The two-day 14th round table meeting (RTM) ended yesterday on a high note with development partners pouring support to help the country graduate from the least developed countries category by 2023.

Foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji, who co-chaired the RTM with the UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner, said the government is optimistic of achieving all the targets set in the 12th Plan and beyond.

“We’re encouraged by the statement of support by our development partners,” he said. “The continued support and friendship of our development partners is highly valued and we look forward to continuing and building upon the relations shared.”

Donor countries and multilateral partners pledged their support in capacity building through scholarships, exchange programmes of experts, funding support through concessional loans and grants, and sharing technology and knowledge.

Representatives from bilateral and multilateral partners commended Bhutan for its accomplishments in environmental conservation, economic development, and advancing the concept of Gross National Happiness as a development paradigm.

The co-chairs of the sessions at the RTM from Bhutan, said the socioeconomic progress the country has achieved would not have been possible without the generous support and assistance of the development partners. They expressed gratitude and appreciation for the development partners’ support and assistance rendered over the decades.

The government also shared its financing plans. The 12th Plan has a total outlay Nu 310 billion, about 70 percent of which would be met through domestic resources and 20 percent through external borrowing and grants. The government projects a fiscal deficit of close to 10 percent of the total outlay.

“The government will look at innovative ways of financing the deficit through external mobilisation and enhancing internal revenue based primarily though tax reforms,” he said.

The government, he said also needs to raise funds for the additional pledges outside the Plan.

He said the country needs the support of development partners, which is why the government, jointly with the UN country office, organised the meeting.

Of about 50 participating development partners, 32 expressed their support in various forms to the government in the 12th Plan.

“While we’re looking at our development partners financing only about 20 percent of the Plan outlay, their continued presence is important,” Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji said.

As the country prepares to graduate from the LDC group, he said, the urgency to reorient the partnerships in the future to evolve from a donor recipient relation to a true partnership was evident.

The participation of the UNDP administrator Achim Steiner led to a high level of discourse. “The graduation process is not for the development partners to disengage but to re-engage in a newer way and partnership,” the foreign minister said.

The RTM also saw representatives from CSOs, private sector, all political parties, and National Council.

UN resident coordinator Gerald Daly, one of the co-chairs, said that sustainable graduation overrides graduation.

“The government’s commitment to ensuring sustainability is at the core of the strategy and this is why the United Nations is so committed to this strategy,” Gerald Daly said.

More than 50 development partners attended the round table meeting that dwelled on the 12th Plan, the macro-economic situation and outlook, experiences in implementing the GNH and the SDGs, climate change and disaster risk management, and innovative financing for development.

The first panel session was on GNH and rethinking development and the key message that emerged during the discussion was the relevance of GNH as a paradigm not only for Bhutan but for the whole world.

The need to localise and pursue more seriously the idea of GNH by the three arms of the government was highlighted.

An observation that emerged was that the needs of the community especially in the rural areas and the role of civil society and the programmes and projects they implement must be included in the government’s overall plans.

The session on national development priorities and the integration of SDGs in the 12th Plan focused on the key challenges and opportunities in the Plan that emphasise narrowing the gap and leaving no one behind.

“While the national data was impressive, a closer look reveals some serious disparities between the communities, dzongkhags and gender,” the foreign minister said. “This essentially calls for a more targeted intervention to address these issues.”

Tshering Palden