It is not often that a Prime Minister of a country highlights alarming trends in the State of the Nation Report. This is the first report of the newly elected government who took over the reins of governance a few months ago. The concerns highlighted are alarming if not a new trend.

The State of the Nation  report usually highlights achievements, plans and programmes of the government. It gives confidence to the voters (people) and provides a clear path for the nation, even if it is for the next five years.

In sharing the concerns of nearly 9 percent of the population migrating to study, work and live abroad, Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay drew the attention to a concerning issue. It is, according to Lyonchhen, the most pressing issue. About 64,000 Bhutanese have migrated abroad.

This is not new. We knew Bhutanese were leaving to seek better opportunities. It happened soon after the Covid-19 pandemic. While developed countries provided the opportunity, we did not have the plans or measures to stop the emigration. Many thought that it opened a window for the jobless educated Bhutanese and helped ease the rising unemployment pressure. Long before the pandemic, several overseas employment opportunities were explored as successive governments couldn’t create jobs.

We also realised, a long time ago, that the trend of emigration will have repercussions. We felt it as hundreds of educated, trained and skilled people left the workforce. We knew that an odd job in Australia could easily attract a Bhutanese health or education expert to live and work there.

What have we done to stop the trend is the big question. Skilled people in all crucial sectors are happy to leave. An opportunity for a better future became the deciding factor. There is no hesitation of what kind of jobs they took.  All this is happening when there are grand plans for Bhutan to aspire to become a developed country. An unprecedented outflow of human resources, in our case, educated, trained and skilled free of cost, could jeopardise our visions.

We have diagnosed the problem. We need to treat it. The health and education sector, many agree, are the crucial sectors. One is about health, life and death and the other about the future of the country. Yet, interventions are embroiled in bureaucratic procedures.

Doctors, nurses, technicians who have better prospects to live and work abroad  are convinced that the government will, for instance, not reward them if they are Bhutanese. This is a blatant remark on the remunerations paid to expatriates, some of them, according to health officials, are less skilled than what we have here.

Many are blaming the system, meaning not being able to get beyond the civil service mentality. Health and education or doctors and teachers should not be civil servants. They should be paid as per availability and expertise.

The ball is in the government’s court. Having known the threat, what kind of mitigation measures could stop the trend of migration? It is not very difficult. If we can identify critical services or service providers, they should be retained.  Money, we all agree, is one factor. An increase of Nu 10,000 for doctors, nurses technicians or teachers, those in the sector say, could encourage them to stay.

If we want to improve our services, we have to recognise the service providers. Beyond their livelihood, the future of our children and the health of our people are at stake. There are long term plans. But the need is immediate.