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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.

World Bank guarantees help Pakistan get cheaper, longer term loans from international market

Enrique Blanco Armas's picture
Dasu
Photo Credit: Pakistan's Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA)

Compared to their investment needs, developing countries have very limited concessional financing available to them. International commercial banks are constrained in terms of the size and tenors of credits to Emerging Markets and Developing Economies. A key challenge therefore, is to channel large savings and capital into productive investments in developing countries, partly by ‘de-risking’ investments and borrowings.  Pakistan is at the forefront of these efforts, recently making use of two World Bank guarantees to access over 1 billion US dollars in two international commercial loan financings.

A $420 million IBRD Policy Based Guarantee (PBG) was approved by the World Bank Board alongside a $500 million IDA credit in June 2016. The PBG guarantee partially takes over the risk of a commercial bank’s loan to a government. The PBG and the IDA credit supported a program of reforms including the adoption of a new and more inclusive poverty line, efforts to broaden the tax base, enhanced transparency of State Owned Enterprises, improved debt management and a significant overhaul of the regulatory framework of the financial sector.  Improved access to international financing through the PBG will reduce the government’s dependence on domestic financing and free up resources for private sector investment. The guarantee also signals the World Bank’s confidence in Pakistan’s economic reforms program – a signal that is particularly important after the successful completion of the IMF program. The government used the US$420 million PBG to partly guarantee a 10-year US$700 million loan, extending tenor significantly and achieving cost savings.  

How does Sri Lanka score in growth?

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture
Also available in: සිංහල | தமிழ்


While some may think the Sri Lanka’s cricket team did well in the recent Champion's Trophy, myself included, vigorous debates have been going on, on TV and social media and even here in our office which clearly suggests that not everyone agrees on their performance. Despite these differences in perspective, I witnessed the excitement of many of my colleagues and friends from different parts of the world as they cheered, supported opposing teams, analyzed the games, and mulled the behind the scenes politics that affect the game, and also passed judgements on winners and losers.  The key point here is that for Sri Lanka to be in the top 8 internationally they had to play other countries. This analogy fits well with how economies grow and are recognized; so hold on to this thought. 

Reading through the many articles in the news, be they paper, internet or just exchanges between citizens on social media, one thing is clear, there is no one unified view on how Sri Lanka is growing. While developed countries would salivate at a growth rate of 4.4 percent, in Sri Lanka it is considered below potential. Some even question if it’s growing! The result is a confusing landscape on an important issue that touches everyone in some way.   

Twice a year the World Bank adds data and analyses to the many out there. We try to answer questions such as: what is Sri Lanka’s actual growth? Which parts of the economy have grown and which have not? If the country is to accelerate growth, what needs to be done? What can its people do to help? We know from cricket that the players can be excellent but if no-one cheers for them, they lose interest and cannot be successful. Eventually the game loses its luster and the competitive edge of the country’s ranking also slips. Both sides need to understand what needs to be achieved, how, by whom and when the team doesn’t quite deliver in a match, what part of the game should they change. This is what has made Sri Lanka a cricket powerhouse.

Good luck and good policies

Frederico Gil Sander's picture

In Brazil, where I come from, we are crazy about football, so I grew up listening to football matches. At the end of a match, the reporters would interview the main scorer of the day, who would often say that he was just lucky to receive the ball at the right place.
 
The commentator would then say that “good luck is a combination of ability and opportunity”. This story comes to mind when thinking of India’s economy over the past two years.
 
India has been lucky indeed. In the fiscal year ending March 2016 (FY16), the sharp decline in oil prices generated what economists call a positive “terms-of-trade” shock, which lifted growth.
 
A terms-of-trade shock means that the things you buy suddenly become cheaper relative to the things you sell, allowing you to buy more things.


 
In the fiscal year that just ended, CSO data that was released recently shows that the good monsoons helped agriculture propel growth. Notwithstanding disruption from demonetization, agricultural wages have continued to grow, along with their purchasing power as rural inflation declined.

But India has also implemented good policies, which allowed it to take advantage of the external shocks. The government took advantage of declining oil prices to eliminate fuel subsidies and hike taxes on carbon-emitting petroleum products, a win for the environment and a win for the exchequer.

New Zealand has much to offer the world

Annette Dixon's picture
 
New zealand - World maps on line
New Zealand Map.  Photo Credit: Academia maps GeoAtlas


When people think about New Zealand’s most famous son, Sir Edmund Hillary, they mostly think about the quiet Auckland bee-keeper who conquered Everest in 1953.

Of course, there’s much more to the man. He raised money for the Sherpa communities in Nepal that built schools, hospitals and much more. His commitment to the people of South Asia was also reflected in his successful term in the 1980s as New Zealand’s High Commissioner to India.

As the most senior New Zealander in the management of the World Bank, I have come to appreciate Sir Edmund’s commitment to the people of South Asia and believe it shows how much New Zealand can offer the world.  This will not only make the world a better place but can also help New Zealand too.

What can fuel India's Growth?

Frederico Gil Sander's picture

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The World Bank is releasing its flagship report highlighting the state of the Indian economy, its future growth prospects, the impact of the recent currency exchange on the economy, and the benefits that the progress on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) will have moving forward. 

Six innovations from the Digital Youth Summit that inspired me

Joe Qian's picture
What do speakers say about the Digital Youth Summit?
What foreign speakers say about DYS17!

Foreign delegates to Digital Youth Summit 2017 reflect on their experiences, and the bright minds of youth in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Many thanks to all the foreign delegates for visiting Peshawar from May 5-7, 2017! #DYS17 #KPITB #KPGoesTech #KPWentTech Imran Khan (official)Shahram Khan Tarakai Official Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Technology Board - KPITB World Bank South Asia Jazz USAID Pakistan UNDP Pakistan Gloria Jean's Coffees Pakistan Anna O'Donnell Sam Bretzfield Iliana Montauk Justin Wong Alexander Ferguson Max Krueger Nicola Magri

Posted by Digital Youth Summit on Thursday, May 18, 2017

Entrepreneurs and technologists from Pakistan and around the world converged last week at the Digital Youth Summit (DYS) in Peshawar to share their knowledge, inspire local talent, and bring digital investments.

Over four days, 4,000 attendees, some as young as age 10, interacted with industry leaders, engaged in technology demonstrations, and benefitted from hands-on training. Everyone learnt a lot about digital entrepreneurship and was inspired by many cutting-edge innovations.

Here are six of them that struck a high note with me:
Most sessions at #DYS17 were livestreamed by Jazz xlr8 and OurKPK. Photo Credit: Joe Qian/World Bank
  1. Sessions on Facebook Live. Did you miss the summit, want to learn more about digital entrepreneurship, or simply want to relive highlights of DYS? Jazz xlr8 and OurKPK livestreamed many sessions at DYS. Inspired to start or grow your own business after watching the sessions? There are also resources to support you at the National Incubation Center and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Youth Employment Program!
     
    Travel Across Pakistan
     
  2. Travel Startups that made me want to travel across Pakistan. Let’s face it, I have a serious case of wanderlust and few things make me happier than going to new places, connecting with people, and gaining insights and perspectives I was unaware of before. For people outside of Pakistan may know of it as a country full of beauty and tourism potential. However, two of the winners of DYS’s Startup Cup in which budding companies presented their products and services to prospective investors changed my perspectives. Watch these two videos made by travel platform Find My Adventure and home-sharing company Qayyam and tell me if they also inspire you to travel across Pakistan!

Celebrating 15 Years of reengagement in Afghanistan

Raouf Zia's picture
Also available in: دری | پښتو




Shortly after the Soviet invasion in 1979, the World Bank suspended its operations in Afghanistan. Work resumed in May 2002 to help meet the immediate needs of the poorest people and assist the government in building strong and accountable institutions to deliver services to its citizens.

As we mark the reopening of the World Bank office in Kabul 15 years ago, here are 15 highlights of our engagement in the country:

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