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If that means strengthening the local government by providing utility vehicles  says Lyonchoen 

Politics: In the last Five Year Plan, the former government purchased 686 vehicles spending Nu 1.17 billion but not even a single vehicle was given to the gewogs, according to Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay.

Lyonchoen held a press conference yesterday in response to the opposition’s concerns regarding the use of donor funds to procure gewog utility vehicles and its sustainability.

Labeling the move as a “populist pledge,” the opposition had stated that funds received should be used for more productive investments that would raise the living standards of the people.

However, Lyonchoen said that gewogs have been provided with gewog development grants, free electricity and farm shops while blacktopping of gewog connectivity roads and a power tiller for every chiwogs are underway. To enhance the function of local government and for the benefit of people, one utility vehicle in every gewog is justifiable and deserving, Lyonchoen said.

“If strengthening the local government and giving utility vehicles is a populist move, then yes, I am populist,” he said.

The opposition party has also stated that the government’s decision to purchase new pool vehicles at the same time when existing pool vehicles are being withdrawn as a measure to reduce recurrent costs is ironic.

“The opposition party is convinced that the purchase of 205 vehicles and their annual maintenance costs would have serious ramifications not only on our economy but also on our long-term goals of achieving good governance and self-reliance,” it stated.

On the budget, Lyonchoen clarified that Nu 146 million (M) has been budgeted in the 2015-16 budget, which is approved by parliament. Since it is donor funded, he said the government did not receive the fund last year as expected. In the 2016-17 budget, Nu 12.3M has been allocated for operation and maintenance of the gewog utility vehicles. As for the fund for procurement of vehicles, he said that there is a way to put it up to the Parliament as supplementary budget and appropriation Bill.

Lyonchoen said that the opposition and former finance ministers know well the modus operandi of donor funds. “They did not raise the issue during the campaign and during the 2015-16 budget discussion. Maybe they thought that we can’t achieve it,” he said adding the concern comes at a time when things are about to materialise.

“The opposition party should look back,” he said. “It is for the first time that the government is giving utility vehicles in every gewog.”

At the current price and tax rate, he said, a Land Cruiser, 13 Prados for 10 ministers, opposition leader, speaker and the National Council chairperson, amounts to Nu 58.5M. This price is excluding other taxes except for the green tax, which is applicable for government procurement. The former ministers have taken all the vehicles home, he pointed out.

Should the government go for Boleros, Lyonchoen said each vehicle costs Nu 630,000 totaling Nu 129M. “It may even come down when we tender,” he said, adding that Tata utility vehicles would also be allowed to participate in the bid.

Comparing the pool vehicles for minister and gewog utility vehicles, he said the former benefits only 14 individuals and the latter benefits people in 205 gewogs.

While the opposition party has called on the government to immediately stop the purchase of the utility vehicles and refrain from using donor funds to finance “unsustainable and ill-conceived pledges,” it has asked the government to explore alternatives like providing mobility allowances to local government functionaries.

“We fear that involving donors in fulfilling populist election pledges would tantamount to inviting donor interference or influence in our elections which would have serious repercussions on the country’s security and sovereignty,” the opposition states.

Tshering Dorji

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