Lessons from the Great Fourth

As His Majesty the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wang-chuck is one birthday away from a diamond jubilee next year and as the nation is deal¬ing with a host of issues, it would be a good time for the nation’s politicians to learn some vital lessons from Bhu¬tan’s greatest modern leader.

These lessons like the best lessons in life can be learnt from the very practical examples and actions of His Majesty the Fourth King.

The first and biggest current headache for Bhutan is the state of the economy from the rupee crisis to the credit crunch.

All statistical and economic data show that Bhutan’s economic woes truly took off after the establishment of democracy. A giant 10th plan combined with unprecedented and reckless spending resulted in an overheated economy and also questionable quality of work as many barely functioning farm roads will show. On hindsight several reports both from the government and the private sector show that the Bhutanese economy and annual budgets from 2008 onwards went on an unsustainable overdrive.

In the 34 year reign of His Majesty the Fourth King, there was also an unprecedented level of economic development but all of it was done in a cautious and careful manner. As a result, while the people saw real and tangible developmental benefits they did not have to endure the trials of an overheated economy which the country is suffering from today.

This same caution and wisdom can also be seen in the establishment of diplomatic ties. In His Majesty’s 34 year reign from 1974 to 2006 Bhutan established very high quality and fruitful diplomatic ties with 22 countries most of whom are Bhutan’s substantial developmental partners even till today.

It is interesting to note that after His Majesty the Fourth King’s coronation from 1974 till 1983 His Majesty focused mainly on internal development and as a new Monarch strengthened Bhutan’s ties with India resulting in increasing amounts of aid. His Majesty also strengthened Bhutan’s ties with multilateral organizations like the UN and NAM. With relations reaching a high level of trust between both countries it was only from 1983 onwards that His Majesty started establishing ties with other important countries apart from India and Bangladesh. The ties were established in a steady and calibrated manner that not only ensured diplomatic gains for Bhutan but more importantly economic assistance from new partners like Japan, European Union, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Australia and etc.

In contrast developments from 2008 onwards on the diplomatic front by an elected government saw a lot of hectic diplomatic activity with little or no economic gain and also lead to an avoidable misunderstanding with India in one particular instance.

In the area of laws it is interesting to note that in a 34 year reign Bhutan saw the introduction of a few but important laws like the Land Act, National Security Act, and others introduced in a gradual and phased manner allowing the people to become familiar with them. The Laws though few in number and simple in text addressed important national priorities and strengthened the nation.

Today a rash of poorly though out and numerous laws have resulted in laws that are either not relevant, incomplete, clashes with other laws or adds to administrative red tape.

Even though communication and travel was more difficult back then, His Majesty the Fourth King made it a point to regularly visit the 20 Dzongkhags to consult with the people on important national issues and policies, gather feedback, know about their problems and get a feel of the ground realities.

Today in the age of multimedia, internet, mobile phones, television and improved transport many elected leaders and MPs rarely bother to consult or even communicate with even their own voters or even the country at large. A lot of plans and programs that actually require more consultation in a democratic set up are being handled in an ad-hoc manner with inevitable consequences.

Even though being an absolute Monarch at the time with the entire government machinery and state resources at His Majesty the Fourth King’s disposal, His Majesty instead lead a simple life by Bhutanese standards and an absolutely spartan one by international standards. This was all the more apparent in turning down a National Assembly resolution to build His Majesty a grand palace. The simple office and the log cabin where His Majesty resides till today is a telling statement. One may occasionally still encounter a rather old model vehicle with His Majesty the Fourth King in it.

This simplicity clashes with the ‘me and mine first’ generation of politicians today who despite being elected in the poorest and smallest country in SAARC have made sure that they enjoy the highest salaries and perks compared to all their regional counterparts.

His Majesty the Fourth King devoted all his strength and energy to decentralization not only to the level of ministers and bureaucrats but also down to the Gewog and Chiwog level. His Majesty also entrusted a team of ministers with executive policy making powers. All of this ultimately resulted in the gift of democracy in Bhutan where in an unprecedented move His Majesty the Fourth King voluntarily gave up his throne and absolute powers in what His Majesty saw as the greater interest of the nation.

These days elected leaders cutting across parties are showing an increasing tendency to centralize powers and privileges with them at the cost of administrative efficiency and good decision making. They have a thorough understanding of powers and privileges accorded to them by democracy, but they are reluctant to share this power with the people, imbibe the spirit put into the Constitution by His Majesty the Fourth King or even serve the people in a genuine manner.

The Gross National Happiness (GNH) philosophy of His Majesty the Fourth King was significant not only for providing Bhutan with its developmental model but also in other aspects.

It showed the genius of a leader who came up with a policy that was in sync and harmony with Bhutan’s existing ground realities and society. GNH also showed the implementation skills of His Majesty the Fourth King who ensured that all four pillars like good governance, culture, socio-economic development and environment were truly developed and strengthened from the root up.

In today’s era of expensive consultants, fanciful ideas and desktop research a lot of the policies are not in touch with the ground realities of Bhutan leading to consequent failures. Implementation is the biggest challenge when many of these policies and ideas are put into practice.

His Majesty the Fourth King ensured that the rule of law is upheld and no one is above it including even members of the Royal family.

These days some politicians are in a rush to hold themselves above the law or bend laws and policies to suit their narrow interests.

His Majesty the Fourth King be it in His Majesty’s life, His Majesty’s everyday actions or in moments of great national peril like in the 2003 operations has always been a source of deep national strength and inspiration.

The politicians of today have collectively weakened the national spirit one too many times and are on occasions the leading causes of national depression.

His Majesty the Fourth King in his great actions and wisdom does not belong to a family or even a lineage but instead to Bhutan and its people as a source of inspiration, strength and everything that makes this country great and good.

His Majesty the King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck has proven to be a capable successor to his father forever guiding and advising the country with deep wisdom inherited from His Majesty the Fourth King and also a strong insight of his own into Bhutan’s future.

It is time that our politicians at least start picking up the threads of Bhutan’s greatest living legacy.

A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.

Douglas MacArthur

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