What is happening? This is the question resonating with many following the Parliament debates and issues highlighted by the media recently. A more relevant question is what is not happening or why are things not happening the way we want or plan.
The discussion, unfortunately, is still about issues that had been discussed again and again without much progress. We are still talking about the relevancy of our education system, implementing planned activities, lack of quality, transparency and accountability.
Yesterday, a member of parliament questioned the relevance of courses offered by the tertiary institutes. We have thousands of graduates in Himalayan Studies, Sustainable Development, Dzongkha and Culture and many more. Half of them are still looking for jobs. They are finding it difficult to land jobs unless they have the “network”. The Royal Civil Service Commission, the biggest employer, is not recognizing some of the courses.
The issue for long had been the mismatch of skills and jobs. We have added more complexities to increase the number of jobs. Most did the courses as it was the only available course or the one that they qualified for. They are living the reality.
The trend is visible everywhere. The long-overdue overhead bridge at Olakha needing repair before inauguration speaks volumes of our shortcomings. We are living with traffic jams that we feared for decades, but without any solutions. The expressway didn’t require overhead bridges when there were 30,000 vehicles in the capital city in 2011, for instance. With one car for every two capitals residents, we need overhead bridges along the expressway, parking spaces – underground and above. We saw the problem coming. We didn’t care to find solutions.
The capital city, meanwhile, is in a mess. It is not the city that we envisioned a decade ago. We had grand plans – with simple ideas like adequate public space, children parks, efficient and cheap public transport. Today what we see is congestion and unruly and uncontrolled growth. What was envisioned through master plans, spending millions of Ngultrums, had now been relegated as a study relevant for government and donors for policy implementation failure.
As we talk about a Developed Bhutan vision, we are stuck in the basic problems – symptoms of underdeveloped nations. We need Royal initiatives to kick off basic projects and solve basic issues.
The capital city has a huge network of urban water supply. We depend on a handful of plumbers who work only on whims or when made happy with kickbacks. There is enough water for everyone. The problem is in the distribution system.
Managing the scarce resources is a problem going by the audit observations. Since the Royal Audit Reports were made public in the early 2000s, we are seeing the same issue- of misuse, embezzlement and irregularities. But for a few cases, the audit observations dies in the shelves of offices.
The third local government election this year is better in terms of the choice of candidates if we go by academic qualification. The candidates are not only functionally literate. There are high school graduates, university graduates and those with Master’s degrees competing. Is it out of choice? It may be a sign of the success of the education policy of achieving a minimum education level of Class X, but it could also mean rising unemployment and lack of choice.
If rural to urban migration is a problem, the bigger problem is not having enough teachers to teach children in remote Bhutan. This has severe implications that cannot be addressed only by encouraging teachers to marry teachers.
In short, the task at hand is more formidable than we think.