His Majesty speaks from the heart

In the last few months ever since a series of transformation reforms began in various sectors, there has been some confusion, some fear and apprehension and a degree of uncertainty.

However, after His Majesty The King finished his Royal Address to the Parliament on Friday there was not a single eye that was dry in the Parliament, and the purpose and the importance of the transformation reforms became stunningly clear almost like a thunderbolt out of the sky or the clouds parting away to let the rays of the sun in.

This scene was replicated across households, offices, schools and even abroad.

Social media was soon flooded with people sharing their heartfelt feelings and pledging to make the transformation of Bhutan a success.

His Majesty made it clear that the very heart of the reforms is for the welfare of the people and for the future of their children.

The Royal Address of His Majesty was the longest and most detailed till date, but it was also a frank heart to heart talk with the people that not only laid out the many problems facing the nation, but also the urgency and importance of acting upon it now and hence the transformation reforms.

Karma Dechen

The highlight of the speech was His Majesty’s interaction with a 27-year-old Karma Dechen in Thimphu who has a four-year-old son and an unemployed husband who looks after the kid.

His Majesty shared Karma works in a café and earns only 12,500 per month but has to pay rent of Nu 7,750 leaving only 4,500 for essentials and so has to either take salary advances or borrow Nu 3,000 to 4,000 from her farmer parents in Pemagatshel.

His Majesty said as Karma shared her situation she was overwhelmed and shed tears and these were tears of worry and uncertainty, tears of the difficult situation faced by her and the tears of the heavy responsibility on her.

His Majesty also shared the situation of some youths in Babesa and Olakha who who like the youths in 20 Dzongkhags came to Thimphu to make a living. His Majesty said these youths worked in shops and earned around Nu 7,000 going up to Nu 10,000 but their rent was higher then the salary and so 4 or 5 of them would get together and share an apartment.

 His Majesty said he was sad and worried to know about Karma Dechen and the youths.

He said the above cases are like symptoms of a deeper malaise facing the system.

Resources spent but unsatisfactory results

His Majesty outlined that these are not new problems but in fact old issues and in the past government officials to try and solve the issues would pump in budget, draw up strategies, form committees, taskforces and boards, send people for Masters abroad to improve their capacity, conduct study tours in developed countries to get better ideas, hire foreign and local consultants, draw up documents, reports and policies and also form new commissions and departments but in spite of the efforts and the resources spent there would not be a satisfactory result and this is where we have failed.

His Majesty here is alluding to the huge funds that agencies spend on foreign tours, consultants etc to deal with issues, but neither is the outcome successful nor do the resources reach the people.

Thanking MPs, Civil Servants, Govt and Public

His Majesty shared that he has been King for the last 16 years and there has not been a day where he has not been worried, and it is only in the two years or so with the transformation and people taking on extra responsibility and accountability that he feels more hopeful.

His Majesty thanked the Members of Parliament for supporting the transformation. He said that the National Council lead by the Chairman Tashi Dorji has provided support and ideas.

His Majesty said the Opposition has been providing support right from the pandemic days and is now also supporting the transformation as a responsible opposition party where as in other countries opposition parties oppose for the sake of opposing and are happy when the government fails. He said this is a good sign and thanked the Opposition party.

His Majesty also thanked the RCSC and Civil Servants for carrying out the transformation reforms where accountability, responsibility and discipline is being instituted to serve the people better for the sake of the people, country and the future.

His Majesty thanked the civil servants for serving the country during the pandemic and now taking part in and supporting the transformation reforms.

His Majesty then thanked the elected government led by the Prime Minister Dasho Dr Lotay Tshering saying that while in other countries governments like to pander to their people and not risk angering them, the government even with political risk to themselves are taking on their responsibility in supporting the transformation.

His Majesty also thanked the public and said the transformation reforms can happen due to the public support and in fact emanates from the public’s aspirations, problems and hopes and their desire to improve things, have a better future for their children and a stronger nation.

Inflection point and economy

His Majesty said the nation is at an inflection point and a cross roads of sorts and from here even if there are small mistakes then there can be major negative consequences an if things go well then it can go well in a major way.

Here, His Majesty gave the example of hydropower stating that until recently hydropower was looked at as the main source of revenue with even salary hikes financed by new projects, but His Majesty said that things are not going well as there are a lot of mistakes and delays in the Punatsangchu I and Kholongchu projects which have been delayed 12 to 13 years and instead Bhutan is saddled with huge loans.

He said new projects do not have scope as the trend in the world and India is for power prices coming down while our project prices are going higher and so in the future if we have projects we may not find buyers.

Giving another example, His Majesty said that while five year plans are very important for development and to help people the capital investment here are mainly dependent on grants and loans and there is no certainty around this and so it is a major danger if they are not available.

His Majesty said that trade is often cited as a way to help people make a livelihood, but he said Bhutan’s trade is import driven bringing in products in trucks and containers from India, Thailand, Bangladesh, Japan etc and selling them for a profit with no major exports happening.

This has lead to a negative balance of trade which like a person spending beyond his means will make the country poorer and can also bankrupt it.

His Majesty said the economy is weak and due to that there is low productivity in the sectors like agriculture, industries, services and so with no money there is low technological adoption which in turn means that students cannot be given the technological qualifications and even if they have them the jobs are not available.

As a result, there is no scope to increase the pay right now unless huge loans are taken with negative consequences later, but as far as internal revenue is concerned there is no way to double the salaries of the youth from 10,000 to 20,000 to 40,000 to 80,000 to 160,000 which is needed.

So youth then lose hope and are very worried and with no other options left they go abroad for work, and it is not only in Australia but also Canada, Japan, Middle East countries, India, Cambodia, Maldives, Thailand and in fact around 100 countries around the world where Bhutanese are working.

His Majesty expressed his worry that in the coming years big numbers of students will keep going out looking for jobs. To give better hope and chances to our youth there is a need to look at the schools but we do not match up to the 21st Century or even global quality standards which we must match.

His Majesty said in a small country with around 700,000 people it should be easy to get things done and solve issues, but the problem here is that the cost of delivering services is very high due to low operational efficiency which leads to gaps, inefficiencies, wastage and lack of accountability.

Where one person is enough two or three are sent and where Nu 100,000 can do the job Nu 200,000 to Nu 300,000 is spent and where the work should take one year it instead takes two to three years.

His Majesty said now hearing about all of the above people need not panic, be angry or ashamed, but instead the people must take responsibility, accountability and come together to serve.

Mistakes can be made once but making the same mistake a second time is a big problem.

In the transformation process people need to know where the problems are and they must know even about the big problems and at the same time the people of 20 Dzongkhags need to take accountability and come together to serve Tsa-Wa-Sum which is more important then ever before.

Doubts and questions

His Majesty said that some people may say that while Transformation is important work, if we are ready, but here if one asks such a question then one will not be ready when it is time to do the work, so we are ready.

Another point is some people saying if the transformation can be done slowly and casually, but Bhutan is facing big dangers now and so there is no time.

His Majesty gave the analogy of if a person is in the middle of river then he has no option but to swim out, and in doing so get his clothes wet, and so it is time to worry and take responsibility.

Some are asking if the national objectives are changed, but the national objectives will always remain the same and these are securing the future of the youths and ensuring a happy and secure society for the people, and that will not change.

The only thing that will change is the way of working.

His Majesty said if things are left like before then there is a very big danger and the people will have a tough time which is equivalent to committing a sin.

People may ask when will we succeed or the results come, but we have no choice as we need to make it go well and the transformation is in the interest of the people, the country and the future and so this is where the public needs to show solidarity and work together.

His Majesty said we will also succeed as the intention is noble and Bhutanese people know how to take responsibility. Here good leadership is very important and even though Bhutan only has around 700,000 people many have come forward to take responsibility. What is also comforting is that Bhutanese people are capable and skillful and so when work is done the result will be good.

His Majesty in terms of public responsibility gave the example of garbage saying that rubbish is never finishing as on one hand while students, teachers, Desuups, civil servants and others come forward to clean it up, there are other irresponsible or ignorant ones who keep throwing it. That is just rubbish and today’s exercise is much more important which is transformation and here people need to bring their two hands together to take responsibility.

His Majesty said we need to know our problems as there are bigger now than in the past and we need know what are the dangers and where they are and so take responsibility and accountability to work to solve it, and it can be done.

Impediments

His Majesty also talked about the impediments to the transformation process.

The first is budget, resources and finances as it will always be easier and there will less worry of there are enough resources.

The second issue is that while it is easy to make reforms and changes, it is much more difficult to institutionalize it and it should not be like a thermometer which only goes up as the heat goes up and otherwise comes down.

The third challenge is to change the mindset of the people as while Bhutanese people are very spiritual, moral and well behaved the need of the hour is to have our thinking in line with the 21st Century and prepare the people to have the strategy, ability and grit for it and so people need to change and while people can change in the agencies it is very difficult to change people.

Early Results

One question is on the outcomes and so there are three early deliverables.

The first is the RCSC and the civil service who are taking accountability and have started improving. Civil servants are taking accountability, are working harder and are becoming more disciplined.

The second is in terms of RMA taking strict action against BoB for the online services outage for 2 to 3 days. In the past it would not even be regarded as a problem and there would only be a light reprimand or a letter but now the RMA scolded the BoB, held it accountable and charged a large fine.

In addition to that, RMA also asked for a business continuity plan and a new strategy to prevent these things from happening in the future.

The people at the top must not only spot the problems and hold people accountable, but also ensure the problem is fixed.

The third is the ECB which after 15 years is taking on the responsibility to make democracy stronger by raising the bar for both candidates and promises. His Majesty The Fourth King knew that democracy is a young seed that must strengthen like a tree and people must have faith in democracy and it must be serve the people and the nation, and so it is important to improve it.

The ECB is taking responsibility and making improvements after 15 years and so why won’t there be problems in the case of the SDF which was left untouched for 30 years, and is only now being looked at.

With the transformation there are many new faces coming forward to serve and some may wonder if it is to provide opportunity to the youth, but that is not true as the only criteria now is merit. There should be no distinction between the young and old.

There are those who ask how long it will take but there are policies, laws, economic and governance work that needs to be looked at and so it will take anywhere from 3 to 4 years.

However, transformation is a continuous process and cannot end at a particular time.

Kindness and cruelty

His Majesty said while talking about the RMA and BoB example some people may ask if the transformation is being cruel but the question is whom do we serve. Do we serve, BoB, RCSC, Ministries and agencies?

We have to serve the people and take care of the kidu of the people.

If the top people are dealt with kindly then that kindness will not reach the bottom and people will have a tough time instead.

His Majesty said people who do wrong or do not perform must be punished and that is the only way that people will be happy and enjoy the kindness of the system.

His Majesty said some ask if we as a small country are being too idealistic or ambitious, but if we believe ourselves to be an extraordinary nation then we must also do extraordinary work otherwise it will be very difficult to survive.

We are only a small and mountainous country, poor, with a small population and surrounded by China in the north and India in the south. We face big risks and need to work harder.

His Majesty said that he would never ask people to do things if he knew they are not capable.

Karma Dechen 

Then in the most emotionally charged part of the address His Majesty directly addressed Karma Dechen and said if anyone asked her how the transformation would impact her then this is how it would do so.

His Majesty addressing Karma Dechen said it is important work and for your sake, and we are all worried. 20 years from now if things are the same then your son may also end up in unfortunate circumstances, but with todays work and the changes the aim is for your son to get a good education of global standards and be paid well and be proud to call himself a Bhutanese.

Karma when you are older you may not be able to afford rent and be homeless or even have to stay in a hut, but you are 27 now and the RGoB until 2032 in the next 10 years has to provide you with various opportunities like skilling, language training in Hindi, Chinese, English, graphic design, tailoring etc so that you are self sufficient and you can even take culinary and baking classes so you can upgrade your job at the café.

Karma Dechen if things improve your unemployed husband should also get a job as two incomes are better than one.

When the country does well and your café owner becomes rich he can also increase your pay so that you can draw a big salary.

When you are confident of your economic future then you should be able to have two or even three kids who can be looked after well and will help the nation as we need more people.

Karma Dechen you must also take responsibility and not assume that only His Majesty or the leaders at the top will get things done. You are young but you can serve and take responsibility.

We can all work together to achieve the most sacred objectives for our nation.

This part made it clear that the ordinary people, their welfare and their future are at the very heart of the transformation reforms.

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