MB Subba 

With the reprioritisation of budgetary resources in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic, some of the planned activities have been deprioritised or dropped from the 12th Five-Year Plan (FYP).

However, there have been concerns expressed about re-prioritisation of activities without consulting the people and their representatives in Parliament.

One such example is the case of the four-kilometre bypass along the Tingtibi–Gongphu highway in Zhemgang, which was allocated Nu 60 million (M) for its blacktopping work in the 12th FYP.

“After verbal consultation with the implementing agency, it was clear that the budget kept for this bypass activity in the 12th FYP was deprioritised by the government. I hope the government will honour the 12th FYP, which was endorsed by the Parliament,” one of Zhemgang MPs stated in a post on Facebook.

Trong Gup Wangyal said that the bypass is looked after by the Department of Roads and that the gewog administration has not heard about when the work will be executed.

The works and human settlement minister, Dorji Tshering, said that changes have been incorporated into the 12th FYP, and that some of the activities have taken the backseat due to budget limitations.

“I wanted the work to be implemented this year, but the limited budget has forestalled it. There are other road projects that are more important to be taken up,” he said.

Observers are questioning the legality of the government’s decision to reprioritise and divert the budget of planned activities.

Former National Council member from Trongsa, Tharchen, said that rearranging the activities that have been approved by Parliament could set a negative precedent, as future governments could use budgets as a tool for political gain.

“There are chances that the governments could devise politically motivated ad hoc plans in targeted places,” he said, adding that the executive arm had limited space to twist budgets, given the separation of power between the executive and legislative branches.

Lyonpo Dorji Tshering, however, said that such changes in the Plan activities would be brought to Parliament and passed as annual budget reports.

Some of the MPs highlighted dzongkhags’ “misplaced priorities” as one of the main factors pushing development projects like the Tingtibi–Gongphu bypass to the back burner.

“There is no money to improve the Tingtibi–Gongphu bypass but we have the budget to develop urban recreational centres like Ghaden Lingka Park in Bajo and the swimming pool in Damphu,” an MP said.

He said that entertainment centres should be left to the private sector to invest in so that government resources are available for infrastructure development of critical importance. He said that some of the villages do not have proper drinking water or farm roads.

The MP said that poverty is still prevalent in some villages and that such issues should be prioritised. He said that the dzongkhags and local governments seldom consult the relevant MPs, who are the representatives of the people.

About 50 percent of the national budget today is provided to local governments and dzongkhags as block grants.

The 12th FYP was re-prioritised based on four key priority areas related to Covid-19 pandemic, with health as the number one priority sector, followed by education, food security, and infrastructures, according to the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC).

The 12th FYP has a total budget outlay of Nu 310B, of which Nu 193B is the current budget, and Nu 116B is the capital budget. Activities are reviewed from time to time to align with the needs of the evolving situation, according to the government.