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Phases of transformation and guiding principles of development planning
Five Guiding Principles of Development
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Gross National Happiness
GNH society: Five Phases of Change

Looking briefly at investment pattern since 1961, it is possible to delineate some key features of transformation.

The years between 1961 and 1973 can be characterised as the first phase, which concentrated on road construction and internationalisation of relations.

Investment was concentrated on building a single axis motor road across the country. In spite of the extensive layout of motor roads stretching over 3,300 km, the network is still sparse. During the same period, a broadening of international relationships between Bhutan and other countries took place.

The first phase

An old country, whose ancient independence had until then existed without diplomatic links, and participation in the international community, it conducted deft manoeuvers which led to international recognition of its state sovereignty, for example, by being admitted to the UN in 1971. Diplomatic relations with many nations were to follow, contributing substantially to the sense of collateral security as well as to the diversification of sources of development assistance.

The second phase

After the problems of inaccessibility were partly overcome and the delivery of goods and services made more cost-effective, the establishment of health, education and agricultural extension services expanded rapidly between 1973 and 1983. This second phase lasting from 1973 to 1983 is marked by drastic expansion of services. This period also led to the growth of personnel to man facilities, which further resulted in the escalation of maintenance budget.

The third phase

The need to augment revenue naturally led to the third phase of development - from 1983 to 1987 - concentrating on revenue-generating investment in hydro-electric and mineral based projects. During this period, the economy grew at a hyper growth rate fuelled by the construction of the 336-Megawatt Chukha hydropower station. This was the biggest lump sum investment till Tala project started. The output of electricity from Chukha started a chain of industrial enterprises like cement factories. A pattern of growth dependent on construction of hydro-stations and subsequent energy intensive industries have become the main characteristic of the economy. Commissioning of a big hydro-power project shifts the growth curve upward by inducing a structural shift.

The fourth phase

The fourth phase, roughly stretching from 1988 to 1998, is characterised by expansion of air-links and digital telecommunications networks in what was once an isolated, hidden and unapproachable land. The spread of faxes, telephones, satellite TVs, computers and internet have driven Bhutan towards globalisation; the distance between Bhutan and the outside world has collapsed. With the introduction of satellite TVs in 1999 the Bhutanese people could view mass entertainment of songs and thrillers that functions as sedatives as well as stimulants.

The dominant features of the period after 1998 appear to be democratisation and globalisation. Devolution of authorities to local bodies began in 1981. This process was enhanced, in 1998, by devolution of full executive powers to the Council of Ministers who are elected by the National Assembly. A draft constitution was drawn up in 2002 and awaits public debate and adoption. In the same period, Bhutan signed SAPTA and began the WTO accession process. The country has become increasingly integrated into regional and global economies.


Five Guiding Principles of Development

The first guiding principle ...

... is economic self-reliance. The progress towards this goal is broadly indicated by an increase in domestic saving over investment, revenue over expenditure, and export over imports. There has been steady progress with respect to all of these financial indicators. But there is still a long way to go before total government expenditure can be financed completely out of domestic revenue, although the generation of revenue from the export of electricity from new power projects in the near future may change the outlook significantly.

The main reason for the inability to meet budgetary self-efficiency is the baby boom that occurred from the 1970s to 1990s. It led to increases in government expenditure on social services, in addition to the cost of steady expansion of infrastructure. Despite the fall in birth rate, taking a twenty-year perspective, the population of Bhutan is likely to grow from the current 6,00,000 to 9,00,000 in 2020 when it can probably be stabilised.

The second guiding principle

Concern for the potentially adverse impact of increased economic activities and increased population on the fragility of the mountain ecosystem has led Bhutan to raise the preservation of environment as second important guiding principle. But in Buddhist political theory, a state exists not only for the welfare of human beings; it exists for the welfare of all sentient beings. So it has an intrinsic duty to preserve environment. Bhutan is normally regarded as an environmental leader with its rich bio-diversity; and its soil, water and air not yet contaminated by harmful emissions and pollution.

Bhutan's environmental legacy can be explained by the presence of the following three favourable factors:

(a) indigenous institutions for managing common property resources like irrigation water, sacred groves and mountains of local deities, wood lots, and grazing land;
(b) a strong culture of conservation and Buddhist ethics; and ...
(c)enforcement of important legislation enacted mostly between 1969 and 1981.

These elements reflect Bhutan's conservationist ethos and are mainly responsible for adherence to sustainable resource use, although a greater coherence between (a) and (c) needs to be forged. Modernisation is compared by some to a march towards industrial and technological society that generates serious and often irreversible impacts on the environment. The strategy of development in Bhutan tries to take the country from being a late starter in modernisation directly to a sustainable society - which is post-modern or post-industrial - hopefully with Buddhist welfare characteristics.

The third guiding principle ...

... is regionally balanced development. Regional imbalance is theoretically considered as a short-term dis-equilibrium, which free movements of factors of production can remove in the long run. If competitive market conditions obtain, growth is diffused. But such free movement of factors of production is far from reality, and, hence, disparities do emerge without deliberate policies to correct them. The objective of balanced development provides for equitable services and infrastructure throughout the country, in order also to discourage migration and urbanisation.

The fourth guiding principle

... is decentralisation and community empowerment through stimulation of local institutions of decision-making. Bhutan tries to maintain local institutions regulating natural resource use, collective work relationships and conflict resolution. In villages, where social and economic institutions are deeply rooted, there are unwritten and internalised rules governing its collective life. These institutions glue the people together as a community. Such institutions, lying between the state and the family, are true indicators of the self-organisational capacity of a community. They are self-regulated through competition, cooperation and control within the community. When elements of cooperation, competition and control are present in a balanced way in a community, one may consider a community to be democratic.

On an administrative and political plane, a systematic decentralisation of authority began in 1981 initiated by the present King to devolve decision-making authority to the district and block (gewog) levels. In 2002 and 2003, the heads of Block Development Committees were elected by one-person one-vote secret ballots.

The fifth guiding principle

By far the most ambitious guiding principle is the fifth one about cultural preservation. Globally, lifestyles may be imploding or converging rather than diversifying. The Bhutanese are also becoming oriented to global culture. Signs of homogenisation and blurred cultural identities are increasingly visible with rise of imports of both artefacts and ideas. The diffusion of trans-national culture can set in motion forces of silent dissolution of local languages, knowledge, beliefs, customs, skills, trades and institutions, and even species of crops and plants.

These changes subdue rather than enhance the cultural distinctiveness of Bhutan. During a period of cultural absorption, a society delves into its heritage in search of cultural specificity. Culture is cultivated and revived as an anchor in a sea of change. The anchor consists of values and institutions deemed desirable for the solidarity of a nation, despite its diverse sub-cultures. In order to reconstruct or reconceptualise selfhood, it becomes necessary to find out what constitutes us individuals as a people, a community, or a nation, in terms of our respective identities in a quest to define oneself as a historical continuity.

Despite the emphasis on cultural preservation, there are inherent obstacles in planning for it. Technocratic planners, who are increasingly in charge of the course of the nation, usually have a poor grasp of the cultural setting, as well as a dimly imagined vision of the cultural shape of the future society. Less is known about local symbols, beliefs, values, ideology and ethno-histories than about trends about statistics on income, nutrition, health, trade, stock prices and so forth. The dynamic relationship between changes in the economic system and the cultural sphere is not easy either to understand or to predict. Unlike economic goals to be achieved, it is difficult to envisage a clear image of the future cultural state of affairs to be attained.

Several disjunctions between past and future will make striking a balance between tradition and modernity, and pursuing GNH challenging. Modernity seems to be characterised by technology, pluralism, urbanization and openness to the outside world. Clearly, there is a feeling of ambiguity of being at a cultural crossroad, although successful material development planning is quite close to delivering all Bhutanese from fundamental material needs.

roadly speaking, it is suggested that all societies are converging towards Western liberal democracy and free market economy, both held as worldwide models. Is there a potential to be a society distinct from one based on borderless free market economy and liberal democracy, blending the spiritual, political and social heritage of Bhutan with elements of technical innovations and progress of the West? Can Bhutan's modernisation continue to recreate enlightened and happy individuals instead of ruthless, egocentric ones. The peculiar Bhutanese faculty to follow a holistic path of development of both materialism and spiritualism may perhaps remain alive, if we strive hard enough.
(Gross National Happiness (GNH) - a guiding philosophy)
Contributed by Karma Ura, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper

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