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Bhutan

Joining forces to maximize resources for Bhutan’s citizens

Savinay Grover's picture
Public financial management signing
The Multi-Donor fund for Bhutan's Public Financial Management was launched September 21st in Thimphu

Several years ago, a newspaper cartoon in a neighboring country caught everyone’s attention when it depicted the government machinery as a big pipe in which lots of water was being poured from one side as taxpayer’s money and only a drop reached the poor on the other end. The water, representing the funds were being lost due to holes in the pipe. The holes were depicted as inefficiency, wastage, corruption etc. Globally, governments lose trillions of dollars due to various inefficiencies, and lack of proper controls and oversight. Citizens suffer as they do not receive the services that they are promised.

Bhutan provides lots of attention to good governance, which is also one of the pillars of Gross National Happiness. Public Financial Management (PFM) is an important element of good governance and delivering high quality of services to citizens as it’s comprised of budgeting, revenue, procurement, accounting and reporting, internal controls and institutional oversight. Sound PFM systems play an important role in strengthening the efficiency, accountability and transparency of the Government systems. Every dollar, every Ngultrum saved through sound PFM systems mean that more resources are available for better schools, hospitals, roads, and other services.

How does Bhutan’s Economy Look?

Tenzin Lhaden's picture
Bhutan Economic Update
Bhutan has maintained solid economic performance to date in 2017 but delays in hydropower construction may affect its economic outlook with growth expected to slow to just under 7 percent in 2018. 

Bhutan is one of the smallest, but fastest-growing economies in the world. Its annual economic growth of 7.5 percent on average between 2006 and 2015, placed the country 13th of 118 countries, compared to the average global growth rate of 4.4 percent.

This growth has been shared by a majority of Bhutanese, with extreme poverty dropping from 25 percent in 2003 to 2 percent in 2012, based on the international poverty line of $1.90 a day (at purchasing power parity). This is among the rate in South Asia and compares favourably to the regional poverty rate of 19 percent. Equally impressive improvements were made in access to basic services such as health, education and asset ownership.

The recent developments on strong lending growth, inflation, exchange rates and international reserves show that Bhutan maintains a solid and stable growth in the first half of 2017. Gross international reserves have been increasing since 2012, when the country experienced an Indian rupee shortage. Reserves exceed $1 billion, equivalent to 10 months of imports of goods and services in mid-2017 which makes the country more resilient to potential shocks. This is also very much in line with the requirement spelled in the 2008 Constitution which outlines minimum reserve requirements. The Bhutanese ngultrum, pegged to the Indian rupee, have been stable or slightly appreciating against the U.S. dollar.

Despite recent solid growth and macroeconomic stability, we need to carefully monitor its Development. According to the latest Bhutan Economic Update, the hydropower construction and the implementation of the 2016 Economic Development Policy are expected to support this solid growth during the next few years. However, with confirmed delays in the completion of two hydropower projects, the contribution of the hydropower sector to growth will be lower than the originally projected. Therefore, the World Bank revised down its growth forecasts in 2019/20 by a few percentage points to 7.6 percent, still among the fastest in the world.

Fresh thinking on economic cooperation in South Asia

Nikita Singla's picture
 Aamir Khan/ Pakistan, Sreerupa Sengupta/ India, Sanjay Kathuria/ World Bank, Mahfuz Kabir & Surendar Singh/ Bangladesh) Photo By: Marcio De La Cruz/ World Bank
Young Economists sharing the stage with Sanjay Kathuria, Lead Economist and Coordinator, Regional Integration (Left to Right: Aamir Khan/ Pakistan, Sreerupa Sengupta/ India, Sanjay Kathuria/ World Bank, Mahfuz Kabir/Bangladesh & Surendar Singh/ India). Photo by: Marcio De La Cruz/ World Bank


That regional cooperation in South Asia is lower than optimal levels is well accepted. It is usually ascribed to – the asymmetry in size between India and the rest, conflicts and historical political tensions, a trust deficit, limited transport connectivity, and onerous logistics, among many other factors.

Deepening regional integration requires sufficient policy-relevant analytical work on the costs and benefits of both intra-regional trade and investment. An effective cross-border network of young professionals can contribute to fresh thinking on emerging economic cooperation issues in South Asia.

Against this background, the World Bank Group sponsored a competitive request for proposals.  Awardees from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, after being actively mentored by seasoned World Bank staff over a period of two years, convened in Washington DC to present their new and exciting research. Research areas included regional value chains, production sharing and the impact assessment of alternative preferential trade agreements in the region.

Young Economists offer fresh thoughts on economic cooperation in South Asia

Mahfuz Kabir, Acting Research Director, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies and Surendar Singh, Policy Analyst, Consumer Unity Trust Society (CUTS International) presented their research: Of Streams and Tides, India-Bangladesh Value Chains in Textiles and Clothing (T&C). They focus on how to tackle three main trade barriers for T&C: a) high tariffs for selected, but important goods for the industries of both countries; b) inefficient customs procedures and c) divergent criteria for rules of origin classification.

Sreerupa Sengupta, Ph.D. Scholar at Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi discussed Trade Cooperation and Production Sharing in South Asia – An Indian Perspective. Reviewing the pattern of Indian exports and imports in the last twenty years, her research focuses on comparing the Global Value Chain (GVC) participation rate of India with East Asian and ASEAN economies. Barriers to higher participation include a) lack of openness in the FDI sector; b) lack of adequate port infrastructure, and long port dwell times; and c) lack of Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs).

Aamir Khan, Assistant Professor, Department of Management Sciences, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad presented his work on Economy Wide Impact of Regional Integration in South Asia - Options for Pakistan. His research analyzes the reasons for Pakistan not being able to take full advantage of its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China, and finds that the granting of ASEAN-type concessions to Pakistan in its FTA with China would be more beneficial than the current FTA arrangement. The work also draws lessons for FTAs that are currently being negotiated by South Asian countries.

How can digital technology transform lives and improve opportunities in Bhutan?

Yoichiro Ishihara's picture
Tech Park
The recently opened Thimphu tech park – Bhutan’s first IT park -

The Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked country located high in the eastern Himalayan mountain range with its population 760,000. Up until about 20 years ago, the country was isolated from the world; Bhutan’s first ever television broadcast occurred in 1999. Since then, information communications technology (ICT) has made rapid advancement. Mobile subscriptions increased from 0.4 per 100 people in 2003 to 87 in 2015. The proportion of people using the internet have increased from 0.1% in 1999 to 40% in 2015. Today, all 20 districts and 201 (out of 205) sub-districts are connected through fiber optic cables.

The World Bank’s 2016 World Development Report on “
Digital Dividends” argues that digital technologies have boosted growth, expanded opportunities, and improved service delivery. Use of ICT for development is especially applicable to small states with populations of less than 1.5 million. Another report, “World Bank Group Engagement with Small States” finds that ICT investments can help reduce economic isolation, lessen barriers to trade, promote tourism, and improve mobility. These messages are highly relevant to Bhutan today.

The Government has enthusiastically adopted the use ICT to improve its services to its citizens as described in Bhutan ICT Roadmap and Bhutan E-Government Masterplan. The Government to Citizen (G2C) program, launched in 2005, provides a one-stop-shop for more than 100 services such as procuring a passport. The national ePayment Gateway Infrastructure, established by the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA), the central bank, has enabled citizens to pay for some public services online. Recently, the National Land Commission (NLC) launched eCitizen Portal - an online one-stop shop for transferring property titles online. This has reduced the number of days to transfer ownership of a property from 90 days to 62 days in the capital, Thimphu. More importantly, the NLC is reaching out to the private sector to seek feedback on how to improve its usability by piloting a feedback survey using an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) tool for the first time in Bhutan. The government has also introduced an electronic government procurement system (e-GP) to make optimal use of resources. Given the size of the budget (exceeding 30 percent of GDP), the adoption of e-GP will contribute to effective use of public resources. The World Bank Group has been supporting these efforts through various instruments such as the second Development Policy Credit: Fiscal Sustainability and Investment Climate, which helped get the eCitizen Portal off the ground.

How much should Bhutan worry about debt?

Yoichiro Ishihara's picture
Bhutan hydropower
Construction of the Dagachhu Hydropower Plant in Bhutan. Photo Credit: Asian Development Bank

In many respects, Bhutan has been a development success story. Its people have benefitted from decades of sharp reductions in poverty combined with impressive improvements in health and education. The country is a global model in environmental conservation. It is the first carbon negative country; Bhutan’s forests, which cover over 70% of the country, absorb more carbon dioxide than is produced by its emissions.

The Kingdom of Happiness also must grapple with the reality of managing budgets, creating infrastructure, and preparing its citizens to be able to create and take advantage of jobs of the future. To do that, we are working with closely with Bhutan to build the foundations for a more prosperous future through the cultivation of a vibrant private sector economy and supporting green development.

At the same time, Bhutan has invested generously in hydropower energy production to create a reliable and lasting source of green energy for its people. It also benefits from exporting excess electricity to neighboring India, whose energy needs continue to increase at a rapid pace with their growing economy.

In large part due to the hydropower investments, Bhutan’s public debt was 107 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as of March 2017. Hydropower external debt was at 77 percent of GDP with non-hydropower external debt accounting for 22 percent of GDP. Questions have arisen on whether this level of debt is sustainable and what should be done to address it.

How can teachers cultivate (or hinder) students’ socio-emotional skills?

Paula Villaseñor's picture
Also available in: Spanish

Socio-emotional skills are the new hot topic in education. Governments, ministers of education, policymakers, education experts, psychologists, economists, international organizations, and others have been captivated by these skills and their contribution to students’ academic and life outcomes. The goal seems clear, but the way to achieve results is not so obvious. Most of the literature focuses on the impact of socio-emotional skills on different outcomes, while much less illuminates the specific mechanisms through which teachers can boost students’ socio-emotional development. 

Women can play a greater role in realizing South Asia’s potential

Annette Dixon's picture
Mumbai Train
The suburban train system in Mumbai is used by millions of women and men everyday, who rely on safe transport to access education and job opportunities. 

Last week, I took a journey on Mumbai’s suburban train system, which carries a staggering 8 million women and men, equivalent to the entire population of Switzerland, every day to where they live, work, and spend time with family and friends. Although stretched, the system has reduced mobility constraints and increased independence for millions of women who rely on safe transport to access education and job opportunities; contributing to the city’s dynamism and growth. There are similarly inspiring examples from all countries in South Asia.

As we mark International Women’s Day, we celebrate the progress made in improving women’s inclusion and empowerment, while seeking to better address continuing challenges, which are estimated to cost South Asian economies $888 billion, through devising and implementing solutions that will bridge remaining gaps.

Much to be proud of­a lot more remains to be done

South Asian countries have seen encouraging increases in greater access and gender parity in education. At the same time, the region has achieved substantial decreases in maternal and child mortality. Countries have made great strides in healthcare access through training more female healthcare workers while providing affordable care for mothers and children. The region also boasts many inspiring female leaders and role models, as well as the countless individuals positively contributing to their communities and societies against difficult odds. 

However, much more needs to be done in order to nurture all women and men to realize their potential. As South Asian countries become more prosperous, their growth trajectory will be less assured if hundreds of millions of women remain excluded from education and employment opportunities. South Asian countries will need to substantially expand their workforce in order to meet their economic growth goals and, at the same time, adequately support their increasingly large populations. Studies show that only around 1 out of 4 women in South Asia participate in the labor force, about half of what is typical in middle-income countries in other regions. Too many women face restrictions in decision-making, mobility, public safety; and far too many experience gender-based violence—the most egregious cases making headlines around the world. What can help bridge these gaps?

The ABCs of digital jobs in South Asia

Anna O'Donnell's picture
How Can South Asia’s Youth Plug into Digital Jobs of the Future?

Over the past several years, innovations in information and communication technologies have fundamentally changed the nature of work.

This has created new opportunities in digital employment for workers and employers in South Asia and beyond.

So what are the pathways to this new employment?

During a recent Facebook live chat on digital jobs, we explored three themes related to the digital jobs of the future. First, we discussed where the digital jobs of the future are. Second, we discussed how South Asia is uniquely positioned to benefit from the growth of these jobs. And finally, we discussed how to get started in the digital economy by finding relevant training and learning opportunities.

Here’s an overview of our discussion in five points:
 
1. What are digital jobs?

Digital jobs fall into two categories: jobs within the IT or digital industries, and what are termed digital society jobs. Digital industry jobs include those such as computer programmer, mobile app developer, graphic designer and other jobs where information and communication technologies are the core tool to perform the job functions. However, technology is also changing what we call digital society jobs, where technology is maybe not core to the job functions, but makes more you more efficient and productive, and improves access to markets and networks.

2. What is driving the emergence of these new digital jobs?

The rapid rise in connectivity that is linking more and more people to the internet is changing employment. Today, many jobs can be performed through computers, with workers telecommuting from almost anywhere in the world. Many business processes are being broken down into task based work, and which can be farmed out to people with the skills to do them, anywhere the world. Some of these tasks need higher-level skills, and can pay well – especially compared with many developing countries’ wage levels. But there are also simpler tasks that many more people, even those with limited skills, can do. This mix creates the opportunity to include more people in the global digital economy, while also creating pathways towards better paying and higher quality work for those who perform well and pick up in-demand skills.

New roads to better lives in rural Bhutan

Deepa Rai's picture
Men from the Pokri Dangra community working on the power tiller track. (Credit: RRCDP project) 

For remote rural communities in mountainous Bhutan, survival hinges upon access to roads and markets.

Since 2003, the Royal Government has built over 1,500 kilometers of farm roads and narrower, lower-cost “power tiller tracks” to help communities, which subsist mostly on agriculture, connect to the larger population, and improve their incomes and standards of living.

For farmers in the Pokri Dangra village in Samste Dzongkhag, a new track has brought more benefits than expected and significantly improved access to markets and services and reduced the cost of trading goods with other local communities.


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