All Bhutanese are familiar with the term, kidu. The simplest lay interpretation of kidu is that, in the Bhutanese system, the King personally takes care of the wellbeing of the people. It is a unique and humane social security system to ensure basic necessities and livelihood as well as any other aspect of a Bhutanese citizen’s life when necessary.
The Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu (DGRK) was established in April 2020, to provide relief and help for the victims of the Covid-19 crisis. On the premise that the economy will eventually be rebuilt as we emerge out of the pandemic, the DGRK is an interim measure to provide immediate reprieve during a time of unprecedented difficulty. A total of nearly 50,000 Bhutanese citizens continued to live normal lives (a luxury these days) because of the DGRK. It was what our forefathers called the relationship between Gom (King) and mitshe (people).
On April 22, 2021, Lyonchhen Lotay Tshering conveyed the Royal Command that DGRK was extended for another 15 months. The kidu is granted from the National Sungchhop (security) Fund. Significantly, His Majesty the King has granted the fund which had been allocated for the Gyalsung (national service) programme, a Royal initiative for future generations of Bhutanese. This provides new insights into the dimension of His Majesty’s compassion in the care of the people. It also takes the kidu discourse to a profound level.
As Bhutan, in fact the world, confronts this unprecedented catastrophe the DGRK defines a holistic response. It is immediate and unconditional relief for individuals and families affected by the pandemic. It waives interests on loans and defers loan repayment for individuals and businesses. The medical and health services and the fiscal and monetary measures is sustaining lives and livelihoods.
There is now inevitable discourse on the relief kidu, inevitable because we are talking about billions of ngultrums and thousands of people. An obvious question, who are the beneficiaries? Public opinion platforms – not necessarily reliable, but quite effective – is providing a mixture of facts and theories, perceptions and misconceptions.
Our society at large is expressing a cynicism apparently coming from the frustrations of existing inequalities and differences in society – the gap between the rich and poor. That is why the perception and resentment that big businesses benefit the most because of their big loans, even enabling proprietors to buy luxury cars and convert kidu into profit through deposits.
However, as we insist on accountability, we should not miss the true perspective. Yes, there are people who will take advantage of any situation for personal gain. And, yes, they should be discouraged. But we also have to be clear that this group is the minority. The majority of those receiving kidu are being helped out of dire straits.
And we should also be realistic. We declare that people, implying the rich, must exercise the moral responsibility and make ethical decisions. But the natural pragmatism of the Bhutanese people suggests that, when it comes to personal gain, morality and ethics are often discarded as fancy philosophical terminology.
Why not turn instead to our own Buddhist teaching on need and greed. A poor person reaches out for kidu in need, a rich person seeks kidu because of greed. Therefore, applying for kidu implies a responsibility in itself.
Why is this so important? When His Majesty The King grants kidu, it is granted to all Bhutanese citizens. The magnanimity of this gesture calls for a sense of personal accountability by those who seek and receive kidu. And, accepting that Bhutanese citizens are not free of greed, we need mechanisms to ensure that such a gift is not exploited with wrong motives.
It is, therefore, reassuring that the procedure to apply for kidu entails some level of integrity. Applicants for the income support kidu are those who have genuinely lost the means to support themselves and their families. Applicants for the interest waiver and loan deferment are required to acknowledge past grants and assets. This level of transparency is healthy. But, to truly deserve this sacred gift, we need to make principled decisions to differentiate between greed and need.
Because the Bhutanese system works when all of us understand that kidu is sacrosanct.