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The government’s announcement of Bhutan being unable to achieve the national objective of economic self-reliance by 2020 is disturbing.

The paradox of self-reliance

The government’s announcement of Bhutan being unable to achieve the national objective of economic self-reliance by 2020 is disturbing.

By acknowledging this to the donors, the government almost implied that the 11th Plan’s objective of self-reliance and inclusive green socio-economic development might also not be met.

This acknowledgment has come at a time when the country is reeling under the so-called chilli crisis, not because we don’t have enough but because we depend on imported vegetables and grains. We are also as dependent on our development partners in meeting our five-year plan goals and the irony of development partners funding our 11th Plan to make Bhutan self-reliant is hard to miss.

The Economic Stimulus Plan has reinvigorated growth and stability of the economy but we do understand that the fund was not met through domestic revenue. How do we then understand the concept of economic self-reliance when we rely on donors, who we affectionately call development partners, to meet our economic needs?

We tend to use shortage and crisis inter-changeably. So the shortage of chillies and rupees became a crisis. But this situation of shortage or crisis pales when we see that that a large portion of the country’s development plans and economic needs are met through donor funds. When reliance on the self is limited and constrained, it becomes an issue of economic sovereignty. That would be a crisis.

The government estimates that about 21 percent of the capital expenditure this fiscal year will be financed through domestic revenues. But more than double, 57 percent will be met through external grants. Our GDP has grown along with our dependence on external grants. Given our stage of development and developmental needs, it is understandable that we need to borrow. We need resources to spur economic growth, build infrastructure and create jobs. It could be argued that these are investments in nation building and in making every Bhutanese self-reliant, because it is the people that make a nation-state.

We see that efforts are being made to meet the needs of the people, more so to meet the pledges made to them.

Entrepreneurship is encouraged among the unemployed even though the ease of doing business at home for its people is as if not more challenging as it is for foreign companies to do business in Bhutan. Farming is being mechanised even though farmers in some communities are no longer farming. Human wildlife conflicts worry those who are farming as much as the dry irrigation canals.  Attempts are made to ease traffic congestion in urban centres even as we distributed utility vehicles to rural communities.

It is hoped that the fiscal measures being implemented would address these issues confronting the society. The government must deliver for the people to first become less dependent, self-reliant and then prosperous. Economic self-reliance is a national goal that needs to be met. Simply acknowledging that the objective cannot be met is not an option.

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