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What’s National Council members been up to?
Rabi C Dahal, June 27, 2013
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While the two political parties are busy campaigning for the National Assembly, the newly elected members of the National Council (NC) are into business already.

After the members took office, a series of policy briefings have been held. The briefings are meant to acquaint the newly elected members on important government plans, programmes, projects, and issues pertaining to foreign policy, energy and hydropower development, agriculture and food security, law and order, public security, and census. The briefings are also being held in preparation for the upcoming parliamentary session.

As part of consultations with the financial institutions, the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan (RICB) and Bhutan Development Bank Limited (BDBL) on June 25 made presentations to the members of the house.

The members of NC have learnt that RICBL has an asset worth Nu 7.7 billion. It is considering embarking on real estate business since it has sizeable holdings of landed property. The members were told that RICBL has the capacity to insure big projects like hydropower plants. Contrary to popular perception, there is no shareholding of the government of India in RICBL.

RICBL has put up to the government the issue of insuring dzongs and crops. The decision has been kept in abeyance so far. RICBL is permitted to provide loans for low risk services like projects, tourism, and service sector. The recent restriction by Royal Monetary Authority to have risk weightage of 300 percent does not enable it or other financial institutions to provide loans in high risk sectors like housing and transport.

Fresh Veg., an entrepreneurial undertaking, has been supported by BDBL, which provided a loan of Nu 3.7 million. Additional loans have also been provided to purchase second-hand vehicles that the entrepreneurs needed. Loans provided for agricultural and livestock purpose requires certain equity from the borrower. The bank would provide about 60 percent of the cost. Livestock purchased can be used as collateral.

The NC members were told that there is need for more aggressive advocacy programme on financial literacy for rural borrowers, who have expressed concerns over the need for clearance where land is mortgaged. BDBL said that the requirement is for land held under joint or family ownership. For land with individual ownership, there is no need for such clearance.

Borrowers of BDBL need security clearance to get credit. The issue, which has been discussed in the National Council before, has been raised with Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs.

The NC committees will organise more seminars and presentations for the members with other financial institutions in days to come.

The NC members went on a three-day study tour from June 20 to June 22 to Chukha Dzongkhag to visit hydropower plants. They visited the Chukha Hydropower Plant, which was constructed at a cost of Nu 24 billion (including the cost of transmission lines). Loans for CHPP were liquidated in 2007. This is a hydropower plant fully owned by Bhutan government. Its annual revenue today is about Nu 2 billion.

On the following day, the members visited the Pasakha Industrial site. Among the many industries located there, they visited Ugyen Ferro Silicon Factory, St. Gobain Limited, Lhaki Iron Rod factory, and Bhutan Brewery Pvt Ltd. About 79 percent of power generated in Bhutan is exported to India and the remaining 21 percent is consumed in Bhutan. From the remaining 21 percent, about 70 percent of power is consumed by industries like the ones in Pasakha.

On the same day, the CEO of Food Corporation of Bhutan made a presentation on issues concerning production, marketing and diversification of products. The members also visited the auction yard and interacted with farmers who had come to auction their vegetables.

On June 22, the Chairperson visited Arikha Primary School and interacted with the students before visiting Tala Hydropower Plant. The chief engineer of THPP briefed the members on the project – cost involved, tariff, human resource, and the challenges.

The NC members and Chairperson visited hydropower project sites of Punatsangchhu I & II on June 17 and 18. The visit was a follow-up on presentations on sustainable hydropower development policy by Ministry of Economic Affairs and hydropower development status, issues and challenges by DGPC.

The management of PHPA made presentations on the progress of the projects in terms of civil and electro-mechanical works as well as the financial expenditure incurred thus far. It also highlighted the social, environmental and other activities that the project carries out.

On June19, the members visited the reconstruction site of Wangdue Dzong. Later, members visited Basochhu HPP. The two phases of this project were commissioned in 2001 and 2004 respectively and were built with the assistance of Austrian Government.

The second plenary of the National Council was held on June 13. The National Council functioned through its six standing committees constituted in 2008. The House, on June 13, decided to continue with the existing committees – House Committee, Legislative Committee, Economic Affairs Committee, Social and Culture Affairs Committee, Natural Resources and Environment Committee, and Good Governance Committee. The committee members were identified and their respective chairpersons and deputy chairpersons appointed.

On June 11, as part of the sectoral policy briefings, heads of departments of the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs, led by the secretary and the chief of the Royal Bhutan Police, made presentations on law and order, and immigration and public security.

On June 10, the heads of departments of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, led by the former ambassador Sonam Tobden Rabgye, made a presentation on Bhutan’s foreign policy, SAARC and multi-lateral affairs, BIMSTEC and Indo-Bhutan relations.

On May 3, officials from GNH Commission made a presentation on the 11th five-year plan to the national Council members.

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