A tale of two unfulfilled promises

The pledges to construct a bridge over the notorious Maokhola and the campaign promise to construct the Shingkhar-Gorgan road have remained a political gimmick that never materialized.

The first two democratically elected governments promised but failed to deliver the bridge and the road. There are apparently huge cost and resources required to build the bridge and a number of issues plaguing the Shingkhar-Gorgan Road construction including the need of an environment clearance. Both these case studies are perfect examples of how political parties have pledged and failed to fulfill their promises, which is clearly an act of political dishonesty.

Old wine in new bottle

Both Shingkhar-Gorgan Highway and Moakhola Bridge are old issues.

People of Lhuentse are hoping for the road to materialize while people in Gelephu believe that their elected representatives will construct the bridge someday.

The pledge to construct a bridge over Moakhola has been there since 2008. However, due to budget constraints and technical feasibility, the plan to construct bridge has been shelved twice. Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) government made the pledges and then People’s Democratic Party (PDP) government.

The present government Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) has also made the pledge. The current government has allocated a budget Nu 400mn in the 12th Five Year Plan to construct the bridge.

While the two previous governments have categorically failed to fulfill the promises, the present government remains positive. The Works and Human Settlement Minister, Dorji Tshering, in the recent Parliament session informed that the contract for the construction of a bridge over Mao River in Gelephu will be awarded to contractors by the end of this year.

On the other hand, the government during the question and answer session in January said that the possibility of constructing Shingkhar-Gorgan highway is getting thinner by the day. Last month, Lyonpo Dorji Tshering answering the question to NC Tempa Dorji said that unless the Parliament amends the Forest and Nature Conservation Act 1995, the Shingkhar-Gorgan road won’t materialize. The minister also had shared that it is a stale issue. The issue has till date seen 15 discussions since 2008.

The former PDP government could not build the road as they did not get the environment clearance certificate from National Environmental Commission. The DNT government has reasoned that environmental issues and financial implications for the project’s holdup and the total cost of bypass road is projected to be Nu 585mn.The Shingkhar-Gorgan highway, if constructed, would reduce the travel distance between Thimphu and Lhuentse by about 100 kilometers.

What people say?

Medtsho Gup Gyembo in a telephone interview told Business Bhutan that people in his gewog have given up the hope of having a road. “The people of Lhuentse have lost faith. Even with the arrival of three governments there is no progress in the construction. All they do is have discussions in the Assembly but the road never materializes,” said the Gup.

He said that in the next election, if parties make similar pledges, people will not trust them and will have no confidence.

He said that if the present the government is able to construct the road, it will not only shorten the distance but also economically benefit the people of Lhuentse. “The people are disheartened to see the road not being constructed even after more than 15 years. By the way it was not the people who proposed the road, it was the government who said they will construct the road,” he said.

Meanwhile Serzhong Gup Tshering said that people in Gelephu still have their hopes alive for the bridge to be constructed over the Mao River. Despite three governments forming and two past governments failing to build the bridge the people still believe that the present government will build the bridge, which will benefit the four gewogs, he said.

“I personally feel that the bridge is necessary although the government has been exploring other alternatives like GC roads,” he said. “However, people still believe and hope that this government will not disappoint them.”

Business Bhutan talked to few people to learn about their views on the political pledges. Many felt that the pledges were made to garner votes during the elections.

Tara Limbu, a former senior journalist currently based in Australia said, “The fact these issues become the core talking points during elections is an iteration of its importance. Shingkhar-Gorgan and Mao Khola Bridge reflect the hope of ordinary people. Politicians know this. They abuse this hope of ordinary people to suit their purpose.”

She also said that it is such a shame that the politicians have been getting away with unfulfilled promises. “There is a need to scrutinize these issues as much as the MPs focus a major chunk of deliberation on their perks and privileges. They should be held accountable and called out on their lies,” she added.

Tshering, a private employee said, “DPT and PDP governments promised to construct the Shingkhar-Gorgan Road and bridge but both failed to deliver on the promises. The parties seem to make the promise first and then later realize that the road and the bridge cannot be constructed because there are a number of issues, now, what does this say? The parties weren’t even aware of the difficulties to construct the road. They did not do proper research on whether the road can be constructed in the first place. For them, it was a campaign tool – vote bank politics.”

An observer said that the inability of the past governments to construct the bridge and the road reflects the moral vacuum and utter lack of accountability. “For how long will political parties take the people for a ride?”

Chencho Dema from Thimphu