Bhutan and GNH : from the sidelines to the centre

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)

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  1. The MP showers his intelect in a hope to console the crying economy: was he sleeping all those four years? What difference does he expect by floating such monologue in media, votes? Rather he should go and work with GNHC and not make a mountain out of mole hills about GNH has been till today. He gets huge salary and increased vegetable prices matters him much: college students have started skipping meals to tackle the price-time constraints which requires them to sustain a month with nu. 1500. Ask him not to blabber about the GNH when the crisis is with Rupee. He must now understand that GNH niether creates rupee nor rupee-crisis. GNH is a document not asset , rupee is asset and not document. He thinks owl singing cause the darkness but it is darkness that triggers the owl to sing
    Pathetic is the system of which the mp is a part, dominated by few influentials he is just there to share the blame.
    If GNH is the solution to rupee crisis, which GNH had the nation heard despite which we are trapped? Say this filthy politicians not to use the term GNH to shadow their errors, its either their cognitive disability of intentional misuse of the term to justify rupee crisis.

  2. A thoughtful and well written article. 

  3. what’s scratching your bottom Rangu? Nobody is offering GNH as the solution to the rupee crisis. The article’s about the influence and ‘soft power’ that the propagation of GNH is supposedly gaining for Bhutan.

    On that I will have to disagree. Power, soft or otherwise, must always be real, otherwise it is nothing more than a bluff. How real is this ‘soft power’ is anybody’s guess, but I would say that the answer lies in the description of the ‘burning curiosity’ in Japan. They are interested because they don’t know much about Bhutan or GNH, although they like the concept. Boy would they be disappointed once they found out more about Bhutan!

    Unfortunately, our ‘achievements’ in GNH are rather hollow. The government has shown that it was totally asleep when the rupee crisis smacked them awake. The RMA woke up 1 smack earlier than the government. When a healthy economy and when consumption should match production and means are important aspects of a GNH economy, we now realize how off kilter we have been all these years.

    What makes it seem even more hollow for me is the absolutely contradictory policies of the government. On the one hand there is a lot of talk about GNH, green economy, sovereignty,  equity, transparency etc etc, on the other we have a helluva lot of the very opposite. FDI may be good for the economy, but it totally exacerbates the rich-poor gap just by the way it happens. This government has gone and made new laws specifically for FDI projects to get around other rules and that too exclusively. One example is the Education City. Druk PNBank also had a lot of special features not available to other people. The opening up of so many banks and not looking beyond how much capital they should keep in reserve was another area. Sleeping again while excess liquidity turned ordinary farmers crazy, envisioning untold wealth based on too much credit. The rupee crunch brought all of this crashing down, not wise government intervention. So if the government wants any credit, it can point to the rupee crunch they didn’t foresee. Well done!

    The government has really behaved like Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde in terms of what it talks about and what it does. Its total abdication of its promise to promote transparency through the RTI Act has been the single most alarming failure. What are they scared about? Surely not issues regarding state secrets! What secrets do they have to hide? That’s what I’d like to know.

    So I am pleased with our MP from Gasa and his effort to pass the RTI Act.

  4. The present rupee crisis is Stronger Bhutan Making in disguise. Present phase is a turning point for our country. The brand Bhutan is very well established . The only weaknesses were a few bad policies and some policies taking time to reap which of-course is natural. One dangerous phenomenon is the constructing boom in the country with readily available loans from many financial institutes. The economy bubble blast was foreseen to happen any time as happened in Japan .The story of Japan is however different because they had so much money in banks due to the export of their brand products. Still the bubble blast has kept them in recession till now.. Imagine our case. Bhutan will be finished.Thanks RMA for mitigating the nightmare with its harsh action even though an interim measure through its own bad policy of approval to many new banks that triggered it. They presumed it can bring competitiveness among banks and the benefits are the consumers neglecting the problem of economy bubble.
    The recent programmes of the government is good. However, I would suggest a few options too. More vegetable production is of-course possible but more than  is the good logistics. How to prolong the freshness of the products and how to transport it to the market. We should not burden the farmers on logistics.It should be the activity of the government. Hence the Department of Agriculture and Marketing should really come with good ideas on it. Involving FCB was a great idea too but there are only a few people working there.It wont be efficient.
     Secondly, rupee crises is also triggered by expatriate working and taking away huge money when our own youths are not employed. A better example is working in Thothomay lake. Our own people were rushing to work there in such harsh weather conditions when they were  given Nu 500 per day. so I can say that if people are given Nu 400-500 per day, the youth will rush to replace the expatriate as the conditions of working in constructions etc is not at all harsh as compared to lake. We have many VTIs training skilled workers. The government should come up with a good subsidy programme to attract our youth in building the nation. Make programmes wherein even I would jump to work as part time. Instill the dignity of labour with better wages.
    Thirdly, the vehicle and fuel import that is draining the economy and magnifying the rupee crisis. The committee proposed to study the crisis recommends that the quota system should be nulifed. The taxes should be increased and loans from bank should be restricted with higher interest. Implement these programmes as the mass will appreciate without thinking too much on the politics of whether these harsh actions will fail to get a vote next time. Only in Bhutan the taxes on cars are the cheapest. In Nepal its 200%. Solving the Nation’s crisis is more important than the votes. But why do we buy cars.. because the current transport system is not efficient and may be expensive. The respective agencies are doing and should speed up to mitigate these problems. Promote bicycle culture vigorously while heading for work etc. Our towns are not at all big that it takes an hour to reach the destination. I don’t mind riding on bicycle for half an hour if only the bicycle lane is safe and good.
    Hazelnut production is a good news. We should take it as another cash crop for our farmers. Don’t stress too much on organic..the produce will not be sufficient then. What we want to produce but fairly safe.
    So many things to write.. but have experiment to conduct. Suggest ideas…cheers to building Bhutan and mitigating the rupee crises

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