Bhutan’s growing democracy has helped advance development according to the fourth National Human Development Report (NHDR) released yesterday.

The report ‘Ten years of democracy in Bhutan’ highlights development results during the 10 years of democracy in the country.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering and UNDP Administrator and UN Under-Secretary-General Achim Steiner released the report at the Parliament Courtyard yesterday.

The report has made 20 recommendations including updating the Bhutan’s Vision 2020 for a longer term vision, a stronger focus on training media professionals, revising rural taxes, waiving off the university degree qualification requirement for politicians, stronger monitoring of political party expenditure and source of funding, removing the voting ban on lay monks and nuns, and lifting the restriction on gatherings during elections, among others.

The report also states that Bhutanese have seen that, once elected, governments are acutely sensitive to criticism and people’s demands, and sometimes shy away from tough decisions. “While some decisions may be difficult to make in the face of popular demand, they should be guided by a vision of national interest.

 New measures should be pursued, such as well functioning public transport.”

The report calls for political parties to adopt transparent and farsighted ideologies that reflect their values and priorities to gain credibility as a trusted and respected provider of a national vision.

The reports points to the need to have a clearer definition of what it means to be “apolitical” to avoid discouraging open discourse.

“The report reflects the resonance between the Gross National Happiness (GNH) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as broad visions of human progress and development,” said Wangchuk Namgyel, the Speaker of the National Assembly. “Just as the SDGs echo the pledge to “leave no one behind”, the GNH requires us to reach every section of our population by strengthening the process of decentralisation.”

The report states that democracy has made Bhutanese more conscious of their fundamental rights as well as their duties as citizens. “While the people were entirely dependent on the King for their welfare and wellbeing and even happiness, they are now empowered to be active in governance and human development and the national vision of Gross National Happiness.”

UNDP Administrator and UN Under-Secretary-General, Achim Steiner said that a simple, yet powerful idea, that “people are the real wealth of nations” led to the development of the first Human Development Report in 1990. Instead of focusing only on income, human development measures people’s choices and opportunities – and their freedom to take advantage of them.

“This report, by measuring people’s satisfaction with the government and freedom of expression, based on the philosophy of Gross National Happiness, provides a robust picture of human development in Bhutan,” said Achim Steiner said.

The report emphasises the importance of improving gender balance and points out that there have been crucial gains for the women. Before democracy, a little more than 10 years ago there were no women in parliament. Today, there are 11 women parliamentarians.

Bhutan has launched three national reports in the past and this is the fourth in series. The first report focused on ‘Gross National Happiness’ was released in 2000. The second report was on ‘Youth Employment’ in 2005, the third report was on the theme of ‘Sustaining Progress: Rising to the Climate Challenge’ in 2011.

The NHDR serve as an advocacy tool to influence national policies and programmes in order to promote human development.

Tshering Palden