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When policies contradict

With about 22 cars hitting the road every day, Bhutan imports at least one car every hour.

For a country that started using automobiles since the 60s when it started paving roads, the rate of vehicle import is staggering.  Records show that the number of vehicles until last month was 94,956. Loans towards the transport sector rose by more than Nu 1B last year.

The country is witnessing this trend despite measures to control the growing vehicle population.The central bank had revised the guideline on transport loans and the government shifted the tax valuation from point of entry to point of sales.

Efforts from the government and authorities to address the vehicle number are occurring parallel with the loan and car festival that banks and vehicle dealers organise. The recent loan fest in Thimphu saw about 500 cars being sold within a couple of days.

We don’t blame the buyers. Given the state of public transport system, owing a car according to many is a necessity, not a luxury. The housing shortage is another issue Bhutanese face but no concrete measures appear to be taken to address this gnawing problem.

The ministry of information and communications recently announced that to decrease air pollution, it would import 300 electric vehicles and install 23 charging stations in the country. The intent is good. But this shift in gear has come after the government’s pledge to provide utility vehicle saw a rise in import of Mahindra boleros. Annual information statistics show that 1,799 Mahindra boleros were imported in 2017, the highest among the imports by model.

The Anti Corruption Commission had earlier pointed out that the government signing MoUs with NISSAN Motor Co. Ltd. (Japan) and Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles Private Limited (India) undermined provisions of the Constitution that provides for fair market competition and has given undue benefits to private interests of the two local dealers of these car manufactures. There are today 94 electric vehicles of which 27 are owned by the government and public sector and the rest by private organisations and individuals.

How this recent decision to import electric vehicle would be executed is yet to be seen. But the government’s move to encourage people to drive electric vehicle contradicts with its promise to provide vehicles that run on fossil fuel.

The country imported Nu 6.6B worth of diesel and around Nu 2B worth of petrol in 2017 alone.

Providing people a choice is good but when policies contradict, something is not right.

A report on the pilot project initiated to install quick charging stations in selected areas revealed lack of preparedness and awareness among those tasked with the works. Using taxi drivers to get electric vehicles on the road alone may not be helpful in gaining public confidence or in decongesting the road.

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