Nepali Times
Economic Sense
Himalayan experiments


Thimpu Ė Driving from Bhutan's only international airport at Paro to the capital city, one can't help but notice how different the fifty-kilometer drive is from other hill drives in South Asia. Winding roads recently paved for the SAARC summit, as well as fewer vehicles, make for a smooth ride. Two other features stand out. First, the conspicuous absence of advertising billboards or graffiti and second, the lush greenery.

A walk around the small city of Thimpu, which has a kilometre-long market, takes one back in time. No brands clamour for your attention, be it aerated drinks, instant noodles or designer wear. The little shops sport homogeneous blue and white signboards for the most part, and do not have much variety on offer. The department store concept is yet to be seen, but this is less to do with a lack of consumer demand than government policy: consumerism is seen to ruin society.

The Bhutanese talk extensively about Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a counter to market and consumption driven GDP. For instance, mountaineering in Bhutan is not allowed, as it has been deemed that the mountains should be kept as they are. Their conception of measuring people's happiness as opposed to consumption or production is unique, and is a counter to western measures of prosperity.

While everyone describes Bhutan as a small country, a population of around 800,000 means the country is manageable. The constitution decrees that 60 per cent forest cover is a must, and this has perhaps saved Bhutan from the kind of 'excavator terrorism' that has plagued Nepal. The rulers of Bhutan have definitely learnt from Nepal's failures, and this can be seen in how they have gone about writing a new constitution, begun their experiments with the ballot box, kept donors in checkl, adopted global calendars and work schedules, and let English co-exist with the national languages.

However, the challenge for Bhutan is to sustain its efforts. While a small population can allow for Singapore-style governance and control, the opening up of information access will be difficult to stem. How long can the local television channel, which resembles the Nepal Television of the early nineties, compete with international channels? How can one ignore the popularity of the first Miss Bhutan contest and the aspirations of Bhutanese youth that make up half the population? How long one can one expect to see this youth in (mandatory) traditional dress, coke in one hand and cell phone in the other? How will the youth challenge those who have been in power for many years in the elections slated for 2013? Does free education and health care mean citizens will take the state for granted, in a country with over 50,000 migrant workers? Will this lead to an Emirates-style economy, where a wealthy state pays for the social security of its citizens while people from different nationalities actually do the work? Only time will tell how these challenges will be addressed.

From an investor's perspective, Bhutan will become a hot destination. If a firm governance structure and access to energy can be seen as two big advantages, the biggest remains Bhutan's parity with the Indian Rupee. This rekindles the Beed's dream of the 'Rupa', a common South Asian currency like the Euro. In the meantime, Bhutan will reap the advantage of India's growth, and no investor can afford to ignore this.

Running on empty
The Buddha's message, Publisher's note
Don't kill the CA, Gagan Thapa
The PLA speaks, Ekal Silwal
War games, Prashant Jha
Flagellating the self-flagellators, Rabi Thapa

1. Arthur
Such a brilliant solution for ethnic minorities too. Simply kick them out to become refugees in Nepal.

If only Nepalese would live on "Gross National Happiness" like Bhutan, Artha Beed could happily advise investors and not find himself confronting angry youths sick of living in a failed state.

2. hange
While Bhutan must be commended for its successes, one must keep in mind that a part of the equation is its serious lack of respect for diversity.  While expelling Bhutanese citizens of Nepali origin may have made its citizens more manageable, it can hardly be condoned.  I realise that the Beed's article is focusing on all things economic, but raising one's economic indicators by performing the largest act of ethnic cleansing by percentage of population seems not be a fair trade.  Catchphrases are all good and dandy, but has anyone asked the Bhutanese refugees what their "Gross National Happiness" is?

3. the vortex
This comment has been removed by the moderator.

4. npasl
where is the mention of huge population kicked out of the country to be refugees? is writer deliberately avoiding it?

5. truth seeker
Such fawning is necessary. If the author raised inconvenient issues, he would not get the visa for his next junket to Thimpu.

6. Fugee
There must be some truth to what Beed has observed in Bhutan. Maybe Nepal can get somethings right by following Bhutan's successful economic strategies. Like their hydro power projects for 10,000 megawatt by 2020 (Nepal can generate far greater power), starting a holding company like Singapore's TEMASEK to own and manage government investments and make it more accountable. Also, protecting its environment to lure high end tourists among other things. Lowering tax on all vehicles (especially hybrids and electric) would also be a positive benefit and there would be less pollution. Bhutan has virtually tax free cars for its civil servants and only 35 % import tax for private buyers. I don't think you have a local car manufacturer to protect like Korea and Japan so what's up with this archaic policies.

7. A. Sharma

Indeed, there are many things that Nepal should learn from Bhutan.

Arthabeed has analyzed Bhutan well....!!!!

8. Karma Jamyang
The current situation that Nepal has brought upon themselves, could be due to the brain drain of quality people that are not available there anymore. One cannot always depend on the rule of Khukuri wielding fanatics, but must acquire genuine people with extra ordinary leadership who can bring stability to the state.
Incase  of  Bhutan, the refugee issue is widely debated by many sympathizers of the kind, but if our government gave into the likes of people headed by bulldozer operators and half cooked teachers, today we would not be any different from what Nepal is at the present moment.
To be ambitious is good for every human being on this planet, but to lead a Nation is an art, only few can inherit.        

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)