The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Friday, July 23, 2010

A slew of recommendations

Among others, to include rural development within EDP’s ambit
Economic Development Policy 24 June, 2010 - Having delved into the economic development policy, the national council’s (NC) economic affairs committee had reviewed, members yesterday discussed a list of recommendation to be submitted to the government.

From the basics of defining the purpose of the policy to some salient ones, like reviewing the fiscal incentives, the recommendations touched on most aspects.

Based on the policy review, council members felt the need for clarification, as to whether the policy was to be considered an apex policy document for the nation’s development, or merely for private sector development.

Thimphu NC member Sangay Zam said that, if the private sector was developed, it automatically fulfilled the objectives of the policy, which were to close the gap between the rich and the poor, creating employment and revenue generation.

She raised concerns about government plans to increase the power tariff, which she said was the only advantage Bhutanese industrialists enjoyed of having a natural resource at its disposal.

Most members expressed the need to make the policy more inclusive, by bringing rural enterprise development into the ambit of the policy.

The council’s deputy chairman Sonam Kinga recommended extending more and better micro credit facilities to small and cottage industries, which at the moment Bhutan development finance corporation alone provided; while the rest were focused on financing big businesses and projects.

Lhuentse council member Rinzin Rinzin proposed the need to understand why, despite the government’s support to the existing industries in the country, their growth and contribution to the country’s economy was negligible.

It was necessary to understand, he said, whether it was the industries, which failed to perform, or if it was the failure on the government’s part to take much interest in supporting them.

A few members also said the goals and objectives of the policy should look beyond statistics and emphasise on qualitative measures, on how the policy’s implementation would contribute to human development and happiness.

Council member Kuenlay Tshering said the policy, being an important document, they were under the pressure to make a choice, which would have a far-reaching impact in future. Caught between economic development and preserving the country’s culture and tradition, he said, it was imperative that they draw a path which, while it propelled economic development, did not cause cultural dilution.

Members also explained that it was useful to have short-term goals the government wished to attain by 2013, within the time frame of the first democratically elected government, rather than push it until 2020.

Reading out the list of recommendations, Pemagatshel council member Jigmi Rinzi felt the necessity for drawing up a monitoring mechanism to keep record of how much was achieved in terms of development.

He said people often criticised the government of framing grand policies and plans, but faltering when it came to implementation.

He also said they needed a model country or a vision of what the country should look like in 15-20 years.

Haa council member Tshering Dorji added that, as a developing country, one of the advantages was to be able to draw lessons from global experiences, adopting or adapting the good policies and examples, and avoiding the bad ones.

A few members explained that, as a measure to improve and engender an enabling environment for business, the economic development policy should focus on improving Bhutan’s rank on “Ease of Doing Business” survey the World Bank conducted. In addition, they proposed the government reconsider establishing offshore financial centres, deemed detrimental to the country.

The Gasa council member, Sangay Khandu, expressed his reservations on one of the provisions in the framework for private participation in infrastructure that undermined transparency and good governance.

He said clause 11 of the framework, allowing the government to accept project proposals unique in nature, innovative, ecologically sound, socially responsible and one that was mindful of the country’s development philosophy, without having to undergo bidding process, was contradictory to the system many Bhutanese were bound by.

By Samten Wangchuk

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