UPDATEDrawing inspiration from His Majesty the King, the government of Bhutan treads the path to Gross National Happiness, placing people at the centre of development, said the chairman of the lhengye zhungtshog, Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba, as he presented the governments annual report to the National Assembly yesterday.
Gross National Happiness meaning the spiritual and material well being of the people, it is important to meet basic needs such as adequate income, health and education services, as well as the spiritual and emotional needs of the people by promoting our value systems, culture, traditions, and religion, said Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba.
The report was dominated by an overwhelming concern for the kingdoms security. National security being an important pre-requisite for stability and development, it is the most important issue facing the country today, Lyonpo Zimba said. It is of foremost concern to all Bhutanese people as an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity has been threatened by the ngolop problem and by the presence of the ULFA and Bodo militants in the country.
Lyonpo Zimba said that, in all 20 dzongkhags, the members of the GYT, DYT, the representatives of the business community, students, and the general public pledged to do whatever was necessary to remove the militants from Bhutanese territory. With such spontaneous support, the government is reassured of our peoples love, loyalty and dedication to the tsawa sum and is more confident than ever of finding a speedy solution to the problem, he said. I would like to make it clear that the royal government remains fully committed to carrying out the National Assembly resolutions if the peaceful means fail to persuade the militants to leave Bhutanese territory.
The lhengye zhungtshog chairman added that national security was not dependent on military strength alone, and that the people must be united in thought and action, and they must place the interest of the nation above all else.It is also important to have a strong economy to ensure national security, he said. We must all work towards strengthening national self-reliance, generating economic opportunities, creating employment and improving the lives of the Bhutanese people.
The head of government informed the National Assembly that the Royal Bhutan Army had been strengthened and equipped with better arms with the expenditure met entirely from the RBAs own funds, without affecting the development budget. The Royal Bhutan Police had also been strengthened to maintain law and order. All highways were being kept open throughout the country to facilitate safe travel for the people and shelters had been constructed for people traveling within Bhutan. Arrangements had been made for the supply of fuel and essential food commodities for people in the affected areas. Preparations for emergency camps were underway and emergency medical teams had been set up. Two security coordination committee meetings had been held in Gelephu and Deothang to facilitate coordination among government agencies in case of an emergency.
Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba said that, meanwhile, the ngolop threat carried equally serious implications for the countrys future. We must remain ever vigilant of such elements that threaten our peace and stability, he said. I would like to inform the honourable members that the Cabinet continues to review the security situation frequently.
The head of government reminded the Assembly that, in the past 40 years, Bhutan had emerged from being one of the poorest countries to achieving one of the highest per capita income (US $ 656) in South Asia. The literacy rate had reached 54 percent, life expectancy 66 years, and the economy continued to enjoy a sustained growth of six percent. Inflation was 4.5 percent and the country continued to enjoy a positive balance of payments.
I am happy to report to the National Assembly that we have reached the final year of the Eighth Plan without major disruptions to the planned development works, he said. The Eighth Plan expenditure was nearing Nu. 40,000 million, far higher than the estimated Plan expenditure of Nu. 30,000 million. The government had again been able to meet the current expenditures from domestic revenues.
Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba said that the mid term review of the Eighth Plan revealed that the priorities of the people had shifted from schools, water supply, and RNR extension to construction of roads and electricity supply . This shift in priority reflects the fact that no area suffers from a want of basic facilities and that development in Bhutan has been balanced and equitable.
Meanwhile the government has begun the process of preparing for the Ninth Five Year Plan which commences in July 2002. The estimated budget would be at least Nu. 50,000 million, representing an increase of about 67 percent from the Nu. 30,000 million budgeted for the Eighth Plan. In contrast to the earlier Plans, the Ninth Plan will, for the first time, be based on individual geog plans.
With 91,000 students expected to join the work force over the next 10 years, the lhengye zhungtsho chairman identified employment as one of the emerging concerns for the government and for parents and students. The current situation was a mis-match between supply and demand, considering that there were about 50,000 expatriate workers in the country.
Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba listed the steps taken by the government to tackle the problem. The National Technical Training Authority continued to oversee the expansion and improvement of technical and vocational education, the National Employment Board was working to further streamline the employment system and to intermediate between the job market and job seekers, the Department of Education was providing career-counseling services for the students so that young people could make realistic and informed career choices.
The government had raised the daily wage from Nu. 50 to Nu. 100 per day, and the wages of skilled personnel proportionately, to encourage Bhutanese nationals to join the work force. The employment rules and regulations for Bhutanese nationals in the private sector were being reviewed.
The chairman emphasised the need to promote the institutions, knowledge systems, expressions, beliefs, social patterns, and relationships that ensure the spiritual and emotional needs of the people. The government, he said, had taken several initiatives to preserve and promote Bhutans unique culture and traditions. Various activities related to literature, drama, songs and music were being organised to promote Dzongkha, a textile museum had been opened in Thimphu to promote and preserve traditional weaving skills, and emphasis had been placed on promotion of the zorig chusum.
The chairman of the lhengye zhungtsho reminded the Assembly that His Majesty the King had always desired a system of governance that was efficient, transparent, accountable, and responsive to the needs of the people. His Majesty had initiated a process of political reform to empower the people, a process which had culminated in the devolution of power from the Throne to an elected council of ministers. Meanwhile the process of decentralisation, a government priority, had advanced from the dzongkhag level to the geog level. The DYT and GYT chathrims were being reviewed, rural taxes were being retained by dzongkhags, and a number of new laws were being drafted every year to strengthen the rule of law. The civil service was being streamlined.
These wide ranging political reforms are a testament of His Majestys trust and confidence in the Bhutanese people, said Lyonpo Zimba. The people must, therefore, remember that this places greater responsibilities on us and we must ensure the realisation of his noble intentions.
Reporting on the countrys foreign policy, Lynpo Yeshey Zimba said that Bhutan continued to promote its global image, safeguard national interests, and maintain friendly relations with all countries, especially the neighbours and development partners.
Our excellent relations with India, our friend and neighbour, have been further strengthened through numerous high level visits, cultural exchanges, development cooperation and extensive trade relations, he said. India continues to be Bhutans largest development partner as well as a trusted friend. An exhibition on the theme the Living Religion and Cultural Traditions of Bhutan will be hosted in several Indian cities this year.
Bhutan hosted the Round Table Meeting in Thimphu, the largest international gathering in Bhutan, last November. The chairman of the lhengye zhungtsho attended the UN Millennium Summit in New York and the foreign minister visited Thailand, Finland, Norway, and the Netherlands to promote goodwill and strengthen bilateral relations.
I have the pleasure to report that the year 2000-2001 has been a very successful and eventful year, said Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba. The implementation of Plan activities have been successful, the nation is now gearing for the Ninth Plan, which promises to be an exciting period during which decentralisation, and peoples participation will be strengthened through the introduction of geog plans. Bhutan is poised to restructure the economy and face the emerging challenges of youth employment, urbanisation, information technology and globalisation.
The chairman of the lhengye zhungtsho concluded by reminding the National Assembly that Bhutan must first overcome the immediate threat posed by the ULFA and Bodo militants in the country. The time has come for every Bhutanese man, woman and child to demonstrate the legendary Bhutanese strength and courage, he said. I would like to reiterate that if we remain united in thought and action, there is no doubt that we will be able to overcome the present problem as well as any other challenges in the future.
Several chimis addressed the Assembly to express their appreciation for the clear-sighted leadership provided by the government.
They commended the comprehensive legislation initiated by various sectors to strengthen the rule of law and the policy to promote Bhutans religious and cultural heritage which was the essence of Bhutans identity. They noted the commitment of the government employees who had even offered their salaries to strengthen security activities as a gesture of support to the nation.
The chimis expressed the appreciation of the people for the review of the Eighth Plan and for the success of the Plan activities which had brought a deep satisfaction to the people. The people appreciated, especially, the process of decentralisation which had brought the planning and decision making process to the geog level.
The chimis also expressed their appreciation to the chairman of the lhengye zhungtshog, Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba, for his leadership as the head of government. Expressing their growing faith in the noble initiave taken by His Majesty to devolve executive authority to the elected council of ministers, they expressed their confidence that the government would continue to strengthen, through the wisdom and experience of the leaders, to benefit all the people of the Palden Drukpa.
By Kinley Dorji