Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering has won the hearts of people in Bangladesh.
“Bangladesh is my second home,” Lyonchhen said as he greeted the people who had gathered for a cultural event on April 14. The day happens to be the Bengali New Year, Pahela Baishak. “I would like to greet you happy New Year from my heart,” he said in fluent Bangla. A couple of Bhutanese songs were also performed at the event.
The Prime Minister then took a 30-minute helicopter ride to visit his alma mater Mymensingh Medical College, where the students and faculty received their alumnus with pride.
Just as he began to address the gathering in English, the crowd urged him to speak in Bangla. He did. “If you want to be a good doctor, you have to be a good human being,” he said.
He shared his memories of his time in the college, where he shared room number 20 with foreign minister, Dr Tandi Dorji for five years. It was in that room where the two, he said, began to think about the wellbeing of the nation. “He, the foreign minister, made me the Prime Minister,” he said.
Lyonchhen used this analogy to underscore the need to leave aside all personal differences and work collectively to take the country forward.
“I have joined politics without disposing my uniform. I thought about the people of Bhutan and worked for them from 2013 to 2018 even after my party did not make it through,” he said. As he introduced the other delegates, especially the health secretary, Dr Ugen Dophu, the medical superintendent of JDWNRH Dr Gosar Pemba, Dr Phub Dorji from His Majesty’s kidu medical unit, all of whom had studied in Bangladesh and few in MMC, the pride of MMCians turned into a huge applause.
In another classroom, some 30 classmates of Lyonchhen welcomed him for a reunion. “Prime Minister is our friend, we are proud of you,” read the banner. The classmates had brought him a t-shirt to mark the reunion. Lyonchhen wore the shirt over his gho and sat on the same seat he used to sit for the lectures. “He was a foreign student but never behaved like one,” said one of his classmates.
Lyonchhen did not forget to greet the college cleaner, who he knows personally since his time in college.
Lyonchhen said that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina clearly understands the impact on a small nation like Bhutan to venture into BBIN motor vehicle agreement. However, he said the government would again review and assess the impacts of BBIN and get back to the group of nations.
Another significant agenda was hydropower collaboration. Lyonchhen said that as far as electricity trading is concerned, there couldn’t be a bilateral understanding between Bhutan and Bangladesh. India has to be involved and a trilateral discussion must transpire the way ahead.
The two Prime Ministers also had a discussion on proposed trilateral cooperation in hydropower between Bangladesh, Bhutan and India. They noted that a trilateral meeting of the power secretaries could be held on this. A joint press release stated that collaboration in this sector could further strengthen regional cooperation, encourage use of renewable energy and mitigate climate change challenges.
Responding to a query during the meeting of business delegation on April 12, Lyonchhen said Bhutan should really assess its capacity for hydropower development. Delays leading to cost and time escalation and climate change, he said are concerning.
However, he said that there is progress on the trilateral project and that an agreement may come out soon.
Following Lyonchhen’s meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh agreed to allow duty free access to an additional 16 items proposed by Bhutan and in reciprocation Bhutan agreed to expedite the process of granting duty free access to 10 items proposed by Bangladesh. An agreement on the movement of goods in transit between Bangladesh and Bhutan would also be finalised soon by the next commerce secretary level meeting.
Lyonchhen also welcomed the Internet bandwidth and satellite services that Bangladesh had offered earlier.
Speaking on the shortage of medical specialists in Bhutan, he expressed a strong interest to recruit specialists from Bangladesh to work in Bhutan.
The two sides also exchanged views on cooperation in other areas and noted the commonality of their views and positions on all major issues and agreed to continue to work together.
During his four-day state visit, Lyonchhen called on the President and met with foreign, health and family welfare, commerce and shipping ministers of Bangladesh.
The delegation returned home yesterday.
Tshering Dorji | Dhaka