Press Summary from the 8th Friday Meet held on 15th March, 2019
‘Rethinking development; Rethinking RTM’
The 14th Round Table Meeting themed ‘Enhancing Happiness and Sustainable Development Through Partnerships’ concluded on 14th March, 2019, with ideas and concepts for partnership and rethinking development.
Bhutan is at an important juncture in our development journey and as the last plan towards graduation from the Least Developed Country (LDC) status, the 12th FYP is perilous to ensuring that Bhutan’s development gains are strengthened and that the last mile challenges overcome. It is also critical that progress towards achieving the 17 National Key Result Areas, 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are sustained.
Envisioning these, the 14thRound Table meeting this time was different. The 14th RTM this time had panel discussions, private partner [CSOs, political parties, individual and potential partners]; involvement and participation of 4 ministers of Foreign Minister, Finance Minister, Agriculture & Forests Minister and Economic Affairs Minister. The RTM this time was notably ambitious with the participation of His Excellency Mr. Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator. This is the first time, Bhutan has received such high-level representation from the UN.
The discourses in the 14thRTM saw highest number of development partners and high level representatives; engagement of different stakeholders; focus on LDC graduation for smooth transition and sustainability; new areas of partnership; and collaboration amongst agencies. The 14th RTM saw 69 international participants, 19 multilateral agencies, 28 multilateral partners, 22 bilateral agencies, 41 bilateral participants, 48 resident development partners and 26 resident agencies.
As Bhutan graduates from the status of Least Developed Country to Middle Income Country, a paradigm shift is important. The government has maintained that they are the ‘agents of change’ and this is timely, as we transition and requisite to rethink our development model.
GNH- guided Development
Bhutan has been guided by the development philosophy of ‘Gross national Happiness’ which simply amalgamates as ‘development with values’. Realizing that not development, but our approach to development is a double-edged sword, our Monarchs have ensured for a good governance system with sustainable socio-economic development with conservation and preservation of our unique culture and pristine environment.
Today, GNH is enshrined in the Constitution of Bhutan, making it the collective responsibility
of the state and polity to ensure that unbridled economic growth does not compromise the social, ecological and spiritual wellbeing of the country. Investments have long been prioritized for the provision of social services and poverty alleviation, while seeking to ensure regional balance and equity in economic growth.
The ‘rethinking development’ paradigm shift has been a passionate area for the government. The government is serious to make our education system relevant to our needs. Unless we correct the way, we educate our children, our children will not be able to up to the expectation of the nation. The government is also committed to venturing into commercial from subsistence farming; quantitative to qualitative feeding of school children; upgrading from primary to secondary/tertiary healthcare; private sector development and other efforts are in line to rethinking our development model.
The government plans to initiate cooperative farming system with government buyback system. This process would institute cold chain food delivery system to schools, hospitals and other institution feeding program which would be coordinated and self-sustaining achieving the goal of qualitative feeding and import substitution.
Bhutan has become a global exemplar in our efforts of sustainable development and environmental stewardship. Bhutan’s constitution is the only constitution in the world that mandates 60% forest cover at all times. Today, we have more than 70% forest coverage in the country. Bhutan has committed to remain carbon neutral and our forests absorb three times more carbon-dioxide than we emit, making us the only carbon negative country in the world, and we intend to maintain it.
However, given our fragile mountain terrain, volatile ecosystem, high dependence on climate-sensitive sector and location in earthquake belt, Bhutan is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Bhutan is also subject to natural calamities of glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF), flash floods, landslides and windstorms which makes our main source of revenue – the hydro power sector highly vulnerable and risky.
Climate change mitigation and adaptation and scaling-up efforts relating to disaster risk reduction and preparedness are therefore matters of high priority and urgency. With our small economy, population and land area, Bhutan’s decades of hard-earned development gains could potentially be derailed due to such climate-induced disasters. However, to address these challenges, Bhutan as a LDC, is constraint by limited resource and capacity.
As a small nation tucked in the Himalayas, we do not know if our efforts can make a global impact, but the fact remains that climate change is real and we must do something about it.
Economic Diversification through Cottage and Small Industries [Private sector development]
Over the last three decades, our GDP per capita has increased from USD 170 to almost USD 3500 today. With a GDP of only about USD 2.4 billion, we remain one of the smallest economies in the world. However, with growth rate averaging to 7.5 percent in the last three decades, we are also one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
As Bhutan transitions into the status of a Middle-Income Country, our GNI per capita indices is 95% above the threshold and Human Asset Index is 11% above the threshold. However, our Economic Vulnerability remains 13% below the threshold.
Economic diversification with private sector engagement is one of the ways of diversifying our economy. The Cottage and Small Industries (CSI) is recognized as one of the five economic jewels of Bhutan with potential to enhance domestic production, diversify growth and promote inclusive growth, boost employment, reduce inequality, and promote innovation and entrepreneurial skills.
With highest population concentration from ages 20-29, we have huge potential to harvest demographic deviant if we can invest appropriately and engage them productively. While traditional sectors like hydropower continue to remain important, CSI sector has untapped potential for a more inclusive, resilient and diversified economic opportunities such as wood based industries, pharmaceuticals, niche organic produce, IT based firms among others.
The government aims to shift from aid to trade and work towards economic diplomacy with private sector involvement and development. The 14th RTM was a platform to thank our partners, make them hear us and seek partnerships on what Bhutan can offer the world. The sessions in the 14th RTM held by Royal Monetary Authority and the Ministry of Economic Affairs highlighted the governments vision to attract investors in small and cottage industries.
The government envisions to assist the private entities in identifying markets through our Embassies and Missions for the niche products. The initiatives of formation of the Private Sector Development Board and review of the State-Owned Enterprises will cater to boost the private sectors in the country.
The government assures that citizens who are willing to engage themselves productively have the means and support to do so.
The 14thRTM had multi-sectoral involvement and participation of many stakeholders. This clearly outlines and defines the government commitment in rethinking our development model with private sector involvement and models of public private partnership.
The government acknowledges and holds high regards for all the participants.