His Majesty The King in a Royal Address on 12th September, in clear terms, laid out the fact that the virus would be around posing a major threat for another year or two before a vaccine or cure can be found and so Bhutan should prepare accordingly (full address on pg 1).
His Majesty thanked the people for their various sacrifices during the lockdown and appreciated the efforts of the government led by the Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, Health Minister, health staff, public servants, RBA, RBP, RBG, Dessups and many volunteers that along with the civic duty of the people had led to the successes so far.
His Majesty outlined that what will be done next will be critical and the priority will always be the health and wellbeing of the people. His Majesty said, “We cannot afford to allow COVID-19 to spread unchecked among the population. It is a new virus and, therefore, still unpredictable.”
His Majesty laid out the various disruptions caused to the education, economy, national development and every day lives due to COVID-19, but His Majesty also said that we will overcome this as, “All our national resources accumulated over the years due to the hard work of our Kings and ancestors’ national assets, the collective capability of our institutions, the knowledge and experience of our public servants, and the dedication and stamina of our people, are being utilised today.”
His Majesty said, ‘Indeed an enormous responsibility faces us all – the King, the government, and the people. As in the past, if we think and act as one, and exert our concerted efforts, we will surely overcome every obstacle and prevail against all odds.”
Apart from the above important points, the heart of the speech was focused on His Majesty calling upon Bhutan’s sizeable youth population to help replace a major shortage of workforce as foreign workers leave the country, and to also take part in a grand water based national project.
According to the government, a major economic concern right now is the inability to get workers which is impacting government development works, hydropower, the construction industry and also various other sectors of the economy.
The Prime Minister taking inspiration from His Majesty has said that after COVID-19 the second major issue to worry about is unemployment.
So on one hand the very foundation of the Bhutanese economy is impacted with not enough workers, and on the other hand there is a possibility of mass unemployment due to the COVID-19 impact.
Large numbers of youth joining the workforce and taking various jobs would help with both issues.
As big as the problems are the view is also to try and convert it into an opportunity with long term positive impact.
His Majesty said, “Moving forward, to further build on our achievements, we must now muster the active involvement and support of our youth. Demographically, we have a large proportion of young people who can make a significant difference if given the opportunity. The youth of Bhutan embody vigor and energy, and they are ready to serve without fear or hesitation when needed. I am always profoundly heartened when I hear their aspirations and see their enthusiasm.”
His Majesty said that during such times, the most crucial national endeavor is to ensure the continued wellbeing of the people and so one major challenge faced today is the shortage of workforce.
His Majesty said that understandably, expatriate workers wish to return to their homes during the pandemic, and many have already left, but is up to Bhutanese citizens, therefore, to step in and serve wherever there are shortfalls.
“In a sense, this is a timely opportunity. At a time when our youth are ready to serve, we can translate this prospect into reality for the long-term benefit of the nation, and achieve the extraordinary,” said His Majesty.
However, His Majesty also cautioned when such a mandate is being put on the youth, we have to be, first of all, clear about precisely what we expect and secondly, the task given to them should be timeless and of such national importance that it will inspire and motivate them.
“And finally, what we ask of them must be pragmatic and achievable given the limitations of the current situation,” said His Majesty.
His Majesty giving an example said Bhutan has abundant water resources compared with most of the countries in the world and yet, there is no water in many places where it is needed, leaving large tracts of productive land fallow.
His Majesty said that water is also a cause of conflict between communities and a predicament for rural and urban settlements alike.
“Our food import in the past year was over Nu. 7 billion while about 78,000 acres of arable land remained fallow. An estimated half of the Bhutanese population is engaged in the agriculture sector. If with a well-designed programme, our youth were engaged in building a robust water management infrastructure, it would be of long term benefit to the country,” said His Majesty.
His Majesty said that while global conflicts and wars will be fought over access to water, if we can solve this problem once and for all in Bhutan, it will be a truly noble accomplishment.
This would also ensure food security, an essential aspect of the overall national goal of self-reliance.
His Majesty said what the youth of Bhutan achieves over a year or two during the COVID-19 pandemic, will remain as a mark of triumph– an invaluable asset and a lasting legacy for future generations.
His Majesty concluded saying, “We look to the youth of Bhutan to come forward – in this hour of need – so that, beyond overcoming the challenges posed by COVID-19, we build a stronger nation.”
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