The government steps in

The government conveyed an important decision this week. Selected mining, like the extraction of dolomite, will be conducted by the State Mining Corporation, meaning it will be taken up by the government. In the past, like the coal mines in the east, it was operated by private sector companies or conglomerates.

It is a significant decision for many reasons, and with many implications. In a country that has earned the credit for being the only country on earth that is carbon negative, it is the recognition that natural resources cannot be “up for grabs”. Sustainability, as a national policy, can only be achieved if managed with excruciating care and with motives beyond profit.

Our governments have expressed their commitment to private sector development. An underlying inference of this move is the unambiguous message that the ultimate goal of private sector development is not to nurture – in fact, to discourage – monopolies that result in a society that can be blatantly divided into haves and have-nots. In the GNH context, equity is an important consideration for private sector development.

Yes, Bhutanese companies are contributing billions to the state in license fees and taxes. It is also an accepted culture of the market that they make even more billions in the process. It is not acceptable, of course, when this process cultivates unwanted practices that include various forms of tax evasion and corruption which may include collusion with government officials.

Most important, however, the decision comes at a time when we face a crisis the likes of which the world has not seen before. As thousands of fellow citizens come home from countries where their lives and jobs are affected by the impact of the Covid-19, and as more Bhutanese test positive for Covid-19 by the day, the government has taken it up as a moral responsibility to spare no expenses to ensure the well being of our citizens.

The health and economic burden of Covid-19 weighs heavy on the country, health by the threat to lives the economy by the threat to livelihoods. Thus the need to consolidate national and natural resources to support the national response.

We also may need to remind ourselves that the decision of the government is a mandate enshrined in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan. It is with welcome foresight that the Constitution requires the State to preserve natural resources as a responsibility to society as a whole. What better moment to evoke such an obligation?

There is no need for justification, and no room for objection, when a national determination is made for the benefit of the nation and the people – to ensure the wellbeing and happiness of future generations.

We do not need any persuasion but we should ponder on why His Majesty The King has been travelling the length and breadth of the country to see to the wellbeing of the Bhutanese family. And, as the wellbeing of thousands of Bhutanese people is ensured by Royal kidu, we should contemplate the significance of true leadership.

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