‘With Bhutan graduating from LDC, mobilizing aid will be difficult’

The Secretary of Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC), Thinley Namgyel, talks with Business Bhutan’s senior reporter Dechen Dolkar on the roles and mandate of GNHC, five year plan drafting process, Bhutan’s graduation from LDC and challenges, and the incorporation of political pledges into the five year plans. He was appointed as Secretary of GNHC on August 15, 2016. Prior to the post of the Secretary, he was the Director of GNHC Secretariat.

Q. Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) is the lead agency that formulates Five Year Plans (FYP), program and activities. How has this mandate changed with democracy coming?

A. The mandate has not changed; GNHC is still the lead agency that coordinates the drafting of the five-year plans. However, after the new government is elected the plan is reviewed and revised based on the new government’s priorities. 

Q. Political governments have their own set of priorities laid out in their manifestoes, and GNHC has to accommodate these new priorities in the FYP. In so doing, what kind of challenges does the GNHC confront?

A. To a large extent, the priorities of the political parties and the programs/activities of the FYP are aligned since both are based on fulfilling the needs of the people. Differences exist but to minimal. Some of the challenges in incorporating the new priorities are in terms of the alignment of new priorities with the longer-term goals, sustainability and affordability since the pledges are not costed.

Q. GNHC drafts the FYP way before the new government is elected. Does this create unnecessary challenges later and is there a way for GNHC to draft the plan after the new government is elected, so that the political governments have greater say in the drafting of the plan?

A. Drafting of FYP are done based on extensive consultation with various stakeholders in all 20 dzongkhags and preparations start two to two and half years before the launch of the new FYP. Drafting of the 12th FYP started from February 2016. Plan drafted by GNHC is based on number of consideration:

Extensive consultations with the people on the issues/challenges and priorities for the next five years including field visits to all 20 dzongkhags;

Resource availability projections, both domestic and external resources, and consultations with our development partners;

Mid-term and terminal review of the FYP;

Implementation capacity of central and local governments;

Alignment with the long-term vision of the country, and other domestic and international obligations.

For GNHC to draft the plan after the new government is elected would delay plan implementation. Plan formulation is an important exercise which requires lot of consultations/reviews since it has critical bearing on the future of our country therefore GNHC cannot wait for the government to be elected and then start drafting the FYP. The elected government has the authority to approve the plan as drafted by GNHC or redraft it if they choose to. The present arrangements are working well and we should continue with the same arrangements.

Q. Bhutan’s five-year plans are becoming bigger and bigger in terms of budget outlay. What are some of the biggest concerns when it comes to mobilizing resources?

A. With Bhutan graduating from LDC, mobilizing aid will be difficult. Exploring new innovative financing mechanism which would be more sustainable in the long run– broaden our tax base, attracting foreign investment, public private partnership, climate funds etc. are possible opportunities.It will also be important for us to rationalize recurrent expenditure which has been growing substantially from plan to plan.

Q. Since the 12th Plan is a very critical plan period since Bhutan would be graduating from LDC category, how confident is the Commission to achieve the targets set for 12th Plan?

A. The 12th Plan targets are very ambitious and we need to be ambitious if we are to ensure smooth and sustainable transition from LDC. The Commission is confident to achieve the targets if collective efforts are put in to Coordinate, Collaborate and Consolidate.