Bhutanese society is coping with a sense of vulnerability intensified by our confrontation with change as we adjust to transformation on a historic scale. These are times when we are challenged to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Our discourse, as usual, is characterised by speculation and rumour. Even as we feel the waves of reform and lament the outflux of Bhutanese citizens seeking jobs overseas, there are some of us who even believed that the government had gambled away the budget meant for the salaries of public servants.

So, the reports this week in the Bhutanese media of the activities of the Druk Holdings and Investments (DHI), the investment arm of the Royal government, provides some clarification and relief. They correct the misinformation on the streets of Thimphu and within Bhutanese society, including our diaspora beyond the borders.

The concerns, of course, connect to our personal interests. Are imports being banned because we have lost our hard currency? No – our hard currency is limited because our sources are limited. Are Bhutanese industries deprived of fuel because our hydro energy is diverted to crypto mining? No – hydro power is worth much more when we use it, in this case, for digital asset mining (bitcoin, for example).

Reports in international media and views on social media seemed to fan uncertainties. The news value of a “Shangrila” entangled in a controversy linked to artificial intelligence, the risks of treading into unfamiliar territory, and the lack of understanding among the Bhutanese people are ingredients that guarantee alarm.

DHI seems to be grappling with the dilemma of the caution needed to launch bold new initiatives and to deal with the pressures of a society brimming with doubt and suspicion. The government may not have clarified all the misunderstandings, and the people do not need to know every strategy of the government, but the basic facts are out there.

DHI will not divulge all the numbers in its investments but assures citizens that it adopts a safe approach. So no – DHI has not emptied the national coffers. But, like most of officialdom, DHI maintains a silence which is sometimes misread as guilt, and its responses can be too little too late.

The circumstances require that Bhutan goes past the threshold of the known. It is a good time to explain the situation because everyone is ready to believe the worst. The issue is nation-building but, in the aftermath of a pandemic that crippled financial systems, the focus is economic growth. So, what is the story?

DHI’s mandate is to enhance national funds in the interest of the country. Following the Royal vision for Bhutan’s future, repeatedly spelt out to the nation, the investment should be strategically futuristic, looking ahead to a world where technology is moving at super speed. In the era of artificial intelligence and machine learning systems the metaverse is not just a movie – it is reality. Carbon credit platform are the tools at hand and, if we don’t use them, they’ll use us. Chat GPT is already churning out better researched and more articulate literature on Bhutan than the average Bhutanese.

In the absence of a domestic market and a limited regional market, DHI needs to go international, which means being bold and taking calculated risks. Bhutan could not leverage the full force of the telecom and internet revolutions. So, we need to leapfrog into the fourth industrial revolution. With the launch of the National Digital Identity (NDI), a home-grown system, we are getting there. NDI works on blockchain (the next internet) and Bhutan is the first sovereign country to build national digital identity using blockchain.

Having been inspired and encouraged, DHI investing in digital assets seems to be a natural move, innovative because it has caught the trend in an early stage. Leap-frogging does not mean racing to overtake others; it means joining in at the right place and right moment.

DHI assures us that it has not taken a reckless and losing gamble with national funds as it has been alleged. And it is reassuring to be informed that DHI is consulting the best in the world. It has made a safe investment in mining digital assets which, experts tell us, is the future.

Most of us will never understand the science of cutting-edge technology. But just as our archers adopted the fibreglass bow and celebrate 24 hits on the target compared with four hits with a bamboo bow, citizens on smartphones have created a potentially cashless society, and our youth aim for the stars, we are on the move.