These are interesting times for the Bhutanese. The Prime Minister is at the United Nations in New York for an extremely high level conference, Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm, with an aim to take further the Happiness Resolution that he proposed 2 years ago at the UNGA. The Millennium Development Goals is deadlined for 2015 and it is hoped that the new paradigm will influence the new development goals keeping the overall "Wellbeing and Happiness" of the people in mind.
There are 600 participants from all over the world comprising Nobel Laureates, Academics, Economists and Non-Governmental Organizations. At the centre of this is the Prime Minister of Bhutan who feels very passionately that he is taking/sharing to the global stage the unique philosophy of Gross National Happiness that his King (the Fourth King of Bhutan) coined and abided by during His reign.
Bhutan's example as a country that was forced to emerge from self-imposed isolation as a result of events beyond its borders and pursue a consistent and steady pace of development without compromising its environmental, cultural, traditional and religious values, has been well noted. The country's ability to steer itself on the right path as a result of its small population and, more importantly, its enlightened rulers/Kings, has been/should be, a lesson for many leaders of other nations - not only poor ones. The Prime Minister's attempt to do this - make an example of his King and Country - should be applauded and appreciated.
However, times are interesting for Bhutan and Bhutanese not only because of all the international attention it is garnering through New York, but also because of the recent Rupee problem that it has been facing back home.
One can probably say this is Bhutan's version of a financial/Economic crisis. Although some argue that it is not a "crisis" per se and hence shouldn't be called one - it is nonetheless something severe enough to have caused panic and fear. The Rupee deficit is something that Bhutan has had off and on given that it doesn't produce much and has to import pretty much everything from India.
But recently, big projects, heavy consumption, and excessive credit growth that resulted from Bhutan's fast-paced growth led to the current deficit. In the past this problem was manageable but the scale of the outflows has accelerated and swamped the existing methods of monetary policy. That is no excuse however as the ripple effects of this issue could have been contained had the RMA & other responsible organizations been more proactive and avoided taking reactionary initiatives that have caused dislocations and uncertainty. In doing so they have seriously undermined their credibility going forward.
Some of the measures taken have been seen as rather unnecessary. For example, why gather the Nu from Indian traders and then not convert them immediately? It is one thing to close loopholes that led to illegal but tolerated bank accounts. But when the Nu/Rs peg is critical to current stability, this action has produced exactly the result they did not want: the Nu. has now been devalued and is trading at a discount in the market. This was unnecessary. After all, all they are doing is delaying the inevitable. They are going to provide Rs. anyway - so shy wait? Saying they are waiting on the Indian government to provide Rs. is a fatal show of weakness. Bhutan has the reserves and the ability to pay and it should have done so immediately- or it should not have withdrawn the rupees in the first place. The action taken yielded little benefit but has caused significant and perhaps lasting damage. it will take years for the Nu. to be seen as a strong and credible currency.
Also the lack of the RMA and the responsible institutions to take a leadership role and speak to the Citizens by convening a meeting to assuage their fears shows that we have been a society that still believes in putting up walls instead of engaging its citizens. We have to, as a people and as a society, learn to speak to our people; applaud and reward the correct people; or hold accountable those who have failed to fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to them. People also have to learn to acknowledge mistakes made.
Meanwhile hundreds of people have descended on the UN today to discuss what our small country has sparked through GNH. At this extremely enlightening discussion which addresses economical, psychological and philosophical aspects of development - and I hope you all had the opportunity to listen to it - we should each analyze our actions individually of what it means to be a Bhutanese citizen. We need to do this because the world - as we see it - certainly thinks highly of our leaders and us as a people. We have the ability to prove to them that we can all contribute to being above the fray of petty politics for the well-being and happiness of our country; not taking our situation for granted; and taking our responsibilities seriously.
* Judging from the two situations - i.e. the one in NY and back home in Bhutan - it tells us that while we can play a very big role globally, it is also important to make sure that we don't overlook or forget our own problems back home. But just because we are a poor nation with problems it doesn't mean we cannot take the global stage. We all know that Bhutan is far from a fully realized GNH state but doesn't mean we cannot share what we feel is something good- especially if others are so willing to look to it as an example. However, let us also not get carried away. As we hope to change the world, lets also work on changing ourselves and our country first.