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There's more to development than GDPs, says ex-PM of Bhutan

Aug 23, 2012

Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba, former Prime Minister of Bhutan and currently serving as the Minister of Works and Human Settlement, talks to OneWorld South Asia in an exclusive interview about his country and the changes it is undergoing, owing to its steadfast belief in inclusive development.

Bhutan is going beyond the epithets of being a mystical kingdom and negotiating its tryst with the world-at-large. The journey has been, and continues to be a mixed bag. New Delhi saw Bhutan as a nation that is living its dream of a ‘balanced development’. At a recent talk held by the Business Community Foundation, ex-Prime Minister of Bhutan and currently Minister of Works and Human Settlement, H.E.Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba talked to OneWorld South Asia about the need for a ‘new development paradigm,’ and his country’s ‘holistic approach to societal progress’. From the famous Gross National Happiness Index, to how richer countries have a greater responsibility to the world, to sustainable development, and how Bhutan’s young people are changing with the times; Zimba talks about Bhutan’s foray into the world.

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OneWorld South Asia: Bhutan pioneered a method of gauging development -- measuring happiness of its citizens to calculate development, while countries like India still see development in terms of GDP and other economic results. According to you, if there has to be a lesson learnt or advice for other countries, what would it be?

Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba: It would be a bit difficult to do that, considering India’s size. The kind of things we are trying to promote is working, as Bhutan is a small country. But I think it’s relevant to every country irrespective of its size. We’re not talking about something impossible or difficult, we are talking about ‘balanced development’. A development, that looks not only at growth, but other aspects like human needs.

We’re talking of development that’s sustainable. For instance in India also, if in the quest for growth, you go on the path of unbridled growth and somehow damage the environment, that growth is not going to be sustainable. Future generations will suffer and one will ruin a lot of things that need to be preserved. So when we talk of sustainable development, we talk of development with 'human value', which is not very new. 

OWSA: In your speech at the BCF event, you talked about the global North/South and the environment debate. The debate swirls around globalization, and that is something that affects every country, and Bhutan too. So how do you see globalization affecting Bhutan?

LY Zimba: We are affected quite a bit, unfortunately. And we’re affected in a way far beyond what we like. We do not seem to have much choice. Unlike in the past, now we are competing with everybody, so when people tell us to go slow, it is kind of difficult. Our competitor is not India, China, Japan or the US; it’s everybody!  So, if you slow your competitive edge vis-à-vis others, you’re in trouble. And whether you like it or not, the country will change and it cannot be stopped, we know this.

OWSA: Many young Bhutanese study here, and go back to Bhutan in the end, which is a very interesting trend. How do you see the youth of Bhutan today, as opposed to perhaps when you were young?

LY Zimba: Contexts were really different then. When we grew up, we grew up as real Bhutanese! We all went to good schools. I came to Darjeeling, but when we go back, we’re farmers. Now, many of the young people, they have their roots in the villages, but they grow up in the towns. They spend more time with the television and the internet, and are more susceptible to ‘outside influences’. This is perhaps one of our biggest worries. And that is why in our GNH agenda, we emphasize on the preservation of our culture. And because of our efforts, some things have changed for the worse, and some for the better too.

OWSA: With the opening up of the economy and trade; the corporates moving in become a double-edged sword. They are important for development but come with their bad effects too. As a member of the government, do you face a dilemma about the corporates entering Bhutan; and getting their ‘negative baggage’ in?

LY Zimba:
At present, not many foreign companies are coming in because we opened up very late; and also have stringent rules. Our own businesses are coming up, and bad practices can be brought in by our own companies too. So, it is definitely something to worry about. The environment regulations are very tough for instance,and so are the labour rules. We are foreseeing these kind of problems, and are coming up with the appropriate institutional setup to handle this. 

OWSA: What does the future hold for Bhutan?

LY Zimba: The economic future of Bhutan is excellent. We are a small country and we’re on the right path. With this kind of balanced development that we are pursuing, our hope is that we will do better and will be happier.

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