What pledge?

It is good to remind elected leaders about promises they made when wooing voters and campaigning for power.  It is even better to question them on the progress.

Elected leaders are alleged to have short memories, when the list of pledges is long. This was what happened last week at the National Assembly.

The finance minister denied making any pledges of availing the vehicle import quota to every household. He insisted it was not in the party manifesto. The minister is technically correct in saying it is not in their manifesto. But this is one pledge the government should remember well for the controversy surrounding it.

It was not their original idea. They started it mid-way through the campaign and the Election Commission of Bhutan stopped them from make the pledge. By then, excited members used it as bait in the public debates.

Notwithstanding the debate, it was not the best pledge for a political party aiming to lead the country. It might have been honey to many ears, but it is a populist decision to encourage people buy and buy more.

Reasoned discourse, in fact, what we see on the roads, tell us that our policies should be considerate to road congestion, lack of parking and other related problems like pollution and the environment.

Going by the ground reality, if ever there should be a pledge, it should be starting efficient and cheap public transport, not encouraging more cars on the limited road infrastructure. A government will not fail its people if it cannot provide incentive to every household to buy a car. It will fail if the purpose of transport- movement of people and goods are not served.

From experience we know that incentives like vehicle import quota is not serving any purpose. If it is not ending with people with money, one quota is enabling the purchase of two cars. We are already dealing with the problem of import quotas to civil servants. Availing it to every household would be a nightmare.

If we take a look at the capital’s roads today, the only reasonable pledge should be discouraging people from buying cars, banks from lending cheap loans and focusing on public transport to decongest the city.

As of January 31, there were 107,336 vehicles in the country.  Half of that is in Thimphu alone. To put into perspective, with 56,189 registered vehicles, there is a vehicle for every two people in Thimphu. The infrastructure is overwhelmed.

The figures are there to help policy makers make reasonable decisions. Knowing the reality, governments should make bold decisions, even if it is at the cost of votes. In a democratic set up, we elect leaders to make decisions in the interest of the country and not only to keep voters happy.

It is high time we draw a line. There is no harm if the current government has forgotten their pledge to avail the import quota to all households in the country.

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