Describing that it was time for the party to elaborate on its slogan by putting it into proper context as opposed to numerous interpretations being made for now, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) formally introduced their party’s slogan ‘Narrowing the Gap’ for the 2018 elections in a press conference yesterday.
To narrow the income gap, DNT maintained that it would adopt two broad approaches of providing equal opportunities for all and develop and implement policies that are favorable to lower and middle-income groups.
In continuation to the 2013 Nyamrup pledges, the party, according to DNT, would pursue the ‘mi-ser thoblam chathrim’, which proposes that each citizen should be given an equal share of the country’s natural resources.
A founder of DNT, Dr. Tandin Dorji said, “We fought the 2013 election with mainly one agenda; we said we will enact a bill in the parliament called ‘mi-ser thoblam chathrim’, which will allow every citizen to benefit from natural resources of this country. Sand, water, soil everything belongs to the people of Bhutan. So any profit generated must be shared equally. Based on this we fought the election but unfortunately people did not understand that.”
For the party, ‘Narrowing the Gap’ explicitly implies income gap between different sections of the Bhutanese society, according to Dr. Tandin Dorji.
“Income inequality in any country is a risk, not just for the country’s economy but security too. In the past decade, since the institution of parliamentary democracy in Bhutan, the economy has grown but so has income disparity. Narrowing the Gap, DNT slogan for the 2018 elections, is not only timely but also visionary, inspired by the leadership of the monarchs,” he explained.
He added that the ‘Gap’ in DNT’s slogan explicitly implies income gap between the different sections of the Bhutanese society. The word ‘narrowing’ suggests the impossible nature of closing income gap, but can be equitably narrowed.
Founders of DNT, acknowledging and understanding this social and economic issue, decided 2018 slogan to be ‘Narrowing the Gap’ and that it would be the main goal of the party and that they would do anything to narrow the gap.
Further, DNT believes that narrowing the income gap is measurable and doable. Citing an example, Dr. Tandin Dorji said coming from Trashigang to Thimphu for medical service has cost implications and likewise education has indirect cost too and it all boils down to income gap.
“In today’s world, it is more important that we worry about haves and have-nots – economic disparity. I always say, in the past, we were all equally poor. Today, with growing prosperity, we in Bhutan must be mindful of the threat posed by economic disparities within the society,” he said.
DNT also maintained that income inequality is a ground reality and anywhere in the world it is a national security issue, when wealth is concentrated in the hands of few.
Explaining the situation in the country today, Dr. Tandin Dorji said the data from the past 10 years, starting 2007, indicate that GDP has grown, in terms of size and growth rate, but Gini coefficient (a commonly used measurement of inequality by studying income and wealth distribution of a nation’s residents) has increased.
During Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT)’s reign, poverty rate dropped from 24 to 12 percent. While during People’s Democratic Party (PDP)’s time the rate dropped from 12 to 8.2 percent. The drop in poverty rate could be linked to His Majesty’s Kidu program granted to the people. In terms of the Gini coefficient, inequality declined from 0.42 in 2003 to 0.35 in 2007 but increased slightly to 0.36 in 2012, according to Dr. Tandin Dorji. In 2017, it increased to 0.38. Zero indicates perfect equality. Economic growth, meanwhile, has been 7.5 percent in 2017 and is projected to be 7.1 in 2018.
Dr. Tandin Dorji said, “An increase in Gini coefficient is a serious issue indicating that the economic development of the country has had no uniform benefit. The gap in income has widened. This gap has widened more in PDP’s tenure than in DPT’s, when economic growth was smaller. Nyamrup’s focus on Narrowing the Gap cannot be more timely.”
The party says it’s equally concerned with the growing gap in other areas. While poverty levels have been taken into consideration in allocating resources and developing policies, the party wants to prioritize in the growing income gap and go still further to address gap in other areas such as in accessing services (health, education, social services, etc.) and opportunities.
DNT’s aim in its five-year tenure, if given the opportunity, is to measure the outcomes like how Gross National Happiness (GNH) is done. The policies and programs enacted will be measured to see if and how it has impacted the lives of the people, in addressing income inequality and narrowing the gap. “The party believes that in five years of span, if policies are framed properly and given equal opportunities, then they can really close the narrow gap,” Dr. Tandin Dorji said.
Meanwhile, DNT’s North-Thimphu candidate, Dr. Dechen Wangmo said it was important to understand that this is evidence based and that it was not something that the party is saying just for the sake of saying.
“At the same time, if given an opportunity to form the government we want this evidence based to be there in measuring our success and our performances,” she added.
Chencho Dema from Thimphu