By Gerald Daly
A strong media is a nation talking and listening to itself – (and it’s also a great antidote to social media infatuation).
As the Fourth Estate, the media acts as a watchdog for society. Why is it necessary that the media serves as a check and balance for society? Institutions, like human beings, are essentially fallible, they can make mistakes. It is often inevitable that unaccountable power tends to lead to imbalance. Bureaucratic power, by its very nature, can be less than accountable, and this is one reason why checks and balances serve such an essential function.
Along with all partners within the Bhutanese media, The Bhutanese newspaper has played a major role in maintaining a check and balance on three pillars of good governance – namely transparency, accountability and efficiency.
We often read of the youth unemployment challenges the country is facing. Statistics are concerning with as many as 115,000 young people projected to come into the workforce in the next ten years. A key question, which is upon many minds is – how are we going to address this issue?
In His Majesty The King’s recent address to the nation, His Majesty emphasized on the importance of creating economic opportunities for the next generation, and emphasized the importance of a clear economic roadmap for the 21st century that will help every individual and entity to understand their respective roles and work towards this common national objective. Soon afterwards, these key themes were further and bravely amplified by Lyonchhen, in his State of the Nation report.
We must identify areas within the economic roadmap that create more jobs, both in rural and urban areas.
Personally, I recommend increased leveraging of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) opportunities. FDI flows to the country have seen a concerning decline in recent years. To ensure that the country attracts more and appropriate FDI, there is value in creating a new ‘FDI Czar’ whose main responsibility would be in cutting through the red tape (often within the bureaucracy) that currently hinders FDI investing in Bhutan. The ‘FDI Czar’ would be required to achieve results with clear deliverables and deadlines.
New and innovative ways to create more opportunities and jobs in rural Bhutan lies in the eight ambitious and transformative pathways, recently formulated by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, which will ensure smallholder incomes increase, poverty is alleviated, and meaningful employment opportunities are created.
The Bhutanese has positioned, itself, as an investigative newspaper, and hence there may be fewer editorials on climate change. Technical articles on climate change may also be under-represented. But in order to smartly tackle climate change, we need an informed public.
According to the National Waste Inventory Survey, the country’s solid waste generation in a day is 172 metric tons; plastic and paper waste makes up 33 percent of the total waste. Scientific studies show that plastic is responsible for almost 4 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Plastic pollution has become one of the most pressing environmental issues, as rapidly increasing production of disposable plastic products overwhelms the world’s ability to deal with them, and Bhutan is no exception.
We must make changes in the way we consume everything out of a plastic bag or bottle. We need stronger policies that discourage (some would say ‘ban’) the use of single-use plastics and promote biodegradable alternatives – which would assist Bhutan’s economy. How do we want to equip the next generation of youth to become changemakers so they can make a difference in the world? What can we do to further empower the younger generation of Bhutanese leaders – and thus follow-through on the environmental guidance within the Constitution?
This generation of youth are the first to feel the impacts of climate change, and probably the last one, which can act to significantly address the challenges of Climate Breakdown while there is still time to act.
In December 2021, as a call to action, thousands of young people from all over Bhutan pledged to fulfill their duty, as trustees of the environment, in the form of the ‘Bhutan Youth Declaration on Climate Action.’ I wish to take this opportunity to thank MoFA, Ministry of Education, NEC, GNHC, RUB, CSO’s and ICIMOD in partnering with the UN on this important Bhutan Youth Declaration.
Climate action should be led by young Bhutanese. We need to have more young people who want to become experts in environmental conservation, in creating a sustainable economy. For this to happen, a key requirement it to actively support the RGoB/RUB ambition to create a Climate Studies PhD program in the country. Allow me to take the opportunity to thank the Chancellor of RUB and the President of CNR for their championing of the PhD program – often in the face of resource constraints.
I believe ‘fortune favors the brave’ and this risk-taking by RUB/CNR will yield benefits for future generations of Bhutanese people. When young people are given the best climate action education that’s available, it follows, that Bhutan (and the relevant institutions) will find the best ways to adapt to the often-troubling challenges that will inevitably come from Climate Change.
Accountability and the future
His Majesty’s forthright address to the nation on the National Day 2021 also had a strong emphasis on Accountability.
We are all fortunate to have the opportunity to engage with decision-makers who are responsible for the implementation of the country’s development. The ambition of accountability rests heavily on the availability of robust statistics. I am grateful for the work that is being spearheaded by the National Statistics Bureau, and I would advocate for the highest levels of transparency in the dissemination of statistics. Currently, Bhutan is one of the few countries in Asia lacking strong legislation in the area of statistics. The government’s ambition to bring relevant legislation before the Parliament is both timely and appropriate.
Bhutan is prone to hazards such as earthquakes, floods, glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF), landslides and forest fires. To be better prepared for disasters, substantial progress needs to be made in the area of disaster risk reduction and management. For example, the Department of Disaster Management (within the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs) needs to be further empowered with strong technical expertise.
The media in Bhutan is doing a most critical job – especially when it engages in ‘brave journalism’. I have seen the power of the media with strong and hard-hitting editorials and articles. I wish to commend all parts of Bhutan’s media and The Bhutanese newspaper for the excellent work they are doing as the Fourth Estate which is at the heart of democracy.
Finally, on behalf of UN Bhutan, I congratulate The Bhutanese newspaper on completing 10 years as a champion of accountability, transparency and forward-leaning civic conversations.
The writer is the UN Resident Coordinator