The 114th National Day Royal Address of His Majesty The King had several aspects and parts, but there was no mistaking the central message of His Majesty The King in asking and commanding for accountability in matters of service to the nation, if Bhutan and its people are ever to have a chance to take advantage of future opportunities and achieve our collective national goals.
In several past National Day addresses, His Majesty has repeatedly highlighted certain national goals of preparing the youth for the future tech based economy, economic self reliance, reforming the civil service to make it an enabler for meeting national goals, highlighting the dangers of corruption, coordination among agencies for a common purpose and more.
However, the 114th National Day address was different from them in the level of not only the urgency expressed by His Majesty, but some plain speaking to also point to what is holding back Bhutan from taking the next step despite all the laws and systems.
Starting from the current context, His Majesty highlighted Bhutan’s success in fighting COVID-19 which was even appreciated internationally. It is telling that His Majesty gave credit to all stakeholders, but did not mention his role at all when in fact it is due to the leadership and sacrifice of His Majesty that Bhutan was able to become an international success story.
His Majesty counseled that people must continue to remain vigilant against COVID-19 and the fight against the pandemic must be impeccable.
His Majesty said that while we deal with the challenges of the pandemic, we must not lose focus on the many important national tasks ahead for us.
This remark is important in the context that some public servants and agencies have taken the pandemic as an excuse to not do things when it is actually the time to do new things and work even harder to achieve national goals.
His Majesty said a significant national goal is to prepare our people for the future without losing time and missing opportunities.
Here, His Majesty highlighted how unpredictable the future is and how challenges will only keep rising exponentially from climate change to future pandemics. The address highlighted the extent of technological change and how unequal access to it will only fuel inequalities. His Majesty asked if the people will be able to grasp the opportunities or be left behind.
The hydropower balloon was also popped by His Majesty who said that changes in energy technology could make hydropower redundant and Bhutan may even have to import energy in the future.
This comment is very important as for far too long government officials have given excessive focus on 10,000 MW by 2020 and ignored private sector development and also other economic potentials.
Therefore, His Majesty highlighted it is important to prepare and enhance the capabilities of the people and strengthen the economic and governance framework to take advantage of the opportunities and avoid the pitfalls.
His Majesty has always focused on the importance of Education, but in this address it was made clear that it is not enough especially for the large number of youth not in schools and institutes. Here His Majesty highlighted the importance of skilling, up-skilling and res-skilling to make the preparations for the future an inclusive one.
These are wise words which are already being implemented as skilling will allow people to explore their competencies outside the classroom or formal education.
The conversation between His Majesty and the old lady in the village shows how much the development priorities of Bhutan have changed over time.
People are no longer happy with just public infrastructure like farm roads, electricity, water etc, but now the concern is making an income.
This exchange is also a subtle hint to politicians who are happy to deliver the basics like a farm road for electoral purposes, and do not think there is much to do beyond that.
If the people do not have a steady source of income then His Majesty highlighted the three dangers of people being in perennial need for Kidu, people reliant on the government suffering when the government coffers go empty which also impacts self reliance and youth migrating out in large numbers for opportunities abroad.
What was unsaid, but is clear is that the above three scenarios are already taking place on the ground.
Here, His Majesty says enhancing economic opportunities to create greater prosperity for our people and the nation must become an important national goal. His Majesty highlighted how the prosperity of the nation is linked to the well being of the people in it too.
His Majesty at the same time distinguishes between transient and enduring prosperity.
His Majesty says this enduring prosperity must be underpinned by good governance and supported by smart policies and strategies, driven by innovation, creativity and enterprise, and a culture of hard work and determination, understanding and utilizing our sovereign prerogatives, supporting our people to develop their capabilities and reinvigorating the efforts made by successive governments on some of these fronts to build greater prosperity.
To achieve this higher level of prosperity, His Majesty highlighted the need to strengthen our foundation by improving the educational standards, craft smart economic policies to diversify economic opportunities for our youth, and support private sector growth. Recognizing the integral role of the civil servants in this endeavor, efforts are also underway to reform the civil service.
Here His Majesty acknowledged the qualification, competence and commitment of civil servants while working with them and the new ideas and strategies coming up in tandem with foreign experts.
However, this is when His Majesty said he seriously doubts if we have the will to fundamentally address some of the challenges highlighted earlier. His Majesty pointed out several efforts have been made in the past to reform and improve our governance but there are no tangible results.
The reason for His Majesty’s skepticism or doubt is the fact that despite having rules, regulations, laws and institutional procedures that are among the best in the world, according to foreign experts, the results are not there to show for it.
It is here that the heaviest and most significant part of the National Day address was delivered by His Majesty who said misplaced compassion and the inability to give honest views and take bold actions for the fear of offending or hurting others has allowed complacency to set in, discipline to wane and corruption to go on the rise.
His Majesty warned that if we allow such practices to proliferate, we enhance the risk of becoming more vulnerable to even greater risks and dangers.
His Majesty said what we need now, more than ever, is a corresponding degree of resolve and determination for our national interest.
“The strength of our national character, courage, grit, and fortitude must define every aspect of our national endeavor. I have witnessed the boldness, rigour, resolve and sternness that had defined the reign of His Majesty the Fourth King. Unfortunately, these qualities have deteriorated over the last fifteen years of my reign,” said His Majesty.
Here, it must be mentioned that while His Majesty did not take the credit for the success on the COVID-19 front, His Majesty took the blame for the decline in the above national qualities when the ground reality is that this same period has been marked by the advent of Parliamentary Democracy, three elected national governments, empowered local governments and several other institutions who were in fact in charge and accountable.
His Majesty said that from now on, all of us must boldly embrace accountability as a measure of our service.
“As King, I must first and foremost exemplify the ideal of accountability,” said His Majesty.
While underlining the gravity of the situation His Majesty said we are not too late in getting our priorities right, re-focusing our national goals, and re-aligning our national priorities and strategies.
“If the King, government and the people continue to work hand-in-hand with dedication, perseverance and fortitude, we still have every opportunity to further strengthen our country and achieve greater prosperity for our people,” said His Majesty.
His Majesty said accountability must henceforth become the cornerstone of governance.
It is clear from this statement that the current practice of passing the buck and holding no one accountable is no longer acceptable, be it at any level.
“We must correct those who deviate, be firm with those who do not deliver, replace those who are incompetent, and terminate those who underperform and have therefore become a liability to our system and nation. We must not hesitate to expose those who engage in corrupt practices, so that we send a strong signal to deter others from doing so,” said His Majesty.
This paragraph above is important as it outlines the actions that need to be taken to achieve accountability.
His Majesty said there is nothing new in what he is sharing, but are a part of daily conversation among our people while expressing their concerns, hopes and aspirations.
This is true as the concerns expressed by His Majesty are the ground realities and also the deepest worries of families and the people.
“Rather than leave these concerns and sentiments within the confines of their homes, I re-articulate them today as the King’s Command on this National Day,” said His Majesty.
The reformulation of these important issues and their solutions as a Royal Command should mean that responsible agencies and officials cannot simply stay quite or pay lip service for a few days and then conveniently forget about it until the next National Day. It means that accountability is the need of the hour and things must be implemented on the ground.