Opposition says govt. should expedite hydropower projects

Druk Phuensum Tshogpa

SONAM PENJOR

Thimphu

The Opposition Party, through its press release, urged the government to draw a clear and concrete roadmap to expedite execution of the ongoing hydropower projects as well as those in the pipeline.

The press release states that the Government should expedite hydropower projects like Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project Authority (PHPA-II) and Nikachhu Hydropower Projects by mid-2023.

“This is in order to mitigate fiscal deficits in the short-term and stay steadfast on the course of economic self-reliance in the long run. The government must complete PHPA-II and Nickachu Hydropower Projects by mid-2023, and expedite other hydropower projects,” it said.

The Opposition Party further states our economy has been impacted badly. It said our domestic revenue has fallen sharply and is expected to fall further at least in the next two fiscal years.

“Fiscal deficit is projected at negative 8.59 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2021-2022, which is beyond an acceptable threshold,” the opposition said.

Further, the press release states that external grants and receipts are also projected to decrease sharply, partly due to front-loading. Owing to this, the total resource is projected to fall by Nu 11.300-billion in the next fiscal year, from Nu 56,765.582-million (M) in 2021-2022 to Nu 45,465.545-M in 2022-2023 which is deeply worrying.

As a consequence, the opposition fears that the Government could resort to more borrowings, especially in non-productive and non-hydro power sectors, and worsen our already bad debt situation.

“Our debt as a percentage of GDP had increased in the last three years from 114.2 percent in 2018-2019 to 138.8 percent in 2020-2021, which is a matter of serious concern,” according to the Opposition Party.

Therefore, the party recommends that the government must provide all the necessary human resources required for the projects and strive to complete and commission them by mid-2023. It is understood that this is achievable if PHPA-II is provided with additional 1,600 workers and Nikachhu with 90 which is perfectly feasible.

The opposition further said that they had never objected to importing foreign workers during the pandemic but questioned the manner in which they were brought in the purview of the standing Covid-19 safety norms and protocols.

Meanwhile, the opposition also said that the decision on the choice between dam and barrage should be concluded expeditiously for PHPA-I.

“We understand that independent reports from third parties are ready. Further, the loss of power generation with the shift from the dam to barrage system is estimated to be only around 1.5 percent,” they said.

The opposition added that Indo-Bhutan cooperation in hydropower sector has always been exemplary, and rightly the envy of the world. Therefore, they are fully confident of reaching a productive and mutually beneficial decision at the earliest.

Similarly, the opposition said that it is understood that Kholongchu Hydropower Project is still far from execution with pending agreements on various financing and contract matters. They urged the government to expedite the conclusion of the necessary agreements, and start the actual construction works of the project.

The present government had pledged to ‘generate additional 5,200-MW of hydropower through Sunkosh, Kuri-Gongri, and other projects’. During the recent by-election campaign, the Dorjilung hydropower project was also committed to start. However, none has been initiated yet despite the government’s term nearing an end.

“We call upon the government to honor its pledges to the people, and start the above projects at the earliest,” the opposition said.

Meanwhile, Minister for Economic Affair, Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said that the government is expediting construction of hydropower, and even during the peak pandemic period, ex-pat workers and materials for hydropower were facilitated, and even if wanted to bring through the air via Paro International Airport, Lyonpo said: “We had been supporting.”

Generally, both movements of man and materials faced challenges owing to Covid protocols on transport and virus transmission surge, Lyonpo said that it is unfortunate that PHPA-II is taking longer than expected despite all efforts including incentive and initiative to get more Bhutanese workers for the project.

The project costs are rising due to rising costs and delays in getting adequate workers. “We had been pushing work fronts extending working hours to squeeze delays to a minimum possible and our expectation to bring hydropower projects to completion is in line to what opposition has suggested,” added the Lyonpo.

“We acknowledge and fully understand the economic gain to the country having complete the projects as early as possible. Both Nikachhu and PHPA-II are promising projects and we will continue pushing ahead to realize the timeline of completing by mid-2023 which is still ambitious looking into the delays of two years by the pandemic,” said the Lyonpo.