Budget – services

Here are more random thoughts on the budget. Please keep your comments coming.

Education. 17% of the total budget will go towards education. And this does not include money for vocational training, which comes under a separate budget head. Excellent!

Health. 7% of the total budget will go towards providing free healthcare. Excellent! Incidentally, the government earned Nu 130 million as “health contribution”. That works out to 7% of the total outlay for health. Not bad, considering that healthcare is provided “free of cost”. But we can do better: health contribution (which is currently 1% of basic pay) could be restructured to increase our contributions to our healthcare system.

Farm roads. The good news is that last year, an impressive 1350 km of farm roads were constructed. And that this year, 423 farm roads will be constructed. The bad news is that I don’t see how local governments will be able to maintain their roads. The government recognizes that sustainability of the farm roads is an important issue, and will provide each dzongkhag with one pay loader. But for most of the dzongkhags, a single pay loader will not be enough to keep the farm roads open. We need a better strategy.

Irrigation. Nu 50 million has been allocated to build 74 new irrigation channels. That works out to about Nu 6.7 lakhs per irrigation channel. And that’s not too expensive. More, many more, irrigation channels should be built to mitigate rural poverty, and to work towards food sufficiency.

Rural electricity. About 83,569 houses dot our rural landscape. 73% of them have now been connected to grid electricity. This year that figure will rise to 80%. And by the end of the 10th Plan, all houses will have electrical supply. That’s good, even if we’ve had to borrow money to light up our villages.

Housing. Rents continue to spiral without control in Thimphu, Phuentsholing and a few other towns. But the government still does not have a convincing plan to control rents, increase low-income housing and to encourage home ownership. The National Housing Development Corporation will be corporatized soon, but that will not be enough.

Entrepreneurship. Only Nu 10 million has been budgeted to promote youth entrepreneurship schemes. That is not enough. We must invest a lot more money if we want to nurture a culture of entrepreneurship among our youth, and if we want them to create their own jobs through self-employment.

Roads. 11% of the total budget will go to build and improve roads and bridges. Good. Roads, after all, are our country’s economic and social lifelines. Several sections of the East-West highway along our southern border will also be built. Very good.

Domestic airports. Yonphula airport is complete. Badpalathang is nearing completion. And the Gelephu airport will be built this year. Will they be economically viable? I hope so. Will they be safe? They better be!

Public transport. Thimphu’s city bus service is popular, but it is inadequate. The subsidy of Nu 14.5 million will not be enough to make meaningful improvements in the bus service.

Urban development. Nu 886 million will go towards developing outer Thimphu. Chang Bangdu, Luntenphu, Babesa, Semtokha, Langjophakha and Dechhencholing will benefit from this project. But we continue to ignore the rapid and unplanned constructions taking place on the outskirts of Thimphu. Small investments now could save us from big headaches in the future.

Fire fighting. The government will buy 17 new fire engines. Finally. But that won’t be enough. Fire engines carry only so much water, and unless they have access to water hydrants they will be of limited use. So I repeat: in the meantime, get some water tankers.

Relief fund. Nu 20 million has been allocated to His Majesty the King’s Relief Fund. Judging by the frequency and scale of natural disasters in the last few years, this amount will be woefully inadequate.

Public service delivery. Nu 329 has been earmarked to provide more than 110 services online under the G2C project. Good. But sustainability will be an issue as long as the cabinet’s website, and those of most other ministries and government agencies remain idle and, worse still, insecure.