As in much else, the theme of Bhutan’s development journey has been the change. In the process, however, we have had to come to terms with the danger of losing our very value systems and identity that defined the sovereignty of our society. At times, the measures we employed to balance the development needs of the country and the preservation and promotion of unique Bhutanese identity had us wedged in difficult situations. All the while, though, we knew that we would only confront more challenges along the development path and did our best to prepare. Time has now come to ask again whether we have done enough. Apparently, we have not.
Bhutan is today grappling with some of the serious problems that many developing countries are facing. The privilege that we had in the early days of the planned development initiative to learn from the mistakes that other countries made before us long ceased to be true. We are today left to be guided by our own wisdom and experience entirely. The real danger is that we can be overconfident and so make serious mistakes. We are already having to deal with issues that are the results of our negligence.
One way, Bhutan has all the elements for a perfect case study for development studies, which has resulted from our dependence on select development opportunities. It is now finally dawning on us that we could have spread our economic advantages beyond hydropower and other industries. Ironically, what we seem to be missing is the lesson that is Bhutan itself. That is perhaps why we have challenges on all fronts to confront: education, tourism, irrigation and communication, to name but a few.
More important, at this juncture of Bhutan’s development journey, where are the nation’s youth? We have policies, plans, and programmes, but we are forgetting our role and missing the real objectives of the programmes. The Bhutanese youth are today the most vulnerable section of society. Joblessness among the youth has been growing for some time now. In the meanwhile, efforts to address the problems facing the nation’s young people have started to backfire. For indeed, why must a country faced with manpower shortage look to other countries for employment?
At the heart of the systemic failure is the lack of accountability. The longer we tarry here, with the kind of attitude that is deep-seated in the Bhutanese bureaucracy, the more problems will we give fecund grounds to. We would do well, therefore, to look at our more serious deficiencies. We tend to want to sound needlessly high-flown. What, for example, does the vision of educated and enlightened youth mean, really?
Enlightened youth is the least we want at this time. We need Bhutanese youth with skills and knowledge to face the challenges of the future.