When we look back to the year gone by, Bhutanese will remember the year of the rooster for the country’s diplomacy. Peace prevailed amid geo-political tensions in the neighbourhood and Bhutan, under the guidance of its leaders, remained unscathed.
His Majesty The King, Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen and His Royal Highness the Gyalsey visited India at the invitation of the Prime Minister of India in November. His Royal Highness the Gyalsey’s first foreign visit further strengthened the special relationship between Bhutan and India. It was an auspicious beginning to celebrate 50 years of Bhutan-India relations.
Relationship with Bangladesh was strengthened when the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina visited Bhutan and saw the friendship between the two countries go beyond protocol.
Her Imperial Highness Princess Mako of Akishino of Japan visited Bhutan, further strengthening the special bond of friendship between Bhutan and Japan.
Their Majesties also offered last respects to His Late Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, during the Royal Cremation Ceremony at Sanam Luang in Bangkok.
While we are wary of the external factors, His Majesty reminded the nation at the National Day celebrations in Haa that we can become more vulnerable with internal instability. His Majesty reminded the people of the values that bind the Bhutanese society and to preserve fidelity for it is the quintessential strength of our sovereignty and security, well – being, and happiness.
The rooster year saw the country receive its heaviest snowfall in a decade and the national flower being recognised as a new species. With the rooster ushering in the elections, political parties and aspirants for National Council elections fanned across the country on familarisation tours. Cabinet ministers and members from the opposition were as much on the move, assessing development programmes and meeting people.
Efforts to boost the economy through fiscal incentives came under scrutiny with the issue reaching the highest decision making body of the country, the Parliament. The subject of fiscal incentives granted without the Parliament’s approval got entangled in legality and corruption issues with Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) moving court to determine its constitutionality. The High Court did not determine this and judged the legality of DNT to pursue the case. What it made clear was that a party outside the Parliament doesn’t have the mandate to pursue the case. It also reminded the legislature and the executive that no one but His Majesty The King could command the Supreme Court for an interpretation. Claiming that they are righting the wrongs, the government and opposition are today threatening each other on the issue of fiscal incentives. The parliament was perhaps not a conducive place to sort out these differences?
In the interest of the nation, the Parliament decided to defer the BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement and the government asked the rest of the regional members to go ahead with their agreements.
In its precedent setting judgement on the SP+ case, the Supreme Court pointed out the failure of the legislature to envision the future situation of drugs in the country by not putting in a clause to cover controlled substances that were not listed in the annexure. The Supreme Court’s observation on the parliament’s oversight in the drafting of the Act is an important reminder, especially as the country prepares for its third round of elections. The rooster year saw our parliamentarians violating laws and the agriculture minister and the education minister forgetting diplomacy. They both apologised for their comments.
The country’s efforts to curb controlled substances and prevent suicides remained a challenge. Cabin crew-members tested positive and suicide cases continued to rise.
But the biggest challenge for the country was addressing unemployment. While youth unemployment figures soared, overseas employment programmes conned job seekers. But the government refused to release the labour force survey report. It was a labourious year for the ministry, which has now come under ACC radar. To allow candid discussion, the rooster didn’t allow the media to attend important conferences on education and the Dzongdag’s conference. It is hoped that the dog year will allow the media to play its watchdog role.
What grabbed as much headlines was the government’s move to explore the possibility of corporatising the national referral hospital. Questions arose on what constitutes basic health care as enshrined in the Constitution but the discourse was snubbed when the National Assembly resolved to not corporatise the hospital. The specialist retention strategy that started this debate on the national referral hospital’s status is today sitting on the health minister’s table. Since Shakespeare has returned to schools, this saga could be, a case of much ado about nothing.
Towards the end of the year, political parties picked pace and started declaring candidates. Former secretaries and ACC chairperson joined the fray. To increase voter turn out in the upcoming parliamentary elections, ECB reformed its postal ballot service by allowing voters to vote from place of residence.
The year gone by was marked with significant developments. Bhutan opened its consulate office in Guwahati, Assam, doubled its heath trust fund for essential drugs and saw the Chukha plant’s export tariff revised by 30 Cheltrum.
The rooster has woken up the country to a host of issues – the good, the bad and the ugly. The dog year will watch over the country and its people’s choices.