I believe when faced with a problem or a challenge, one can truly understand one’s capability. Our most recent problem, the rupee crisis, as has come to be known, is one such challenge and I hope, collectively we can prevail and grow stronger through it.
Recently the Government decided to address the nation on the issue on the national television; a most welcome effort considering the amount of panic and concern that was beginning to spread and show. It could have come much earlier and should have been the first step as a precautionary measure, if for nothing else. The sporadic interventions by the central bank did not help too, especially given our poor financial literacy. But even otherwise, many educated lots failed to see the bigger picture, it all appeared to indicate grounds for panic instead. So when many of the Bhutanese say they are not happy with how the Government and the Central Bank mishandled the situation, I tend to find reasons to agree with them.
The simplistic explanation for the problem being ‘too much importing and too little exporting’, one can understand that we have a structural problem. We need to focus enough on (i) increasing exports, and (ii) encouraging enterprises that substitute imports. These changes are easier said than done but no one is arguing it can be done otherwise, we need time and all the more reason to get started at the earliest. I believe that it was in this direction that the department of micro, small and medium enterprises was created under the ministry of economic affairs. One wonders if the department could have shared information with us to allow us to understand developments in the area.
Another interesting development in our country that comes to my mind has been the financial market. I am quite certain the Central Bank and the Government was aware that by having more financial institutions, specifically banks, loan amounts would increase and that is exactly what has happened, by both the Government and the private.
It would have needed a lot of thinking through before opening up. These structural issues will need addressing no doubt but meanwhile, decisions that are being taken must not hurt sectors in our economy that are critical. I hope more thought is being given as decisions are being made and orders passed. Hasty and bad decisions can hurt us and may take a long time before we can begin to think of investor confidence and the likes.
However, in my view what has not been fair has been relating that to the Honorable Prime Minister’s presence at the UN conference on GNH in New York. I understand that the conference was the culmination of months of work and a commitment which had been slated out long before the rupee problem started to come out affecting the public as it has. While the Government’s poor response at such a time can be questioned, Bhutan’s successful hosting of the conference should on the contrary come as an important time in our modern history.
The realization of this conference with the support of several countries in the world attests our growing circle of supporters. A noble vision propounded by our fourth King became the theme of the conference and as a Bhutanese it was a proud moment for me, like any other Bhutanese I would imagine. But my argument for the need for us to continue pursuing it further is not simply based on emotional reasoning, not that it is not tempting or big enough a reason for any Bhutanese. But for skeptics, I want to share a reason that they may consider worth contemplating on.
For many in the world, Bhutan has come to be associated or even been known for GNH. I have personally attended lectures by world renown thinkers and leaders, here in Bhutan simply because of their interest in GNH and hence, Bhutan. I was in Japan last year as part of a parliamentary delegation and everywhere we went, GNH was a burning topic of curiosity and Bhutan was part of it.
We have received a lot of support because of our good environment conservation policies and efforts, and taking the democratization process itself as a component of GNH as envisioned by our fourth King. All of this has helped us move this far. If we agree then what we are saying is that GNH has been responsible for much of the goodwill we have today in the international community.
What the present Government is doing is continuing on this course and the conference as I said, is an indication of support what we have. For a poor country without the economic might to persuade support or military muscle to convince concurrence, GNH definitely has been our only significant contribution, lending enough ‘presence’ for support or anything else. Now that it has happened, it is more likely Bhutan has a wider net of supporters. We cannot help but imagine how else anyone would be interested in what we have to say or that such a small country even exists.
It is in my opinion because of Bhutan’s ‘soft power’; this GNH that has allowed us to share the world stage when it comes to conservation efforts and providing the world with an alternative development paradigm. This power has benefited us so far and would only be natural that we receive these benefits as we strive forward to achieve our common aspirations. While the Government may had roused enough interest and support in the GNH effort abroad, some critics claim it has not quite happened this way in our own context at home. We have not been taken by it as it has caught on with supporting countries. Trying to create that understanding and desire to go there together may be a crucial missing link. It would take more than just political will; we will need a national desire to have a continued, concerted and sustainable effort.
I believe what the Honorable Prime Minister and the Government has achieved in furthering the GNH discourse in the international fora is admirable and I can only hope that leaders in succession can continue to contribute similarly. This is precisely a reason why the Government needs to focus on the domestic front and connect at a deeper level on the subject of GNH. Meanwhile, we cannot risk not recognizing and capitalizing on our soft power. It is not an overstatement when people around the world say they are following what is happening in our country with regard to propagators of GNH. While in taking out to the world this noble vision we have received a lot of recognition, we have also taken on a huge responsibility to see it through in our own country so that our supporters and our friends can rejoice in our collective success.
(Sangay Khandu is the National Council MP from GASA)