Harnessing economic opportunity

Jobs creation in Bhutan is poor and so unemployment, particularly among the young, is high and rising. Unless meaningful structural and systemic changes are brought to bear, there will not be a significant change in the country’s economy. And that is bad news.

The once fluid and efficient Bhutanese bureaucracy is fast becoming ossified. It is not hard to trace the source of the problem—duplication of responsibilities has effectively rendered more than half of our government agencies comatose. The longer so we run, the deeper we risk running into a quagmire.

The major problem we are facing today is economic development in the real sense. We are still a country that borrows heavily from international banks and donors. Investment is lagging behind, however. And that means we are always faced with the risk of heavy debt cleansing.

There are some problems that are endemic to our society. We have plans myriad but not the tools to support them. We have industrial estates cleared for investors but nothing pretty much happening there. Ten years have gone by since the plan of industrial estates was first conceived. Entrepreneurs and investors say that they are obstructed from all ways and sides to start a business. Regulators are least bothered on the other side. Officials of National Environment Commission do not even feel it is important that they attend a meeting with prime minister and entrepreneurs who want to set up strong economic bases in the country’s four industrial areas.

What Bhutan needs today is a government that can bring all the agencies and government officials together and show them the door if they cannot work for the interest of the nation’s long-term future. That means it has the responsibility of clearing duplications among the many offices and organisations. Forget big industries, even small but promising startups are facing a serious challenge today because offices and organisations do not appreciate the bigness and the true value of national dream. That’s why joblessness is increasing. If this goes on for a few more years, it will be the most humiliating slap on the face of Bhutan and the Bhutanese of gross national happiness.

What the prime minister has promised the nation is just the beginning. But we can ill afford to lose the direction along the way. Bhutan is small and so economic development difficult. We are landlocked and so we have the advantages of sound economic policies and financial disciple. Make use of our industrial estates by inviting entrepreneurs. Do not make jobs creation difficult because therein lies the biggest of Bhutan’s opportunities of becoming a strong and independent economy.

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