The Opposition has said that the government cannot lay the blame on the former government for its inability to achieve an average 10 percent GDP growth as promised during the election campaign.

During the question hour on June 24, opposition MP from Panbang Dorji Wangdi said that the average GDP growth during the government’s tenure was only five percent.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay in his response cited the delay in the completion of the Punatsangchhu hydroelectric project (PHP) I as the main reason for not achieving the target. The delay, the prime minister said, was caused by the former government’s unilateral decision to change the project’s dam site.

The Opposition denies the accusation. In a press release it issued yesterday, the Opposition stated, “This is yet another blatant lie to the august House as well as our people.”

The PDP government, it stated, was solely responsible and accountable for the delay in the completion of the PHPA I project.

“It (the government) began its term by blaming the past Governments and is ending its term by doing the same.

It is time for PDP to accept their countless failures,” the press release states.

The Opposition states that the standard procedure in the construction of mega projects like the PHP I requires any decisions such as changes in the design be scrutinised and approved by all stakeholders. Such decisions, it added, cannot be made by any individual agency or the government since both the governments of Bhutan and India are involved.

The GoI is financing the entire cost of PHP I and is also committed to buy all surplus power at cost plus tariff mode. In such an arrangement, the Opposition states that the GoI would not agree to the Bhutanese government’s unilateral changes in design such as relocation of the dam site without the scrutiny and clearance of their technical agencies as well as their government.

“The approval provided by the Union Cabinet of GoI for the revised cost of the PHPA I in July 2015 clearly reflects the involvement of their technical agencies and their Government at every stage of the project construction,” the Opposition states.

Citing records with the PHPA I, the Opposition states that discussions have been held by the PHP I management with the concerned agencies of the RGoB and the GoI from December 2007 (prior to start of democracy in 2008) to February 2009 on the relocation of the dam site.

The Opposition cites two main reasons for the relocation of the dam site.

One, the dam site in the DPR (detailed project report) had 70m over burden depth below the riverbed but the new site had an estimated depth of 35m only. Two, the project’s electricity generation capacity would increase by additional 105MW by shifting the site, an increase from 1095MW to 1200MW.

To determine the new dam site, the Opposition says that detailed studies were undertaken and discussions held between the technical agencies of the two governments. The Opposition states that the final clearance for the change in the dam site was provided by the CMD of WAPCOS on February 12, 2009 in consultation with relevant agencies.

“It is to be noted that all hydropower projects such as Chukha, Kurichu, Tala also encountered problems during construction. However, the project managements supported by the technical agencies of India and Bhutan and the two governments have resolved them on a timely basis and completed the projects on time,” the Opposition states.

According to the press release, a landslide had occurred on the right bank of the PHP I dam in July 2013. It adds that it was therefore the responsibility of the PDP government to resolve the problem since it was selected around the same time as the occurrence of the landslide.

The Opposition states that it is most unfortunate for Bhutan that the PDP government failed to resolve the problem in the five years of their term.

The frequent change of the Minister for Economic Affairs who is the Chairperson of the PHP I project, the Opposition stated reflected the government’s incompetency and lack of commitment to resolve the landslide related problem and complete the project with minimum delay.

“The PDP government is therefore solely responsible and accountable for the delay in the completion of the PHP I project.”


The government’s stand

At the Question Hour, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that the first cause for not achieving the growth target was because of the previous government’s failure to start the Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project I on time.

He said the project was to be completed by November 2015.

“However, Druk Phuensum Tshogpa had shifted the properly researched and studied location of the project’s dam to another area upstream. That is why since 2013, the soil stability gave problems and because of that we didn’t finish it on time.”

Today, about 85 percent of the work has been completed and the project is expected to be complete by 2023, the prime minister had said. “After a proper research, if the works were completed in 2015, the growth would have climbed not only to 10 percent but even 15 percent.”

MB Subba