State owned enterprises

The Interim Government

Last year, during the election period, the Interim Government seems to have conducted a study of state owned enterprises and released a report that is critical of companies established by the former government. That’s okay. It’s good that the Interim Government was concerned whether “established protocol” was followed while establishing the new companies and recommended strategies to streamline the system.

What’s not okay is the timing. The Interim Government seems to have taken up the issue of SOEs immediately after the primary elections … that is after PDP lost. So I’m still wondering if SOEs would have received the Interim Government’s attention if PDP had made it through the primary round of elections.

If the Interim Government was honest and if they genuinely wanted to question the usefulness and viability of SOEs, they should have done so immediately after assuming office, without hesitating to consider if the former government would return or not. In fact, if SOEs was a burning priority, one that merited the attention of the interim government, the members, some of them at least, should have questioned the government even before their appointment as members of the 3-month long interim government.

The RMA Governor, in particular, should have voiced his concerns to the former government either directly or included them in the RMA’s annual policy briefings. He didn’t. Similarly, the DHI should have questioned the establishment of the Construction Development Corporation or the State Mining Corporation as a part of their organization. They didn’t; instead they readily accepted both the corporations.

But like I said, it’s good that the interim government conducted the review. And in spite of the fact that due process was followed while establishing each and every one of the new SOEs, I agree that better guidelines may need to be in place.

On the other hand, I object to Kuensel’s reference to SOEs as a “political tool” that “cannot be created to accommodate some party supporters in the name of growth”. In this connection, I challenge Kuensel to substantiate their views that some SOEs were established for political reason, and prove their allegation that they were created to benefit party supporters. These are serious accusations and must be dealt with forthright.

Here are some of the SOEs that we established in the previous five years:

  • Bhutan Lottery to revive the lucrative lottery business that was terminated in 2011. The corporation is already turning in a profit of about Nu 50 million annually. And that’s without yet entering the huge market in India.
  • Duty Free Shop to improve operations. DFS barely earned Nu 16 million when it was run by the Ministry of Finance. Last year, less than 2 years after its establishment as an SOE, it earned Nu 50 million.
  • Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services earned Nu 163 million in 2017 and is already declaring healthy dividends to the government.
  • Rural Enterprise Development Corporation was established as a corporation after the opposition party’s (and Kuensel’s) loud objections to the erstwhile BOIC. By 2017, REDC had already disbursed Nu 524 million to establish 360 small businesses in rural Bhutan.
  • Construction Development Corporation was transferred to DGPC to take up hydropower construction. They are already building tunnels in addition to some of the best bridges in the country. (Incidentally, I was responsible for encouraging DGPC to expand Bhutan Hydropower Services and establish Bhutan Automation.)
  • State Mining Corporation to harvest strategic mineral resources sustainably.
  • Farm Shops as a part of FCB to provide fair price goods and to buy agricultural produce in rural villages.
  • Farm Machinery Corporation to mechanize farms and to revert fallow land for cultivation.
  • Green Bhutan to help in conservation efforts, especially through afforestation and reforestation.
  • Livestock Development Corporation to produce animal husbandry inputs for farmers.

Granted, some of these corporations are yet to turn a profit. These include SMC, FMCL, Green Bhutan and LDC. But give them time and they all will become financially viable. At any rate, profit was not the main motive for establishing these corporations. That these services were not available, especially at desired quality and scale, motivated the government to establish these corporations. More importantly, they were established to create much-needed jobs for our youth, jobs that would be seen as “government jobs”.

I wish to make one final point. The government seems to be thinking of privatizing some of the SOEs. I don’t know which ones they may have in mind, but I hope they will be careful. I hope they will tread cautiously. I hope they will not misuse privatization as a ruse to transfer ownership of national assets (like the juicy lottery business) to a few already well-off individuals. And I hope they will not misuse privatization as a quick way of generating revenue to pay for expensive campaign promises. That would be unsustainable. That would be short-sighted.

Where is the opposition party?

PC: Business Bhutan

Article 18 of the Constitution requires the opposition party to “… play a constructive role to ensure that the Government and the ruling party function in accordance with the provisions of this constitution, provide good governance and strive to promote the national interest and fulfil the aspirations of the people.”

But … where is the opposition? Yes, I see them attending ceremonies and photo ops with the prime minister and the government. That’s good. It promotes harmony. But just promoting harmony is not enough. In fact, if there’s harmony, but without a sound opposition, we risk undermining the institutional checks and balances between the ruling and opposition parties. In other words, the two parties could go in cahoots to put personal and party interests ahead of the national interest.

So where is the opposition party? I really don’t know. Except, that is, for the Dewathang-Gomdar MP Ugyen Dorji. He was in his constituency recently. And he opposed. Unfortunately, he opposed the previous government, not the current one!

Business Bhutan reported that “After touring the length and breadth of his constituency, and spending hours with the local people” MP Ugyen Dorji concluded that he is “disappointed with work done by last government”, and that gewogs in his constituency have “fallen into regression in the last five years”. (I’ve reproduced the entire article at the end of this post for your reading pleasure.)

I’m not going to bore MP Ugyen Dorji by recounting everything we did in his constituency in the last five years. He would already know all that. So let me highlight just a few of the work that was done … to help me understand why he is so disappointed.

Perhaps the honorable MP does not approve of the gewog center roads that we blacktopped. He would know that we blacktopped GC roads to Orong (12.3 km), Gomdar (12 km) and Wangphu (12.5 km) reducing the cost and time of travel while enhancing comfort in his constituency.

Or perhaps he does not agree that the two central schools we opened in his constituency, one each in Orong and Gomdar, are appreciated by his constituents.

Maybe he’s disappointed that Jigme Namgyel Polytechnic in Dewathang was upgraded to an engineering degree awarding college.

Staying with Dewathang, he may be upset that a brand new 40-bedded hospital was constructed there in spite of the fact that Samdrup Jongkhar already has a district hospital. And he may not approve of the fact that 6 medical evacuations were carried out from his constituency by helicopter.

Or could it be that he does not like his constituents doing business? After all, REDC provided subsidized loans for 120 projects totaling more than Nu 15 million. If that is the case – if he does not support rural businesses – then he would be really upset because we opened gewog banks in all four of his gewogs.

Perhaps it’s electricity. All households in his constituency receive 100 units of free electricity each month. This is the case in all gewogs throughout the country, but for some reason he may take exception to it. Similarly, again for some reason best known to himself, he may feel that doubling the rural life insurance was a bad idea.

Maybe the MP does not approve of the construction of the Southern East-West Highway that we had begun quietly, but in earnest. In particular, the road connecting Langchenphug in Jumotshangkha and Samrang is under construction from both sides. And a road to connect Chokorling in Nganglam to Dewathang is also under construction.

Perhaps the honorable MP did not like Gewog Development Grants which provided Nu 10 million to each of his four gewogs. This enabled the local governments to implement a wide range of development work which they considered important but were outside the scope of the 11th Plan. I know that the GDG scheme would offend him as during his tenure as an MP in the ruling party, he enjoyed using the Constituency Development Grant, a much smaller scheme, but one that gave MPs full control of the funds.

But who knows? Maybe he does not like to see industrial growth in Samdrup Jongkhar. After all we spent Nu 100 million for developing the Motanga Industrial Park, and he may be alarmed that 30 industrial plots have already been allotted. Added to that, he would have seen that a ­lot of ground work has been done on the Nyera-Amari hydropower project.

And who knows? It could be just that he does not like to see Samdrup Jongkhar thromde develop. After all, he would know that Nu 640 million was budgeted in the 11th Plan compared to just Nu 351 million in the 10th Plan. This would basically mean that, between the 10th and 11th Plans, development activities were almost doubled in Samdrup Jongkhar town.

Then there’s agriculture. But since MP Ugyen Dorji knows his constituency so well, let’s leave something for him to write about.

  • So perhaps he could tell us the numbers of power tillers that were distributed in his constituency. He would know that even though power tillers were introduced in the country 35 years ago, some of his gewogs did not have a single power tiller till we distributed a power tiller each to every chiwog.
  • Perhaps he could tell us about the new farm roads that were constructed including ongoing work like the road connecting Orong to Dewathang.
  • Perhaps he would care to mention where farm shops were established, and clarify if they enable his constituents to purchase essential products at fair prices.
  • And perhaps he could tell us how many kilometres of electric fencing were installed in how many of his villages, and if they help farmers protect their crops.

The next time MP Ugyen Dorji visits his constituency, I suggest that he reduce the number of his parties and increase the quality of his observation. That would make a much better strategy to serve his constituents. That would also prepare him to be a constructive opposition to the government, and not make us ask “Where is the opposition party?”

Fueling growth

Everyone is talking about the Pay Commission’s report. And I too will gradually join the conversation. To start, I wish to discuss the Commission’s recommendation to increase fuel taxes.

Everyone would remember 2013.

The country was experiencing an economic crisis. In its efforts to address the critical shortage of Indian rupees, the central bank imposed a series of policies including restricting the supply of rupees; rationing rupees to Bhutanese traveling to India for business, studies, medical treatment or pilgrimage; closing bank accounts of Indian citizens; and suspending loans in several sectors. These policies did little to solve the rupee crisis. Instead, they fueled panic, prompting citizens to hoard Indian currency. The government also added to the panic by curtailing construction, banning the import of vehicles and furniture, and selling hundreds of millions of dollars from the country’s reserves.

The result was that Bhutanese were buying rupees at a premium, paying Nu 110 for every Rs 100 when in fact the two currencies were pegged at equal value. More importantly, the entire economy took a big hit, growing at just 2.14% in 2013, the lowest GDP growth in decades.

So, soon after assuming office in 2013, I worked closely with RMA and successfully addressed the rupee crisis. In addition, we gradually improved the economy by injecting liquidity in the banking system, investing in infrastructure (notably in widening the East-West Highway, building central schools, improving airports, blacktopping gewog roads, constructing farm roads, and expanding the electricity and telecom network), reducing interest rates, improving ease of doing business, waiving taxes for small businesses, establishing REDC, and providing unprecedented support to hydropower, tourism, agriculture, livestock and CSIs.

Our hard work paid off. GDP growth rates increased from a low of 2.15% in 2013 to 5.4% in 2014, 6.6% in 2015 and 8% in 2016. Additionally, GDP was forecast to grow by 8.4% in 2017 and 9.2% in 2018.

Table by The Bhutanese

And to ensure that the economy continued to grow, fuel prices were reduced drastically in November of 2017. The idea was that lower fuel prices would drive down the cost of construction, traded goods and some other services. The idea was also to allow truck drivers and taxi drivers, most of whom own the vehicles they drive, to earn more money. And finally, the idea was to make travel cheaper in rural Bhutan where farmers are required to drive much longer distances to get to neighboring villages, gewog centers and dzongkhag headquarters.

That’s why I was alarmed to read the Pay Commission’s recommendation to increase taxes on fuel. Specifically, they recommended that “In order to promote the Polluter Pays Principle, it is timely to revise the green tax on fuel. For example, if the green tax is revised by 5%, there is opportunity to generate additional revenue of Nu.450 million per annum.”

If increased consumption of fuel is leading to increased pollution, I would support an increased “green tax”. But I would do so on condition that revenue from green tax should be used for climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, not to finance increases in salaries.

Otherwise, the so-called green tax must not be misused. In fact, the price of fuel should not be increased so soon after they were deliberately reduced. Doing so would affect the incomes of truck drivers, taxi drivers and farmers. But, and more importantly, raising taxes on fuel would risk undoing all the hard-earned gains we have made in the economy since 2013.

In this context, the government should remember 2013.

Better late than never

PC: Kuensel

A bit of good news that the media covered last week caught my attention. Kuensel reported that, “the prime minister, cabinet ministers, opposition leader, national council chairperson, the chief justice of the supreme court, ACC chairperson, attorney general and the auditor general together surrendered 21 subsidised cylinders”. Kuensel’s coverage included two photographs of our leaders trading in gas cylinders “… for others who cannot afford the non-subsidised LPG.”

The photo-op was a part of “Our Gyenkhu”, the government’s initiative to encourage citizens to buy non-subsidized gas.

I applaud this initiative, and join the government in encouraging the use of non-subsidized gas so that those that don’t have the means, especially farmers in distant villages, will have better access to subsidized LPG.

But I have one question: why did our leaders take so long? Why didn’t they make this simple sacrifice a year ago when the government launched non-subsidized LPG with an announcement to “appeal and encourage all in urban areas to come forward and voluntarily give up their subsidized LPG and avail non subsidized LPG.” In fact, the former MOEA minister followed up this announcement with personal letters to all government and international agencies. Some responded promptly and I wish to acknowledge their support and cooperation. Chief among them were the Zhung Dratshang and senior officers of the armed forces.

Now let’s get this important initiative rolling. Let’s make it a success. It’s better late than never.

Bhutan for Life

Our responsibility to look after our protected areas – that’s 51% of our country – just got easier. Bhutan for Life and GNHC signed a grant agreement for Nu 2.4 billion to finance conservation activities during the next 14 years. Most of this should be spent during the 12th Plan period to protect our national parks, nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries, and to ensure that people living in them receive support to enhance their livelihood.

I’m happy to have had the opportunity to tell our conservation story to the world and to take part in the fund-raising efforts. My thanks to WWF-US for their leadership and support in putting together this unique funding mechanism. Thanks also to all BFL partners – individuals, foundations and institutions – for believing in Bhutan and for their generous contributions.

And most importantly, I offer thanks to His Majesty the King for providing the vision for BFL and for inspiring the entire country to work together to protect what ultimately belongs to our future generations … and to the world.

Enough entertainment

The Royal Audit Authority seems to have recently submitted their report on hospitality and entertainment expenses to the government. Their findings have caused widespread alarm in the country.

I have not responded to the report for a simple reason: I have not yet received a copy of the report. I have not seen it, and I don’t know if they expect a response from me.

The media, on the other hand, have already obtained (or were given) copies of the report. And they have run with it. Kuensel alone has written six pieces on the RAA’s findings and has convinced a very concerned nation that the previous government wasted huge amounts of money on lavish chagoep and nyendar, followed by soelra, contributions and semso.”

I have not responded to the media, also for a simple reason: they have not contacted me. Not a single journalist has tried to contact me (or any of my colleagues in the former cabinet) for my thoughts or views or comments on this important matter. So I’m forced to conclude that Kuensel has made no attempt to tell the news objectively. They have relied on a single source and have purposely excluded the views and concerns of people who may be directly affected by their stories. Why? So that they could cherry pick sensational bits from the RAA report, combine it with their personal biases and produce inflammatory stories. That’s why their viral stories has everyone convinced that the entertainment expenses were excessive and that they were used solely for “nyenda and soelra”. No need to plough through their stories for evidence; just look at their cartoon at the start of this post.

I now owe the people an explanation.

In the middle of 2017, RAA issued a draft report on hospitality and entertainment expenses of the government. The former cabinet agreed with their main recommendation that proper guidelines needed to be established, and promptly directed the Ministry of Finance to prepare the guidelines.

In the absence of clear guidelines, cabinet ministers (and the chief justice, speaker, NC chairman and opposition leader) had blindly followed precedence. And according to precedence, expenses related to the travel of ministers and their teams, travel of government guests and expenses for unplanned national events were also booked under “hospitality and entertainment”. In fact, this practice was not just entrenched, it was accepted practice. That’s why, until their 2017 draft report, the RAA cleared the “hospitality and entertainment” expenses of all ministers, each year, every year without any comment. Not once did they ask any question or raise any objection. And I’m referring to the annual audits going back to 2008 and beyond.

So based on the RAA’s draft report, the Ministry of Finance was instructed to develop clear guidelines. In addition, all ministers were directed to review their individual expenses and submit segregated accounts. My office at that time (the PMO) also studied and segregated the expenses of the former prime minister (that’s me) and conveyed their findings to RAA .

For the period 2013 to 2018, Nu 39,662,234 was spent on “hospitality and entertainment”. Incidentally, my predecessor spent Nu 51,684,107 during his tenure. This is according to the report generated by the Finance Ministry’s public expenditure and management system (PEMS).

If you look at the third-last row of the table (the one for the year 2017-2018), you’ll see that while Nu 1,962,758 was booked under “hospitality and entertainment”, more was spent on “national events”, “government guests” and “local government visits”. These activities are outside the scope of entertainment and hospitality, and, as such, were booked separately.

The PMO carried out the same exercise for 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, and determined that actual “hospitality and entertainment” expenses for those years were Nu 926,840 and Nu 903,583 respectively and not Nu 14,450,176 and Nu 8,401,220 as reflected in the report. The actual expenses were calculated by segregating “hospitality and entertainment” from other allowable expenses, most of which consisted of in-country travel. So if the revised figures for 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 are used, the total expenditure for “hospitality and entertainment expenditure” would fall to Nu 18,641,261. And if the correct expenses for 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 are incorporated, the total “hospitality and entertainment” expenditure would fall further still.

This is a far cry from the Nu 55 million per year that Kuensel has misled people to believe I spent on entertainment, and that too mainly for chagoep, nyendar, soelra and semso

But why was travel booked under “hospitality and entertainment”? Because that was past practice, one that had always been accepted by the Ministry of Finance and RAA.

And why was so much money spent on travel? Because I travelled a lot. I visited each and every one of our 205 gewogs, with some, like Lunana, taking many days to cover. In addition, I visited all 20 dzongkhags on six different occasions — to report on the 11th Five Year Plan, to sign annual performance agreements, to coordinate the mid-term review of the 11th Plan, to discuss the draft 12th Five Year Plan and to report on the completion of the 11th Plan.

The travel expenses, including for hotels and food, for the entire team traveling with me was booked under “hospitality and entertainment”, but they were allowed to claim only 20% of their DSA. (In the past, civil servants accompanying the prime minister were also provided food and board, and they could claim full DSA).

It’s not for me to say whether the actual expenditure on “hospitality and entertainment” was excessive or not, but I agree with RAA that proper guidelines, including expenditure ceilings, are required. All expenses should not be lumped together as “hospitality and entertainment”. However, I object to the fact that they have issued this report after clearing these expenditures each year and every year, during their annual audits misleading the respective finance officers that everything was in order.

More importantly, I strongly object to the fact that the whole exercise seems to have been carried out so that the report could have been released just before the elections. Why so? Probably to influence the elections. But why do I say so?  Because sources have informed me that RAA had planned to release two other reports (on the East-West Highway and on central schools) just as we were wrapping up our tenure as the former government.

I don’t know what eventually held them back. But if there’s even a hint of truth in this, then, I’m afraid, we have real cause for widespread alarm.

Haa tragedy

I am shocked and deeply saddened to hear about the tragedy in Haa that cut short the lives of eleven of our young soldiers and injured ten others. Young Bhutanese men in uniform with their entire lives ahead of them, some with wives and children, laid down their lives while in the service of our nation.

I join all Bhutanese in offering my heartfelt sympathy to the families and loved ones of the victims of the Anakha tradegy. I hope that you can draw some measure of comfort knowing that you are not alone in your grief – that people across our country, and Bhutanese everywhere, pray and mourn with you.

For the families of the injured, please know that we will do whatever possible to restore the health of your loved one. We join you in your prayers for their full and speedy recovery. And, we will be there with you for as long as it takes.

At this time our hearts also go out to all members of our armed forces who risk so much in the service of our nation – who are always ready to risk their own lives so that the rest of us can live in safety and security.

And, at such times, it is always His Majesty the King who is first on the scene, the greatest source of comfort for those in pain, and the provider of welfare to the children and spouses of the victims. We are blessed to have His Majesty at Anakha, offering solace to bereaved families and ensuring that the injured receive the best medical attention. All of us in the government humbly stand by His Majesty the King, our Kidu-Gi-Pham, to serve and do whatsoever is required of us to provide support and comfort to the victims and their families of today’s tragedy.

At a personal level, it pains me deeply that I am not in Bhutan at this moment of tragedy. I will return home as soon as possible but until then my thoughts and my prayers will be with the families of our soldiers who have suffered a terrible fate.

Draft RTI Bill

The government will table the Right to Information Bill during the first session of the Second Parliament. The cabinet is still discussing the draft bill, and would appreciate your comments. Thanks in advance.

 

Draft Right to Information Bill, 2013

PREAMBLE
Whereas, the Right to Information  upholds the principles of gross national happiness through good governance, it is essential to ensure an informed citizenry, to secure access to information held by public authorities, and to promote governmental transparency and accountability; and
Whereas, Section 3 under Article 7 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan guarantees the right to information to a Bhutanese citizen;
The Parliament of Bhutan at its _____ Session, on the _____ Day of the _____ Month of the ____________________ Year of the Bhutanese Calendar, corresponding to the _____ Day of __________ 20__, hereby enacts the Right to Information Act, as follows:
CHAPTER 1 – PRELIMINARY
Short Title and Commencement
1. This Act shall:
(1) be called the “Right to Information Act”;
(2) come into force on the _____ Day of the _____ Month of the ____________________  Year of the Bhutanese Calendar, corresponding to the _____ Day of __________ 20__.
Scope
2. This Act shall:
(1) extend to all citizens of Bhutan; and
(2) all branches and levels of government, including the executive, legislative, judiciary and military as well as private bodies  carrying out public functions or receiving public funds.
Construction
3. In this Act, the singular shall mean plural and masculine shall mean feminine wherever applicable.
Repeal
4. The provisions of existing laws and regulations that are inconsistent with this Act are hereby repealed. [Continue Reading…]

Cost-cutting measures

Press Release

23 August 2013

Bearing in mind the current state of the economy faced with a growing public debt, INR dearth and ever increasing current expenditure, the Fourth sitting of the Cabinet decided on adopting austerity measures to rein in unnecessary and excessive spending. As such, the Cabinet has decided to implement the following cost cutting measures until economic situation improves in the country:

 1. Pay: As per recommendation of the National Assembly conveyed vide NAB-SP/2010/74, dated 16/12/2010, the pay scales for the Ministers of the Second Parliament was to be increased from Nu.78,000 – 1,560 – 85,800 to Nu.1,80,000 – 3,600 – 1,98,000 for the Prime Minister and Nu.1,30,000 – 2,600 – 1,43,000 for Cabinet Ministers and equivalent posts.

The Cabinet has decided not to adopt the new pay scales as recommended above. The existing pay scale of Nu.78,000 – 1,560 – 85,800 will be applied for the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Ministers with effect from 27th July 2013, the day His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo granted Dakyen to the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers. The next Pay Commission may review and suggest otherwise if necessary and recommend to the Government later.     

2. Accommodation: Prime Minister has decided to live in his private residence and spare the official residence for continued use as a State Guesthouse. Cabinet Ministers will mandatorily occupy official residences at Lhengye Densa as it would involve payment of housing rent allowance otherwise.

3. Security: Security personnel for the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers shall be reduced to bare minimum and no pilot escort will be used for movements within Thimphu and Paro. The Ministry of Home & Cultural Affairs has been directed to revise the Security Protocol for VVIPs/VIPs, 2013 accordingly.

4. Ex-country Travel: Ex-country travel by the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers shall be kept to bare necessity. The Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers will travel abroad only when it is absolutely necessary and that too with a bare minimum delegation even if financed by host countries or organizers. There should be no formal reception or see-off line up at the airport.   

5. Chadri Arrangements: Chadri arrangements should be confined to events involving Royal Family Members, Zhung Dratshang and that are of national significance only. Pitching of tents, hoisting flags, arrangements of dancers, serving food, etc. during other events must be stopped. During visits of Cabinet Ministers to places outside Thimphu, there should be no elaborate chadri at the place of stay, whether hotel or guest house. Packed lunches for mid-way meals and tea to be arranged by the visiting team. The practice of Dzongkhag officials coming half-way to receive the officials should be discontinued. This applies to the visit of the Prime Minister as well. The Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs is directed to revise the Chadri Protocol accordingly.

6. Hospitality and Entertainment: No excessive expenditure shall be incurred for extending hospitality and entertaining guests by the Cabinet Ministers. Government entertainment for official purposes should be reduced to bare essential. Wherever possible, lunches should be hosted instead of dinners, and number of government invitees should not exceed twice the number of guests. Food items containing local products should be promoted, instead of imported stuff. The Ministry of Finance is directed to revise the existing circulars/guidelines on government entertainments and hospitality and further streamline it.

 

7. Transport/Vehicle: The Prime Minister is entitled to one Land Cruiser and Cabinet Ministers to one Toyota Prado as exclusive duty vehicles with drivers and operation/maintenance costs. One Maruti WagonR car is provided for secretarial duty of the Ministers.

  1. Notwithstanding the above entitlements, the Prime Minister has decided to use the old vehicle (Toyota Prado) on his duty. The Cabinet Ministers will use one of the pool vehicles available with the ministries. No new vehicle will be procured by the Government until the economic situation improves.
  2. Maruti Wagon_R cars provided for secretarial duty of the Ministers will be returned for pool use in the ministries.

8. Domestic Staff: Prime Minister was provided five and Cabinet Ministers two domestic staff at residences. The Cabinet has decided not to avail this facility. The Pay Commission may study the need and suggest otherwise later. The DNP’s Maintenance Unit will look after the flower gardens and general cleaning of premises on regular basis.

9. Cabinet Secretariat: Cabinet Secretariat currently has 41 staff (2 Executive, 13 Officers, 2 Contract, 11 Support, 9 Operator and 4 GSP) as against some 52 approved posts. In addition, there were 4 political appointees and one Photographer on contract basis.

The Cabinet decided that there will be no political appointments made in the Cabinet Secretariat. Instead, Prime Minister will look into re-organizing and down-sizing the Cabinet Secretariat. Excess staff, if any, could be relieved off on transfer to agencies facing shortage of HRs.

 

The Cabinet hereby pledges to abide by all relevant laws of the land and consciously work hard towards curtailment of wasteful public expenditure. In doing so, the Government earnestly hope that all ministries, autonomous bodies, corporate agencies and also the private sector understand the gravity of the economic situation and encourage them to voluntarily come up with their own austerity measures. The Government and the people must collectively aspire to revive the economic situation through collective efforts and sacrifices.

“We have emerged stronger”

Kuensel recently interviewed me. Their piece is reproduced below:

 How have you grown since the time you became the country’s first opposition leader and today as you exit your first five-year term?

It’s not for me to say whether I’ve grown or not in the past five years. I certainly hope I’ve grown. But that’s for my family and, more importantly, the people to judge. What I can say is that I have learnt a lot in the past five years. I have had the opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life – the poor and the rich, the young and old, farmers and businessmen, monks and students, soldiers, teachers and countless other public servants. I have been able to listen to them and to learn of their deepest hopes and aspirations. And that has been an extremely enriching experience. On democracy, I have learnt that it is hard work, that it is not free, and that the most difficult part of democracy is the exercise of checks and balances. In this context, PDP has had the difficult yet distinguished responsibility of serving as the Kingdom’s first opposition party.

You have been very critical of the government’s performance in a number of areas. Any area you feel the government did do well and deserves credit?

The transition to democracy has largely been stable and peaceful. For this, the government must be given due credit. However, this transition would never have been possible without the complete support and constant guidance of His Majesty the King. Furthermore, the government could have done a better job in strengthening democratic institutions and in minimizing the anxiety levels that our people have sometimes been subjected to.

One area in which the government failed badly?

The government has failed to inculcate a healthy respect for the rule of law. Some times, the government threatened to amend laws, including the Constitution, to suit their narrow, immediate purposes. At other times, they themselves blatantly violated the rule of law, like when they imposed taxes unconstitutionally. That led to the first constitutional case which they eventually lost. What followed was unprecedented – the government was made to return the taxes that they had collected unlawfully.

Another important area where the government failed is the economy. The economy has become extremely vulnerable with debts rising and short-term Rupee borrowings spiralling out of control. At this rate, we are heading towards an economic crisis, a crisis that will undo the benefits of decades of hardwork and subject the country and people to unimaginable hardship.

Some political pundits indicated 2013 election is more about who will become the opposition…

I hope the political pundits are wrong. If the pundits are right, and if the 2013 elections is only about who will become the opposition, it would mean that DPT is invincible and will form the government again. Such a foregone conclusion would also mean that democratic choice would be undermined. Therefore, it becomes crucial for all of us, including the political pundits themselves, to support the other parties so that they can offer credible alternatives and healthy competition.

Some former PDP candidates and members said they were hardly consulted while opposition played its role and that the party should have been regrouped years ago than now. What happened?

The opposition party has just two members in the Parliament. As such, we have had to work extremely hard during the past five years, especially since the very idea of an opposition was nonexistent until then. It is hard to imagine that anyone associated with PDP, including our former candidates, would be upset if the opposition were able to play its role successfully. As far as the two opposition party members are concerned, we have actively sought to consult any and everyone available, both inside and outside the party.

All of us agree that PDP should have regrouped years ago. But that is easier said than done. Our party was in shambles. The president had resigned taking moral responsibility for the 2008 loss, and the party was burdened with huge financial debts. Added to that, many candidates resigned, some for professional reasons, some to form a new political party. It was testing time for the party, but we have not just overcome our difficulties, we have emerged stronger and are now well-positioned for the coming elections.

You made many remarks on the Rupee issue the country continues to reel under. Had your role reversed to play the government, how would you address the issue?

I raised the Rupee issue way back in 2009. Since then, the opposition party has consistently raised the issue in the Parliament. Today, even though we have a full-blown Rupee crisis, one that is holding our economy at ransom, the government still has not admitted that we have a problem. Any other government would have understood that our economy is small, that imports exceed exports, and that, as such, foreign currency, Especially the Rupee, must be managed very carefully. Past governments, in which many of the current ministers also served, were acutely aware of this and ensured that shortfall of Rupee never assumed critical proportions. So I, like many others, am extremely disappointed that the DPT government has failed to prevent this crisis.

What would we have done if we were in the government? We would have exercised caution right from the start. We would have monitored the economy carefully and ensured that trade imbalances did not spiral out of control. We would have reined in exessive government spending, while making sure that agriculture, services, manufacturing and small businesses thrived throughout the length and breadth of our country. In short, we would have made doing business in Bhutan easy and enjoyable. So a Rupee crisis would never have occurred under our watch. But if it did, we would have accepted the problem, studied it, and addressed it head on.

Five political parties this year. Where does PDP stand?

That is for the people to decide. On our part, we will work hard and work honestly; we will leave no stone unturned to provide a credible alternative; we will serve to fulfill the promise of democracy and the hopes and aspirations of our people.

Your priorities if PDP came to power…

If PDP comes to power, our first priority, like that of any other party that comes to power, would be to undo the damages done by DPT. Government expenditure has been excessive. Our economy is in a mess. Doing business is cumbersome. Youth unemployment is rife. Poverty is still very visible. Agricultural production is dismal. Education quality is an issue. Roads, especially farm roads, are in urgent need of repair and reconstruction. Corruption hasn’t been tackled boldly. Private media has been weakened.

Given the opportunity, PDP would strengthen democratic institutions, and devolve power and authority from the centre so people can enjoy the blessings of liberty, equality and prosperity. That’s what PDP’s ideology, Wangtse-Chhirphel, is all about. That’s why PDP promises Power to the People.