Sunomics: DTT’s panacea for Bhutan’s ailing economy
The Druk Thuendrel Tshogpa (DTT) has been promoting its ambitious economic philosophy, “Sunomics,” to resolve the country’s problems in its economy. During the vice-presidential debate yesterday, DTT’s Chenga Tshering said that the economic goals can be achieved through its “Sunomics: Buddhist Capitalism with the Spirit of Gross National Happiness.”
According to the DTT, the economy can be strengthened through the four natural economic elements and the five economic senses of Sunomics. “The wealth and resources within the country can contribute to the strengthening of the economy,” said Chenga Tshering.
Considering the importance of boosting the country’s economy and prioritising it, he said DTT has started rigorous public consultations to build a prosperous country with wealthy citizens.
Chenga Tshering mentioned that in the past decades, the focus has been on prioritising public service delivery, with economics not being prioritized.
“Until now, our economy has been dependent on external donors, and infrastructure has been procured through their support. This is not considered sustainable from an economic standpoint. How long do we have to depend on external donors?” he questioned.
DTT also believes that the experience of its eight candidates in hydropower can contribute to the economic development associated with hydropower projects. “The success of hydropower projects depends on having the relevant knowledge,” Chenga Tshering said.
He expressed concern that while all parties have pledged to build hydropower projects, there is a concern that the river could dry up after 35 or 50 years if the project continues without unique and sustainable approaches.
Chenga Tshering defended his party on tourism development, stating that they have distinct and unique approaches compared to other political parties.
Regarding health plans and programmes, DTT includes providing ambulances and portable vehicle services to remote areas. The party also has provisions for short-term overseas training and internship opportunities with international experts.
“We are concerned about the high attrition rate among doctors and healthcare workers. It has affected health services in the country,” he said. “We should consider providing doctors with attractive incentives.”
Chenga Tshering said that DTT has given priority to the health sector with its vision: “You take care of your wealth; we will take care of your health.” He also added that receiving timely health services is the right of the citizen.
In education, DTT pledges to provide nutritious meals and implement heating systems in high altitudes, as well as fans in low altitudes. Besides, the party plans to review the central school system, citing that it has benefited only a few sections of the people.
Speaking about youth and unemployment, Chenga Tshering stressed the importance of investing in youths for economic development. “Parents do not wish for their children to return home to farming and face struggles. Instead, they hope their children can lead prosperous lives.”
“We have plans for vocational education and skills development under tertiary education,” he said. “We have plans to provide additional scholarships abroad for students in need.”
“We will collaborate with international vocational institutes for certification because the skills provided in the country do not meet international standards,” said Chenga Tshering. “We will also help youths interested in agriculture by providing support with technology.”
With the youth unemployment rate reaching a concerning 28.6 percent, he said that DTT will continue to provide support for opportunities abroad with financial assistance. “They can stay overseas for four to five years and acquire skills that they can later invest in the country upon their return.”
With the emergence of digital technology, DTT pledges to digitise all public services. This includes using advanced technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence for safeguarding farms and implementing digital currency, among others.
“With the majority of candidates having technological expertise, we are prepared to adopt advancements in technology,” Chenga Tshering said.
“To directly address public grievances and build confidence in elected representatives, we have pledged to develop an online application. We have already achieved that with the Thuendrel App,” he said.
In agriculture, DTT pledges to address marketing challenges and establish processing factories in every region for value addition. “It seems that the past governments did not prioritise the agriculture sector, with less allocation of budget.”
PDP confident in fulfilling ambitious election promises
The People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) pledge to inject Nu 15 billion as an economic stimulus plan sparked a lively exchange between its Vice President Dorji Choden, the lone female vice-president, and her four other male counterparts yesterday.
The other VPs appeared unified in their doubts about the practicality of the pledge, leading to a continuous stream of questions directed at PDP’s VP and candidate from Wamrong constituency.
Dorji Choden defended the pledge and clarified that the party’s pledges and promises are achievable and not strategically intended to sweep the voter’s attention or garner support for the party.
Dorji Choden said that the proposed plan has a proven track record of effectiveness in the past, adding that it is a beacon of hope for improving the current economic crisis facing the country.
Should PDP win the election, she stated that the government’s focus would extend beyond economic revival to transforming it into a developed economy, citing the importance of a robust economy and thriving private sector as foundational elements for overall development in the country.
Responding to queries about PDP’s reliance on external borrowing instead of exploring the sources to generate funds internally, Dorji Choden argued that the party has thoroughly looked into the issue.
“We can only generate around two billion and when it proves insufficient to finance the required plans, borrowing becomes the ultimate alternative, regardless of which party is in government,” Dorji Choden said.
According to Dorji Choden, the party will explore international markets for exports, using chartered flights to transport the products to these markets.
“While everyone understands the lack of a bigger market, the support for new ideas and initiatives are not accepted by people when presented,” she said.
Regarding the employment opportunities for the youth, Dorji Choden said that PDP pledges to create about 10,000 jobs in critical sectors such as hydro power and manufacturing firms, adding that manufacturing currently contributes only six percent to GDP.
“We will establish manufacturing firms that supply goods to hospitals and schools,” she said.
PDP committed to focusing on enhancing youth skills through technical and vocational education (TVET) programmes by reviewing the existing courses to meet the expectations of the youth.
In addition, the party pledges to promote the youth entrepreneurship programme by facilitating access to credit financing, placing hope in the youth to drive economic transformation.
Dorji Choden clarified that her party neither encourages nor discourages youths from travelling abroad, citing it as an individual choice.
“We have to create better opportunities and provide care for those who choose to remain at home,” she said.
Health and education
When questioned about the feasibility of establishing a chiwog school and concerns about the potential impact of central schools on boarding and community schools, Dorji Choden reassured that both central and non-central schools will receive equal attention from the government.
Despite a decline in the number of students each year, she argued that closing schools based on enrollment numbers would be unwise and unfair to the few remaining students.
“The chiwog schools will cater for the needs of the students from classes PP to three without being separated from their parents,” Dorji Choden said.
In the health sector, she mentioned the success and advantages of the health trust fund and the autonomy granted to JDWNRH during the People’s Democratic Party’s term in the government.
To support the technological sector, Dorji Choden committed that PDP will focus on building infrastructure and facilities to bridge the digital gap among the citizens. She said that the party will explore ways to enhance internet connectivity with a 50 percent reduction in internet charges.
Dorji Choden acknowledged the progress of technology in schools through various platforms, benefitting students across the country.
To transform agriculture, the People’s Democratic Party has committed to improving road connectivity, even in less populated areas to encourage farmers.
“About 56 percent of the population lives in the rural areas and transformation is necessary to encourage them,” Dorji Choden said.
The party will focus on the “one gewog, one product” initiative to stimulate production and establish manufacturing firms in gewogs.
Further, PDP will continue to provide additional power tillers, irrigation water and fertilizer to assist farmers in increasing their production, aimed at achieving self-sufficiency and also contributing to export.
Bhutan’s economic growth on right track: DNT
With only six days remaining until the November 30 poll, the vice presidents of the five political parties reiterated their major pledges to the voters during yesterday’s final public debate. They defended their commitments and shared their aspirations for the country.
The vice-president of the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), Sonam Kinga, stated that Bhutan’s economy is on the right path as the country is set to graduate from the least developed countries (LDCs) club on December 13, after 52 years.
Bhutan will achieve this milestone by meeting three criteria—gross national income (GNI) per capita, human assets index, and economic and environmental vulnerability index.
In 2022, Bhutan surpassed the LDC’s threshold of USD 1,274 per capita with a GNI per capita of USD 3,633.91. The economic and environmental vulnerability index was recorded at 25.7 percent in 2021, with Bhutan achieving 32 percent or above this year. The human assets index also increased to 79.5 percent in 2021 from the required 66 or above for graduation.
Sonam Kinga highlighted that the country’s economic growth increased by 14 percentage points in 2021, rebounding from about -10 in 2020 due to the pandemic. Bhutan recorded an economic growth of 5.2 percent last year and aspires to become a high-income country by 2034.
“These are the results of strengthening the country’s economy,” he said, adding that Bhutan also witnessed a significant increase in the salary for civil servants and national wages recently.
The government earned USD 2 million more since the opening of tourism last year compared to 2019, with USD 23 million generated from 300,000 tourist arrivals, according to Sonam Kinga.
Health and Education
Regarding education, Sonam Kinga mentioned that the government will allocate the highest budget share for the sector in the 13th Plan.
To retain teachers, he explained that the teaching profession would be made attractive with opportunities to upgrade their skills through scholarships. Teacher workload would be reduced by recruiting and outsourcing administrative work and extracurricular activities to trained personnel.
“We will provide housing for all teachers within the school campus.”
Sonam Kinga also shared that the stipend for children in the school feeding programme would be increased to Nu 2,040 from Nu 1,500 in line with the World Food Programmes’ standard.
For health, he mentioned that funding for the multi-disciplinary super specialty hospital has been secured, and the DNT pledged to establish 10-bed basic health units in each gewog with doctors, ambulances, blood tests, ultrasounds, and X-ray facilities.
When questioned about the efficiency of medical services due to doctors and nurses leaving the country, Sonam Kinga responded that the previous government had started the MBBS programme and would hire medical specialists from Bangladesh, India, and Thailand if required.
Youth and Unemployment
Sonam Kinga outlined that the previous government created 48,000 new jobs in the past five years. He specified that 5,040 jobs were created in the youth engagement programme, 7,236 in overseas employment, 1,752 under Build Bhutan, and 3,664 were trained, with some starting their businesses.
He said that DNT pledged to create 1,000 jobs annually in the digital economy, targeting Nu 100 billion in FDI by 2034 and Nu 0.5 million would be provided as start-up funds for CSIs and entrepreneurs.
He stated that the 13th Plan, with a budget outlay of Nu 512 billion, would create new employment opportunities in the private sector.
DNT vice president said that the third internet gateway is under discussion, as well as collaboration with Star-link.
He said that the previous government started the National Digital Identity app and was ready to roll out services like permits for building houses, availing wood permits, hospitals, banks, and seeking employment. DNT also pledged to reduce the student-to-computer ratio from 1:10 to 1:5.
To increase the country’s food security, Sonam Kinga said that the DNT government provided irrigation water through a water flagship programme and chain-linked fencing to address wildlife encroachment into agricultural fields.
He said that Bhutan has achieved a food security level of 68.3 percent, and the country’s rice self-sufficiency needs to increase from 25.2 percent last year to 75 percent.
Sonam Kinga mentioned that the previous government started cold storage in Khaling, Hesothangkha, and Jigmeling, and plans to construct in Tsirang and Tingtibi.
The DNT also plans to commercially produce high-value vegetables and niche products such as asparagus, broccoli, potatoes, strawberry, mushrooms, nutri-cereals (quinoa, buckwheat, maize), black pepper, and adzuki beans.
BTP pledges to earn Nu 120B from tourism
Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP) pledged to address the problems with the country’s economy and improve service delivery, as its Vice President and candidate from Bongo-Chapcha, Pema Tenzin, vowed at the vice-presidential debate yesterday.
He said that the party spent one year consulting with the people on how to boost the country’s economy. The party pledged to generate Nu 7 billion (B) from the agriculture sector by 2029.
He said that so far, no one has explored possibilities to earn revenue from the agriculture sector. “One kilogram of cordyceps earns around Nu 35M, and if we could export one Christmas tree to Thailand, it would earn around USD 10,000.”
He said that Bhutan Tendrel Party will encourage youths to engage in agriculture and become self-sufficient. “We will initiate cooperative farming, providing land, machinery, and loans to them.”
BTP pledges to boost the tourism sector, aiming to generate Nu 120B from tourism in five years. He said that the party will review the tourism policy, increase tourist arrivals, and provide job opportunities.
The party also pledges to generate an additional 242MW in five years and 8,086MWW in ten years. “During the lean season, the import of electricity will decrease, providing sufficient energy for industries.”
The party also commits to generating 12,000MW from solar energy. He said that within three years, farm roads would be blacktopped from the Nu 50B economic stimulus plan and generate an income of Nu 204B from the mines and minerals in the next five years.
Health and Education
Pema Tenzin said that the party has the expertise of a principal for education reforms. He mentioned that students are not learning the 21st-century education syllabus in schools; they are still learning about World War II and Mahatma Gandhi, which is not relevant to the current scenario.
He said that students have to carry 10 kilograms of books in their bags every day, causing stress for both parents and children during exams. “The party will review the education policy and implement the 21st-century curriculum with digitisation.”
The vice president said that the party also pledges to organise program tours for students at airports and hotels for exposure. The party will provide a laptop to all teachers and regularise contract teachers. The party pledges to develop a digital Drungtso app and initiate an annual check-up for all, along with outsourced dental services and medical certificates services like driving tests and for employments.
He said that annually, more than 5,000 youths seek employment, with only 1000 finding jobs in the government and the rest employed in private sectors. The party pledged to provide training opportunities for gainful youth employment and encourage participation in sports so that they earn from sports.
Acknowledging the progress of digital services, he said that it is crucial for people to switch to digitization. He said that the party will provide smart boards in schools and digital Drungtsho apps in hospitals.
He said that the party will use and bring environmentally friendly technology for mining and use advanced technology for road construction surveys so that there will not be many landslides. He said that the party pledges to establish a third internet gateway from Siliguri to enhance the efficiency of digitisation services.
He said that when he was young, he saw a lot of exports of apples and oranges; however, now the export has decreased drastically, which could be affected by the policy.
He said that people in his constituency used to sell potatoes to high-end hotels in Thimphu and Paro. Still, with the drastic decrease in tourists, hoteliers are not buying the potatoes. There is no market for farmers to sell agricultural products.
He said that the party would facilitate farmers to sell their products by making transportation easier for them. The party will also build cold storage and warehouses so that we don’t have to import vegetables during the winter season.
BTP’s vice president Pema Tenzin was the only vice president from the west; the rest of the VPs were from the east, including three from Trashigang dzongkhag.
In contrast to the party president’s public debate, vice presidents were given five major topics to discuss their pledges during the vice president debate yesterday. The vice president’s public debate differs from the party president’s debate and the public debate of party representatives.
The vice presidents were assigned four minutes each to speak on pledges related to the economy, health and education, youth unemployment, technology, and agriculture.
Our pledges may not be populist but timely: DPT
Composed and answering to the point, Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s (DPT) Vice President Ugyen Wangdi demonstrated his seasoned political skills during the Vice Presidents’ debate in Thimphu yesterday.
While the other vice presidents did not ask him many questions, Ugyen Wangdi, who served 15 years as Dramedtse-Ngatshang MP, did not hold back from questioning them.
To enhance the economy, DPT pledges to construct three hydropower stations based on a bilateral basis and redeliberate the dead bill on mines and minerals. Ugyen Wangdi said the economic potential of the mines and minerals of Bhutan is yet to be achieved.
The Mines and Minerals Bill remained a dead bill because of differences between the National Council and the National Assembly.
When asked whether DNT and DPT have collaborated on increasing tourist SDF, he clarified that it is the vision of the country to increase SDF. However, he said the government should not reduce or increase SDF once it is fixed. “DPT will revise and fix the SDF.”
Health and Education
Besides a pledge to offer five doctors for all dzongkhag hospitals, Ugyen Wangdi promised to support health professionals and also provide mobile clinic service and an ambulance to all gewogs.
In education, DPT pledges to include study leave as an active service, 100 percent ECCD coverage, ICT in schools, further studies in STEM subjects, and reviving some arts subjects. He also said that civil servants, including teachers, will be allowed to do business by taking three years of leave.
He said that some civil servants have good business ideas but they are prohibited until now by the Civil Service Act. To replace those who leave to seize business opportunities, Ugyen Wangdi said that proper guidelines will be framed.
To tackle the current youth unemployment rate of 28.6 percent, Ugyen Wangdi said the DPT pledges to develop hydropower, regional IT tech parks, startup centres, and easy access to loans and skill development activities.
BTP’s representative Pema Tenzin asked how DPT would solve the issue related to youths’ substance abuse and drug trafficking. Ugyen Wangdi said the DPT will revise the current prison term which left many potential youths behind bars.
DPT also pledged to develop sporting facilities to ensure that all youth can engage in sports and realize their dreams of excelling in sports.
Ugyen Wangdi stressed on developing a third internet gateway, IT parks, and ICT startups, and investing in E-governance so that offices can operate paperlessly using ICT.
Ugyen Wangdi said the third internet gateway is critical for the country, and the Bangladesh government has supported the project at a low price. However, he said the issue currently arises due to some service providers. “DPT will solve this issue.”
He also said the proper guidance will be outlined to supplement the historic National Digital Identity project in terms of data protection and data privacy.
For agriculture development, Ugyen Wangdi said the party pledges to deliver a fruit tree to every gewog depending on climatic conditions, emphasize land management, ensure a market for farm produce, and form an export committee to formulate a proper export strategy. He said the party will invest more in chain-link fencing to address the human-wildlife conflict. “So far, investment in agriculture is less compared to health and education. We have to increase it.”
Today, more than 50 percent of Bhutanese depend on agriculture. However, there are numerous problems facing farmers mainly in terms of market and price. Ugyen Wangdi said the DPT will make sure that farmers get loans on time for agriculture. “DPT will also support the farmers in southern Bhutan to reap the benefit of agar and teakwood.”
Ugyen Wangdi said the DPT’s pledges may not be populist. However, he said the pledges of DPT are for the long-term economic prosperity of the country. “DPT has achieved all its pledges in the past, and I request citizens to support DPT.”