An interview with the Media Team of the Gelephu Mindfulness City SAR project

During the 116th National Day Address His Majesty The King shared the vision and plan for a 1000 sq kms Gelephu Mindfulness City Special Administrative Region (SAR) project. This has generated a lot of national interest. The Bhutanese sent a list of questions to the Media Team  of the Gelephu Mindfulness City SAR project on the issue.

TB: Please explain how the idea of this project was first conceived and how long ago?

Ans: As explained in His Majesty’s National Day address, the idea was conceived through the recognition that Bhutan sits at a crossroads between South Asia and Southeast Asia, which is home to almost 2 billion people.

His Majesty had often looked at Gelephu when travelling through the South and has been considering the opportunities provided by a SAR for many years.

As economies in the wider region are growing increasingly quickly, His Majesty recognised that the time for Gelephu Mindfulness City Special Administrative Region is right. One reason for this is that, in the post-Covid-19 world, companies, investors and individuals are increasingly looking to prioritise both business success and deeper meaning in life.

Gelephu is well positioned for this, as residents will be able to access high-potential markets in the region while being uniquely placed to combine commercial success with sustainability and spiritual wellbeing.

TB: What are the types of investments that are expected to come to the SAR? Investments will be screened for this project and so what are the parameters and where can international businesses contact for investments and screening?

Ans: While expressions of interest from a broad range of international companies and organisations are being received, the Mindfulness City SAR will admit only those residents that align with the Gross National Happiness philosophy and Bhutanese culture and values and match strict criteria.

Preference will be given to organisations that buttress Bhutan’s status as the world’s only carbon-negative country. The focus will be ensuring that companies operating in the SAR drive regional development and job creation in a responsible way.

The focus would be ensuring that companies operating in the SAR drive regional development and job creation in a responsible way.  For Parties seeking further information please reach out to enquiry@mcc.bt

TB: There is a lot of private land in Gelephu. What will happen to these?

Ans: This is a unique project. Unlike other developments, the Gelephu masterplan favours low-density but tightly-knit communities, sparse populations, preserving wildlife corridors and protecting farm land.

Therefore, Gelephu Mindfulness City will minimise dependency on land acquisition. If there is a need to acquire private land, we will refer to industry best practices to ensure fair value compensation will be provided.

TB: It is very early days but are there any investors, potential investors or future commitments?

Ans: Active discussion on specific investments in the Mindfulness City SAR are underway. However, these discussions are subject to non-disclosure agreements, so no details can be shared at this time.

TB: There is some understanding the project will be financed in significant part by the investors bringing in money, but what will be Bhutan’s component on the basic infrastructure and how will we fund it?

Ans: The Mindfulness City SAR is a long-term project which will continue to grow and develop over years to come. We are evaluating a range of financing options and instruments both domestic and international. At the same time, we are working closely with a number of international partners who have expressed interest in the SAR.

TB: What role can the private sector, Bhutanese abroad and ordinary citizens play in supporting the project?

Ans: As His Majesty expressed his vision in the National Day Address, it is the responsibility of every Bhutanese to contribute to the success of the Mindfulness City SAR. As the SAR grows, Bhutanese living abroad will be able to return, bringing their global experience and skills. At the same time, citizens in Bhutan and the private sector are crucial to the development of the Mindfulness City SAR. 

TB: Will companies in Gelephu list on the Stock Exchange so that Bhutanese inside and outside the country can invest in them?

Ans: All Bhutanese will be able to participate in the development of the Mindfulness City in a variety of ways at every stage of its development.

TB: The project will be a Special Administrative Region and so how will its legal status be defined?

Ans: Details of the legal framework of the SAR will be announced in due course.

TB: What is the overall timeline of the project and in how many phases?

Ans: The airport is planned to be operational within 24 months after construction commences. The entire project as a whole is a long term one that will be not only be during His Majesty’s Reign but will also cover the next generation.

TB: What role can the incoming government and officials play to support the project?

Ans: As His Majesty expressed his vision in the National Day Address, it is the responsibility of every Bhutanese to contribute to the success of the Mindfulness City SAR, safeguarding the ‘three jewels’ of Bhutan – our country, our spiritual heritage and the future of our children. Government and officials will be expected to bear this responsibility within the purview of their offices.

TB: What are the special incentives and advantages that foreign investor can expect with Bhutan using its sovereign prerogatives?

Ans: Bhutan extends a warm invitation to serious and forward-thinking international partners who are keen to forge long-term collaborations as part of our unique journey. For like-minded investors, this is an opportunity for a lasting alliance where, together, we can co-create meaningful opportunities aligned with the principles that define Bhutan. SAR residents are guaranteed a seat at the table, signifying a commitment to the unwavering integrity that our country upholds. The success of SAR residents is intertwined with the progress of Bhutan, creating a legacy of mutual prosperity that goes far beyond financial gains.

TB: What is the update on the rail links from India, expansion of roads and any additional road and digital connectivity and other support they will provide us?

Ans: India remains a strong and steadfast partner to Bhutan and both nations are committed to fostering strong economic and social growth at home and in the wider region. This will include enhancing rail, road and digital infrastructure. Cooperative projects are subject to non-disclosure agreements. Announcements will be forthcoming at the appropriate time.

TB: What kind of skilling programs will be carried out and by whom?

Ans: Upskilling programmes are ongoing across the country, run by a broad spectrum of private and public organisations. As His Majesty stated during the National Day Address, upskilling is one of the core three priorities, and what Bhutan lacks in numbers of people it must make up with abilities and talent.

TB: How can ordinary Bhutanese contribute to the project?

Ans: As outlined in His Majesty’s National Day Address, the Gelephu Mindfulness City SAR is a long-term project. His Majesty outlined three key national priorities – expansion of the energy sector, improving connectivity and upskilling our people. These national priorities will enable the SAR to become a success.

While His Majesty is sure that Bhutan will succeed, it will be everyone’s responsibility to work hard and exhibit perseverance and determination. In this way, Bhutan will meet the combined goals of driving social and economic development while respecting our traditions and culture.

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