Celebrating a king’s life

As the nation comes together to celebrate the auspicious 60th birth anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, Bhutan is celebrating a King, who has achieved his destiny.

And for the Bhutanese, the celebrations offer an ideal opportunity to express deep gratitude to their beloved monarch.

The Bhutanese people have always believed His Majesty Drukgyal Zhipa to be the fulfilment of a prophecy.  His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck ascended the throne at a tender age of 16 and steered Bhutan through a period of unprecedented change to ensure a safe, secure and happy future for Bhutan and her people.

Bhutan had barely begun the process of modern development when His Majesty Drukgyal Zhipa had to take the helm of the ship of state.  But the royal vision was clear and His Majesty had the intuitive wisdom to chart out a unique development paradigm for Bhutan that the world today lauds.

Today, Bhutan enjoys the highest per capita income in the region, and its pristine environment and ancient culture and traditions are largely intact even as the country undergoes dramatic social change.

His Majesty gave not only to Bhutan, but also to the world, an enlightened vision for development now famously known as Gross National Happiness.

Over the decades, devolution of authority was at the heart of all political reforms initiated by His Majesty who always believed that the destiny of the nation lay in the hands of the people.

Addressing the students of Sherubtse College in 1991, His Majesty said, “… the future of Bhutan lies in the hands of the Bhutanese people. Our country is too small and vulnerable to have its future dependent on an single individual and to hope that we will always have wise, benevolent and good kings.”

A decade later His Majesty initiated the drafting of a Constitution to begin the process of a Bhutanese democracy as the best path to good governance.

Realising that Bhutan would never be military force or an economic power His Majesty saw that a strong cultural identity was the best defence.  A unique identity was to be the cornerstone of our sovereignty and security.  The importance of Bhutanese culture, both tangible and intangible, was expressed from the first royal address and kashos issued to policy makers and people’s representatives.

Today, the Constitution of Bhutan is one of the few constitutions in the world where preservation and promotion of cultural heritage is mandated by the highest law.

Drawn from the GNH concept, which has its roots in Buddhism, the judiciously management of the country’s natural resources has been a key feature of His Majesty’s reign.

This went together with the enlightened approach to preserve and protect the natural environment, even at the cost of development.  Bhutan’s Constitution now mandates that the country must maintain 60 percent forest coverage for all times to come.

What Bhutanese respect and admire most in their beloved monarch is his profound modesty and humility.  His Majesty was not one for lavish celebrations and if a situation warranted one, resources had to be judiciously used and solely for the benefit of the people.

On his way back from Samdrupjongkhar after Operation All Clear in December 2003, His Majesty refused to stop at Dochula, where the council of ministers had come to receive their King.  His Majesty commanded that there should be no celebrations and instead prayers and butter lamps should be offered.

Recently, 24 former national advisory councillors went to meet His Majesty and offer gifts, including silver statues.  It was learnt that His Majesty called a doctor to have their blood pressure and other ailments checked.

Witnessing the dance rehearsal at Changlimithang, Aum Tandin of Chang summed up what His Majesty the King did for his country and the people. “You want to write?” she asked the Kuensel reporter. “Alu (my child),” she said. “You’ll need days, even weeks, to write down what this King has done for us.”

Championing the socio-economic development

That the materialist approach to measure a country’s development based on Gross Domestic Product is not the veracious yardstick, His Majesty the Fourth King has already recognized when Bhutan just began planned development under his reign.

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His Majesty inspects the Chukha head race tunnel in 1986

On the new year of 1974, addressing the people of Sibsoo, His Majesty said: “Initially, our government envisaged and carried development of larger towns and areas around dzongs. I now feel that we must aim at developing our villagers, since most of the population consists of farmers and cultivator. If the attention is firmly focused on these people and in bringing about general improvement of agriculture, then we can entertain the highest hope of becoming self-sufficient in food grains.”

His Majesty did not want to replicate the development philosophy that marginalized poor and benefited the wealthy in other countries. Development for him meant holistic, improving the living conditions as well as income.

Bhutan was fortunate to have walked that revolutionary path aimed at collective happiness and the path of Gross National Happiness, as a policy. His Majesty believed that the ultimate goal was the contentment of the people, and that we should not compromise our environment, culture, and traditions for the sake of development.

The economy is long past the subsistence stage. From a record low GDP of USD 0.14 billion in 1980 (when first national income records were considered), the country’s GDP as reported by the World Bank, has almost touch a billion USD in 2006. GDP per capita was 325 USD in 1980 and shot up to more than USD 1,348 by the end of His Majesty’s reign.

Expressing his gratitude, the former trade minister who served two terms under His Majesty and the oldest parliamentarian, Khandu Wangchuk said national revenue base was almost non-existent and poverty widespread, during initial years of His Majesty’s reign.

“In a shot span of 34 years, His Majesty, has led us from a poor, under-developed and unknown nation to a well developed and highly esteemed country of the 21st century,” he said “The elderly among us know that in our lifetime, we have literally leapt several centuries of development witnessed elsewhere,” Khandu Wangchuk added.

In the past decade, Bhutan’s GDP has grown at an annual rate of nearly seven per cent, a rate unequalled by many developing countries.

The key to this growth has been His Majesty’s deep urge for linking the remotest part of the country to nearest commercial hubs, powering the nation and establishing communication network.

The establishment of Chukha, Kurichu and Tala hydroelectric projects, the former minister said has helped in drawing all the future agreements with India, including the ongoing projects.

The signing of agreement on Chukha hydropower project on Mrach 23, 1974 in fact reflected that His Majesty’s balanced approach towards development of social sectors and economic advancement.

HRH Ashi Dechen Wangmo Wangchuck, who signed the agreement on behalf of His Majesty, described the event as “a symbolic signing of Bhutan’s desire to achieve self-sufficient economy.”

As a result, this very aim has led to higher investments in hydropower and mineral based projects like slate mines, dolomite, limestone, gypsum, coal and marbles. The era also witnessed up springing of small-scale industries in the border towns such as distilleries, soap factories, match factories and wood processing units.

The large-scale industries include Bhutan Ferro-Alloys Limited, Bhutan Chemical and Carbide Limited and Penden Cement Authority, among others.

Khandu Wangchuk said the private sector then consisted of only handful of shopkeepers and that it was a period when there were no takers of loans. Given the importance of private sector’s role in the economy, he said, His Majesty placed high priority on private sector development in all the plans and interacted regularly with the business community. “Many government industries were privatized,” he said.

His Majesty’s priority for the private sector even surfaces in the Constitution, discouraging state enterprises from promoting state monopolies.

On November 6, 1978, His Majesty met the business community and told them: “Bhutan’s industries would be protected from imports until the industries become strong enough to face external competitions. Rigid quality and price controls would be exercised to ensure good quality and fair-priced products.”

Even the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (BCCI) was established under the Royal Command.

In the words of the two time trade minister, all Business communities in the country are aware of the benefits accrued from the two trade agreements Bhutan signed with Bangladesh in 1980 and revised trade agreement with India in 1983, under the benevolent leadership of Drukgyal Zhipa.

India was Bhutan’s only trade partner for many years. Today, countries as far away as Germany and Japan are trading with Bhutan.

The financing of the trade and industry sector has created a need for strong financial institutions. After the release of first Bhutanese currency in June 2, 1974, Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan was established through royal charter in 1975 to meet the insurance needs of Bhutanese. Bhutan Development Bank was established in 1988 and the Union trust of Bhutan has been converted to Bhutan National Bank in 1996. His Majesty’s wish to encourage share ownership and capital market development has led to the formation of Royal Securities exchange of Bhutan in 1993.

The introduction of aviation services and Drukair in 1983 changed the reality of the once isolated Kingdom. New routes have been inaugurated and frequency of flights has increased.

The world outside drew closer to Bhutan. The aviation services have, indeed helped the tourism industry to expand. Tourist arrivals have increased from 287 in 1974, when the country first opened up tourism, to more than 23,000 in 2006 alone. Today Bhutan is one of the top destinations for tourists and tourism, the country highest foreign currency generator that earned USD 73 million last year.

However, the sector is still guided by His Majesty’s wisdom that Bhutan should cater only to tourists who visit Bhutan to experience its un-spoilt environment and cultural heritage. The idea of high value low volume ideology of the sector was in fact born from the Great Fourth.

Yet after immeasurable developments on the economy, His Majesty left no stones unturned in developing the social sectors like health and education to uplift the rural economy.

Every sector of the Bhutanese economy has developed during the reign of His Majesty but perhaps none more so than the agricultural sector.

The steady growth in the crop and livestock sectors is due to the introduction of higher-yielding varieties of cash crops combined with reliable irrigation schemes and more land being brought under cultivation.

Transport and communication networks has been yet another milestone that transformed the country. A road network of just 1,300 km in 1974 increased to 4,544.73 km of motorable road (including 574.80 km of forest roads) in 2006, linking all dzongkhags. This has made possible to move freight and people with greater speed, safety and economy, boosting the local trade.

Bhutan is one of only three countries in Asia to have the digital communication network that was installed in the early 1990s. The number of telephone connections of less than 500 in 1974 has shot to over 32,123 and over 82,000 mobile subscriber as of 2006. The continuing expansion of digital communication has connected even herders and nomads, bringing them on board to nation building.

His Majesty, as the nation sees today has championed all the economic and philosophical theorems way before many economists and philosophers saw. His Majesty’s farsighted principles and determination to implement them probably kept Bhutan away from the radar of several black clouds that overshadowed and crumbled the global economic giants.

This is an evidence of how Drukgyal Zhipa championed in achieving a balanced socio-economic development.

A journey of empowering subjects

“As far as you, my people are concerned, you should not adopt the attitude that whatever is required to be done for your welfare will be done entirely by the government. On the contrary, a little effort on your part will be much more effective than a great deal of effort on the part of the government.”

Thus, a journey for the King and his subjects began after that Coronation speech in 1974.

A journey that would go in to the annals of Bhutan history as the most unprecedented and extraordinary: empowering the people.

“We have rights and our opinions are respected today,” Pema Dorji from Ngangmalang village in Pemagatshel said. “At the local level we make our own development plans and implement them. We elect the government.”

This was not the case four decades ago when the 16-year old His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck ascended the golden throne. All development activities were driven by the government; people then were content with the handout. In the span of 34 years, the docile citizenry have metamorphosed in to an engaging and responsive multitude.

His Majesty grants tokha to the public of Punakha in 1992

His Majesty grants tokha to the public of Punakha in 1992

But nothing was coincidence; everything was by design. His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, the master craftsman and development strategist, gradually devolved authority to the people changing the dynamics of governance.

From the three integrated valley development projects in 1972 and the Khamdang Project in 1979 that saw the construction of the longest irrigation channel in the country, His Majesty realised that Bhutanese could carry out any project given a chance.

His Majesty had said: “It was only for the reason that I have not been able to delegate responsibility to the people. If you, my people, are given the power and responsibility it seems there is nothing that you cannot do.”

His Majesty replicated the project where Bhutanese engineers, workers and the public participated which led to the formal decentralisation policy in 1981.

Instituting Dzongkhag Yargey Tshogdu in 1981, Gewog Yargay Tshogchung in 1991 and enactments of their acts in 2002, His Majesty throughout his reign visited remotest villages encouraging people to participate in decision-making.

For His Majesty always maintained that the government and the people must “think as one, join hands and work together”.

Appointments of dzongdags in then 18 dzongkhags in the beginning of the ninth five-year plan showed serious devolution of power from the centre to the local government. With the enactment of the DYT and GYT chathrims, the dzongdags roles were reduced to observers while the elected representatives decided on the development plans.

“There was a time the dzongdags were really powerful, but not today, they only  facilitate to implement what the people decide,” Pema Dorji said.

In 1998, Dorji Wangchuk a chimi (people’s representative) in the National Assembly then, witnessed unfolding of significant events in the history of decentralisation. His Majesty selflessly devolved his authority to the cabinet elected by the chimis.

“We could never fathom such a thing could happen,” he said. “But it was well intended, despite our appeals there was no going back.”

The NA was also commanded to deliberate on reinstating the vote of no confidence in the King, which if the King fails, he will have to abdicate for his successor. This shook the nation.

“This is a god-like King who had done so much for us and asking us to vote our confidence,” he said.  “This really shocked us.”

The assembly endorsed to reinstate the vote of no confidence.

His Majesty’s approach to development with his subjects and their happiness at the centre became subject of international acclaim.

A former prime minister of India IK Gujral, wrote, “King Jigme Singye Wangchuck has crafted a process of democratization on Bhutan’s own cultural and civilizational tracks. Bhutan had not tried to graft a foreign political model on its rocky and at the same time green pastures.”

A former United Nations Development Programme resident coordinator and representative, Akiko Yuge once wrote: “I have always been most impressed by His Majesty’s genuine care for his people and by Bhutan’s development path, which places people at its very centre in the truest sense.”

His belief in his subjects remained strong throughout his reign evident from this last decree on his abdication:

“As I Hand over my responsibilities to my son, I repose my full faith and belief in the people of Bhutan to look after the future of our nation for it’s the Bhutanese people who are the true custodians of our tradition and culture and the ultimate guardians of the security, sovereignty and continued well being of our country.”

While he continued empowering people, which the people least expected and with a strong reluctance accepted, the people instead were happy under him.

Thinley Dorji a former chimi in the National Assembly from Thimphu said that the Fourth Druk Gyalpo was extraordinary in that he brought unprecedented developments across the country and uplifted the lives of his people.

“We were all happy to serve him because we witnessed so much progress and change in our country and did not want anything more,” the 73-year old man said.

His Majesty’s decentralisation policy culminated in to constitutional democracy.

With the adoption of the Constitution, the fruit of his personal initiatives and efforts, enshrined with full rights of citizens, and the first democratic elections, the journey to educate his subjects on governance and democracy met its destination. The leader had done his job, his subjects now fully prepared and matured to handle the new fledging democratic system.

“Champion of the Earth”

Bhutan’s forest cover today is 72 percent, out of which 60 percent of the land area falls under protected areas comprising of 10 national parks and sanctuaries, more than the mandates enshrined in the Constitution.

This is a result of His Majesty’s the Fourth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s farsighted vision and leadership in establishing policies that have a positive impact on conservation and environmental sustainability in the country.

His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo had said, “Throughout the centuries, the Bhutanese have treasured their natural environment and have looked upon it as the source of all life. This traditional reverence for nature has delivered us into the 20th century with our environment still richly intact. We wish to continue living in harmony with nature and to pass on this rich heritage to our future generations.”

His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s conservation policies began modestly in 1972 when the rule was passed mandating that every household to get permit from the department of forest to extract wet firewood.

In the 1980s, the forest policy was reoriented towards conservation and community forestry. His Majesty’s nature conservation policies were based on the Buddhist political theory that the state exists to protect the welfare of all the sentient beings.

His Majesty takes part in a race during the National Day celebration in Samtse in 2002

His Majesty takes part in a race during the National Day celebration in Samtse in 2002

In the 1970s and 80s, timber extraction and export was one of the highest sources of revenues in the country. The government then nationalized the logging activities through the Bhutan Logging Corporation.

Soon, the export of raw timber was banned and sawmills were encouraged to produce finished wood products. The mining was also strictly regulated to ensure that there was no waste of mineral resources, pollution and damage to the environment.

One of His Majesty’s successful conservation efforts was the banning of shifting cultivation after it was identified as the environmentally most damaging farm practice. The shifting cultivation was successfully stopped through two policies; by resettling the tseri (burn slash) cultivation farmers to lands that are most fertile and by encouraging the farmers to convert tseri lands to dry or wet lands.

In 1992, His Majesty set up the environment committee, which was upgraded to the National Environment Commission in the same year.

His Majesty introduced Social Forestry Programme in 1979 to encourage local communities to plant trees in their private lands. In 2002, the GYTs were empowered to manage the community forest, identify parks and frame rules and programmes to prevent local environmental problems.

In 1974, His Majesty declared several areas as wildlife sanctuaries like Jigme Dorji Wildlife Sanctuary, Gasa Wildlife Sanctuary and Doga National Park among others. It was His Majesty’s wisdom and foresight that today Hydropower has now become a driving force of the country’s economy. His Majesty’s decision to go for hydropower industry had influenced the country’s conservation policies.

For His Majesty’s utmost and tireless contribution towards conserving the nature in the most unique way, the United Nations Environment Programme awarded him the ‘Champions of the Earth Award’ in 2005 and bestowed Paul Getty Award for Conservation Leadership in 2006.

On February 13, 2011, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo was inducted into the Kyoto Hall of Fame for his outstanding contribution to the protection of the global environment.

Her Royal Highness Princess Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuck received the Kyoto Hall of Fame on behalf of His Majesty. In the acceptance speech that was read out by Her Royal Highness, His Majesty said that he looked upon the award as a recognition accorded to his people and country for their efforts to live and progress in harmony with the natural habitat, and that he dedicated it to the people of Bhutan and to all those who have been steadfast in their support and commitment to preserve the natural environment and the world.

Foreign Policy

During the reign of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, Bhutan’s already strong relationship with India was further strengthened, and its presence in the global arena expanded.

Today, Bhutan and India enjoy a stable and mutually beneficial relationship, as evident by India’s continued support for Bhutan’s socio-economic development. India continues to desire a strong, independent, and friendly Bhutan on its border.

It is because of the close ties the Druk Gyalpos have nurtured with India, that this is the case today.

The strong ties between the two countries were reflected when in 2003, Bhutan militarily removed from its soil, camps housing Indian militants. The operations were personally led by His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.

In one of His Majesty’s major diplomatic achievements, His Majesty initiated the process to amend the Treaty of Friendship signed with a newly independent India in 1949. Once again, indicating the high level of trust between the two countries, India agreed to remove a requirement for Bhutan to be always guided by Indian advice when it comes to Bhutan’s external affairs. The treaty was amended in 2007.

His Majesty the Fourth King addressing the 9th SAARC Summit in Male, Maldives, May 1997

His Majesty the Fourth King addressing the 9th SAARC Summit in Male, Maldives, May 1997

A year before that, the border between Bhutan and India was also successfully demarcated.

His Majesty also initiated boundary talks with China in 1984. Much progress has been made since then, such as both countries agreeing to maintaining peace on the border. The talks continue today, with the 23rd round having occurred this year.

Not an economic or military power, Bhutan was a relatively unknown and isolated country when His Majesty began his reign. His Majesty continued Bhutan’s process of opening up and reaching out to the world, both tangibly and intangibly. The aviation sector was established in 1983 allowing landlocked Bhutan to eventually become directly connect with countries it shared no physical border with.

His Majesty’s conception of Gross National Happiness in the 1970s as a development philosophy, continues to initiate changes globally. Both national and local governments are beginning to use alternative wellbeing indicators to measure development, while even the UN has recognized the essentiality of an alternative development model. Bhutan stands as a beacon of hope for many around the world.

During His Majesty’s reign, diplomatic relations with 22 countries were established. Bhutan also became a member of 73 international and regional bodies like the Non-Aligned Movement (1973), the World Bank (1981), and the Asian Development Bank (1982). Bhutan also acceded to 85 international and regional instruments. Many of these countries, and international and regional bodies, have provided and continue to provide Bhutan with developmental assistance. Bhutan is due to graduate from being a least developed country shortly.

Undoubtedly, Bhutan is a strong, sovereign, peaceful, and independent nation today in part because of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s wise foreign policies.

Developing human resources

In its second stage of the five-year development plans, Bhutan had only a handful of people in the civil service when His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo took the reins of leadership.

A priority was to replace the 92 percent of expatriates in the civil service.

Former Chief Justice lyonpo Sonam Tobgye who served as the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) Secretary said that by 1990’s, they had to reverse that average, therefore the focus was on human resource development (HRD) since the 1980s.

The former secretary said that His Majesty strengthened human resource at a higher level by replacing and through technical competence in the civil service to reform the administrative service.

“His Majesty gave a lot of attention in sending people abroad in public administration so that Bhutanese would be the best,” the former chief justice said.

For His Majesty, HRD was the most important part of development to secure sovereignty and security of the nation and public service. Scholarship slots were increased to countries in India, Austria, Netherlands, among others under the leadership of His Majesty.

The Royal Institute of Management, according to lyonpo Sonam Tobgye was the idea of His Majesty to improve in-house trainings for senior civil servants. Many long-term and short-term plans were constituted as well for development of the HRD capacity in the country.

As a result, Bhutanese civil servants by 1990s, were able to talk to any international agencies, bilateral or multilateral and could draft minutes of the meetings, among others, which were previously done by expatriates.

Learning from the past and recognizing the need to bring services closer to the public, the second phase of His Majesty’s reform saw a gradual shift to decentralization from centralization. With the formation of the Council of Ministers in 1998, His Majesty devolved full executive powers and functions to minsters.  Besides, at the central level, according to RCSC, major restructuring exercise of the government organisations took place through good governance exercises.

It was at this juncture that deregulation, corporatization and privatization of several government agencies occurred like the banking and insurance, telecom, electricity and transport. Several Agencies were delinked from the Civil Service to promote corporate and private sector developments.

It was His Majesty visionary initiative to grant the Royal Charter and the efforts to contain the growth of Civil Service deserve highest level of admiration and respect.

His Majesty granted the Royal Charter of the RCSC in 1982 that marked a beginning of a plan and coordinated approach in addressing human resource management and development needs of various sectors in the government.

“The Royal Charter forms the policy for the RCSC to maintain small, compact and efficient Civil Service and a fundamental legal framework in managing and framing rule,” according to RCSC officials.

“His Majesty always said that the services rendered by the civil servant would determine or reflect confidence of the public in the government,” lyonpo Sonam Tobgye said. “Therefore they ought to be highly educated with financial integrity and strong code of conduct and work culture.”

Before the institution of the RCSC, the former chief justice said that there were no uniform rules for promotion, transfer and training and hence a lot of disparities. Then came organizational structures of the government mainly to avoid duplicity and enhance accountability and responsibility for prompt, efficient and effective discharge of duty. At the same time, for His Majesty, discipline of civil service was also of utmost priority. So much so that retrenchment exercises were carried out to avoid negative aspects.

A former RCSC Commissioner said that the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s priority on human resource development since 1982 was a deliberate strategy to build capacities of the Bhutanese so that major reforms, including the introduction of democracy in 2008, could take place successfully over the years.

By Kuensel reporters

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