Aum Azusa Kubota the outgoing UNDP Bhutan Resident Representative

Aum Azusa Kubota’s journey in Bhutan

United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Bhutan share an excellent relationship, yet there are rooms to improve, says Aum Azusa Kubota the outgoing UNDP Bhutan Resident Representative.

Being in Bhutan, “I have learned to be compassionate, and had it not been for Bhutan and COVID-19, I don’t think I would have learnt to slow down and reflect. I now know what are the things I need to pay attention to. This would be the biggest takeaway from Bhutan,” Aum Azusa added.

COVIDF-19 crisis gave UNDP and the government an opportunity to strengthen the existing institution and system.

Aum Azusa said, “As a response to the government’s needs, we had to reprogram and reprioritize the activities. As a part of COVID-19 response, we, in partner with the government, initiated e-litigation, ICTG, grid-tide solar firm and support for the vulnerable groups.”

In terms of supporting the vulnerable groups, over and above legal aid, UNDP worked very well with CSOs, victims of domestic violence, people with disabilities, LGBT and marginalized youths.

She said, “After the Constitution was conceived, and 20 plus years since the civil and criminal code which has provisions for legal aid, we were finally able to establish Legal Aid Center. This was very much needed because many women faced challenges of not meaningfully representing themselves in legal disputes. This experience has built the momentum to have country’s first Legal Aid Center.”

Bhutan will graduate from LDC next year, and as Bhutan’s economy and society becomes more sophisticated and mature, the needs from Bhutan’s side will evolve, and for that matter, everyone needs to evolve as well, Aum Azusa added.

UNDP also looked far ahead on how they can use this pandemic as a catalyst for transforming the Bhutanese society and systems.  

On the current reforms, she emphasized that it was the right thing to do as it’s much needed. Because of the movement of the people and its uncertainties, some things have slowed down as the decision- making was not clear.

With the reform, she said, “I hope Bhutan would be moving to the right direction. However, we are concerned over people leaving or trying to leave the country. We can see that as both negative and positive.”

Negative, as in, it is worrisome and depressing while it’s positive because they will come back with skills and exposure. More Bhutanese working abroad is an asset for Bhutanese.

There are challenges for now, but she is hopeful that once the reform settles, everything will move faster.

The unemployment rate has gone up to 22 percent from 12 percent. There is a gap between the jobseekers and job providers, wherein UNDP supported up/re-skilling programs, microfinance initiative, mentoring programs, etc., to address the issues.

“This is high time we should think on investing in youths. As long as we don’t create future of hope within the country, they will continue to seek the hope elsewhere. Therefore, while we work on the reforms, the outcome of the reform will have to have direct impact on creating hope for the youths,” she added.

“I know that the next Five-Year-Plan will have a strong focus on the economic development, which I believe is very much needed because we need to have income generated to sustain.” she said.

Climate Change

UNDP has always done climate action mitigation adaptation program. Using the COVID-19 as an opportunity to rethink the importance of diversifying the energy sources, UNDP worked with the government to establish the country’s first grid-tide solar firm, which is now being scaled up to tapping to the potential of solar energy.  

Climate change is real, Aum Azusa said, “We want to slow it down and stop it, but there are many odds against us. It’s our responsibility to make sure Bhutan continues to be the climate champion by maintaining carbon neutrality and help Bhutanese people to adopt to impact of climate change.”

In terms of remaining carbon neutral, no one can relax with the growth of emission, urbanization and population growth because Bhutan will not remain as carbon neutral if this continues, she pointed out.

There needs to be a bold solution, invest in the electric vehicle, move more decisively in the areas of broader public transportation, and energy efficiency of buildings need to be dramatically improved. There are so many bold policy transformations in the investments that are needed for Bhutan to remain carbon neutral, she added.

She further added, “This requires lots of hard work and partnership. For adaptation, some investments cost more money than the conventional ways of doing things. We need to have our eyes at the horizon of medium- to long-term impact. We must understand the rate of return at times.”

Digital

They have focused on showing the prototypes during the pandemic because they had the immediate need of delivering the undisrupted public services.

“I saw the potential of digital solutions to bring the services closer to the communities who are isolated. We started moving into e-litigation for courts, ICTG and various health tools were digitized. That way, digitalization of services and solutions has become a center piece of our program,” she added.

In order to build the ecosystem for digital transformation, it is important to work with other players, including a private sector. UNDP’s next task is to make sure they connect all the dots so as to ensure an ecosystem, in terms of legal framework, infrastructure and digital literacy, she said.

Brand Bhutan

“Bhutan already has a branding, and Brand Bhutan is an example of how we have used the pandemic as an opportunity to transform ourselves. I am very hopeful that it would appeal to the generation of tourists for the 21st Century,” she said.

Bhutan is very special which is why the policy also has to reflect the special feature of the country, Aum Azusa said. She has a sincere hope that the new tourism policy would work and is a bold policy choice.

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