| Tashi Wangmo, Thimphu
The National Assembly’s (NA) first question hour session on November 17, 2017, was dominated by issues concerning hydropower, with members of the opposition party, quizzing the Prime Minister (PM), on Kholongchhu hydroelectric project and the increase in national debt.
Opposition Leader (OL), Dr (PHD) Pema Gyamtsho, was the first to seek answers from PM, Dasho Tshering Tobgay. Speaking about Kholongchhu Hydroelectric Project and the concessional agreement, OL sought clarifications from the PM, stating that only recently was it known that the concession agreement has not been finalized. This, OL said meant that no major construction works have been awarded till date.
Replying to the query, the PM called Hydropower the nation’s backbone and people’s project. Concerning the concession agreement, he said that it was delayed as it did not align with the country’s hydropower development policy. Nonetheless, he noted that the negotiations have reached an advanced stage. NA members were also informed that the 600MW Kholongchu project is the first Joint Venture (JV) project, which the Bhutanese government has agreed to undertake with the Indian government, under a common Inter-Governmental Framework Agreement. PM further underlined that the agreement for JV projects was signed in April 2014 and finalized in June 2015. Various pre-construction works have been completed, while there are others in progress. In total, Nu. 1550 million have been spent till now.
The PM also availed the opportunity to inform the floor that a High Level Committee is currently reviewing to charter a clear way towards the future, for implementation of other hydropower projects under the 10,000 MW development plan. He highlighted the implementation status of various hydropower projects. 83.21 and 72.36 percents of Punatsangchhu-I and Punatsangchhu-II projects have been completed respectively, while 89.3 % of the Mangdechhu project is completed.
Bringing hydropower once more into the limelight was another question, with the opposition questioning the PM about the increase in National Debt. NA member from Panbang, Dorji Wangdi asked the PM to throw light on the increase in debt by Nu. 83 billion. He said that the PM should clarify how it increased from Nu.101 billion in 2013 to Nu.184 billion during the government’s tenure.
Responding to this question, PM Dasho Tshering Tobgay said that the increase in national debt was mostly because of Hydro projects, whose debt stood at Nu. 89 billion. Non-hydro debt accounted for Nu. 44 billion. The house was also informed that the currency swap of USD 100 million (Nu. 6.406 billion) availed by the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) for six months, was another reason. He added that by the end of the 11th five year plan (11th FYP), non-hydro debt stock would decrease at least by 23%. This would come forth as the currency swap would be settled by February 2018. Apart from this, the line of credit, amounting to Nu 4 billion, would be liquidated by March 2018.
Additionally, the PM responded that the Public Debt Policy was adopted in 2016, to contain public debt. Apart from Hydropower projects, expansion of East-West Highway, introduction of helicopter services, construction of gewog center roads were other projects that led to the escalation of national debt.