Friday, January 30, 2015

National income and Natural resources.

It is often said in public speeches that the two resources: national and natural resources are to be utilised for the common benefit of all citizens. That is a tall order in real practice but not impossible.

In the past, major steps have been taken in sharing national income for providing free education and medical care to all. These steps are so vast and ages old that people fail to comprehend the goodness and equality of such a profound policy.

In every day life of cross national development journey, one small but effective decision was nationalisation of river sand resource. Before river sand resource was put under NRDCL, few influential personalities were enjoying a financial Mecca that was strangling the overall development growth of the nation. I think it was His Majesty the 4th King who took the bold decision to ensure that the most common raw material in construction was made available to all at reasonable cost and in required quantity.

Now NRDCL is attempting to fulfill another national mandate to provide sawn timber to all at reasonable cost. The private saw millers do not like it but if left to them as in the past years, there will be no limit to desires for self profits only.

The present Government seems to be taking judicious practical stands in its discussions during the last Public Private Dialogue as well as during the Meet with the sawmiller group. I wish the same Government had accorded the necessary mandate and extensive right for primary mining to the National Mining Corporation placed under DHI Management.

Unfortunately the existing private mining groups got their way. And so the most potential mineral wealth of the nation will continue to be devoted towards enriching the select few for sometime into the future. The National Mining Corporation will turn out to be a very expensive public eye wash exercise.

The Nation must move forward and in the process the gap between the rich and the poor must not be allowed to widen even further. Private sector development is an important part of economic progress in any nation whether developed or at developing stage. I do not belittle the pivotal roles that private sector have and will play in the future.  However, it is also true that most of world's national and natural wealth are concentrated amongst limited number of people. This is the reason why majority of the world population struggle for decent food and shelter even in the developed nations.

Bhutan was a poor, isolated and a rural nation but abject poverty was rare. Today it is  GNH nation doing tolerably well and yet now we have more of those struggling for decent living in terms of food and shelter. One reason is that we have a larger population and longer life expectancy. The other is that a very small group have their hand all over the economic pie.  The social base of private sector is so very narrow and limited in ownership diversity. Cross check any ten large Enterprises and there will be cross ownership of several extended families in Factories, Mining, Trade ,Finance  and Tourism Infrastructures. Even the Media that is always crying for alms from the Government is just an additional business of well to do Bhutanese businessmen and women who have larger economic base. Recently these same group of newspaper owners are demanding that the Government fund their exclusive right to rule the 4th Estate that is supposed to be one of the shining light of democracy. The hunger for wealth and influence is abnormally transparent and readily accepted it seems.

It may be advisable for the nation to now review the past policies on providing electricity power subsidy to industries; the primary mining rights of all minerals and usage of scarce hard currencies.  The recent High Court admonitions on past tax shelter industries demonstrated how and who made crores of money. These industries were not required to pay even corporate tax so the beneficiaries did not bother to file personal income tax for incomes  from such fast easy money ventures. It may be high time that a real sit down is called upon to examine upon  whom all incentives, subsidies  and exploiting rights are being bestowed .

I commend this Government for passing  down to the grassroot level the benefit of national wealth by providing 100 units of electricity free of cost in rural areas. However, the most sustaining distribution of national wealth is land kidu to farmers by His Majesty the King. If sincerely and effectively utilised, sufficient farm lands with progressive farm technology could induce rural prosperity. This may provide both economic and political relief to rural Bhutan in the long run.

However, major problems will be in urban centres that will increase tenfold with development of 20 Thromdes in the near  future. Rural to urban migration will increase when more farm lands are absorbed under urban plans that have been  always geared to rob the poor farmers and enrich the better offs. Farm lands are forcefully taken over with negligible compensations and then these very farm lands  parcelled out among business licence holders and influential persons.  That is one policy that made the poor poorer and the better offs even more well offs.  This policy will continue to create  more class of have nots  with more of their children unemployed as number of Thromdes are increased and enlarged to satisfy the appetite of the well to do.

The classes of have nots and increasing number of educated unemployed disillusioned youths will gradually question how the national and natural wealth are utilised and distributed. Therefore, national leaders must act now to bring about fairer distribution of resources and benefits. The GDP is important to any nation even to GNH Bhutan  but reducing the gap between the rich and the poor is equally important. And adopting policies that enable more equitable distribution of national resources, opportunities and fruits of developments could help in closing economic gaps among the Population.

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