When the health ministry shared details of Bhutanese around the world affected by the coronavirus, many were surprised to see Czech Republic in the list of countries. Not many expected Bhutanese living in the central European country.

Like many nationalities, Bhutanese are everywhere around the world. An education ministry data shared recently show that there are 5,870 Bhutanese students studying in about 40 countries including in Central and South America.

It was a piece of information with important significance in terms of data.

It is not often that we see these kind of data shared and made readily available. We can surmise that we are not confident with our data and, therefore, the hesitance to make it public or readily available.

There is demand for data, reliable data, because it is the basis of planning. Good planning can be done if there is a basis authenticated by facts and figures or what statisticians called evidence-based decision-making. Even our development partners are now asking for reliable data before they make decisions.

Like in many areas the coronavirus caught us off-guard. But the pandemic provides an opportunity to build our database.   A start has been forced upon us already. We are surveying how many elderly citizens are there in the country, how many households are without a television set or internet connections. We are also documenting Bhutanese returning home from abroad

As thousands of Bhutanese, both studying and working abroad, return home, we will have a clear idea how many Bhutanese live and work abroad. Today, besides those on government scholarship or sent through government programmes, there is no record of Bhutanese living abroad.

Everything is based on assumption or informal records maintained by informal bodies. A good example is the number of Bhutanese in the USA or Australia, the two most preferred countries for Bhutanese to live and work. Nobody knows the official count, as there is no record of those travelling on their own. The education ministry record of students aboard excludes those on private scholarship.

All we know is there are thousands of Bhutanese in the Middle East. How many thousands is left to guesswork.

Covid-19 has provided us the opportunity. In our effort to prevent an outbreak, everything is coordinated and monitored. We would have data on not only numbers, but on age group, background, skills and experience and many others that could provide valuable basis for planning.

His Majesty The King has commanded the government to look into creating opportunities those who returned home. Some of them, like the prime minister said, could be potential employers given their experience and exposure.  We could also analyse the information available to help decision-making.

Two decades ago when we launched internet and websites, the hope was that there would be plenty of data and information at a click of a button. Today, while there are data, including volumes of reports and publications, simple but important information, for instance, the number of buildings in the capital city is not available or easily accessible.