If surgeon Dr Lotay Tshering, Bhutan’s prime minister, had successfully controlled the tumour created by the new coronavirus so far, the attention now is on handling the impact Covid-19 left on the economy.
Allaying fears that the economy is in a downward spiral and that the government is concerned only with the health, Tshering said that he was well aware of the economic situation and that strategies were being worked on to revive the economy.
Calling it a layman’s view, Tshering said that while expert groups, including a volunteer group, work on an economic way forward, he has asked his economic doctors to work with precision in chalking out a unique strategy and feel the pulse of the nation, after the Covid-19 cloud clears.
The government will spend and inject money to revive the economy. “There is no doubt. The government will absolutely spend. The experts are working on how and where to spend,” said Tshering.
Saying he is not aware of what his economic plan is called, Tshering said that the spending should generate returns. The advice to the committees was to design an economic package where the government will invest, but people work for the money and make some impact.
“If they have to bring down a mountain, beat iron or break stones, they will have to do. We will invest,” said Tshering.
While details of the fiscal or financial measures will be shared soon, Tshering said that he had cautioned on rash spending. “The Covid-19 cloud is getting denser, when it clears, the country should have benefited from government spending.”
The benefits are not as complicated as finding a name for the strategy. The prime minister is looking into activities that would create jobs or engage people affected by the current problem, activities that would create more economic opportunities.
Citing the example of the Avain flu, Tshering said that Bhutan became egg sufficient when the import of egg was banned. “We are importing vegetables, people should go back to the villages and work. We will teach them to work, give money. When the cloud clears we could be vegetable self-sufficient, our fallow land could be reduced to 10 percent,” he said. “But if they don’t work and demand hand outs, they should keep tightening their belts.”
One of the hardest hit, after the service sector is the construction sector from restrictions imposed on the movement of people.
The prime minister said that the government is ready to inject Nu 5 billion ($69.4 million) in the construction sector if infusing money could solve the problem. “The problem today is with workers. Will the stimulus package help?” “If Bhutanese are wiling to carry cement and sand, we will be happy to pay them higher,” he said.
The idea is to replace expatriate workers in the long run. “If Bhutanese are willing to work in the sector, can feed their family and send children to better schools, we will spend.”
Those in the private sector say the slowdown is an old problem that started before the new coronavirus. The big concern is the lack of work and the loan repayment. Some have downsized while others are tightening their belts to get through the “crisis”.
“It is terrible,” said a trader when asked about business. “The coronavirus added to the problem and we are sinking,” he said. “There is no money circulating in the economy and the private sector is affected the worst.”
KUENSEL (BHUTAN)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK