This monsoon, it is raining promises. People are swamped by floods of promises and we know it is election time because for once, the problems plaguing the country are laid bare for all to see.
Suddenly, our civil servants are underpaid, our health system sick, our taps and farms dry and the roads unpliable. The plight of breastfeeding mothers become visible, even their husbands’ just as we realise that our health personnel and teachers are working long hours. Promises of vehicle quotas being extended to all civil servants are doled out, even though our roads are choking with vehicles that are imported with or without quotas. Unlike other societies, we are unapologetic that we reserve quotas for the privileged.
No questions were raised on how the big hotels and homes never run out of water when colonies of homes in most parts of the country have no water to drink. This monsoon, all four parties promise to provide drinking water to all, round the clock. How the party that forms the government would tame the local government that all parties are today pledging to strengthen, to provide safe drinking water would be a spectacle to watch out for.
And it is this time we realise that our youth is as much the present as the future. The population that is often associated with trouble and unemployment are now wooed and flattered. Parties are promising jobs both at home and abroad collateral-free loans to start businesses. Those doing business say that doing business at home is anything but easy.
Our farmers, the least happy among the country’s population feature prominently on all four manifestos. Their needs are rediscovered and freebies and subsidies offered. The farmers’ appeal for irrigation water is only heard now even though the calls for it were made years ago. The election period reminds our political parties that the country’s dream to become self-sufficient in food depends on how the country treats its farmers.
The parties haven’t forgotten our women and children. With women making up a majority of the voters, all four parties have promised to protect our women. But the promises to keep our children safe sit uneasily with the rising cases of physical and sexual abuse against children. Our women and children are not safe even at homes. Appointing a minister as the chair of the national commission for women and children is not enough for political parties to keep them safe.
But the group that receives the most attention in the party manifestos is the civil servants. With budget already allocated in the 12th Plan, all four parties have promised pay hikes to some 28,000 civil servants. They are promised affordable housing, vehicle quotas, increased travel and daily allowances, amendment of the civil service Act and professional development. The law review task force had pointed out the issue of pay raise for civil/public servants being used as political campaign undermines the objective of the Constitution to keep the civil service independent and apolitical. These recommendations are conveniently ignored during elections.
What we cannot ignore is that all these promises are worth billions of ngultrums and more. None of the parties have told the people how they will mobilise the funds to keep these promises.