My thoughts on the Education City project

The National Council very recently discussed the Bhutan Education City Bill which has aroused a lot of interest in many foras and rightly so, because it is an important change that is happening, a little diversification in our investment portfolio for Bhutan. For too long we have been discussing ‘the Dutch disease’ and this is one real attempt at spreading the risk. The recent months have been nothing but real reminders of just how vulnerable our economy remains even with all our returns from the hydro-power sector. Our revenues will increase but so will our expenses. Then what do we do? Many would agree if not all, our attempts of growing our own food is very humbling but everyone knows that alone can never be the solution, we need to investment in other sectors to strengthen our economy. The Bhutan Education City project, in my understanding is one such initiative and a welcome one, I am sure many would agree if not all.

Our foreign currency reserves maintained as per our Constitution is of a minumum of  a year of essential imports, mainly comprised of grants and loan assistance from development partners. Whenever, as has been the case, rupee shortage is felt, the central bank manages through currency adjustments and/or overdraft arrangements with the central bank of India.

The point here is, while public expenditure outlay increases, consumption is bound to increase simultaneously. While there are products and services that we will have to rely on neighbours and othe countries, there are however opportunities where we can generate revenue as well try reducing the outflow of foreign currencies. Education sector presents one such opporunity.

Our success with increased primary enrollment rate has pushed the need for a similar absorption capacity into higher secondary and tertiary educational establishments too. Presently this is not happening (I had shared my concerns through the question hour during 7th session on the floor of the House with the Education Minister) and while domestic absorption capacity needs to be increased, it also needs to be understood that there are segments in our own market who go to different educational establishments in terms of pricing as well as brands. Certainly an educational establishment like Royal Thimphu College is most welcome and others with offers more affordable and other options, other international brand names may still find our own Bhutanese takers with the advantage of not having to travel out of the country. This would reduce the outflow of foreign reserve to begin with and additionally revenue generation for the exchequer, providing a steady flow source.

Figures also indicate that we have had 54,821 foreign workers in the past year. At the sametime we already have an increasing number of foreigners studying and working in Bhutan at different establishments. While this huge influx of foreign people into our country given our small size is a concern, it will however need dealing through this legislation or policy if enough has not been provided.

Some apprehensions have been revolving around a separate legislation for this one single project and rightly so. We are still very new to parliamentary democracy and even more with drafting laws. Generally if we can understand that in law-making there are generally three types of Bill depending on the narute and orgin, namely (i) Government Bill (ii) Private Bill and (iii) Private Member Bill. It is my understanding that until now parliament has been debating on Government Bills; Bills drafted by the Government with wide ranging impact. One Private Member Bill has been debated in atleast one House of Parliament till date, drafted and sponsored by individual MP. However, a Private Bill is a piece of legislation made specifically with a very focussed segment in society or something very specific. I believe the Education City Bill fits this description and therefore, if viewed from this perspective, is an accepted norm in many democracies. Ofcourse, since the legislation does go through the process of debate, it still allows concerns of citizens to be reflected through the legislative process.

Some may probably disgaree with these reasonings but however, the tertiary educational policy also contains a provision to the effect of the need for a legislation to establish educational establishment that we invision within the education city. But it would be wrong to say there are no risks involved with it like with every venture.If the project should fail, it would cost us a significant amount of public money which would ofcourse be relatively small if looked at within the overall project portfolio. It could also affect adversely FDI scenario in Bhutan in addition to other less tangible affects. However, should the project succeeded, I feel that the benefits outweigh the risks.


About Sangay Khandu

Elected to Parliament of Bhutan twice. Previously worked with the Central Bank, the largest SoE (power utility) and international organization.
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