Remittance to Bhutan

Published on Dec 24 2011 // Opinion
By Buddha M Dhakal

Bhutan needs more remittance, probably more than anything in the past. Remittance helps to back up and sustain the general spending in daily life. Bhutan is not a country which sends a lot of people to international labor market, therefore no question of getting larger revenue as remittance. With low capacity of absorbing a large volume of tourist and low investment on developmental projects by the citizens, remittance if any, can be of risk to melt down to Indian rupees. Kuensel on December 21 reflected on the contribution of remittance to GDP and development infrastructures, and Bhutan is definitely losing it.

Nepal is a neighboring country which has been largely dependent on remittance sent in by the labor force flown out of the country to gulf countries, Malaysia, Korea, and Japan and to the west.

Bhutan does not have a population problem but poverty is still the major concern in rural Bhutan. There is significant rural-urban migration leaving vacant lands and houses in the interior hinterlands. It is what can be attributed to the income inequality and unequal development, leaving huge crevices between the rural and urban mass. The college graduates are waiting for more jobs to open in the country, yet very few of them seems to be interested in the job overseas or even in India. Although Bhutan is prospering in hydro-power, it absorbs very less Bhutanese professionals and graduates; that the industry depend largely on Indian manpower, even the physical laborers. As always, India is investing its major share in developing hydro-power in Bhutan simultaneously opening job market for Indian labor force, adding revenue as well to the GDP ( as for Bhutanese graduates 47 candidates shortlisted, 24 absorbed immediately, 5 in the waiting list never contacted, bhutanobserver.bt June 18, 2010 ).

Now resettlement has taken place. And democracy is said to be taking roots. The time is propitious for encouraging the remittance flow into the country, although it should not consider any misgivings between the government and people of Bhutan including Diaspora. However, the DPT government has to set a precedence of maximizing the benefit of local governance to all common citizens, rural or urban, rich or poor, lhotshamps or sarchhops, west or east.

Repatriation from the refugee camps have always turned futile and emergence of an effective leadership always jeopardized. With the ongoing move of resettlement, the most young of the Bhutanese generation have by now understood what it would be like to work in a foreign land that require a lot of specific qualities. The argument and probability of 100 percent repatriation has waned over the time. Still, the resettled folks are plucky enough to consider themselves as Bhutanese in Diaspora and maintain the integrity of Bhutanese origin. This is again a positive culture that fellow Bhutanese living anywhere in the country can trust and acknowledge. It is also to take advantage of such mode of life-practice by those kith and kin in Bhutan.

Remittance to Bhutan by the diaspora shall be purely based on mutual understanding of government and people. It is the responsibility of government to put in place a conducive investment climate in development projects by the Bhutanese themselves or at least give leverage to the local government to accept donations and charity funds. It is the people to understand that local development of the hinterland villages, hamlets and dormitory towns can take place most effectively, if the people of that locality are empowered to invest. Education of local people, above all, is the key to open this avenue.

With the completion of local government (some places in east are yet to get the candidate) election, a stage is set for the local heads to put forth their ideas and mobilize resources to patch up the unattended part of development specific to their own constituencies. In the Bhutanese model of democracy, decentralization has a pervasive impact on the decision making ability of local heads as this reformist agenda gave more power to the district and sub-divisional heads (Dzongda and Dungpa) neglecting the capacity of village heads. If the local election of democracy of Bhutan brought the same village leaders with decentralization hang-over, decision making will at large remain a top-down approach. With this taking shape, local development will be purged aside and depend on the whims of cabinet.

The remittance for the year 2011 (January to August) is just Nu 243m that was mostly channeled through Bank of Bhutan and Bhutan National Bank. Unaccounted remittance in the form of cash sent home through the returning visitors is not considered in above figures. Such remittance is used only in private enterprises, loan repayment and domestic purchases of food, clothes and other household goods. Remittance larger in amount than this inevitably support micro-enterprises, credit and financing institutions, round-the-year vegetable production, agribusiness, adult literacy programs, media and communication, school meals and so on. It actually raises the reserve dollars.

It is fairly obvious for the resettled Bhutanese to support their families and friends back home, whenever they need. However that requires administrative support to utilize the revenue in more productive manner and for the common good of all people. At least for the present, no citizens should feel intimidated or fear the persecution from government (or even any government employee) for receiving gifts from the resettled Bhutanese, if any. If everything has to be viewed through the GNH lens in Bhutan, increasing remittance by empowering people in the decision making process and fostering people to people relationship in the long run does bear the GNH flag. It is far practical approach than finding answers in GNH to get solution to the impending danger of drug abuse, as was heard from the PM some days back.

Ultimately what is most awaited is the development of non-resident Bhutanese network that is based on nonpartisan identity and fully acknowledged by the democratic government of Bhutan (if it is at all democratic), lest endorsed by the Bhutanese parliament. This is open the floodgates of investment climate in Bhutan by the non-resident Bhutanese in future development projects, saving millions of dollars to the government to be paid as external debt, particularly the hard loans. Anyone can be optimistic about employment generation for all level of Bhutanese laborers in the country, if increasing remittance and subsequent partnership in the infrastructure development with the people can be envisioned. It should be hopefully a better idea than managing prime minister’s “smiling”(supposedly snarling!) but mangy street dogs of Thimphu by Humane International, when Bhutanese are too compassionate to mange them.

Should not be a theme, “Let’s send money to Bhutan.”