Official business

I’m humbled by the quality of the responses to my last entry – they are insightful, meaningful and educative. And every one of them shows deep concern over how difficult it is to do business in our country.

But your responses scared me. I suddenly realized that Doing Business ranking for Bhutan may be terribly inaccurate. Why? Because Doing Business measures regulations and procedures that affect business activity, regardless of how well or poorly the regulations are applied.

Your responses all say the same things in various ways: that regulations are not our biggest constraint to doing business; that that distinction goes to our officials, the enforcers of the regulations; that doing business is really difficult because officials do not do their job properly, or are simply absent from work; and that unless one has proper connections it is very difficult to get down to business.

Yes, our regulations and procedures are not business friendly…that’s why Bhutan is ranked 124th in the world. But what Doing Business does not measure is the attitudes of officials. If attitudes are factored in, expect our already poor ranking to plummet all the way to the bottom.

So yes, let’s review and improve business regulations. Let’s keep those that enhance business activity. And discard those that constrain it.

But, more importantly, let’s improve the way our officials conduct their business. Let’s change the mindset in officialdom: from enforcer to service provider; from the person in charge to the person serving; from commander to servant.

Last year, both parties convincingly articulated their promises to change the mindset of the government and the civil service. It’s time to walk that talk.


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  1. Lhendup K. Tshering says

    This discussion of Doing Business in Bhutan is a very important topic and is something that all our people ranging from the cabinet to the RCSC peon should read, because even the peon in RCSC acts like a first class officer when it comes to business. When I say business, it not only concerns with the hard core business of commerical activity. It has to do with all kinds of services that affect the growth and livelihood of individual.
    Since, this topic is so broad if one has to discuss all, I will just zoom down to the point what our new government have promised and what is the fate now after nearly 10 months when it comes to service delivery.
    Personally, I have not seen any change in any sector but rather it has become worse. What is DPT government doing?
    The City Corporation takes ages to transfer land ownership and that too with lots of harrassment, they take 6 months to approve one drawing and that too again with lots of harrassment asking applicants to do hundreds of minor changes which actually could be done by them in just a matter of few minutes, getting a business license from MTI is nightmare as pointed out in earlier comments, getting loans from the financial institutes takes ages and that too only if you know somebody, getting a site plan for your plot from the City Corporaton takes minimum 6 months which actually is a work of just less than 30 minutes, getting your land surveyed and demarcated takes one year and that too after visiting City Corporation office 20 times and requesting the concerned officials every time you visit them. Getting loan clearance letter from BDFC takes more than a year and that too after visiting their office for more than 15 times. Most of the time the dealing officers are not on the seat and nobody in that office knows his/her whereabout and many a times their office is locked with a big rusted Chinese Lock. Looks like the CEO's of the office have no culture in Bhutan to make a visit to different rooms of the officials and see what they are doing. Most CEO's in Bhutan may not know how many office rooms and where are the particular officers seat in their own department.

    In Doing Business, Bhutan ranked somewhere 142nd, but if we rank the attitude of our working people (civil service & corporate employee), we will be surely at the bottom.

    How do we change the attitude of our people? Is it possible? Who is responsible? What could be the cause? Why people do not change after most of the civil and corporate employees visiting foreign countries? Is it something to do with our culture? Is there any training to change the attitude and mindset of our people? Should government make it compulsory for all service servant to undergo meditation for one year?

    All these are questions that we need to answer.

  2. If we are so bent on preserving our age old culture and passed down traditions, there will be much less scope for our officials to change from ‘enforcer’ to ‘service provider’. It’s all to do with the mindset, the societal norms and examples leaders of organizations show. Our organizational leaders have always been the bossy type (dictators and authoritarian, in other words), often times beginning their command with “Shuet oi”. They would have to change first in order for officials under them to change. ‘Respect’ and ‘honour’ has to be both ways between the leader/manager and their subordinates. It would then come naturally to officials to serve their customers and clients.

    I was watching a reality show on TV and I noticed that all artists came on to the stage and the first thing they did was to touch the floor and then their chest, followed by touching of the feet of their mentors (who blessed them with a touch on their head). The respect was so genuine because the artists had passion for what they were doing; they were inspired by their mentors; and their mentors had earned their respect.

    It is also to do with being ‘humble’ and to do with ‘simple living, high thinking’. We will find it difficult to serve our customers/clients if we think ‘big’ of ourselves just because we’re sitting on an office chair and behind an office table. Without the office chair and table and the office itself, what are we? Have we ever thought of that?

    We write and talk a lot about the ‘hardware’ of development, but it is really the ‘software’ that needs attention – be it commercial business or officialdom.

    As a humble citizen of this nation, I really do look forward to the change of mindset. I believe ‘Education’ is a powerful tool that can bring about such change, so our education system and the curriculum has to change radically.

  3. I cannot help agreeing with Lhendup! Part of the blame lies wuth our culture. What is good must be preserved, what is rusty must be buried!

    Ours is a top-down culture. A mere ‘head’ of a small division in an office behaves as if he is a feudal lord. When communication between a service receiver and a service provider is in the form of ‘sir..’, ‘Laso..’, ‘Dasho..’, and aided by ‘kasho’ culture, the fellow down the ladder who needs all the services to do business or to conduct business DARE NOT question, complain, or query.

    How much should change? What should change? How soon will it change? But change it must.

  4. simply…what do you want out of these debates…. and blogs? why do you make people say the obvious when nothing is being done or can be done? By the way…these issues that you have addressed in your blogs are to me, is what you expect out of modernization…. it happens all over the world… what makes you think Bhutan is an exception ? it will happen to us too…..

  5. Peter F. Drucker in his article;”The new society of organizations”, Harvard Business Review, 1992 writes, “Because the modern organization consists of knowledge specialists, it has to be an organization of equals, of colleagues and associates. No knowledge ranks higher than another; each is judged by its contribution to the common task rather than by any inherent superiority or inferiority. Therefore, the modern organization cannot be an organization of boss and subordinate. It must be organized as a team”

    Though for the day.

    Do we need change ?

  6. I think BCCI can play a lead role in this dillema. But to do that the key position holders at BCCI should give way to dynamic people coming and managing it. Only then we have hope from BCCI. Right now it is just for name sake institution.

    Secondly, I think DHI can foster some change in such issues and frustration. You have the capacity to hold workshops both for government, corporate and private officials to facilitate this change.

    Thirdly, BBS can play an important role too. You did a good job covering the elections. Now you can help the private sector by holding debates, Q&A sessions with government people, with private people. You are a strong medium to bring it all out in the open and we can all learn from it.

    Lastly, if at all it happens – our hopes rests in the Hon' Prime Ministers initiative and action on it. You are charismatic & dynamic and you can make a difference by listening to the issues of the private sector. The Private sector would love to hold a Q&A session with you and Pm will get first hand information.

    I heard the government ministers say "Private sector is the engine of growth & we should support it" ever since I was in college – that is 20 years ago and they still harp on this slogan but nothing is ever done.

    Lyonpo's la – Please for once listen to the grievances and do something. You are an elected leader and we want you to listen to us too.

    Eventually, if not for anything – do it for the sake of Tsawasum and for the sake of shaping the future of our country. Action is more adequate now than words. We have heard enough!!!!

  7. official business….
    here is a little experience, or rather a story of someone i came across. this lady wanted to get NOC, had the usual problems, had applied to His Majesty for a kash, and received a Kasho saying that her case should be looked into. but the home ministry officials sent her back to the geog to get the gups sign, or something, then she had to go to thimphu police for some more work and then the dzong and back to police, who finally told her she might try going back to her dzongkhag and talking to the dzongdag. the lady is illiterate, had no idea what the procedures are, has not realised that she can actually question the officials as to why she would need to get all the things done, why they dont tell her at one go, why doesnt anyone seem to be the “right” person to solve your problem, why there has to be hundreds of peoples signatues and comments needed before anything moves even a step ahead, why offices keep losing your very important documents, and insist that you leave the original copy with them…..
    We heard about a certain ACT called the “right to informantion” to be discussed in the national assembly, but nothing happened. The RTI is a power to the people to question any authority, and the authority is obliged to answer accordingly within a certain time period. but the government is taking its time with this law..butthis act need to be fast forwarded because it is needed…NOW!!!!

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