Donors communicate continued aid

Round Table Meeting 3 September, 2011 – “The pulse is good,” was minister-in-charge of foreign affairs Yeshey Zimba’s hunch from having sat through the two-day round table meeting that ended yesterday.

That the donor perception was good, Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba shared with a few Bhutanese journalists, gathered at one of the conference halls of the convention centre, right as he entered after the meeting.

“I expected there would be discussions about phasing out,” he said, adding the donors were instead forthcoming, and that, almost without exception, committed they are with Bhutan and would be through the next plan.

The meeting did not delve into figures, he said, because the Eleventh Plan was at a very early stage, a conceptual stage.

“This will, however, be followed up by bilateral discussions later,” he said. “But the indication are very positive.”

The UN assistant secretary general Dr Ajay Chhibber shared with reporters at the press conference a range of reactions from the development partners.

“Some will be increasing their assistance quite substantially, while some will be, while not phasing out, there will be a transitioning of their assistance,” he said.

What clearly transpired from the discussions, he said, was that for the remainder of this plan and certainly for the next plan, Bhutan would still need substantial foreign assistance.

“Assistance in order to meet the remaining challenges, the kind of last mile challenges that are remaining,” he said.

Dr Chhibber panned out a few challenges that included poverty that still existed in the country, and issues of further connectivity, both in terms of road, air and information technology.

He also highlighted the issue of greater support to rural areas for agriculture development, for more modernisation of agriculture, for better quality of health and education services.

“For all that, Bhutan will still need very substantial assistance for the remaining part of the Tenth Plan and also for the Eleventh,” he said.

From the Bhutanese part, he said one message that came through clearly to the donors was that this was not the time to pull out their assistance.

“But in fact to try to ensure that these social, economic and political transitions that Bhutan is undergoing are fully supported by the international community,” he said.

It was, he said, in view of the remaining challenges that Bhutan has, and because of a very important democratic transformation that Bhutan was undergoing.

Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba added that, while donors were happy about the way the aid was used in the country so far, they felt more remained to be done, particularly in light of the country’s democratisation, which was very important to all development partners.

“Our democracy is only three years old,” he said. “It needs to be nurtured, supported and strengthened.”

In so doing, he said, it was important for the newly democratically elected government to be able to meet the important aspirations of the people.

Domestic revenue, he explained, was barely enough to cover the current expenditure, like meeting pay and allowances, maintaining roads and looking after what the country established over the years.

Returning to the meeting, Dr Chhibber said its main observation was that Bhutan had used its aid well, that showed in the relationship between the aid that came to Bhutan, and the results in the form of poverty reduction, achievement of MDGs, and other indicators used internationally.

“If you’re an aid provider in Bhutan, you can go to your taxpayer back home and clearly link the aid to the result that Bhutan has achieved,” he said.

“From where I sit, I cover the entire Asia Pacific region, Bhutan can be a shining example for other countries in the region on how to effectively use foreign assistance in a manner that will help people in the best possible way.”

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