National Service: The reform of our times to be instituted by 2022

The key focus and main announcement of His Majesty The King’s 112th National Day address was the announcement of Gyalsung or National Service.

His Majesty’s address did not announce the Gyalsung right away but the entire address built up to it by identifying some key challenges and issues for Bhutan and then  providing the Gyalsung as a solution to some of these issues.

The first was on economic growth where His Majesty said Bhutan’s neighbours, India and China, are experiencing unprecedented economic growth, propelled by technological advances in Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Automation, Big Data, Blockchain, Quantum Computers, and FinTech – Digital Currencies, Digital Wallets, Digital Banking.

“The world is changing rapidly. We cannot afford to avoid what we don’t yet understand, and hope for the best. Such an attitude will cost us our national objective of self reliance,” said His Majesty.

“We have to create economic opportunities for the next generation. It’s time to recalibrate ourselves to succeed in the fast-paced world,” said His Majesty.

His Majesty said the government, lawmakers, the private sector, the people, and experts in various fields must work collectively to chart out a clear economic roadmap for the 21st Century as this will help every individual and entity to understand their respective roles and work towards a common national objective.

The second issue pointed to by His Majesty is Bhutan’s inability to take full advantage of its small size, to better organise and manage itself.

His Majesty said larger countries are faced with challenges in communication and information sharing, and in building consensus and harmony. These lead to mismanagement, lack of responsibility and accountability, oversight, and failure to achieve results.

“As a small country, we should be more efficient and effective than others. We must be able to address challenges and seize opportunities promptly. It is time to acknowledge our shortcomings, and act swiftly to correct them. The government, lawmakers, civil service, and institutions must undertake the responsibility of restructuring and improving our laws, policies and procedures,” said His Majesty.

The third issue pointed to by His Majesty was youth. His Majesty said, “It is in our hands to build a better future for our children. One of our most important national objectives, is to empower every single child in Bhutan for success. Bhutan’s future will be mirrored by the strength and capabilities of our youth. For our children to excel, they must adhere to the highest standards, and have capability, integrity, discipline, 21st century education, unity and solidarity.”

After elucidating on the three main issues facing the nation, His Majesty then brought forth the Gyalsung that would address some of these concrens.

His Majesty said, “To address some of these concerns, Gyalsung (National Service) will commence from 2022. It will be a year-long training for those attaining the age of 18.”

His Majesty said the one year training will include a 3-month military style training, and a 9-month program in areas like agriculture sciences, entrepreneurship, computers and coding, health sciences, etc.

“Gyalsung will provide direction and encourage our youth to be strong, independent thinkers, capable of serving the country. It will bring the youth of Bhutan together in a shared experience and act as a rite of passage- irrespective of their economic or regional backgrounds,” said His Majesty.

His Majesty said, “With this initiative, we are placing an immense responsibility on the shoulders of our children, and assuming an even greater responsibility ourselves, to nurture them and ensure their success.”

His Majesty said that moving forward, there will be nationwide consultations and an opportunity for the people to seek clarifications, and propose new ideas and recommendations.

His Majesty The King also announced that Their Majesties are expecting a second Royal Child which led to a loud and rapturous reaction from the crowd.

The National Service is not only a youth program but a national program that recognizes that the future of the nation is dependent on the youth of today and so the youth should be given the best possible tools and opportunities in the regard.

The NS program as indicated by His Majesty will involve extensive stakeholder consultation at various levels from institutions to the public before a final shape is given to it.

The legal basis of NS is Article 8.1 of the Constitution under Fundamental Duties which says, ‘A Bhutanese citizen shall preserve, protect and defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity, security and unity of Bhutan and render national service when called upon to do so by Parliament.’

A NS Bill will be prepared and handed over to the Parliament. The exact timeline is not clear but the Act will be in place before 2022.

NS will be mandatory for all 18-year-old Bhutanese and above. For those in school it is expected to be after class 12.

There will be exemptions given but only on medical and other unavoidable grounds.

Bhutan’s NS will be unique in that the NS of other countries are mainly military focused but Bhutan’s NS will focus mainly on developing and upgrading the skills and knowledge of youth.

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