With the central agencies done, the government in on a marathon of review meetings in the dzongkhags assessing how successful the 11th Plan had been so far.
Reports are encouraging and there seems to be a general satisfaction with the government as they move from dzongkhag to dzongkhag. And as the Prime Minister surprises each dzongkhag with a new announcement – from salary revision to opening of new colleges and institutes – the mid-term review is well followed.
The achievements are a mixed report. While some have exceeded targets, some are asking to drop or reduce the targets, especially when it comes to food production. The mid-term review will provide a good sense of planning needs as those involved in implementing them come across challenges and opportunities.
With the system of signing agreements with the government to achieve certain targets, there is pressure on those on the ground carrying out the plans. This is good because it will drive them and therefore result in better services and the delivery of it. It is not surprising when sector heads report success. That is what we do when we evaluate our own performance. Critics might ask how the progress of the Plan could be successful when it is estimated from the percentage of budget spent.
There are also questions because dzongkhags were almost panicking when budget was delayed, especially for small development projects, and planners resorted to working on credit. Notwithstanding the initial hurdles, the results of the mid-term review are optimistic.
We are in the 11th five-year-Plan and we are still building infrastructure. Our capital expenditure eats into the limited budget and the outlay is increasing every year. The hope is that in a few years time when most of the infrastructure will be in place enabling our own revenue to carry out our development plans. This is crucial as we prepare to graduate from a least developed country and gear for a decrease in overseas development aid.
Besides the capital expenditure on building roads, bridges, schools, hospitals etc., there are other plans like reducing the dependence on imports that can be substituted. Food is one commodity that agrarian Bhutan imports in the billions.
Therefore, it is to the government’s credit that there is a drive on food production. From the reports coming in from the dzongkhags, there is still room to tweak the planning mechanism. If remote Lhuentse is producing more cabbages than targeted but has no market, it is the wrong food item. Neighbouring Mongar is closer to the market and has the comparative advantage.
If the surplus dairy or poultry each household produced is improving livelihoods and not only adding to figures, we are in the right process. From the figures, dzongkhags reviewed so far have achieved or crossed the half way mark. It is an indication of a successful Plan.
What could reconfirm the assurance will be to verify the reports and the evaluations. Not to deride the hard work of the local government, but a half-day review report packed with figures will be difficult to verify immediately, especially if the entourage has to rush to the other dzongkhag.