said that Bhutan’s debt situation was at moderate risk not considering the loans taken for the various hydropower power projects.

Dorji Wangdi remained true to his character – churning out details including figures of national debt and taking time to explain the context of his questions before asking them triggering numerous interjections from the moderator of the debate telecast on live television and social media.

For better service delivery

Dechen Dolkar

While the party is new, the Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP) boasted of a herd of experienced candidates.

“Party will not serve the country, our able candidates will,” BTP Party president Pema Chewang said at the presidential debate telecast live on television and social media yesterday.

The party presidents, restricted by the limited time allocated to speak about their pledges and parties, tried to squeeze as much of the highlights of their manifestoes.

BTP President said that the party’s slogan ‘Your Voice, Your Hope,’ intends to build on the premise that ordinary citizens need to be valued, and need to be given every opportunity and platform to voice their concerns and issues and empower them to take part in country’s development.

“The party will make the country a prosperous Bhutan for all,” the president said.

The president said that the party prioritises good governance, smart policies and strategies driven by innovation, creation and enterprise, supported by a culture of hard work and determination.

The BTP, he said, to boost efficient public service, will bring about clean and responsive governance, and economic transformation and create jobs. “As we address all these issues, the economic situation in the country will improve.”

For instance, there are some issues in villages and difficulties in getting approval for timber, sand and stone for the construction of houses and rural building drawings.

“We need to enact a public service delivery Act to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public service delivery,” the president said.

The president highlighted that BTP’s pledges are centred on Ju-Nor Nga, the five key economic drivers: agriculture, tourism, infrastructure, energy, and mining. The party plans to invest Nu 50 billion over three years to create jobs, promote productive investments, boost trade, and develop quality infrastructure to stimulate the economy.

For civil servants, the party will provide homeownership opportunities, increase the life insurance scheme from Nu 30,000 to Nu 150,000, and revise the pension scheme, addressing the issue of limited pension benefits after 20 years of service.

The party intends to introduce a youth engagement platform under the Prime Minister’s Office to address youth-related issues promptly.

President refuted the claim that BTP was a party of eastern Bhutan. “We have 47 candidates from across the country.”

The disruption in public service delivery due to civil servant attrition could be addressed if the pension policy issue is addressed.

He said that currently, civil servants have grievances about individual work plans (IWP) which is the main reason for attrition.

The party intends to review the IWP, the Managing for Excellence (MAX) system, and the Annual Performance Agreement in consultation with the Royal Civil Service Commission.

The president pledged that the party will review IWP, MAX (Managing for Excellence) systems and annual performance agreements in consultation with the Royal Civil Service Commission.

“We need to build trust among our civil servants, improve their working conditions, provide good salaries, empower them to make decisions and value them as public servants,” Pema Chewang said.

To resurrect the economy

KP Sharma

Unlike the previous election slogan, PDP has adopted ‘For better Druk Yul, a promise we will deliver,’ as its new slogan, dedicated to their commitment to the nation.

At the presidential debate yesterday, PDP’s President Tshering Tobgay raised concerns about the current state of the economy and pointed out the need for immediate intervention from the government to facilitate its recovery.

The party’s manifesto is aimed at revitalising the economy and transforming Bhutan towards becoming a developed nation in the next five years.

As a part of their economic recovery stimulus plan, the president pledged to inject Nu 15 Billion into the economy if they are elected to form the next government.

Tshering Tobgay also announced the plan to form an economic development board to design and implement an economic recovery plan with a focus on sectors such as hydropower, tourism, agriculture, manufacturing industries, and private sector development.

“We have to increase the annual tourist arrivals to 300,000 a year,” the president said.

Tshering Tobgay stated that his party aims to attract foreign direct investment companies (FDI) and has identified potential investors in various countries.

The president said that he has visited around 10 countries more than 25 times where he has seen potential investors interested in investing in the country.

According to the president, the party also recognises the need to address the increasing civil service attrition and unemployment issues in the country.

 “The lack of opportunities at home has forced our youths to move and work abroad,” he said.

To improve the living conditions in rural places, PDP pledges to repair gewog center roads, ensure consistent water and electricity supply, and enhance network connectivity.

The party promises to provide a doctor in gewog hospitals, establish central and chiwog schools, offer subsidised loans for power tillers, and support farmers with chain link fences.

Tshering Tobgay promised to raise rural life insurance from Nu 30,000 to Nu 150,000. He said it was last revised from Nu 15,000 to Nu 30,000 during PDP’s term in the government.

In the media sector, PDP promised to introduce the first-ever private television channel with diverse coverage, offering opportunities to deserving people and private entities.

He assured that the regulations would prevent media politicisation, drawing parallels with privately-owned newspapers and radio stations.

To reduce the workload on teachers and students, PDP promised to designate Saturdays as holidays in schools. This initiative, the party president stated would enhance the efficiency of the learning process.

Tshering Tobgay appealed to the public, stressing PDP’s track record of effective governance and experience in their pool of candidates with expertise in different fields and areas of specialisation.

Defending continuity to serve

Thukten Zangpo

“There is a lot of work left to continue and plans to carry forward. Of the five years’ government tenure, we could only work for two years and remaining we were battling the Covid-19,” Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s (DNT) president Lotay Tshering said at the first party presidents debate yesterday.

He thanked the people for trusting and giving the DNT an opportunity to serve as the government in the last five years.

Despite the accomplishment in tackling Covid-19 pandemic, Lotay Tshering asked for forgiveness from those who had to face inconveniences and difficulties because of the Covid-19 containment measures put in place.

DNT’s slogan for this National Assembly election is “Putting nation first-for people, prosperity and progress,” which is based on the party’s core strength of the last five years. DNT believes that choosing a country is a victory for the people. In the 2018 election the party’s slogan was “narrowing the gap”.

When asked by the political parties’ president on DNT’s outcome of narrowing the gap, Lotay Tshering said that there is fear of widening the gap among those who have and have-nots.

In the 21st century, he added that education, knowledge, information technology, and skills among the Bhutanese would contribute to an increasing divide. be a widening factor. Recognising this, Lotay Tshering said that the government has started coding facilities in all schools across the country.

Lotay Tshering, when asked by the PDP’s president Tshering Tobgay about the erratic electricity supply in some remote areas which could deter the implementation of coding facilities, said that all schools are not the beneficiaries while it is in the initial stage.

In an effort to narrow the gap, he added that the government has set up endoscopy facilities in 11 hospitals, CT-scan in five hospitals, and tested for stomach cancer, cervical cancer, and breast cancer in 205 gewogs. “Such screening campaigns cost Nu 230 million annually.”

Economic recovery was the priority for all five parties contesting in this fourth democratically elected government. With the completion of the third democratically elected government, Lotay Tshering said that he realised that this time the parties’ manifestoes are 99 percent similar.

He added that the country’s economic plan is for 10 years, to double the gross domestic product to USD 5 billion by 2029 and USD 10 billion by 2034.

This time, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had pledged for a private television broadcaster. However, Lotay Tshering said that he rejected the proposal a few weeks ago since it could set a bad precedent for the government, given the potential risk of political parties and media converging.

He also said that this fiscal year 2023-24 marks a historic milestone for Bhutan, with a budget outlay of Nu 75 billion as the transition phase as the 12th Plan ended in July this year and 13th Plan is to begin from July next year.

Highlighting the country’s economy, Lotay Tshering said that economic growth transcended from 9 percent to 3.2 percent during the first government, 7.5 percent to 3.2 percent during the second government, and this year economic growth is projected at 4.6 percent and 5.2 percent next year.

He also said that the government has requested Nu 100 billion as grants from the Indian government for the 13th Plan, double from 12th Plan, requiring huge investment this time.

Lotay Tshering also urged the political parties to serve the nation in the best interest rather than through favour and other means that are only self-serving.


Riding on ‘pao’ pledges

Lhakpa Quendren 

Acquiring a hospital in Australia for the Bhutanese residents living down under is one of the 48 “pao” pledges of the Druk Thuendrel Tshogpa (DTT) for the upcoming National Assembly elections.

DTT President Kinga Tshering, during the primary round of the presidential debate yesterday, said that if the party is elected, they are committed to making them happen.

“This is a ‘pao’ pledge, as none of the political parties have it in their manifesto,” he said. “We’ll not let ‘pao’ become ‘awoo’.”

The hospital, he said, would employ around 15 doctors, and provide job opportunities for about 45 Bhutanese youths. “Since many Bhutanese youths are currently working in hospitals in Australia, they bring valuable experience.”

He said that the acquisition of a high-quality hospital in Australia would cost USD 60 million, while a healthcare center would cost about USD 13 million.

Acquiring a hospital or healthcare center in Australia, according to the party, will be funded through equity investments from both local investors in Australia and the Bhutanese diaspora who are employed in the healthcare centre there.

Kinga Tshering wore a smile even when hurling the most serious questions at the other presidents.

Of the 215 pledges by the DTT, 48 of them are “pao” pledges, and 48 are to be achieved within the first 108 days of the government’s term, according to the party president.

“With the candidates’ diverse expertise, we have developed a unique manifesto that not only distinguishes itself within our country but also on a global level,” he said.

“Our main objective is to address the economic challenges in the country,” he said. “I have also headed the team to establish the economic roadmap for the 21st century, and it is now complete.”

To encourage investment within the country and boost the economy, DTT introduced “Sunomics” as an economic philosophy based on Buddhist capitalism in the spirit of Gross National Happiness.

“It combines the elements of a bright sun and economics, which comes following thorough public consultations,” said Kinga Tshering.

The Sunomics philosophy is represented by the four natural economic elements (Jungwa Zhi)—mining and agri-productions, hydropower, industries, and tourism—along with the five economic senses (Paljor Wangpo Nga)—good governance, social harmony, environment, culture, cutting-edge technology, and finance.

He said that a combination of these factors can efficiently address economic challenges. “We will be able to raise the current Gross Domestic Product from USD 2.57 billion to USD 10 billion within the next 10 years.”

Kinga Tshering pledged to immediately convert the minister’s enclave into a service enclave to ensure efficient and timely public service. This conversation, he said, will break policy and regulatory barriers and greatly improve public service delivery by bringing the relevant stakeholders in one place.