On this National Day, as I contemplate our history, I am filled with awe. 

Bhutan became a member of the United Nations in 1971. In 1972, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo became the King of a country that was largely unknown to the rest of the world. Other than our closest neighbour India, Bhutan did not have diplomatic relations with any country. 

The Bhutan that we live in today is a vastly different country. 

The sheer scale and magnitude of our country’s transformation is evident when we see how we are preoccupied with finding ways to manage our economy, national debt, finances, human resources and institutions. It is all the more remarkable, given that it was just in 1974 when we started our own currency, and found ourselves struggling to staff our handful of government agencies.

Indeed, over the three and a half decades that His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo reigned from 1972 to 2006, we fundamentally transformed Bhutan. His Majesty left us the solid foundations of a strong, secure and sovereign nation. 

Our greatest collective responsibility now is to build upon His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s legacy. To hand over to the next generation, a country that has achieved as much or even more than it has over the previous three and a half decades. To leave behind a much stronger nation that enjoys even greater peace, prosperity, and happiness. 

On this special occasion, I offer our nation’s heartfelt gratitude, respect and prayers to His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.

Our National Day commemorates the past, present, and future. It is a special occasion to take stock of our achievements, as we pledge our commitment for the future. After three long years battling the COVID-19 pandemic, we are once again able to come together to celebrate the birth of our nation. This makes this year’s National Day all the more special.

 Thousands of Bhutanese poured into Changlimithang, as early as 9pm on the previous night, to witness the National Day celebrations that included live music and performances

Thousands of Bhutanese poured into Changlimithang, as early as 9pm on the previous night, to witness the National Day celebrations that included live music and performances

The COVID-19 pandemic was an unprecedented national challenge. We fought an unknown and unpredictable enemy. I can now safely say that we have won the war. 

How did we manage to achieve victory under such difficult circumstances? We won because we were united. It was our resilience, our sense of responsibility and selfless consideration for the welfare of others, that saw us through those difficult times. 

Places that were unfortunately plagued with distrust and disharmony amongst the people struggled to implement timely measures to combat COVID-19. Fortunately, Bhutan was not one of them. We were blessed to have our people’s unswerving unity, which emerged as one of our greatest strengths.

Our people went through a great deal during the pandemic. We were subjected to mandatory quarantines, prolonged lockdowns, and repeated mass testing. We had to choose between prioritising lives or livelihoods. With movements restricted and businesses forced to close, the pandemic took a toll on not only our livelihoods, but also our sense of wellbeing. 

Notwithstanding this, our people chose the welfare of others above their own. We closed ranks as exemplary, steadfast and socially conscious citizens to fight the pandemic together. 

Bhutanese showed an exceptional spirit of generosity. We shared what little we had, and readily volunteered whenever and wherever needed. The empathy of the Bhutanese people extended not only to fellow Bhutanese, but also to the rest of the world. We performed prayers across the country to all those around the world who have been suffering and who had lost their lives. We prayed for healing and recovery in the world. These truly exemplified our Buddhist virtues of compassion. 

If there was one thing during the entire pandemic that did not surprise me, it would have to be the manner in which our people served and their willingness to make sacrifices for the wellbeing of others. This is who we are, this is who we have always been, and this is who we will continue to be.

This pandemic has brought to the fore the extraordinary strength, capability and selflessness of the people of Bhutan. Bhutan is an extraordinary country. 

What makes us extraordinary? It is Damtsi – our unwavering loyalty to one another, and our commitment to our duty, which is as boundless as the ocean. 

More than 1,300 years after Guru Rinpoche came to Bhutan, he remains omnipresent. His blessings and teachings are very much alive in our thoughts and prayers, and in the manner in which we go about living our lives. Guru Rinpoche has taught us that all our aspirations will bear fruit as long as Damtsi prevails. And more than 400 years after Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel established the sovereign state of Bhutan, we Bhutanese are still serving his commands, vision, and aspirations. It is as though Ngawang Namgyel continues to personally lead our nation. 

I want to take this opportunity to share some of my thoughts on our path ahead, as we look to the future. These five things come to mind. 

First, we have learnt a lot from battling the pandemic. While some say the worst days of COVID-19 are over, this will not be the last crisis that we will face together. We must be ready for the next crisis that hits us, be it the next pandemic, war, natural disaster, or otherwise. Our greatest lesson from the pandemic is to be prepared for whatever comes next. 

Second, all the signs point to a looming global economic crisis: soaring inflation around the world, the strengthening of the US dollar, the US government’s plans to increase interest rates, the war between Russia and Ukraine that continues to drag on. We must be prepared for the global economic crisis that will certainly have an impact on Bhutan.

Third, we have been working hard to bring about the transformational changes and improvements that we need to strengthen our governance and the economy. We are all doing this for our people, especially our youth, so that they can establish a secure, happy and prosperous future. The transformation process has started promisingly only because we have the strong support of the people. Our responsibility now is to see this process to the end and ensure that we succeed. 

Fourth, one issue poses a huge threat to our national security, economy, the wellbeing of our people and our children, and above all, the future of our nation: drugs and substance abuse. We are a small population. Every child is precious. We cannot afford to lose any child or for that matter, anyone to substance abuse. We must not allow substance abuse to jeopardize their future. Substance abuse is already taking root among our children, and we cannot let it proliferate. We must act now before it is too late, and do whatever it takes to eradicate this threat. Failure is not an option.

Fifth, the manner in which we Bhutanese worked to protect the nation during the pandemic was truly incredible. I witnessed firsthand the concerted efforts and single-minded dedication of our people at all levels, in all our twenty dzongkhags. I could not help but think that if we kept up the momentum, we might just be able to achieve all our goals and aspirations. If we were to choose to fight the threat of drug abuse with the same zeal as we fought the pandemic, I am very sure we would succeed. 

Indeed, once we Bhutanese set our minds on something, we will definitely accomplish it. It is said that we only know our true strength when we have a burden to bear. The pandemic was one such heavy burden, and we bore it exceptionally well. This shows that once we put our minds together, there is nothing we cannot do. 

As long as we continue to work together with single-minded devotion, we will secure the future of our nation.

Tashi Delek