Facts before flagship

Zhemgang has been removed from the list of dzongkhags under the flagship program in the 12th Five year Plan. Four dzongkhags – Dagana, Gasa, Lhuentse and Zhemgang – were supposed to get Nu 11mn as part of the flagship program but now Zhemgang has been unceremoniously dropped from the list.

Who is to blame and why?

The government and the Opposition have locked horns over the issue. While the Opposition claims that the move was intended to muzzle some vocal MPs from the Opposition, the government has maintained that this change was primarily made to open an entry point in the south namely Sarpang so that dzongkhags like Trongsa, Tsirang and even Zhemgang would be benefitted. The government went as far as to say that people of Zhemgang should reconsider their choice of MP.

While it is needless to state that attacks from both the Opposition and government against each other toe the personal line, and sound almost petty, we must be objective and take a hard look at the facts. What is the flagship programโ€™s primary purpose? To bring about development where it is most needed. And which dzongkhags need it? Obviously the ones that are least developed.

According to the Bhutan Poverty Analysis 2017, the poverty rate in Dagana stands at 33%, Gasa at 12.6%, Lhuntse at 6.7% and Zhemgang at 25%. Meanwhile Sarpang fares much better than Zhemgang at half of the latterโ€™s poverty rate at 12%.

Considering these facts, which dzongkhag needs assistance in terms of development and funds?  Zhemgang had been promised a college and then a hydropower project, both of which never came through. It is also well known how difficult life is in this particularly remote part of the country. And poverty indicators prove it.

Meanwhile, even as politicians get personal and fret and fume over petty politics, we cannot have the nation, especially the poor and marginalized suffer. Bhutan elected the leaders so that they could bring about positive changes to people and places, which need them the most. If the politicians forget the people just to prove a point out of vindication, the whole case of democratic governance is lost.

Democracy begins at the grassroots with the people at the lowest levels. If the government means to make good its principle of narrowing the gap, it must start with the poorest, most economically challenged of the population. Blaming each other for lapses in promises and policies does no good when the people who elected them to power are left to suffer the brunt of poverty and shoddy living conditions.

Zhemgang, no doubt, deserves to be under the flagship program due to the sheer fact that itโ€™s one of the poorest and most neglected of the dzongkhags so far. If the program does not benefit a dzongkhag like Zhemgang, it wonโ€™t any other, too.