Social policies

Hamiltonian of US advocated government support for the development of science and public education through a public ‘common’ school system and investments in creative research through grants and subsidies. The social and development programs of His Majesty the Fourth King empowered the local population to address their basic needs such as requirement of food, shelter, education, health and overall social security. His Majesty’s socio-economic policies were as reported by Kuensel:

“Considering the present socio-economic situation of the rural people, His Majesty stated that Government would give priority to education, health, agriculture and animal husbandry. His Majesty felt that these were the basic necessities of the people in the area. Once a project is approved, His Majesty said, it is up to the local people to ensure the proper execution of works and their completion in time.”


The eco-political goal according to Frank Bourgin and also forcefully articulated by Hamilton, was to ensure that the US political independence won dearly then must not be lost by being economically and financially dependent on the powers and princes of Europe.  Bhutan also adopted a form of institutional economics, which focuses on understanding the role of the evolutionary process and the role of institutions in shaping economic behavior as Thorstien Veblen instinct-oriented dichotomy between technology on the one side and the “ceremonial” sphere of society on the other. Institutional economics focuses on learning, bounded rationality, and evolution (rather than assume stable preferences, rationality and equilibrium). This was also the central theme of American economics in the first part of the 20thcentury advocated by Thorstien Veblen, Wesley Mitchell, John R. Commons, Karl Max, etc. The Hamiltonian economic program intended to allow the United States to become economically independent and nationally self-sufficient. Very ethos of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck reflected that sovereignty and self-reliance was interrelated and indispensable in nation building of Bhutan:

“Sovereignty and self-reliance were two important goals. Whatever we do in the government, is aimed towards the attainment of those two objectives. But the government alone cannot make the country self-reliant. The people have an important role to play. It is very important that whatever we do ensures that we retain our sovereignty and helps us become self-reliant. We cannot depend forever on the generosity of our friends. Nor can we progress by depending on others. No country has advanced by allowing another country to do all its development work. We must have the capacity to begin and complete any project we undertake.”

People’s Participation

His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s economic policies were primarily based on the principles of collectivism and not individualism. National budgets were defrayed across the country through equal sector plans. Such equal sector plans promoted comparable services such as schools, health centers, irrigation, etc. that created unity of harmonious group or society as a whole. His Majesty’s policy of people’s participation conferred ownership rights and duty to the public or to society more than private right. His Majesty repeatedly implored that in order to complete all developmental programmes in time, the people’s co-operation and participation is essential and vitally important. It is, therefore, the duty of each villager to see that development works are being executed smoothly and efficiently, not only for the development of the country but for the benefit of the people in every locality. His Majesty said that people must not depend entirely on the Government, but should come forward and play a more active role in the execution of the various projects. Kuensel reported:

“His Majesty indicated that the main objective of the Royal Government of Bhutan is to achieve self-reliance and to raise the socio-economic standard of the people in the country.”

Human Resources Development

Bhutan had only a handful of Bhutanese officials working in the civil service when His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo took the reins of leadership. Therefore, His Majesty’s priority was to replace the 92 per cent of expatriates in the civil service with educated and trained Bhutanese nationals. Professor Leo Rose wrote:

“In real politik terms, probably the most important development administratively was the organization of a Palace Secretariat modelled after traditional monastic practices. Young boys, some from poor, nonlife families, were brought into the palace at an early age, trained in a wide variety of tasks the Druk Gyalpo with a cadre of administration and, if they proved competent, were appointed to high posts either in the palace or in the provincial and district administration that were both technically competent and politically dependable. It also served to weaken the position of the local elite families that had previously provided most of the recruits for the administration, a custom that had contributed to the further centralization of the Bhutanese political and administrative system.”

By 1990’s, the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC)had been successful in reversing that situation as nationals replaced almost all civil service positions in the country including menial services. The Government of India and the United Nations Development Programme were most cooperative and generous in supporting the human resource development initiative of Bhutan. Acknowledging and thanking them I, as the Secretary of the Royal Civil Service Commission, then wrote:

“May I take this opportunity to express our heartfelt thanks to the friendly countries, generous friends and helpful organization in particular India for their help and assistance.  I would especially like to thank the Resident Representative of the UNDP for the long standing, varied, and continuing support we have received from the various agencies of the United Nations.  In particular, I would like to express our appreciation to you, personally, Your Excellency for your untiring efforts on our behalf.  The HRD project which you have carefully shepherded from its infancy is, I understand, one of the largest of its kind in the U.N. system.  Your interest, your attention to our needs and your unfailing support and helpfulness are indeed appreciated. The UNDP-HRD project (Bhu/87/004)”

Apart from replacement initiatives, Bhutan targeted in enhancing technical competence skill development and expertise through professionalization of public service and administrative reforms. For His Majesty, HRD was the most important part of development for ensuring the sovereignty and the security of the nation. He accorded the highest priority in human resource development for the development of the best and the brightest civil servants. His Majesty reminded the nation and the Royal Civil Service Commission:

“Keeping in mind that, in a small country like Bhutan, it is the bureaucracy’s example that will be followed, strengthening the civil service would be the first step to creating a strong foundation for a successful democracy. The civil service must strive for the highest standards, live by higher ideals and nurture a sense of duty towards fellow Bhutanese. Therefore, the Royal Civil Service Commission should focus on bringing about required reforms of the civil service, in time for it to facilitate and support the emergence of democracy, meet the challenges of building a dynamic economy and to fulfil its role in achieving the goals of Gross National Happiness.”

Historically, the Royal Civil Service Commission supported by a career based civil service had been successful and effective because it was accountable directly to His Majesty the King. The human resource planning and development was given top priority during the Fifth and Sixth Five-Year Plans. The Monarchs of Bhutan had incredible acumen and intellect in the choice and selection of people and had managed a sound and enviable command and control system as vouched in a British report  that stated:  “The Maharaja has the gift, as had his father, of picking out good men and of sticking to them and their families. In his relations with them he combines the strictest of discipline with intimacy. He treats them in a manner which gives them confidence and inspires loyalty. He talks freely with men and women of every class.”

In deference to the Royal Command of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck that administration be strengthened and be transformed into a dynamic and competent one, the RCSC revised and adopted the Civil Service Rules of 1990  and modern Code of Conduct and Ethics. The RCSC also implemented Civil Service Cadre Policy that provided professionalism with vertical career growth and later movement at senior positons. And further streamlined recruitment and appointment processes that were begun by early eighties with the opening of the RCSC.

To be continued…

Contributed by

Justice Sonam Tobgye (Retired)