The state of the nation report this year focused on the 2015 GNH survey findings
Parliament: Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay presented the state of the nation report to Parliament yesterday focusing on the 2015 Gross National Happiness (GNH) survey.
The state of the nation is an annual report on the performance of the government to date, on the country’s progress, achievements and challenges.
Presenting the report for about three hours, Lyonchoen said that His Majesty The Fourth King has gifted us GNH that is admired globally. “It is important for us to practice GNH at home and we must take the findings seriously,” he said.
Given the importance of GNH, Lyonchoen said he choose to present the annual report this year based on the overall findings of the GNH survey. “This is not a government progress report but a status of GNH in our country,” he said, adding that he will not be reporting on some important programmes.
Lyonchoen touched upon health, education, living standard, rural development, women and employment, among others. Lyonchoen also reported on the five jewels of hydropower, agriculture, tourism, cottage and small industries (CSIs) and mining.
Lyonchoen said that he was honoured to present the report on a special year citing the significance of this year. He also thanked the Indian government for its tremendous assistance for the 11th Plan.
Lyonchoen reported that the GNH survey indicates that health of the people was improving. “It’s the government’s responsibility to continue and strengthen free healthcare system for the well-being of our people,” he said.
In doing so, about 8.69 percent or Nu 4.5 billion (B) of the total budget is allocated to the health sector this financial year. Although people are now living longer and healthier, Lyonchoen said increasing number of suicidal deaths is a concern. “The 2015 GNH survey shows that the population who attempted to commit suicide increased from 17 percent to 21 percent in 2015,” he said. “This is not consistent with a GNH country.”
The government, therefore, has adopted the National Suicide Prevention Action Plan to address the growing problem of suicide.
Lyonchoen said he was pleased to report that almost all children are in schools today with the net adjusted primary enrollment rate at 99 percent. About 72 percent of those who enter pre-primary complete Class X.
This year’s focus of the government is towards improving quality of education for which 20.05 percent or Nu 10.9B of the total budget for fiscal year 2016-17 has been allocated. “The school reform is progressing well and the two major reforms in education are the establishment of central schools and professional development of teachers.”
There are 539 schools in the country of which 35 are private owned and 504 government-owned. Most schools do not have adequate teachers and teaching-learning resources particularly in smaller rural schools, Lyonchoen reported. In addition, there are 96 Extended Classrooms each overseen by a single teacher.
Although establishment of Central Schools is expensive, this year alone, the government has budgeted Nu 2.976B for central schools. “But, it is worth investing as rural children will benefit from this noble initiative,” he said. “The initiative will be cheaper in the long run for the government as there will be less schools to look after besides improvement in quality of education.”
There are 8,605 teachers in 539 schools today most of whom are posted in remote schools working under difficult conditions. As part of the One Teacher One Child adoption programme, Lyonchoen said some 2,668 teachers took special care of some 4,447 students during the 2015 academic year. The objective was to benefit the vulnerable children or children at risk of dropping out.
Lyonchoen also pointed out the need for professional development of teachers that is crucial in improving quality of education. “The academic year 2016 is declared as the “Teacher Development Year”,” he said, adding that Nu 117M has been kept for professional development of teachers.
The government is expanding tertiary education within Bhutan to accommodate the increasing number of students completing higher secondary schools. Every year, a total of 8,855 students complete higher secondary education. Of them, 4,000 study in Bhutan while the rest study in neighboring countries, mainly in India.
Lyonchoen said that if the quality of education received by our children in colleges abroad was good, it’s not much of a concern. “But many Bhutanese students are currently studying in low standard colleges,” he said. Therefore, the government is expanding existing colleges and starting new colleges.
Three new private colleges have also been approved in principle.
Lyonchoen reported that living standards of people have increased significantly in the last five years. For instance, he said in 2010 only 87 percent of households owned mobile phones while today 98 percent have the device. Television ownership has also increased from 51 percent to 75 percent households. Similarly, ownership of refrigerators has increased from 33 percent to more than 54 percent of households while vehicle ownership increased from 18 to 24 percent.
As indicated by the GNH survey, Lyonchoen said 97.7 percent of the people have access to safe drinking water and 68 percent of households have access to improved sanitation. Similarly, 99 percent of households have access to grid electricity. Rural electrification of remaining households is ongoing and delays were mainly due to difficult terrain, delays in farm road construction and extreme weather, among others.
Of the total of 85,261 households, 76,535 households have roofs with corrugated galvanised iron (CGI) sheets indicating that standard of living has increased significantly. “However, the cost of living has also increased over time,” Lyonchoen said. “Inflation has driven up the costs of goods and services, mostly posing difficulties to people in the lower income group.”
Lyonchoen also said that the GDP growth this year is projected to grow at 8.4 percent while the finance ministry has projected a GDP growth rate of 7.7 percent for 2016. “Although our economy is doing well, we cannot afford to remain complacent,” he said. “As a small economy with smaller economic base, we need to be extra cautious.”
The total loan outstanding today stands at Nu 140B with 75 percent of it being hydropower loans. As of now, trade deficit is Nu 32.808B. Although the deficit is more than covered by external grant aid, Lyonchoen said this is not sustainable in the long run.
Lyonchoen said that as per the GNH survey rural people are less happy compared to urban people and poverty is higher in rural areas. As 70 percent of the people live in rural areas, Lyonchoen said this is a concern. “Rural-urban migration is increasing and along with it, the number of gungtongs (empty households) is also increasing,” he said.
Lyonchoen also reported on the various policies that the government has been focusing on rural development such as electricity, roads, farm shops, mobile connectivity, gewog banks and promoting rural businesses, among others.
As the GNH survey indicates that some people are not happy with government services such as in the education and health sectors, in fighting corruption and in creating jobs, Lyonchoen said this is a cause for concern. “People feel that government services are not reaching them,” he said.
Lyonchoen also reported that the government is making concerted efforts to improve delivery of service in three ways through government performance management system, government to citizen (G2C) services, and through decentralisation.
Extended maternity leave in the civil service, setting up crèches in all government agencies and Early Childcare and Development (ECCD) facilities are some of the initiatives for the benefits of working mothers and children, Lyonchoen said. “ECCD centres are not only helpful for the development of a child but also a big help to mothers.
A special task-force is also studying the possibilities of how and what nutrition supplements are required to be provided to women and children. “To begin with, the government will target expectant mothers and breast-feeding mothers,” he said.
In his concluding remarks, Lyonchoen emphasised the need to work together to fulfil His Majesty’s vision.
The release of the 2015 survey findings was timely for the government, he said. “It was released during the mid-way of the government’s term and it provided good opportunity for the government to use survey results.”
The survey has come up with significant findings for the government to consider, Lyonchoen said. “The government will take the findings seriously and work hard to improve government policies and plans.”