The Pungthang Dewachan Phodrang – Punakha Dzong – was where the Bhutanese polity was crafted by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. More than four centuries later, we heard echoes that rang of the need for a new polity, in this case, the need for the current governance structure to be reorganized. It was a strong message for the Bhutanese leadership gathered in Punakha and for the Bhutanese population listening to His Majesty The King’s Royal Address on National Day.
It was moving to hear His Majesty’s own appreciation of our frontline workers living in harsh conditions out there – braving the summer heat and winter cold, wild animals, and poisonous insects, without basic amenities – to protect us. The broader context is that Covid-19 is still knocking on our doors. And the comforting message was that, as commanded by His Majesty, Bhutan will continue to support our people with forms of financial support to tide over the crisis.
But the thrust of the Royal Address this year was that we need drastic reforms of the Bhutanese civil service and the education system. It was an emphasis that has even civil servants and educationists nodding vigorously in agreement. His Majesty issued Royal Decrees (Kasho) for a fundamental restructuring of the civil service and for a vision to take education goals from infrastructure and numbers to quality and standards.
Our context begs many questions. The Royal Kashos outline “why” we need the reforms and “what” we need to do. The immediate questions that arise are “who” will carry out the Commands and “how” will this be done.
To echo the spirit of the Royal Commands, we need to cut the rhetoric and look at our situation with an honesty that will be discomforting. People who know Bhutan and who love Bhutan cannot help sense a tinge of frustration when they reflect on the situation. We have heard words of wisdom year after year in the Royal Addresses. They are usually followed by effusive appreciation of the wisdom and then, as we have also seen year after year, they fizzle out after a flurry of meetings.
Has Covid-19 shocked us enough to rethink and reorganise ourselves for an unpredictable future in a fast-changing world? And will the reverberations of the transition from a Royal Address to a Royal Kasho break our mindsets which is the real problem blocking our future path? These are two forces that we are not likely to see again. And if they don’t wake us up, we are truly lost.
The vital question – as we claim to be a small country that dares to be different is – are we?