The Coronavirus is not just a medical problem, or even a major pandemic, but it has become a transformative force in every aspect of our lives. And the change is relevant, not just for the period of the crisis, but for the future. So it is an ideal opportunity – in fact it is a powerful message – for Bhutan to respond to the need for new thinking and renewed approach to governance and nation building.
If we look back at the pre-Coronavirus times – just a few months ago – Bhutan was not going through any serious catastrophe, but it was clear that there was much to be done. We were beginning to recognise a number of priorities like the diversification of our economy, a resurrection of our tourism policy and trends, the adoption of relevant technology in a fast-moving digital age, a streamlining of the system of governance, youth and social issues, and other trepidation.
The Covid-19 menace overturned a world that was heading, many would say, in the wrong direction. The most important challenges, like climate change, income and social inequities, were caused by a human lifestyle driven by materialism – what Buddhists would call greed. Calls for change fell mostly on deaf ears.
Under the pressure of a pandemic and strong national leadership we suddenly find ourselves striving harder and better harmonized as a team. Seeing such potential begs the question, why can’t this be our normal work culture?
Thinkers are promoting the idea that the concept of “returning to normal times” is not relevant any more. We will not go back to old times but move ahead into new times. So this is the right moment to define and create the new times that we want.
It would be wrong to interpret a tragedy like the Covid-19 outbreak as a fortunate occurrence but pragmatic opinion would say that there are underlying prospects within such a disruption. It offers the opportunity to draw on the current circumstances to plan a future built on our aspirations.
Having established that Covid-19 is a turning point for whole of society, the response must be a holistic comeback, translated into a national vision for the future.
There are already some inadvertent developments worth pursuing and growing. The shortage of food has sent a number of people back to the farms to grow grain and vegetables, meaning food self sufficiency. The tourism industry is hit, but can bounce back with a clear high-end policy. With people forced to stay home, many have become more proficient in Information Communication Technology. The economy is diversifying beyond hydropower into niche Bhutanese products. Most important, we see how the Bhutanese family can function as an efficient system.
All this was inadvertent. Why can’t it be a planned momentum?