National Council announces 33rd session agenda

NGAWANG JAMPHEL
Thimphu

The upcoming National Council will deliberate on and adopt a variety of significant reports and acts. These include a review report on Satong and Gungtong, a presentation of the 13th Five Year Plan by the Finance Minister, and an interim report on rural credit accessibility.

Additionally, the Council will examine a review report on compensation-related policies for human-wildlife conflicts and crop damage due to natural calamities.

The agenda also includes an interim report on the Alternative Dispute Resolution Act of Bhutan 2013, an interim review report on education-related legislation, and a review report on the state of persons with disabilities.

Furthermore, the Annual Budget Appropriation Bill for FY 2024-2025 and the Supplementary Budget Appropriation Bill for 2023-2024 will be introduced.

Phuntsho Rapten, Chairperson of the Good Governance Committee (GGC), highlighted significant issues regarding land use.

He noted that only 7% of Bhutan’s total geographical landscape is suitable for farming, with just 2.9% currently under cultivation, amounting to approximately 278,000 acres. The 2019 RNR report indicates that around 66,000 acres remain unused.

He also addressed the issue of guntong, revealing that as of April 2024, there are about 6,000 guntongs, with over 4,500 located in the six eastern districts of Lhuentse, Monggar, Trashigang, Trashi Yangtse, Pema Gatshel, and Samdrup Jongkhar.

The increase in gungtong is attributed to factors such as employment opportunities, marriages outside the community, family preferences, and access to education and healthcare services.

Phuntsho Rapten said the GGC is prepared with policies and initiatives to address these issues. “We have identified the key factors contributing to this issue and have formulated recommendations to address it in both the short and long term. These recommendations will be presented in detail during the upcoming session,” he said.

Rapten added that the past five years have seen an additional 900 guntongs in the country. If left unattended, the issue of increasing guntong and fallow farmland could impact local crop production, leading to increased food imports.

Tshewang Rinchen, Chairperson of the Economic Affairs Committee (EAC), emphasized the importance of the Interim Report on Rural Credit, which aims to support farmers and youth in rural areas who propose new and unique business ideas.

He acknowledged the Royal Monetary Authority and financial institutions like the Bank of Bhutan (BOB) for offering loans with low interest rates to farmers.

Although agricultural loans constitute only 5% of the total loans, with the remaining 95% allocated to other sectors, BOB offers 29 types of loan schemes, 11 of which are specifically focused on farmers and rural areas.

Tshewang Rinchen explained the rationale for selecting dzongkhags such as Haa, Zhemgang, Samdrup Jongkhar, Trashigang, and Trashi Yangtse for the grassroots survey on Rural Credit Accessibility.

Zhemgang and Samdrup Jongkhar were chosen due to their significant financial challenges, Haa has the highest number of rural credits, Trashigang was among the top last year, and Trashi Yangtse has the lowest rural credit.

This survey aims to identify the key factors contributing to the financial issues faced by these dzongkhags and formulate recommendations to improve rural credit accessibility.

The National Council’s Special Committee for education will present an interim report on education-related legislation. Currently, the Ministry of Education and Skills Development lacks an official act and operates under executive orders and draft education guidelines from 2018.

“We need to make these policies official and improve our education system,” said Tshering Tshomo, Deputy Chairperson of the Special Committee for Education.

She stressed that improving education quality is crucial to help Bhutanese students compete globally. The committee aims to ensure that the education system is strong and effective, benefiting all students in the country.

The session will also include discussions on the review report on compensation-related policies for human-wildlife conflicts and crops damaged due to natural calamities, as well as the state of persons with disabilities.

The 33rd Session will cover a wide range of important topics, from agricultural and financial issues to education and disability rights. The comprehensive approach taken by the National Council highlights its commitment to addressing the diverse challenges faced by the country and its citizens.

The session’s outcomes are expected to contribute significantly to Bhutan’s development and the enhancement of its governance frameworks.

The upcoming session of the National Council of Bhutan promises to be a significant event with a focus on key areas affecting the nation.

By addressing issues such as land use, rural credit, education, and human-wildlife conflicts, the Council aims to implement policies that will promote sustainable development and improve the quality of life for all Bhutanese citizens

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