The recent revelations brought to light by the Bhutan Transparency Initiative have unveiled a deeply concerning surge in corruption. While the report admirably sheds light on the various forms that corruption takes, it regrettably falls short of delving into the crucial and intricate matter of identifying the fundamental root causes that foster such unethical behaviour, along with proposing effective solutions to address these underlying issues.

In a society as tightly knit as ours, fighting corruption is challenging due to the complex fabric of our country which is manifested in multifaceted origins. In order to truly comprehend the complexity of the issue of corruption, it is important to see why some countries are least corrupted.

Singapore, often held up as a paragon of minimal corruption within Asia, attributes its resounding success primarily to a robust and stringent law enforcement system, an independent and autonomous judiciary, and a transparent public procurement system. This approach, which has been largely shaped by decades of single-party rule following its separation from Malaysia, employs a top-down mechanism that, while remarkably effective for a nation of Singapore’s smaller scale, is deemed potentially unsustainable for countries like Bhutan, where a different party takes on governance each election, presenting a unique challenge distinct from single-party rule.

Nordic nations such as Finland, Denmark, and Sweden are considered even less corrupted than Singapore. This laudable achievement is primarily attributed to a confluence of factors including a high GDP per capita, minimal income inequality, near-universal literacy, a staunch commitment to gender equality, and a steadfast political will in promoting freedom of speech, right to information including freedom of the media. The bedrock of these nations’ successes, as outlined by Transparency International’s findings, is deeply intertwined with a culture of governmental openness, active civic engagement, and a prevailing social trust. These foundational elements collectively empower citizens to vigilantly monitor and effectively hold their elected leaders and bureaucratic entities accountable for their decisions and actions.

In stark contrast, Bhutan’s GDP per capita remains modest, and income inequality continues to be a challenge, exacerbated by rampant inflation that disproportionately burdens much of the population, rendering even basic necessities alarmingly unaffordable in recent times. The media landscape signals a decrease in its freedom, as stringent regulations constrict civil servants’ capacity to voice dissent through media channels, consequently morphing the media into a mere mouthpiece bereft of its critical watchdog function. Notably, the post-democracy era has witnessed a discernible curtailment of the right to information—a marked departure from the pre-democratic era. The freedoms of speech, expression, and the media remain constrained, often finding true expression only when cloaked in anonymity. The articulation of critical viewpoints pertaining to governmental policies faces a myriad of challenges, casting an ominous shadow over genuine and meaningful discourse. Even individuals in academic spheres find themselves stifled, constrained in expressing opinions that scrutinize policies or legislative gaps, a predicament that extends to academic freedom with each successive government becoming harder on such freedom.

Thus, Bhutan needs a radical reform in governance, particularly in terms of promoting transparency, freedom of the press and enacting a right to information law. The responsibility of cultivating parity among all citizens, ensuring unassailable transparency across every echelon of governance, and safeguarding the cherished principles of freedom of expression squarely falls upon the State.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.