Bhutan has arrived at a time when the country should not only think seriously about what development models and initiatives have done us good in the past, but also begin charting a roadmap to steer our economy in keeping with new opportunities and challenges. Prudence is looking far ahead.
As a landlocked country, we have challenges myriad. But if we focused on half the challenges facing the country today, we would easily turn them into opportunities. It is therefore not for no reason that His Majesty The King reminded the nation, in particular the nation’s law-makers, about the need for a new economic roadmap for the country.
That means a major overhaul across the system. Our health and education and services system must be remodelled to tackle modern challenges. More than anything, our economy must be on a sound footing to respond to rapidly shifting balance on all fronts.
Although hydropower has served Bhutan’s development well, the World Bank’s systematic country diagnostic had recommended Bhutan to explore alternative sources of growth and financing. This is not a new thing for Bhutan. There have been debates among policy-makers and politicians whether to invest elsewhere rather than only in hydropower.
Energy demands are changing across the regions due to the increasing effects of climate change. In the long run, Bhutan could ill afford to focus only on hydropower.
The modern age’s journey of evolution has been a concerted effort from a large number of countries to shift towards renewable energy or power sources. And the world’s demand for energy is only going to shoot up. Sitting on hydropower alone for economic growth on which rests much else can prove to be precarious for Bhutan so. For it to be irrelevant of it all might not even take a long time, warn the World Bank report.
This means Bhutan must invest in areas such as agriculture, for example, where production could be enhanced with major structural modifications. We may be a landlocked nation, but that should not be a problem. Right and timely investment in ICT has the potential to expand markets. One wonders why should making Bhutan a centre of excellence in the areas of health, environment and education be so difficult.
We have the right environment and political stability for the best bargain. It was reassuring to hear the prime minister say in the National Assembly that economic diversification is the only solution to curb the economic slow down of the country. Our dependency on hydropower alone might not sustain the economy, he said, and emphasised on diversification of investment in human capital—health and education, agriculture and tourism.
In the years to come, the demand for knowledge and excellence in these areas will only grow. We as a nation can and must do by much more, however. If we are to reap the benefits of demographic dividends, the report recommends some urgent modifications in the sector. Investing in small, medium-sized as and mega hydropower projects could help reduce the risk of depending too heavily on a few mega-projects.
That is looking beyond.