As planners, policy makers and development partners meet in the capital to discuss Bhutan’s development, several aspects of Bhutan’s development journey are highlighted.
The round table meeting has provided a forum for discourse to take stock of how far the country has come in terms of development and how far it plans to go.
Discussions on rethinking development as Bhutan works to graduate from the least developed country status has left people asking more questions than answers.
What does graduating to a lower middle-income country mean for an unemployed graduate? What does it mean to our farmers, the least happy among the population? How would the discourse on rethinking development with our development partners translate into enhancing happiness for the people?
These questions are as pertinent as the discourse because they are the realities of our development story. There is already a growing perception of GNH being elitist and philosophical and that the discourse on graduation if any has been anything but inclusive. The living standards and per capita income of most Bhutanese may have improved , but there are many who have been left behind and who have fallen through the cracks left behind by our development process.
While the realities of a changing Bhutan may have induced us to rethink development, we are also sensing hesitation and some level of unpreparedness among policy makers and planners to the graduation process.
For a government that pledged to narrow the gap, the graduation process appears paradoxical. The prime minister’s doubts on the graduation process when the country has not met the people’s basic needs is telling.
Bhutan has met only two of the three criteria to be eligible for graduation. We have to be wary that we risk becoming vulnerable on the social indices, health and education should we be unable to sustain the graduation status. Investments in these sectors are sensitive to the availability of support and we need to be prepared to step in and cushion the impact of withdrawal of donors.
The government’s call to strategise the last mile of crossing the LDC threshold tells us that we have done well but there is more work to do now. The implementation of the 12th Plan is targeted to transition the country’s development status and a strategy to complete the last mile.
But our problem is not with the lack of a strategy or a plan but with implementation. The 12th Plan is called a transitional plan with enhanced decentralisation and the most ambitious yet. More than these, it is a test to our commitment and that of our development partners in implementing the plan.
For elected governments, the end of the plan period marks the last mile. For the country, it marks a beginning.