Statement by LyonchhenTshering Tobgay, Prime Minister of Bhutan, on the 40 Years of Bhutan-Helvetas Partnership, 23 October 2015

Mr. Elmar Ledergerber, President of HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation;

Mr. Hansruedi Pfeiffer, Country Director, HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation Bhutan;

Mr. Matthias Meier, Director of Cooperation, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Bhutan;

Distinguished Guests;

Ladies and Gentlemen:

  1. On behalf of His Majesty the King and the people of Bhutan, I would like to warmly welcome to Bhutan the President of HELVETAS and his delegation, who have traveled all the way from Zurich to celebrate with us today 40 years of HELVETAS engagement in Bhutan. I am also honoured to welcome the many officials of HELVETAS who have worked in Bhutan and contributed immensely to the socio-economic development of Bhutan. They have been the strong bridges that have connected Bhutan and Switzerland. Your presence here today is yet another demonstration of how much you value your friendship with Bhutan.

  1. I thank you all for making the time and effort to come and celebrate this milestone event with the people of Bhutan. During your time here, I hope you will be able to witness and feel the transformation that Bhutan has undergone in the last four decades during which HELVETAS has been Bhutan’s steadfast partner.

  1. My colleagues and I are most delighted to join the HELVETAS family and the Swiss community today to celebrate this occasion. It is a wonderful opportunity for me to share some of my thoughts on the partnership between Bhutan and HELVETAS, which has been an integral part of the broader narrative of Bhutan-Swiss relations.

  1. The story of the friendship between Bhutan and Switzerland is a unique and fascinating one. It is how personal friendship brought together two different nations from two different continents, but with many similarities, and shaped into an excellent model of bilateral relations.This relationship began in the early 1950s through the personal friendship between His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo and Her Majesty The Royal Grand Mother, Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuck, with Mr. Fritz Von Schulthess, a Swiss industrialist, and his wife, Monica.

  1. Today, the spirit of the close friendship between His Majesty the Third King and the Von Schulthess family is visible in every façade of the relationship between Bhutan and Switzerland. It is no wonder then that even to this day, when we introduce Bhutan to someone, we start with a comparison to Switzerland.

  1. Mr. Von Schulthess was instrumental in sending the first Swiss experts to Bhutan, who began arriving since the early 1960s. We hear stories of how the early Swiss experts endured the harsh and difficult conditions in Gogona and Bumthang, the two places where they began assisting Bhutanese, yet they worked hard with complete dedication and commitment to share their expertise with the Bhutanese in the fields of livestock, agriculture and forestry.Some of these experts, like Mr. Fritz Maurer and Mr. Walter Roder, have remained forever a part of Bhutan.

  1. It is due to experts like Mr. Maurer that we get to savor high quality Bumthang cheese, taste sweet Bumthang honey and sip tasty Red Panda Beer. Similarly, it is due to Mr. Lopacher, another Swiss expert, who was commonly referred to as “Dasho Bukhari”, that almost every Bhutanese home is kept warm during our cold winters. And it is due to the enterprising spirit of the late Mr. Tenzing, who opened the Swiss Bakery in Thimphu, that many Bhutanese got to taste their first hamburgers. The Swiss Bakery, where as a youth I would also gather with my friends, has become a heritage for Thimphu.

  1. Much later, we saw the building of Swiss Dzongs in the form of the College of Education in Paro and NRTI in Lobesa, from where many of our educationists and agricultural and forestry experts have emerged. We are also grateful for the beautiful Wangduephodrang bridge and Bumthang hospital which were built with the generous assistance from HELVETAS.

  1. Mr. Von Schulthess was also instrumental in formalizing support of the Swiss Agency for Development Corporation for Bhutan through HELVETAS. As a result, Switzerland not only became one of Bhutan’s first bilateral development partners, but HELVETAS was also the first international NGO to operate in Bhutan.

  1. When HELVETAS started operating in Bhutan in 1975, the Bhutan then was different, as you would expect. The vast majority of the population was engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry, which were the backbone of our economy. We had rudimentary telecommunication facilities. Planned development had begun barely fifteen years earlier. The 520 kilometers east-west highway was not yet complete. We were thus faced with serious development challenges.

  1. On the other hand, there was much to look forward to. The celebratory mood of the Coronation a year earlier of His Majesty the Fourth King was still in the air. The Third Five Year Plan, which was the first plan where a portion of the revenue requirement was met from internal resources, was in the final phase of successful implementation. And Bhutan was ready to receive its first tourists.

  1. This window in our development history provides much clarity in terms of the vision that Bhutan had designed for itself. Bhutan has always accorded importance to choose a development path and pace that is most suited to the needs of the Bhutanese. Our successive Kings and forefathers had, even before the start of modernization, rejected development for development’s sake. With this wisdom, we were able to carefully choose our friends and development partners, and take full charge of our development. In Switzerland, we found a perfect friend and development partner.We, in Bhutan, are greatly appreciative of the support that Bhutan received from Switzerland, and for the partnership and friendship that made it possible for Bhutan to work towards achieving its vision.

  1. Many of Bhutan’s priority areas that include livestock, agriculture, forestry, health, education, rural infrastructure and governance bear the hallmark of HELVETAS. The engagement of HELVETAS in these areas have directly benefitted innumerable number of people and helped establish much needed infrastructure and institutions. In the four decades of cooperation with Switzerland, which at one time was Bhutan’s second-largest development partner, we have made impressive achievements, to say the least.

  1. In the traditional development sense, we have achieved remarkably steady economic growth that has brought about positive changes to our key social and economic indicators. Further, our development philosophy of Gross National Happiness has ensured that the development we achieved resulted in true progress for Bhutan and its people. The most momentous transformation of Bhutan in its recent history – the transition to parliamentary democracy –is in the process of being fully consolidated. Our culture is as vibrant as ever. We have set ambitious economic targets while taking leadership on the issue of climate change and protection of the natural environment. In all, the progress that Bhutan has achieved during this period has been the most well rounded development that a small country like Bhutan can achieve in such a short span of time.

  1. It is, therefore, only natural that given such a record, many assume that Bhutan has crossed the threshold toward being able to sustain and support itself. On the other hand, it is true that many countries elsewhere have not fared well despite generous international support and that their needs have become more severe than that of Bhutan.

  1. However, I would like to emphasize that while our success is indeed remarkable and achieving economic self-reliance remains within our grasp,we continue to face many challenges.The primary challenge is the expected commissioning of the mega hydro projects upon which Bhutan’s targets were based. Due to unforeseen delays in these projects, we would need more time to achieve our targets. On the other hand, people’s expectations for the elected governments to live up to their commitments have grown. Support, during this formative period, is therefore vital to ensure that the Government can deliver on its commitments, and the development gains we have made thus far are sustained.

  1. The Royal Government is, therefore, hopeful that Switzerland and HELVETAS will continue to remain engaged in Bhutan’s development efforts until we have achieved economic self-reliance.

  1. While we remain hopeful of the continued presence of HELVETAS in Bhutan, it is indeed a befitting occasion for me to reiterate on behalf of the people and Government of Bhutan, our sincere appreciation and deep gratitude to the pioneering Von Schulthess Family, HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation, the SDC and all the Swiss people who dedicated many years of their lives in assisting Bhutan.

  1. I’m also a happy that the 40 Years of HELVETAS in Bhutan coincides with the 30 years of establishment of diplomatic relations between Bhutan and Switzerland, and the 60th birth anniversary of our beloved Fourth DrukGyalpo. It was during the reign of the Fourth DrukGyalpo, who following on the footsteps of His Majesty the Third DrukGyalpo, nurtured and further strengthened Swiss-Bhutan relations. It is indeed significant that this special relation between Bhutan and Switzerland that began with the personal friendship of His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo continues to be strengthened today under the leadership of His Majesty the King. Every Bhutanese also shares the same commitment and sentiments. I am, therefore, confident that the excellent relations between Bhutan and Switzerland will endure forever.

Thank You and TashiDelek!

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