Recalling 21/9

Wanted: Relief Fund

Yesterday, we marked the first anniversary of the 21st September earthquake. It gave us reason to recall the widespread destruction that the earthquake unleashed on the Eastern parts of our country, and the untold sufferings that our people had to endure.

It also gave us reason to celebrate the indomitable spirit of the Bhutanese people. During the past year, thousands of homes and countless lives have been rebuilt, as people from all walks of life – famers, civil servants, the clergy, the business community, armed forces, students, and civil society – throughout our kingdom, came together and joined the massive relief efforts that were initiated and personally led by His Majesty the King.

To be sure, a lot of work still remains to be done. A majority of the damaged houses are still under reconstruction. And His Majesty’s Peoples’ Project is still on a war footing helping earthquake victims rebuild their lives.

So, yesterday, as a member of parliament, I had reason to be concerned. It’s already been a year since the earthquake, and relief works continue. Plus nobody knows when the next big natural calamity will strike. Yet we, MPs, have not yet established the Relief Fund, which according to Article 14 Section 12 of the Constitution:

Parliament shall establish a relief fund and the Druk Gyalpo shall have the prerogative to use this fund for urgent and unforeseen humanitarian relief.

The ruling party and the government must act immediately to establish the relief fund. Otherwise, the opposition party may feel compelled to introduce a private bill to establish the important fund.

Social risk

french-revolution-2About a month ago I’d written about the Political Instability Index, EIU’s forecast of the likelihood of political unrest for165 countries. The Index ranked Norway as the world’s most politically stable country, and Zimbabwe the most volatile. 95 countries were considered “very high risk” or “high risk”; 53 countries “moderate risk”; and only 17 countries were deemed to be “low risk”.

Bhutan, ranked 108, was rated at “moderate risk” to socio-political upheaval.

Bhutanese Blogger expressed disappointment that I didn’t elaborate and commented:

“I am disheartened that Your Excellency has chosen to blog this but do not have any opinion on this index.

“Will this not be (mis)construed as an acknowledgement of the reported ‘moderate risk’? Would not the readers assume that you agree that we have become more vulnerable since 2007?

“This may send out wrong signals to everybody and can the decisions of many individuals (like foreign investors).”

I had promised Bhutanese Blogger that I’d share my opinions on the Index in “a few days.” But it’s already been more than a month. I’m sorry.

All over the world, people live in constant fear of social unrest and political failure. This is particularly so in our immediate neighbourhood. Yet we, Bhutanese, take stability for granted. This is why I found the EIU’s study interesting.

So why is our country this stable? Because of one reason, and one reason alone: our kings. It’s thanks to them that we’ve enjoyed a century of peace, prosperity and happiness. And that we continue to do so. Remember that before 17th December 1907, life in Bhutan was unpredictable, and that our beloved Drukyul was plagued by political intrigue of the highest order.

But the EIU put our country today at “moderate risk”, not “low risk” as most of us would believe. Why? And why have we become so much more vulnerable since 2007? Democracy. Or, more precisely, the transition to a democracy. We enjoyed unprecedented social and political progress under a benevolent absolute monarchy. But with democracy, there are no such guarantees. Recall, for instance, our anxieties before the elections. And remember that they were caused by our politicians.

So the point is this: now that we are a democracy, we can no longer take social and political stability for granted. We must work for it. We must earn it.

The EIU studied fifteen indicators to come up with their political instability index. They include inequality, corruption, trust in institutions, a country’s neighbourhood, unemployment, and level of income per head (read EIU’s methodology). A quick look at these indicators should tell us that we need to do a lot more work – especially in areas like unemployment, inequality and corruption – even just to maintain our “moderate risk” status.

But we are lucky. Our country is blessed with one more indicator. An advantage, actually. And that is our monarchy. In democratic Bhutan, this precious institution has become that much more important.

So to answer Bhutanese Blogger’s comment: All things considered, “moderate risk” appears to be about right. And if EIU thinks that our country has become less stable, it’s probably due to our transition to democracy. But if we work towards building an honest and vibrant democracy, we can, because we have the advantage of a wise monarch, become the most stable country in the world.

It’s up to us.