On June 6, 2023, all members of the National Council (NC) formally received their symbols of authority and responsibility, followed by khaddar ceremonies from families, friends and well wishers. The members would begin deliberations of the 3rd Parliament’s 9th session from June 9. While the elected council members this time are those with 10 or more years of experience in different fields, members this time need to be very upbeat and proactive, for times have changed and there are several challenges.
The Constitution clearly states that besides its legislative functions, the National Council shall act as the House of review on matters affecting the security and sovereignty of the country and the interests of the nation and the people that need to be brought to the notice of the Druk Gyalpo, the Prime Minister and the National Assembly. Security has different connotations, one of which is economic security. In layman terms, economic security is the ability of individuals, households and communities to meet their basic and essential needs sustainably; including food, shelter, clothing, health care, education information, livelihoods, and social protection.
Just as other nations, Bhutan’s economy was badly affected by the Covid 19 pandemic. We are yet to recover. The current GDP is USD 2.5 billion. Youth unemployment has reached 28.6 %. And we have set an ambitious target of USD 5 billion to be achieved by 2029 and USD 10 billion by 2034. We cannot say that it is impossible; but it is a massive task. Thus, foremost, NC members have this responsibility; of reviewing, assisting concerned agencies and bringing out sustainable solutions to strengthen Bhutan’s economy.
The other responsibility of the NC enshrined in the Constitution is “national interest,” which is a collective responsibility of all Bhutanese. Nonetheless, the council has a very vital role to play here, too. What is our national interest? What are some of the factors affecting our interests? How do we build on our strengths and comparative advantages to strengthen our nation’s interests?
Mass migration to Australia is an issue affecting our national interest and it is tied to economic security, for many leaving say it is purely for economic reasons and that they love their nation, just like those working here do. What are some of the sustainable policies that would ensure that we retain professionals, especially in critical sectors like health and education? Will increased perks and incentives be sustainable? Can we afford it?
Our education sector, despite several policy interventions still requires to be chiseled, so that all Bhutanese graduates can compete with those from any country. Where are we failing? Is it at the root? Several factors have been cited, but we do not see solutions or even recommendations.
No country will have a good future if technology is not utilized and harnessed. Bhutan cannot afford to be left behind here. It will not be an overstatement to say that technology and economy are our national interests currently. And the two are very closely related. Additionally, we have a comparative advantage to spur both technology and economy – hydropower – which till date has not been optimally utilized.
Like most people say, the NC is primarily mandated to make and amend laws, due to which people have the misconception that the council can play no role in development. However, everything is done or implemented as per laws and legislations.
The advantage Bhutan has is extraordinary leadership, personified in His Majesty the King. All we need to do is listen to His Majesty’s addresses or read it. We will find almost everything there, including solutions.
We done not mean to undermine the council members here. All are highly qualified and represent the hopes and aspirations of the electorate. Members may have already thought about what has been written. Neither are we suggesting that former members did not do their jobs. In the grand scheme of nation building, every one’s participation is important. And this is what we are aspiring to do, by informing council members of the challenges and the people’s aspirations. We also offers our wishes to all the members and look forward to work together.