Friday, 30 May 2008

2.15 m euros for Austrian-Bhutan bilateral program

29 May, 2008 - The Austrian government has committed 2.15 million euros to Bhutan within the bilateral program for this year.

The indicative financial assistance was finalised when the annual consultations document on Bhutanese-Austrian development cooperation was signed yesterday by the Austrian resident coordinator Mrs Marie-Christine Weinberger and foreign secretary Yeshey Dorji. Tourism, followed by the energy sector, would receive a major share of the total amount, about 42 and 26 percent respectively. Other fields, that would receive a share from this financial assistance, are culture with 11 percent, mountain ecology 7 percent, and other projects having 14 percent.

According to the GNH commission planning officer, Norbu Wangchuk, there are five projects likely to receive a portion of the budgetary assistance under these sectors.

Phase VI of the rural electrification (RE) project, starting in Phobjikha, is one major project for this year, besides the technical assistance for the Dagachhu power project. It will install electric lines underground as an eco-friendly measure, according to the resident coordinator.

“It is three times more than the actual expense of normal electric lines,” she said.

The Bhutanese-Austrian RE projects aim to electrify remote houses, which are outside the bigger rural electrification plans.

Mrs Weinberger said, “Austria would have longstanding development partnership in terms of projects not just important to Bhutan and its people but also to Austria,” she said. “Hereafter, the two governments will go for long term plans and projects starting next year.”

A portion of the budget, according to a GNH official, would go to the hotel and tourism management training institute (HTMTI), which is under construction. The institute is aimed at generating jobs, and as a training centre not just for Bhutan but also the region.

The Tadzong renovation and artifacts installation project, which is going to be the last of its kind, to be completed later this year, is another project supported by this assistance, according to the source.

The conifer research and training project, likely to start this year, will receive its budget from the disbursed fund. “However, it would depend on the report of the evaluation of last year’s project,” said Norbu Wangchuk. The foreign secretary, `Yeshey Dorji said, “With the new system, Bhutan’s development challenges are magnified, which increases the need for more cooperation and assistance from donor countries.”

Bhutan and Austria maintained diplomatic relations since 1989 and Austrian assistance is mainly in energy, culture, tourism and renewable natural resources (forestry) sectors, with human resource development as a crosscutting area.

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