While the Opposition Party congratulated the government on completing its first year in office and expressed interest to work together for the cause of the people and the country, it, however, maintained that the government has not undertaken any bold initiative in the past one year.
“On the whole, we are yet to see bold initiatives, forget the achievements. We believe that ‘initiatives cannot be equated to achievements’ in any broader sense of the phrase,” states the press release titled “Opposition Party’s Assessment of Government’s one year in office” and issued by the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) last week.
“The Government wants to believe the ‘salary raise’ for the civil servants as an achievement. While we support it, we must place on record that it defied the essence of the Government’s slogan of ‘Narrowing the Gap’. The pay raise widened the gap between categories of civil servants and between government and private sector employees,” the DPT stated.
The Opposition Party also presented evaluation of the government’s performance in specific areas through their press release and hoped that the government would look into it for merits in alternative views to benefit the people and the nation.
Regarding the 120-day in office pledges, DPT’s evaluation shows that the Government’s achievement was a paltry 8%. Only one pledge, the salary revision, was fully fulfilled. Other four pledges that were partially fulfilled include the removal of Class X cut-off point and Class VI examinations, resolving taxi issues, establishment of tourism development board and private sector development committee.
The Opposition Party stated that they cannot afford to see the economic vision derailing from the national goal of self-reliance. On economy, DPT stated that the Government lacks clarity of vision and direction.
In the last one year, the Government has not initiated any new investment in the form of major projects and programs. The national debt and trade deficit have been on the rise, posing grave implications for the overall health of the economy both in the short and long run. In the past year, the country’s external debt increased to a whopping USD 2.7bn (About Nu 192bn) from USD 2.5bn (Nu 177.5bn). The trade deficit is projected to register at Nu 37bn in 2019 from Nu 30bn in 2017-18 fiscal year. And the current account deficit went up by Nu 10bn in the same period.
Against the backdrop of the hydropower sector being the major source of the national revenue, the stream of domestic revenue looks more uncertain as no new hydropower projects have been started, according to the DPT. The government has been on the spending spree without any visible and sustainable long-term investments. All these economic sloths will cost the nation dearly by making the economy less resilient and more vulnerable.
DPT says that the Government has not been able to craft strategic interventions to address the growing unemployment problems. The most worrying truth is the unemployment among the educated youth. At least 13% of our employable youth are languishing without a job, out of which 64% of them are reportedly university graduates. The Government has not been able to initiate any targeted programs. For instance, the creation of non-farm job opportunities in rural areas remain wanting.
The Opposition Party is seriously concerned about the exodus of increasing number of young educated and talented people because of the home job market turning cold shoulder to them. If not addressed on time, it portends some grim ramifications as it has already become a situation of ‘economically-forced migration’.
The Government’s pledge to create 5,000 jobs a year to achieve full employment through private sector development has seen no visible progress. No reliable figures on employment created has been made public so far. And the people have no clue to what is happening with the pledge to increase the Daily Minimum Wage Rate to Nu. 450.
It is disheartening that the government has not been able to start any concrete initiatives to harness the potential of the private sector. We must place the private sector at the center of our economic development. The Government needs to ensure the private sector is the real ‘engine of growth’, not just the rhetoric.
Overseas employment programs made press headlines. The pledge to ‘review overseas employment program to improve it’ remains a promise. The Government’s inaction and the failure to resolve the problems surrounding the Learn and Earn Program in Japan caused distress and suffering to the students and parents involved.
Other employment-related pledges such as ‘creating an employment and livelihood corporation, Sonam Gongphel project–make agriculture attractive for employment, and expand apprenticeship program and guaranteed employment’ are hibernating in the DNT Manifesto as peacefully as they appeared attractive in the 2018 election.
The 12th Five Year Plan
DPT stated that it is a grave concern that the Government has been fiddling with the Plan, but not to make it better. For example, the number of flagship programs has been reduced from 15 to 9. It did away with the Highland Flagship Program. And recently, the overall Tourism Flagship Program has been dumped for the reasons not so convincing. It is the duty of an incumbent Government to improve a draft Plan and implement it. But in the case of the present Government, we doubt the Plan has been made any better by fiddling with it and removing important plan activities that have direct bearings on the lives of the people. In some cases, the Government fiddled with the Plan both in the process of planning and content and did not adhere to the objections of Parliament including the National Council and the Opposition Party. Since it is just the end of its first year in office, we feel the Government must revisit the done away programs.
Good governance – Rule of law and transparency
Bhutan is a parliamentary democracy, where Parliament reigns supreme. Unlike in a presidential democracy, the executive in a parliamentary democracy has the mandate to adhere to and implement the decisions Parliament makes. The fabric of these democratic fundamentals and principles could not withstand the bulldozing of the Government when it removed the Parliament-endorsed Tourism Flagship Program for Zhemgang Dzongkhag.
This brazen action of the Government violated the Constitution, undermined the Parliament, flouted the immunity of MPs in the Parliament, went against the Public Finance Act and discriminated the constituencies that opposition and ruling MPs represent.
Now the whole of Tourism Flagship Program is reportedly scrapped. This means sabotaging the decision of the Parliament.
The decision to give financial handouts to Class X students who did not qualify to study in government schools came about at a dubious timing, even when the National Education Conference decided not to do so. For the sake of transparency, the Education Ministry must make the shareholders of Rigzom Academy, a private school in Paro, public. Similarly, we need the Government to make public the names of proprietors of firms that have been licensed to deal in electric cars, and the name of the firm and its proprietor who has been awarded the contract to execute the Flagship Program Digital Drukyul.
Rising social problems
In the past year, the Opposition Party says that social problems, especially suicides, drug-related crimes, and rapes saw no sign of falling. The gruesome rape and murder cases in Paro and Dagana are as horrendous a crime as one could imagine. The Government is yet to put concreate remedies in place for such social ills.
The Opposition Party reminded that the nation’s memory has not faded that DNT fought the 2018 election on the plank of transforming, if not revolutionizing, the country’s healthcare system. Even as we were recollecting the party’s grand health promises, we lost a baby in Dagana because of the lack of fuel in an ambulance. And the national memory of losing 11 babies at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Thimphu hospital will not wane any time soon.
The uninterrupted availability of critical medical equipment such as MRI, CT Scan, and Endoscopy in even referral hospitals at Thimphu, Gelephu, and Mongar remains a challenge. The lack of strategies and policies to de-crowd Thimphu referral hospital has compromised the delivery of health services. Even a Super Specialty Hospital might not be able to decongest patients in Thimphu hospital without sound an all-embracing national healthcare strategic management policy.
While we appreciate and support the Government’s recognition to improve the healthcare system, it has not shown any concrete result thus far. Its health sector vision remains quite a sugar-coating political venture.
The Opposition Party has taken a principled policy stand that education is the national lifeline and foundation. Anything, but in education, we cannot afford to go wrong. The Government’s decision to dole out handouts to Class X students has plunged our education sector into the whirlpool of mess. It will have wider implications for educational standard, job market, national coffers, vocational education, among others. It already has adversely affected the private sector growth in education. The continuation of such schemes is the beginning of floodgates of a political party’s work to bankrupt our country. Once again, the Opposition Party reminds the Government to review this particular pledge and come up with appropriate social and economic criteria to dish out such support.
Despite a much-flaunted high salary package for teaching profession, teachers leaving the job is unstoppable. The Government must study and understand the non-monetary aspects of the profession and frame policies that will attract and retain teachers. For instance, it must immediately look into issues of trainings, recruitment, deployment, and work environment.
Believing in the essence of collective wisdom, the value of alternative views and non-partisan democratic discourse, the Opposition Party says that it has given its frank opinions on the Government’s performance.
“We will continue to play constructive and objective roles of an opposition party to uphold the spirit and letter of the Constitution and national aspirations of our people,” it stated.
Tshering from Thimphu