Much has been written. And more will be written on the ongoing exodus of our people for study and work abroad. Statements from the Government sources reveal that it is facilitating aspiring youths to study and work abroad. Putting any hurdle on their travel will be counterproductive for the Government as it would be construed as interfering with their individual rights to study or work abroad, so long as they are not duped by their placement agents or middle persons, or mistreated or exploited in host countries. The Government expects them to acquire higher educational qualifications and new technical skills which they would bring home ultimately, as most of them want to return. More importantly, remittances from the migrants will help to augment our dwindling foreign currency reserves and contribute towards economic growth and individual wellbeing at home.  

From what I can make out, the main reasons for people wanting to go abroad for work are better job opportunities with higher salaries, more stable and satisfying work environment, dignity of labor and better public services. Added to this is the quality of education that their children can get at schools and universities which in turn would enable them later to compete for work in the global job market. These are sound reasons for parents in luring them abroad, especially in countries like Australia, Canada, the U.K and the European Union. For instance, as per my source of information, Perth in Western Australia alone is known to have more than 15,000 Bhutanese people at present, with a total of over 25,000 throughout Australia. 

The quality of our public services has, however, been rarely mentioned as one of the notable reasons for the people leaving Bhutan in hordes. With better education and international exposure, our people’s expectations have not only increased but their lifestyles have become more sophisticated requiring sustained incomes. Moreover, despite the past and ongoing Government efforts to make our public services more efficient and user-friendly, not much has changed in reality. Regrettably, the level of user confidence and satisfaction on our public services is very low to say the least. As the provider of such services at both the central and local levels, most civil servants don’t seem to be adequately trained or sensitive enough to address people’s needs with their prompt and professional responses. Many observers blame this as a systemic problem. If so, why have we allowed to drag it for so long without resolving?

It is also an established fact that due to continuing bureaucratic hurdles, one often has to seek interventions from friends or relatives to get his or her work done. Digitalization of key services have brought some improvement, but the new systems are not always reliable. Our Internet rates are one of the highest in the region, let alone their quality and consistency. Despite being a hydropower exporter, electricity is erratic. Power supply snaps when most needed, especially in winter in the north, and in summer in the south. Municipal services leave much to be desired, with broken roads, sewage and drain waters spillage, shortage of drinking water, poor garbage management, and so on. Can we always attribute such problems to shortage of financial or human resources, or it is due to poor organizational management or unprofessional personnel? 

Unstable and unpredictable policy decisions followed by poor implementation partly explain the above deficiencies. It is certainly so as far as educational reforms, and issues of financial services, human resource and private sector development are concerned. Added to this is the heavy concentration of the Government in economic management in which the private sector should be more involved if we truly want it to be the ‘engine of economic growth.’ A robust private sector can produce more jobs and also contribute substantially to the economy compared to the traditional public sector.

No doubt, Bhutan’s development record so far has been excellent. If not for the impact of Covid-19, the present economic situation would have been better than what it is today. Even as the macroeconomic indicators for growth have somewhat improved, the prevailing general view is that the prospects for growth remain dim in the short run and the future is uncertain. 

Yet, Bhutan graduates from the LDCs group from the year end signifying our past achievements and giving hope for the future. We can no longer rationalize the shortcomings mentioned above as that of an LDC.  As a middle-income developing country, a firm national commitment to improve on the overall performance on the recent past is the need of the hour. Let us hope that with such a commitment and the ongoing reforms and transformation process, we will secure a road map for better future for all of us.

Contributed by

Achyut Bhandari,

Taba, Thimphu