Article 9 of the Constitution secures economic, social, and other welfare rights, including good quality of life, health, education, and an adequate livelihood.  However, the number of Bhutanese moving out of the country, a significant increase in national debt, decrease in foreign currency, exorbitant increase in living expenses, staggering youth unemployment rate, ever-increasing gaps between the rich and poor, and uncertain future and radical change indicate that the elected as well as non-elected leaders of various public institutions have not only failed but also created an artificial uncertainty in the society. 

Foreseeing these challenges, more than a decade ago, His Majesty reminded us that “as we venture into a new era of democratic governance, we are all aware of the benefits of its success as well as the implications of its failure.  If we can build a strong economy, we will have the unshakable foundations for a vibrant democracy through which we will achieve Gross National Happiness and fulfil the aspirations of our people.” His Majesty further said: “In this day and age, a nation’s success is determined by the strength and competitiveness of her economy. The highest importance was attached to the establishment of parliamentary democracy and a system of Government that will provide good governance and fulfil the aspirations of our people.”

 Those warnings fell on deaf ears and, now, we see the outcome. 

 Bhutanese leaders woke up only when His Majesty took the personal initiative of issuing a Royal Decree to reform the system after decades of reminder. If public servants, particularly the bureaucrats and political leaders, had initiated these reforms, the unintended consequences of reforms, as well as deliberate consequences of their failure, would never have occurred. 

For example, this week alone, the passport office had to issue travel documents instead of passports leading to the deportation of Bhutanese—a humiliation for the nation. The foreign minister blamed the travellers for not checking before departure. This is nothing short of political arrogance.   

 The RCSC issued an open letter to civil servants reminding them of their roles in building the nation. Yet they revised the civil service rules to make an offence for exercising their freedom of speech and expression, further increasing doubts and uncertainty in the system. Silently, the government has been vigorously curbing current expenditure with cuts on mid-level or lower civil servants–entitlements like travel and daily allowances without amending the Pay Revision Act. 

 The political parties for the three successive elections have failed to build Bhutan’s unique democracy envisioned by a Great Fourth. Every action has been short-term – unachievable promises and giving freebies such as central schools, constructing poor quality farm roads, liberalising alcohol and tobacco to please the voters. The trend is becoming worse including justifying their failures and playing blame games. 

His Majesty through De-Suung Programme had to resolve the water crisis, and even build roads. Therefore, unless public institutions improve their transparency, do away with bureaucratic arrogance in public service delivery and immediately lay down both short-term and long-term measures, the nation will continue to see future citizens, including local experts and professionals, leave the country.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.