Inaugural address by the Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bhutan Meeting of the BBIN Transport Ministers 15 June 2015, Hotel Le Meridien Thimphu

Your Excellencies, the Hon’ble Ministers in charge of transport, and distinguished delegates from Bangladesh, India and Nepal;

Your Excellencies the Minister for Information & Communications, the Minister for Works & Human Settlement, and officials of the Royal Government of Bhutan;

Hon’ble Vice President and officials from the ADB;

Distinguished Guests

I have the honour of conveying to you the warm greetings of His Majesty the King.

May I request you to rise and observe a Minute of Silence in memory of all those who died, those who were injured, and those still suffering from the recent earthquakes and aftershocks in Nepal and other parts of the region. Let us touch them with our deepest condolences, our warmest wishes, and our heartfelt prayers.

*Silence*

Thank you…

In the context of this august meeting, we could not have experienced a more painful reminder of the need for durable infrastructure, reliable services, and professionals in the transportion sector. And, even as we re-build our cities and towns and even our lives, let us think hard and let us think long term in terms of disaster preparedness and disaster response.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Given Bhutan’s terrain, that is as rugged as it is beautiful, and our sparsely scattered population, communication has always been the biggest hurdle in the development process. Therefore the Royal Government, over the successive five-year development plans, prioritized roads and bridges as vital infrastructure and transport as essential services. Thanks to the generous support from our development partners, particularly the Government of India, our urban settlements and most rural areas are now connected by a growing road network.

The enhanced mobility, a premise for growth and progress, has ensured rapid development in the priority areas mandated by our development goal of Gross National Happiness. We have seen unique successes in good governance and sustainable socio-economic development. And, in addition to the conventional goals of transport – the movement of people and goods – we are looking at identifying scenic drives so that our citizens as well as visitors enjoy the pristine natural environment and rich cultural heritage that we have been able to preserve.

Yet, there is a lot more to be done. We have to ensure that public transport serves unreached farmers and herders in the most remote corners of the kingdom and that we avoid congestion in the fast growing urban settlements. Transport cannot facilitate socio-economic development if it becomes a hazard rather than an enabler of political, social, and economic activity.

Given our emphasis on conservation of the environment, our government has stressed the importance of non fossil fuel for public and private transport. We have initiated trials of electric cars for private use as well as for taxis, and will soon be piloting electric public transport buses. For Bhutan, a carbon negative country, it is not an option but a necessity that we maintain our goal of being a carbon neutral country for all time to come.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we look beyond our borders, our government welcomes the initiative to improve transport connections in our sub-region. Our international trade is mainly in the immediate neighbourhood. We also depend on our immediate neighbours for access to the sea-ports and, ultimately, to the regional and global markets. For this reason, we have placed high priority on enhancing regional transport connectivity.

We already have an almost seamless arrangement for cross-border movement of vehicles in India. The signing of the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement will boost our trade with Bangladesh and Nepal as well. Given that exports from Bhutan constitute mainly perishable commodities, it is important for such goods to reach the destination in the shortest time possible and avoid trans-shipment. As a very small and landlocked country, Bhutan has special needs and we thank our neighbours for understanding our difficulties, especially on the issue of reciprocity in the cross-border movement of vehicles.

Our sub-region faces numerous physical and non-physical barriers, making the transportation process inefficient, costly and cumbersome. The sub-regional framework agreement on the movement of motor vehicles within the BBIN countries will help address these bottlenecks. The BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement offers a basic framework for smooth cross-border transportation and trade. It will not only boost trade among our countries, it will also generate greater goodwill and understanding in the sub-region and beyond.

We are all aware that the SAARC Motor Vehicles Agreement was meant to be signed during the eighteenth SAARC Summit in November last year. But, it was deferred. The idea of scaling down the agreement to a sub-regional level and signing the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement is, therefore, a significant achievement for our four countries in the SAARC sub-region. It is a major step in pursuing the objective of SAARC to expand economic and trade cooperation and regional connectivity, a goal that is repeatedly emphasized during the SAARC Summits. It will also accelerate other initiatives under ESCAP, SASEC and BIMSTEC. For example, the Asian Highway network, Tran-Asian Railway, and Dry Port Initiatives are all geared towards making the transportation system more efficient and contribute to promoting connectivity and regional integration.

I must also put on record our deep appreciation to the assistance provided by the Asian Development Bank, not just facilitating the organization of this meeting, but supporting sub-regional and regional integration. ADB is assisting a number of road transport connectivity projects in Bhutan, including cross border arrangements in the Phuentsholing area. Lately, there have also been renewed focus on improving the access roads leading to our border points as part of the connectivity program. Meanwhile, the road network between Kolkata and Guwahati being up-graded to four lanes by the Government of India is good news as it directly benefits Bhutan.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This milestone event is particularly significant for us since it is taking place as we celebrate the 60th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King of Bhutan. It is a special year for Bhutan and the Bhutanese people.

Given the physical realities in our sub-region, we expect that we will be confronted by numerous challenges as we begin the actual process of implementing the MVA. We must be flexible and remain open to ideas and suggestions to improve arrangements as part of the preparatory phase.

I have no doubt that the BBIN Transport Ministers’ meeting will be a success. And I wish all our visitors a very happy stay in Bhutan.

Thank you and Tashi Delek!

 

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