The government’s recent decision to replace Zhemgang with Sarpang as one of the four focused dzongkhags under the tourism flagship programme is politically driven, the opposition claims.

During a press conference yesterday, Opposition Leader, Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said the decision has undermined the parliament and the whole planning and budgetary process.

Under the flagship programme, the government had identified Dagana, Gasa, Lhuentse and Zhemgang as priority dzongkhags for tourism development in the 12th Plan.

For equitable development across all regions, it was a positive move, said Pema Gyamtsho. However, the last minute decision to remove Zhemgang from the list was questionable, he added.

Given that both the Members of Parliament (MP) from Zhemgang were in the Opposition, Pema Gyamtsho claimed that the decision was politically motivated. “If this is the truth, all constituencies falling under the Opposition should be concerned.”

He added that the role of Opposition is to provide check and balance. “However, the government wants us to keep quite and is always harping on cooperation. Their interpretation of cooperation is that the opposition agrees to whatever they decide.”

Panbang MP, Dorji Wangdi, said, “It is a deeply worrying political development, which has never happened in the past. Whatever justifications the cabinet may give, it is a bare fact that it is nothing other than outright political discrimination.”

He said the government has stated that the decision to replace Zhemgang with Sarpang was a result of Opposition’s motion to open entry points in the south.

Dorji Wangdi said the Opposition had put forward a motion during the first parliament session where it proposed five entry points –Gelephu, Panbang, Samdrupjongkhar, Samtse and Nganglam in the south.

“If what the government said is true, why only consider Sarpang and not the rest of the areas for potential tourist destination,” he said, adding that all the MPs from Sandrupjongkhar and Nganglam are from the Opposition while both the MPs from Sarpang are in the ruling party.   “This is all clear, and we all should be worried with such developments.”

Pema Gyamtsho said there is no link between the decision to open up tourist entry points and removing Zhemgang from tourism flagship programme. “It is a policy decision. The link here is very weak and the connection between these two issues are very suspicious.”

Members of the Opposition said that Zhemgang should be included in the focused group while Sarpang could be considered as an additional dzongkhag under the flagship programme.

Bardo-Trong MP, Gyembo Tshering, said the government’s decision is in conflict with its core value of narrowing the gap. “Zhemgang is one of the poorest and least developed dzongkhags. Despite this, the government has removed the dzongkhag from the list.”

Bartsham-Shongphu MP, Passang Dorji (PhD) said the move is an attempt to muzzle vocal parliamentarians. “It also discriminates the constituencies represented by the Opposition members and I think it would have a huge implication on democracy in future,” he said.  “This is the first incident where a government is targeting members of the Opposition and also the constituency, as well. This is a dangerous example the government is showing.”

During the budget deliberation at the recent parliament session, foreign minister, Dr Tandi Dorji, who is also the chairman of Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), had said that if it were a political move, Zhemgang would not have been considered from the beginning. “We have the authority,” he had said.

Lyonpo Tandi Dorji reminded the house that members had pressurised the government to open tourist entry points from Gelephu. He said that Sapang is most feasible because there is already an airport. “We need to prepare to open tourist entry also,” he said. “But there is no change in budget, which was endorsed by the house.”

He said the move was also in keeping with the regionally balanced development. However, he said it’s not finalised and that the government is discussing with Gross National Happiness Commission and TCB.

However, yesterday, Pema Gyamtsho during the press conference said, “From what we have heard, TCB has received directives from the government to replace Zhemgang.”

Younten Tshedup