It was quite a year. We started 2022 fearing a lockdown as the SARS-CoV2 spread to 14 dzongkhags. By the second week of January, some dzongkhags were “blacked out” before most of the country was locked down to prevent the spread and tackle the virus.
We end the year with fear of a new variant reaching our borders. The health ministry is vigilant and the hope in the cold Thimphu air is that there will be no major issues with the population protected by what some experts call “hybrid immunity” a mixture of vaccination and natural immunity.
In between, a lot has happened. We managed to vaccinate the entire eligible population and returned to normal. If much of the first quarter of the year was spent with restrictions, we have, with the guidance of His Majesty The King, the hard work of the government, and the cooperation of the people, managed to come unscathed from the pandemic. We took advantage of our shortcomings exposed by the pandemic and made the most of it. The country is more prepared to face a disaster, natural or manmade like the Coronavirus.
Change was the theme of 2022 when we look back. Deriving from the Royal wisdom of having to change the way we do things, 2022 would be remembered for transformation and reforms. Bold decisions had to be made for changes. We have seen senior civil servants managed out while those remaining are on their toes with the focus on an “accountable mindset” from the usual “entitled mindset.” Even as we talk the reforms are being rolled out. We have new ministries and departments, we have senior executives to drive the change and we have public corporations and state-owned enterprises change from a “business as usual” approach to performance driven culture.
The discourse still is about change. And big changes shall we see in 2023 making it an exciting year. The challenges identified and priorities set. His Majesty The King addressed the Nation from Changlimithang highlighting where our priorities should be going ahead. Concerns surrounding our youth, substance abuse, the uncertainties of our small import-driven economy, and the need to strengthen governance were clearly spelt out. A month earlier, His Majesty from the Golden Throne, in his address to the Parliament, related to a café girl in pointing out our realities and the solutions. The Sungshay touched every Bhutanese who listened and made them understand our realities.
2023 is also an election year. We will begin with the National Council elections where some former members would continue to contest, some have confirmed to contest the parliamentary elections while some aspiring members are already in the villages spending time with the people – understanding the issues and securing votes. We have five registered political parties. Another one could join the fray. It will also be the most expensive elections as the talk is that there are 205 contesting the Council election and Six political parties would need state funding for the campaigns.
Then we have the opportunity or the challenge of people leaving for Australia to study. The visa regime is relaxed and some are seeing their visa granted in a day. There will be more leaving as it is easier and faster now to get a visa. While we cannot stop people from leaving, we need solutions to retain people who are needed to run our critical services. If money is the cause, the government needs to look into it.
A big change is that the reform initiatives have kept our officials busy with never-ending meetings. As of today, it is difficult to even see our top executives. We will see the fruits of what was discussed and decided. After the long weekend, we will come back to work in 2023. The hope is that there will be renewed effort and energy to usher in the changes in the New Year.
Happy New Year!