BKP ques­tions the gov­ern­ment de­ci­sion on dis­tri­bu­tion of util­ity ve­hi­cles

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The gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion on dis­tribut­ing util­ity ve­hi­cles to the 205 gewogs is in­deed a good idea gen­er­at­ing quite an ex­tra­or­di­nary ‘feat’, but at what cost? By sup­port­ing the gewogs with es­sen­tial mo­bil­ity should equip them to be more ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing bet­ter and timely ser­vices to the peo­ple. Fur­ther, this move will also re­in­force the prin­ci­ples of em­pow­er­ment and de­cen­tral­iza­tion of grass root peo­ple do­ing the ac­tual work de­riv­ing the ben­e­fits.

How­ever, pro­cure­ment of ve­hi­cles on such a scale re­quires colos­sal amount of money and the Bhutanese peo­ple must to be in­formed as to from where are the funds be­ing sourced. With GDP to debt ra­tio loom­ing at 114% and cur­rent ac­count deficit at 35%, is it re­ally a sound eco­nomic de­ci­sion to force fund the pur­chase? Or shouldn’t the gov­ern­ment con­duct an ob­jec­tive test on the right­ness or wrong­ness of the de­ci­sion un­der such times? Un­der con­di­tions where aus­ter­ity mea­sures are en­cour­aged, one can only as­sume that the money has to come from some­where by cut­ting ex­penses from else­where. If the gov­ern­ment is forc­ing con­sump­tion ex­pen­di­ture over­whelmed by cam­paign pledges, then such tar­geted spend­ing may not nec­es­sar­ily per­co­late down to tan­gi­ble eco­nomic growth but rather risks the na­tion slip deeper into fi­nan­cial debt. If unchecked, a tip­ping point will arise soon whereby cur­rent mon­e­tary mea­sures taken by the Royal Mon­e­tary Author­ity will no longer hold wa­ter to a fu­ture fi­nan­cial tem­pest.

It is un­doubt­edly im­por­tant to un­lock po­ten­tials at the grass­roots but equally more im­por­tant to reckon im­ple­men­ta­tion re­al­i­ties within the realms of the na­tional pocket that is not only acutely fi­nite but un­der se­vere strain. For ex­am­ple, the coun­try’s pub­lic fi­nance is un­der stark eco­nomic stress with all cap­i­tal bud­get funded by donor grant, loan and aid money. In an econ­omy that is to­tally driven by im­ports and aid money is such a pol­icy that fu­els im­port jus­ti­fi­able? We must as a na­tion ac­cept that our eco­nomic fun­da­men­tals are weak and there­fore thor­ough eco­nomic ra­tio­nale is manda­tory prior to ex­e­cut­ing such pol­icy de­ci­sions that is not only pop­u­lace but un­sus­tain­able, and even­tu­ally coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to­wards na­tion build­ing.

It is un­think­able to ob­serve con­flict­ing gov­ern­ment poli­cies with on one hand sup­port­ing im­port sub­sti­tu­tion while on the other hand mass im­ports of ve­hi­cles are prop­a­gated. It may ap­pear that INR re­serves is com­fort­able at 20 bil­lion but the Bhutanese peo­ple should know that it com­prises i) a Line of Credit with the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia worth 7 bil­lion and ii) a cur­rency swap worth an­other 7 bil­lion. So in to­tal 14 bil­lion of the 20 bil­lion INR re­serves is funded by debt.

The sec­ond big ques­tion will be the is­sue of ve­hi­cle main­te­nance and op­er­a­tion costs in the fu­ture. Im­port of two hun­dred and five (205) ve­hi­cles will fur­ther es­ca­late fuel im­ports and run­ning parts. When main­te­nance and op­er­a­tion cost in­creases it should be com­men­su­rate with growth in in­ter­nal rev­enue. Oth­er­wise, there is the dan­ger of re­cur­rent costs ex­ceed­ing in­ter­nal rev­enue, which is in con­flict with the Con­sti­tu­tional re­quire­ments.

There are also po­ten­tial mo­ral haz­ard is­sues with dom­i­nant brands and associated deal­er­ships. There­fore, trans­par­ent pro­cure­ment com­pe­ti­tion has to be en­forced with no brands given any de­facto op­por­tu­ni­ties. Thus, care­ful pro­cure­ment au­dit with no due ad­van­tage to any par­tic­u­lar dealer need to be en­forced pro­vid­ing a level play­ing field to avoid dam­ag­ing prin­ci­ples of good gov­er­nance which our benev­o­lent monar­chs (His Majesty Fourth Druk Gyalpo) and His Majesty the King has painstak­ingly built.

If such a de­ci­sion is not ex­e­cuted well bear­ing in mind prin­ci­ples of good gov­er­nance, then there is alarm­ing dan­ger on pos­si­ble fall­outs even from de­vel­op­ment part­ners. There is a dan­ger here and every­one should rec­og­nize it as re­spon­si­ble cit­i­zens. Ev­ery one of us is con­cerned for the fu­ture of our na­tion and ef­fec­tive per­for­mance at the lo­cal lev­els, but it can also be mis­con­strued as a po­lit­i­cal pay­back and that will be un­for­tu­nate.

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