Lyonchhen’s speech delivered at the Inaugural of the 13th Round Table Meeting at the Royal Banquet Hall, Thimphu.
I have the honor of conveying you the warm greetings and the best wishes of His Majesty the King of Bhutan.
I want to welcome all the guests, from near and far. Some of you have come from across the world – the other side of the world – from New York, Geneva, Middle East and Thailand. I want to welcome each and every one of you and wish you a very happy stay and a successful deliberation here.
Your Excellency, Haoling Xu, Assistant Secretary General, Assistant Administrator of UNDP, Director of the Asia Pacific Region, I extend you a special welcome and thank you for agreeing to Co-Chair the 13th Round Table Meeting with His Excellency Lyonpo Damcho Dorji, the Foreign Minister.
I would like to thank the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) country office for organizing the Round Table Meeting. I am happy to welcome Gerald Daly back to Bhutan.
My dear friends, planned development in Bhutan started as recently as in 1961. So our journey till then was cut off from rest of the world in self imposed isolation and has been relatively short compared to most of the countries; and it has been marked by ups and downs.
Living in a mountainous country, every journey has ups and downs; and we have managed to deal with the ups and downs. And in our case, guided by the wisdom of our beloved Monarchs and benefitting from the generosity and support and cooperation of our development partners. Foremost of our development partners is our friend and neighbor – India. We have managed to scale our mountains rather successfully.
Since 1961, the Government of India has provided us with generous supplies. The first two plan-periods were entirely funded by the Government of India and people of India continue to provide us with range of supports, covering all aspects of our socio-economic development.
Japan, has been our partner since the early 1960s and has helped us develop our agricultural and energy sectors and build many infrastructure.
The European Union has been our development partner since 1984. We have worked with them and benefitted in areas of renewable natural resources, local government and climate change.
The UN agencies came in shortly after we became a member of the United Nations in 1971. UNDP has been our development partner along with many other UN agencies including the UNCDF, WHO, FAO, GEF, UNFPA, UNICEF, WFP and many others. In fact, we have worked with every UN agency that has relevance in Bhutan and benefitted from this association in one way or the other.
The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank who are important development partners. An indication of just how important they are important to us is – in the last six years both the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have established country offices in Thimphu.
Our development journey is different; it is unique. It is one that is guided by the development philosophy of Gross National Happiness. I believe our journey has been largely successful.
In the area of social development we have achieved remarkable progress. Today all our children go to schools; education is completely free. All our citizens receive free healthcare; essential drugs are provided through the proceeds of the Health Trust Fund – a fund that many of you have helped establish. As a result, between 2007 and 2012, poverty in Bhutan more than halved.
Economic growth has also been impressive. In the last 10 years alone, the GDP in Bhutan has more than tripled. Per capita income has increased to $ 2,719. More importantly, our economy is inclusive and environmentally sustainable.
As the last surviving Vajrayana Buddhist Kingdom, we have the responsibility to protect our cultural and spiritual heritage. I am pleased to report here that our cultural heritage and our spiritual heritage are thriving, for our future generation and for the world.
In the area of environment, Bhutan stands as a model to the world. Our Constitution requires that 60% of our land be maintained under forest cover for all time and today, after the most recent Forestry Inventory, we know that our forest cover is more than 71%. More than 52% of our country is protected as nature reserves, nature parks and wildlife sanctuaries and biological corridors interconnect all these protected areas. We are a bio-diversity hotspot and our rich environment means that we are also carbon sink.
However some of our biggest achievements have been made in the area of governance. Here we stand apart from most of the countries. We are democratic constitution monarch but our people did not have to fight for democracy; we did not have to shed blood for democracy. In fact, our people did not want democracy; instead it was imposed by our Kings against the will of our people. Today, we have our Constitution; we have all the enabling legislations that are required for a vibrant democracy. The institutions of democracy – an independent Judiciary; free and independent media; Anti-Corruption Commission; an independent Election Commission; CSOs, are all in place. We have already conducted two rounds of Local Government Elections and two rounds of Parliamentary Elections. And even as we meet today, the country is getting ready for its third round of Parliamentary elections. Local Government in Bhutan is growing from strength to strength with our emphasis and support for decentralization.
These successes and much more have been achieved because of the wisdom and sterling leadership of our His Majesty the King; the generous support and cooperation of our development partners and the dedication and hard work of our public servants.
Our successes have been rewarded by other measure, for instances we have achieved most of our Millennium Development Goals. In fact, many of them, including education and reducing poverty where achieved way ahead of our planned time frame. I acknowledge there are some areas where we still need improvement and these include women’s participation in politics, women’s enrollment in tertiary education and the need to reverse the incidence of HIV/AIDS. But by and large we have exceeded expectations especially in terms of achieving the targets of the Millennium Development Goals.
But what’s more important for Bhutan is our GNH level. We take Gross National Happiness seriously- as a guiding philosophy, as a public policy instrument and in the implementation of our plans and programs.
In 2010, the Center for Bhutan Studies and GNH Research conducted a GNH Survey. A little later in 2015, another nationwide GNH Survey was conducted. The GNH composite index that the CBS came out presented a slight but statistically significant improvement.
In 2010, the GNH index was calculated to be 0.743 and in 2015 it was 0.756. The GNH Survey measured 9 domains and broke them up into 33 indicators and 123 variables. 8,871 people were interviewed. Each interview lasted for one and a half hours during which 149 questions were asked. We have a wealth of data from the happiness and wellbeing levels of our people. This data is used to improve planning and public policy in Bhutan.
Some of the data are interesting. For example – our citizen feel that the government services are improving but they also feel that the government is not performing well. So, I think this is good in two fronts; one, our people are receiving services; two, the fact that they are not satisfied with the government’s performance means that the principles of democracy is being understood at the very grass-root levels!
Overall, 91.2% of the people interviewed, say that they are happy. Now this means that 91.2% of the people basically have the satisfaction halved nine domains of GNH. But 43.4% of the people interviewed say that they are ‘deeply or extensively happy’ which means that they record satisfaction levels over two-thirds of the GNH domains. And I think that is a very good result.
These successes mean that we have the experience to continue our journey of development. Well, these successes have also meant that some of our donors have felt that we are able to walk the path independently. After many years of working together, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Denmark have phased out. We are deeply grateful for their cooperation and we want to celebrate our achievements with them.
But other developing partners have come onboard and those who are with us have increased the depth and scope of their partnership in Bhutan. For example when we started the Eleventh Five Year Plan (11th FYP), little more than three years ago, we had expected to raise Nu. 54 billion from our development partners. In actual we raised Nu. 68 billion, surpassing our expectations. This was possible because many of our donors actually contributed more than what we projected. Chief among them is the Government of India, who has contributed Nu. 45 billion to our Five Year Plan, in addition to Nu. 5 billion to help us with our Economic Stimulus Plan. I want to acknowledge the generosity of the Government of India and thank His Excellency, Ambassador Jaideep Sarkar.
Japan’s contribution which has always been important has also increased over the last few years. I would like to thank Ms. Mayumi Tsubakimoto for coming all the way here from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The European Union’s contribution has tripled compared to their last commitment. And I wish to thank Ms. Paola Pampaloni and her delegation for making their time to participate in today’s meeting; and through you thank the European Union for the generosity and support. With these supports, we are well on the way of achieving the objectives of the 11th Five Year Plan, which is “Self Reliance and Inclusive Green Socio-economic development.”
A year and a half ago, we did a Mid-Term Review of how we are performing in the 11th Five Year Plan. The 11th Five Year Plan has 6,154 Key Performance Indicators. We went through all the indicators at the central, district and grass-root level, i.e, the local government levels and the results were very encouraging.
Of the 6,154 Key Performance Indicators, we have learnt that 49% of the indicators have been achieved. Almost half the indicators were achieved in the first two years. 48% of the indicators are on track and only 3% of the indicators were identified at risk.
Now, the two questions that come to our mind is: How did we measure the indicators? And are the results trustworthy?
The answer to the first is that we had established the whole of government management system called the Government Performance Management System (GPMS); and it is because of the Government Performance Management System, where we measure the performance of government agencies on a yearly basis whereby we are able to track the performance of the government during the 11th Five Year Plan.
As to the second question, ‘Are the results trustworthy?’ This is question that I am really interested in and so the National Statistics Bureau (NSB) has been charged with improving the quality and integrity of the data.
To summarize, we have both good news and bad news.
First, the good news: we are ready to graduate from LDC. The Committee for Development Policy in 2015 has earmarked Bhutan as a country that is ready to graduate from being the Least Developed Countries. This comes as good news, which is an indicator of our collective successes and testimony of hard work. It is a proof that we can walk this development path independently on our own. We look forward to the 2018 triennial review by the Committee for Development Policy and we in Bhutan will be delighted if we do graduate as an LDC.
The bad news is that we are still very vulnerable. Even though we are ready for graduation our entire GDP is just $ 2 billion; $ 2 billion for the whole country of Bhutan. The country that is relatively large given that our population is only 750,000; and this population is spread thin throughout the country. What this means is that the per capita cost for building infrastructure and the per capita cost for delivering services is much higher than it will be in most other countries. And for a economy of only $ 2 billion, this is going to be a huge challenge.
To make matters worse, our economy is dominated by hydropower and subsistence agriculture. Our trade record 27% of our GDP; we import much more than we export; and most of what we export is hydropower. Our current account deficit is 31% of GDP and quite alarmingly our debt to GDP ratio is at 116%.
Add to this, youth unemployment is rising. Overall unemployment stands at 2.1% of our workforce. But because of the social progress that we have achieved and because our economy is still very shallow, we have not been able to create the jobs that are required for our youths. The latest unemployment results for youth indicate that 13.2% of our youths are unemployed.
58% of our population depends on agriculture but most of it is barely subsistence farming. We do not produce enough to feed our own people, forget about exporting foos. 58% of our population depends on agriculture but only 2.93% of our land is cultivable, that is barely 278,000 acres that are available for cultivation and this is why poverty is still a reality in rural Bhutan. Today, 12.7% of our population is below the threshold for education, health and living standards defined by the multidimensional poverty index.
So, we are vulnerable. Our economy is small; our population is small; we are a landlocked country. Within this landlocked country, most of our population lives in very rural areas. We are prone to natural disasters and this is why our economy is fragile and we are vulnerable.
However, we are confident that we can overcome these challenges. I believe that we are set to embark on this last mile of our journey that will lead to our country graduating from a status as a Least Developed Country. To overcome our challenges, we need to continue to work hard; but with the generous support and guidance of our development partners, I am confident that we will be able to undertake the journey successfully.
This last mile in development, I believe, is represented by our 12th Five Year Plan, the implementation that will begin in 2018. And later today, we will be launching the Guideline for preparation of the 12th Five Year Plan Framework for development. The guideline is inspired by the many Royal addresses and profound messages of His Majesty the King; inspired by our Constitution and the vision 2020. The framework incorporates the findings of the GNH Survey that was conducted in 2015 and it incorporates our obligation to fulfill the target of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
The 12th Five Year Plan Framework has been developed in consultation with all stakeholders: ministries, autonomous agencies, constitutional bodies, judiciary, dzongkhags, local governments, major CSOs, private sectors like Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry and several associations. Consultations were also held with the political parties. What this means is the 12th FYP is not a political document, rather due to the nature of wide consultation the 12th FYP truly belongs to the people.
Based on these wide range of consultations, we have agreed that the objective of the 12th Five Year Plan will be “Just, Harmonious and Sustainable Society through enhanced Decentralization.” We will have major focus on economic diversification, youth employment, agriculture, quality of education and decentralization. We have come up with 16 National Key Result Areas which corresponds to the 9 domains of GNH and they incorporate all Sustainable Development Goals that are relevant to Bhutan.
The Framework will be presented to the central agencies, to the dzongkhags and the local government so that they can come up with their agency specific Key Result Areas and Local Government Key Result Areas. We will continue to take in their information and then allow the relevant agency to prepare their plans and programs.
Two important surveys are currently being carried out. One, the Living Standard Survey is being conducted at the moment and the other is the Population and Housing Census that is being conducted after 11 years. The results of these surveys will also provide us with valuable feedbacks for the 12th Five Year Plan – the last mile in our development journey towards LDC graduation.
The 12th Five Year Plan has already taken a year in making. I want to thank and congratulate the Secretary of the Gross National Happiness Commission, Thinley Namgyel and his very capable team and all other civil servants for contributing towards the development plan.
The idea is, in five years, we will be able to achieve all our national aspirations; the first and foremost of which is the Gross National Happiness. We need to prove to ourselves that economic growth is possible without undermining social progress, without compromising our culture, without destroying our environment. We need to prove to ourselves that development can be holistic, balanced, sustainable and inclusive. We need to prove to ourselves that GNH is valid not just for government but for businesses as well; and to come up with systems to allow certification of businesses as GNH friendly. We need to prove to ourselves that we can achieve the targets that we have agreed to in the 2030 Global Agenda.
This last mile is not a sprint; it is a walk but a walk that will be conducted deliberately. In the mountains of Bhutan we know that sprints are of very limited use. We need to walk; we need to walk slowly; but we need to walk deliberately with a sense of purpose.
With the wisdom and guidance of His Majesty the King, with your support, my dear friends in development and with the hard work and dedication of our civil servants, I know that this last mile in development towards LDC graduation is not just possible but will succeed.