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Zhemgangpas not happy with deprioritization plans

Unhappy people of Kheng want the government to reconsider their plans and honor the 12th FYP endorsed by the Parliament

By Tashi Namgyal

Parliamentarians and people of respective constituencies are expressing dissatisfaction with the government dropping or deprioritizing planned developmental activities from the 12th FYP. People are also questioning whether the government is honoring the 12th FYP that was endorsed by the parliament.

The Gomphu-Tingtibi highway in Zhemgang was allocated Nu 60 million (M) for its blacktopping works in the 12th FYP but was recently deprioritized by the government citing budgetary constraints.

Bemused transporters using the Gomphu-Tingtibi road to transport cement from Dungsam Cement Corporation Limited in Nganglam to the hydropower plants were jolted when the government announced deprioritizing the four kilometer bypass road from the 12th FYP. They want the government to reconsider the decision.

A resident of Zhemgang, Wangdi Tenzin said that it is such sad news to learn that the bypass road has been deprioritized. โ€œWe are always left out from any development activities. I think the government must reconcile and go with what is endorsed under the 12th FYP,โ€ he added.

โ€œDeprioritization of Gomphu-Tingtibi bypass is not good news for the people of Zhemgang. I hope the government reconsiders its decisionto reappropriate the 60M budget allocated for blacktopping the bypass that would benefit hundreds of truckers ferrying cement from Nganglam to the hydropower plants,โ€ a former Minister from Zhemgang said.

The Goling bypass road was also included in the central plan under the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement (MoWHS). It was also reported during the mid-term review of the 12th FYP that the works are progressing well.

National Council (NC) member from Zhemgang, Pema Dakpa said that if the government doesnโ€™t reconsider it, there is no โ€˜equityโ€™ in the development plans.

โ€œThe 12th FYP took into account equity rather than equality since the parliament endorsed the plan,โ€ he said. 

He said that there will also not be equity if the government does away with the Five year plans. โ€œThis will instead bring equality to the best considering the voter power. As a result, weaker section of the population will be on the losing side.โ€

Another MP from Zhemgang said that the deprioritization was imminent as it was clear while consulting the implementing agency. โ€œI hope that the government will respect and honour the budget allocated for the bypass road, which was endorsed under the 12th FYP by the parliament.โ€

The parliament unanimously endorsed the 12th FYP budget of Nu 310.016 billion on January 9, 2019.

Misplaced priorities or underutilized funds?

According to some parliamentarians, development projects like Tingtibi-Gomphu bypass is a case of โ€˜misplaced prioritiesโ€™. It happens when the money is spent on other activities which could be completed through other means of investments.

โ€œThe government says there is no money to improve important road networks but on the other hand, they have all the resources to beautify recreational areas and develop public amenities which are of lesser importance,โ€ said an MP.

However, observers also said that deprioritization must have happened because Zhemgang Dzongkhag frequently returned unutilized funds allocated for development activities.

โ€œIn order to fully put into use the budget allocated, the people of Khengrig Namsum must wake up and choose effective and efficient Local Government (LG) leaders,โ€ a former MP stated.

In addition, although the government has the flexibility to change the activities, parliament members said that it is inappropriate on the governmentโ€™s side to keep the parliament (peopleโ€™s representatives) uninformed on such major changes.

They reiterated that the government should inform the parliament about the changes while reporting on the annual budget.

On governmentโ€™s shrewdness of not informing the parliament and wrong precedence it could set, a former NC member said that such practices could set negative precedence.

โ€œThe parliament approving one thing and the government doing another thing is not a healthy sign for democracy. Either way it sets a precedent that the government can use the budget for political gains,โ€ he said, adding that budget twisting could happen between politically devised ad hoc plans and parliamentary endorsed plans.

Governmentโ€™s stance on the issue

The government, in its defense said that the changes were incorporated into the 12th FYP due to budget limitations, and that there are more important other projects to be taken care of.

The changes in planned activities, according to the government, will be brought to the parliament while presenting the annual budget reports.

About 50 percent of the national budget today is provided to local governments and dzongkhags as block grants.

According to the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC), the 12th FYP was re-prioritized based on four key priority areas related to Covid-19 pandemic, with health as the number one priority sector, followed by education, food security, and infrastructures.

The 12th FYP has a total budget outlay of Nu 310B, of which Nu 193B is the current budget, and Nu 116B is the capital budget. Activities are reviewed from time to time to align with the needs of the evolving situation, according to the government.

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