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Bhutan: Kuensel’s Year Ender; An Objective Appraisal: Update No. 115

Note No. 763                                                  Dated 15-Apr-2016

By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan.

After every year, Kuensel the semi official newspaper from Bhutan, comes out with a study and analysis of events of the past year in that country.

Though the articles in the “year ender” may seem excessively adulatory, it has over the years earned a reputation of being fairly objective. Where criticism is due, the paper has not spared.

The credit for continuing peace, stability and prosperity in the country is not a little due to the guidance given by the monarchy directly and indirectly and it richly deserved the praise heaped on them in the year ender.

In describing the events in the past year, the King on the 108th national day in Paro, said that the year was filled with peace and happiness.  “With democracy we aspire to build a just and harmonious society and fulfill the aspirations of the people” he said.

The year of “Wood Female Sheep” was a year of celebration.  The 60th birth anniversary Gyalpo IV was celebrated in a big way throughout the year.  Gyalpo IV gave the nation democracy when the people were still not ready to accept and what is more gave up the throne in favour of his son though he could have continued for a longer time.

Then there was the birth of a royal heir to Gyalpo V and what was unique was that the nation had the privilege of the past, present and future Kings of being together! While the Chief Justice of Bhutan Tshering Wangchuk described this as “rare in the life of a nation” another described the birth of the child as “prophesy fulfilled and future secured.”

The past year was also the birth year of Guru Rimpoche and the 400th anniversary of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal’s arrival in Bhutan.

The past year also saw the consecration of a giant 201 feet Buddha Dordenna, the biggest in the world by Je Khenpo to celebrate the life and reign of the Fourth Gyalpo.

The year also saw the final stages of the third country settlement of the Bhutanese refugees and an end to the sordid sufferings of more than hundred thousand Bhutanese refugees in Nepal.  A museum depicting the ordeal of the refugee community over the years is also in the final stages of completion in eastern Nepal.

A few highlights of the past year would include

1.  Power:

Power continued to be the mainstay of the economy.  While the ambitious programme of reaching 10,000 MW by 2020 has been given up, certain innovative changes have been made during the year that should result in long term gains.

First and foremost- a departure has been made from the conventional inter-governmental model to private/public participation.  In the financial deal for the 120 MW project at Nikachhu, the government besides raising a loan of Rs 3.53 billion, has announced for the first time that it would divest 20 percent of the share to the public thus beginning a new trend in public/private participation.

The second innovation is a trilateral cooperation among Bhutan, India and Bangladesh that is being tried out for the first time in the 1125 MW Kuri I or the Rothpashog project.

The third important development has been that the latest project 126 MW Dagachu that has come on line has been fully manned by the Bhutanese from construction to the project management. This augurs well for the future of Bhutan.

The total installed capacity of hydro power in the country has been of 1606 MW only, a fraction of what was envisaged.  The inordinate delays in completing the projects need to be looked into.  For example the Punatsangchu I is behind schedule by two years. The second one Punatsangchu II is going to be delayed by an unexpected (and not foreseen in the initial stages) geological complications of the left bank.

For the first time, environmental concerns, climate change, social and ecological costs are being raised in some of the projects by the people.  This is a good sign.  One such project is the Chamkharchu.

Though there are concerns that the hydro projects may increase the debt burden of the country, it is expected that in the long run, the projects will generate significant revenue, boost exports and fuel economic growth.

G2C:

One of the very few good recommendations made by the otherwise disastrous McKinsey report was the establishment of Government to Citizen Offices.  The office coming under the Prime Minister’s personal supervision, started a G2C Wallet system this year.  It has already begun payments on line for more than 70 public services that needed personal attendance.  A public grievance system, G2 C call systems, on line public application system are all on line waiting to be tried.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of e -governance is that the government has continued with its cloud computing with the help of an outside agency.

One problem noticed was the tendency of the government to go for outsourcing many IT contracts to international vendors thus preventing indigenous talents to develop.  Cyber security is another area where the country has to go a long way.  Perhaps India could help.

Labour:

The overall unemployment rate in the country is said to have dropped to 2.6 percent thus taking the overall employment to 97.4 percent. 

Yet there has not been any significant progress in the overall youth unemployment that remained high at 9.4 percent with the female youth unemployment going higher with 10 percent. 

A survey conducted for the first time revealed that the level of education alone is not sufficient to secure a gainful employment in the country.  Lack of experience, nepotism and lack of employability skills were the top three reasons for the youths who were unable  make the grade,

Aviation:

The highlight of the aviation sector during the year was the arrival of Bhutan’s first helicopter that had already carried out a number of medical airlifts and saved lives.  The national airline Drukair acquired a new A 319.

The Kuensel specially mentioned the relocation of the Indian Airforce camp at Paro, freeing space to extend the apron to allow three or four more aircrafts.  Negotiations have been going on for almost a decade and a mutually acceptable arrangement is said to have been reached only last year.

Governance and Civil Service:

A beginning has been made to differentiate between performing and non performing civil servants. 

The Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) has reduced the cooling off period of civil servants from three years to one year much to the delight of the political parties.

An innovative feature has been the creation of an “Innovative and Creativity Officer” to monitor and nurture extraordinarily creative civil servants.

Towards the end of the year, the Civil Servants Welfare Scheme was also launched.  This scheme is to ensure financial support to civil servants and their direct dependents in times of need.

Elections:

Elections to the thromdes of Thimphu, Phuentsholing and Gelephu took place without any hitches during the year.  The voter turnout was generally poor showing lack of interest of the people in the local elections and this needs to be looked into.

There will be more local elections in the coming year.  There has been a change at the top with Dago Rigdzin taking over as the Chief Election Commissioner.

There appears to be no major problem to be faced in the coming year of “Fire Male Monkey.”  The economy is certainly improving and the IMF has already predicted a substantial increase in the GDP in the coming financial year. 

Kuensel has hoped and we agree that the new year would bring unprecedented peace, progress and happiness to Bhutan.  

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