FM maintains his stance in the Nu 19M GR Fund saga
By Tashi Namgyal
The Opposition Party expressed dissatisfaction over the reprioritization of the 12th Plan activities and also lambasted the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) government of ‘policy corruption’ and ‘polarized politics’ amidst the usage of Nu 19M General Reserve (GR) Fund by the finance minister.
“The Opposition Party has come to learn that during the recent reprioritization of the 12th Plan activities, some critical national programs have been dropped, and the government has diverted disproportionate amount of budget to the Prime Minister’s and Bye-election constituencies,” the party said in a statement. Citing the Annual Audit Report 2020-21, it further stated that a substantial amount of GR funds have been transferred to normal local development activities, particularly finance minister’s constituency.
Of the Nu 19M transferred from the GR fund, Dogar, Naja and Shaba gewogs which fall under the finance minister’s constituency got Nu 4.5M, Nu 7M and Nu 2M each respectively. The two other gewogs of Dopshari and Doteng each got Nu 3M and Nu 2.5M and also falls under DNT occupied Lamgong-Wangchang constituency.
While taking cognizance of the fact that the government had to reprioritize some planned and budgeted activities due to the pandemic, and recognizing the executive powers of the government, the Opposition Party said that they found the matter was of serious concern and breached the Constitution, Public Finance Act, and Resource Allocation Formula (RAF).
“Which, among others require ensuring equitable and balanced development through fair distribution of our limited public resources,” the statement read.
The Opposition also claimed that the reprioritized activities and budgets have not been reported to the Parliament and that such exercise of powers by the government sets a wrong and deeply worrying precedent.
It stated that the power to reprioritize or make technical adjustments is not a license to discriminate other constituencies and favour some. “Though the government has the leverage to align its priorities with the overall plan endorsed by parliament, it is wrong to exercise that leverage at the expense of long established national practice of ensuring fairness in planning processes and outcomes”.
In his rebuttal, the finance minister said that it was within the prerogative of the Ministry of Finance and the minister to make technical adjustments in the allocation of budgets. Citing the Financial Management Manual, which states that the ministry may authorize additional budget through technical adjustment but remaining within the total approved budget, he said that the technical adjustment was made within the budget passed by Parliament.
Reiterating that it is the constitutional duty of the government to ensure fairness and objectivity in undertaking development activities, DPT pointed out that in some important areas of reprioritization of plan activities and adding new ones as the government priorities, there is a crystal-clear “unashamed pandering to the temptation of meeting the bye-election promises” and discrimination among the constituencies.
“On the scale of priority, the bye election constituencies have been given more importance over other constituencies. Even the constituencies represented by the ruling party Members of Parliament (MP) have been given step-motherly treatment compared to bye-election ones,” the party stated. “It is difficult to not be understood as ‘policy corruption’. What kind of precedence is the government creating in the governance architecture of the country?”
The finance minister said that the fund was used for building public infrastructure at the request of the local government and that Paro was one of the Dzongkhags that received the least amount of budget. He was also cited as saying that there were no rules on the GR, which could be used for such purposes.
He said that the former finance minister in 2016 delegated full power to the finance secretary on matters relating to technical adjustment within the approved budget which also includes transfer from the GR for new capital activities. “This means the Minister has the full financial power when it comes to technical adjustment within the total approved budget of that particular fiscal year,” the minister said.
DPT said that they are compelled to question the government to explain the source of legitimacy to discriminate among constituencies and regions. The party said that they are not questioning and undermining the authority of the government, but more about the ‘element of abuse and adulteration of the authority and duty’ the people placed in the government of the day-through the expression of their constitutional mandate and right to elect a responsible, transparent, fair, and accountable government.
Already into the thirteenth year since the inception of democracy, DPT said that Bhutan has no records of previous governments distorting the fundamental principles of equity in development in the name of reprioritization and new priorities in the measure the present government is up to. The party said that such actions will only “polarize politics” and also defeat the decades-old national planning goal to pursue equitable and regionally balanced development approach.
“The immediate results of distortions include compromising the national priority projects to accommodate bye-election pledges and discriminatory objectives,” DPT alleged.
The Opposition Party also urged the government to reassess the reprioritized and de-prioritized plan activities to ensure the implementation of the current plan meets its ultimate objective: equitable and balanced development. According to the party, the reassessment is crucial to ensure a political party’s objectives are prevented from masquerading the overall sound planning and development goals.