Of the year gone by

Jigme Wangchuk

Looking back, the pig was good-tempered, kind-hearted, positive, and loyal. At times we faltered but, overall, it was a fruitful year.

Bhutan and India concluded a year-long Golden Jubilee last year. It was a year of reflection.

The Year of the Hog also brought some challenges. The nation witnessed some serious unavoidable natural incidences such as the wildfire in Bjimena, Thimphu. There was a devastating windstorm in central and western Bhutan.

There was a major reform in the education sector in the year gone by. The education ministry issued an official notification to do away with instructional classes on Saturdays. Then there were hundreds of people visiting the fifth Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition in Samdrupjongkhar. One of the important gateways to Bhutan, Samdrupjongkhar is today fast turning into a model town.

The problem of youth unemployment is rising. So there was learn and earn programme that became a national problem. Japan, Malaysia, Iraq. Creating jobs in the country is still a major challenge for the government.

Bhutan’s focus on advancing development along the lines of Gross National Happiness was recognised by UNDP with a special award to His Majesty The King.

His Majesty The King granted citizenship kidu to 359 people at the Kuenrey of the Tashichhodzong and reminded the recipients of the kidu of the profound responsibilities to nurture the Bhutanese identity, promote trust and unity among the people, and participate wholeheartedly in nation-building process. More than 10,000 Bhutanese have received citizenship kidu under the reign of His Majesty The King.

The year gone by also taught us some awkward lessons. 

Twenty years after Bhutan first banned the use and sale of plastic carry bags, doma wrappers and ice cream pouches, the ban was reinforced nationwide again. We are still struggling with it. Customers and shopkeepers have not found sensible alternatives yet.

Natural disasters visited the nation in their full force. Hailstorm damaged crops in the eastern dzongkhags, particularly in Trashiyangtse. Consistent rise in temperature in the months of April, May and June led to the melting of ice in Thorthormi, which caused a glacial surge. A lake breached its dam and threatened a serious GLOF. A windstorm damaged more than 45 acres of crops belonging to 85 households in Yabrang, Phimshog and Thongrong chiwogs of Phongmey gewog in Trashigang.

And then the nation experienced perhaps the worst dengue case, particularly in the south of the country. Months later, the nation would have to face the threat of coronavirus.

Diplomatically, the country moved slowly. One of the highlights of the year has been Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering’s visit to Bangladesh. Bhutan and Bangladesh agreed on allowing duty-free access to a additional 16 items. Bhutan agreed to expedite the process of granting duty-free access to 10 items proposed by Bangladesh.

The nation’s approach was regional integration. Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering met Narendra Modi in New Delhi, India as a guest at the swearing-in-ceremony of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of India for a second term.

Economically, Bhutan’s revenue generation capacity increased with the commissioning of the Mangdechhu Hydro Project. Bhutan’s  power generation capacity stands at 2,326MW today.

Sunkosh, which has the potential to generate over 2,500MW of power, is a priority for the government. Discussions during PM Narendra Modi’s visit revolved around the modality of implementation and financing. But then, more important, both Bhutan and India are working on exploring development cooperation beyond hydropower because energy demands are changing in the region.

The year also saw a major gold smuggling case in the history of the nation. The Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) in Paro and Thimphu implicated and arrested more than 40 men. The RBP recovered 170kg gold and the hearings of the cases continue.

In the Year of the Hog, Bhutan saw improvement in dealing with corruption issues in the country. In an effort to make the country corruption-free and further reinforce DAMTSI (developing accountable, moral and transparent systems and individuals), Prime Minster Dr Lotay Tshering launched the National Integrity and Anti-Corruption Strategy (NIACS) 2019-2023.

The government began implementing the ICT flagship programme, Digital Drukyul, which will transform public service delivery and digitally empower citizens. The programme is in line with His Majesty The King’s vision to use technology in addressing issues in healthcare, education and agriculture to improve governance and democracy, create jobs, enhance well-being, make the cities safer and cleaner, and bring overall benefit to the citizens of Bhutan. The programme is expected to create a digital ecosystem for citizens and allow quick and equal access to all services.

The year’s best and the most important milestone was His Majesty The King’s announcement of Gyalsung or National Service Programme. Bhutanese youth who turn 18 by 2022 will have the opportunity to undergo a year-long training programme so that they are provided direction and are encouraged to be strong, independent thinkers, capable of serving the country.

“Gyalsung will bring the youth of Bhutan together in a shared experience and act as a rite of passage irrespective of their economic or regional backgrounds,” His Majesty said. “With this initiative, we are placing an immense responsibility on the shoulders of our children, and assuming an even greater responsibility ourselves, to nurture them and ensure their success.”

The one-year training will include a three-month military-style training, and a nine-month programme in areas like agriculture sciences, entrepreneurship, computers and coding, health and sciences, among others.

All in all, the good-tempered and kind-hearted hog brought good developments to the nation and the people.

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