The paradox of better conditions

The Australia rush was once again discussed during the virtual Meet the Press on January 20, 2023 and Prime Minister (PM) Dr. Lotay Tshering repeated what he had said earlier on various platforms, concerning the topic. Higher financial incentives, unsatisfactory jobs at home, incentives and others were underlined as the major causes. The PM further highlighted that the conditions in Bhutan should be made attractive.

From all lenses, we can see that Bhutanese migrating for studies and work to Australia and other countries is an economic migration. It is woven around labor standards, unemployment and the overall health of a country’s’ economy. The magnets that play very powerful roles, called as pull factors, are higher wages, better employment opportunities, a higher standard of living and educational opportunities.

Have we failed in devising economic opportunities? One way to find this answer is to assess where we have reached in terms of Brand Bhutan (BB), which was initiated to increase export by taking advantage of Bhutan’s unique selling points (USP), like environment, vibrant culture, GNH values, political stability and others. This concept was launched in 2016. Where are we today?

It was a beautiful concept and most were optimistic of its success. And if it had succeeded and flourished, as envisaged, hundreds of Bhutanese abroad, who are today engaged in occupations that do not match their degrees would not have left their motherland.

Bhutanese experts know why BB still remains a goal. There are issues beginning from market accessibility as our products do not meet certification and specific standards that importing countries demand. A package may pass the test and become part of BB. But if it does not get regional and international certification, everything goes down the drain.

Thus, we need to invest prudently and in the right areas. The returns of a small pie of the national budget invested for international accreditation and certification will be huge. We also need to invest on technology for testing our products.

The above is just one example.

Improved conditions would also mean access to finance. Capital is required for all ventures. A graduate or any Bhutanese may have one of the best business ideas. But what use would it be if he/she has no access to capital. The massive financial institutions that we have today are supposed to be the springs of capital. However, obtaining loans is just not difficult; it is impossible, without a mortgage. So the thought spreads; “Why even bother to think about your idea? Think Australia!”

Another example is non-performing loans (NPL), which has been spoken of and written about several times, that people are exhausted. With agencies remaining adamant and following “rules”, some entrepreneurs with NPL issues are reportedly missing in action. They may have landed at Queens, New York or Banjine Street, Canberra, Australia. And the rumour mill has it that some are in their father-in-laws house, as government guests, locked up

Are these the right paths to create hospitable and congenial conditions for business and ultimately a better standard of life? It is a question we ought need to ask ourselves.