By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan.
As is customary, Prime Minister Tobgay presented the State of the Nation Report in the first meeting of the National Assembly. He made a departure in calling the presentation as sacred and inviolable “State of Tsa-Wa-Sun” – “King, Country and People.” Overall, his performance could be considered as excellent though on some controversial issues he was not frank enough. Some of the highlights of his speech include
* On foreign policy, he reiterated his desire to further strengthen and deepen close relations with the government and people of India. On relations with China, he briefly referred to the recent talks and the joint technical survey conducted in the Payul Pasamlung area and not to the overall problems of border incursions by China. He pointed out correctly , what was long overdue that “meaningful engagement in multi lateral diplomacy remains an integral part of the foreign policy.”
* On the refugee issue, while he avoided the use of the term “refugee,” he was ‘pleased’ to report that 82179 “people in the camps” were resettled in third countries. He was also good enough to acknowledge his extreme gratefulness to the core group of countries led by US for supporting the initiative. He did not say whose initiative it was, though it is known to everyone that it was not that of Bhutan or India. Thankfully he did not talk about further meetings with Nepal on repatriation though there will still be a residue of over 10000 refugees.
* On democracy, he rightly pointed out his idea of consciously nurturing and promoting the values and principles of democracy and for the Constitution and rule of law to prevail at all times.
* To follow up on campaign promises, he announced the intention of the government to have a pay commission within a month to make a comprehensive review of the civil service.
* He did admit that the media was lagging behind though no specific proposals were made.
* On economy which perhaps is the biggest challenge faced by the new government, the PM mentioned about the steps he proposed -an economic stimulus plan that included an injection of funds in financial institutions, making loans available to productive sectors, transparent economic policies and going for private and foreign investments. He also mentioned about the outlay of the 11th plan and sources of funding.
* He referred again to the government’s plan to produce 10,000 MW by 2010 and briefly referred to the delay in Punatshangchhu I due to “unstable geological conditions.” . What he did not say was that the location was moved further downstream just to generate an additional 200 MW and it is not known whether it was done with the approval of WAPCOS who did the DPR and whether fresh drilling was done to ascertain the geological structure at the right bank which has been sliding dangerously during construction. It is known in Himalayan geology that nothing can be taken as granted and no extrapolation of data should be done as the project officer himself has stated that Himalayan geology could change every ten meters! There could be a minimum of delay of more than one year and an additional expenditure of one billion ngultrum, but it looks that the loss and the delay could be more than what is estimated!
* On tourism, he would continue on the policy of “high value-low impact” policy hitherto being followed and was justifiably proud that except for ten remote villages, the entire country is connected by mobile telephone. Considering the difficult terrain, sparsely populated region and geographic spread of the villages, it is quite an achievement.
* On religion, he declared that he would preserve the religious heritage as an integral aspect of identity and way of life in the country that is the last bastion of Vajrayana Buddhism. Preservation of culture in an environment of increasing urbanisation was considered a major task.
* Under representation of women in political, economic and social spheres was referred to and the intention of the government to form a committee was mentioned.
* The Prime minister dwelt upon two aspects of Bhutan that needs to be lauded. One is the preservation of the environment where 70 percent of the country is under forest cover. Second is the concept of “Gross National Happiness,” that is catching up in other countries too. The contribution of Gyalpo IV in developing the idea of GNH was rightly pointed out.
The PM has made a good beginning. Both Bhutan and Maldives started experimentation with democracy at the same time in the region. When we see the turbulent nature and hiccups in sustaining democracy in a small country like Maldives, one cannot but appreciate the attempts being made to strengthen democracy in Bhutan.