Tenzin Lhaden & Sonam Deki
The future is always uncertain, but the COVID-19 pandemic has given this truism a sharp, sobering clarity. The Covid-19 has brought many changes in the lives of people, globally with all activities being brought to a halt. With this, the transformative changes are seen at the personal as well as in governmental policies.
However, Bhutan seems to have redefined this as an opportunity to overhaul its some of the major policies. The pandemic gave government almost seamless platform for implementation and introduction of new policies with swift rolling into the system and when people were more susceptible to the change, which otherwise would seem impossible or ages of rundowns.
There have been several major policies, social and economic developments since pandemic and these reforms are still being seen implemented; post-pandemic. New tourism policy, new infrastructures, immigration regulations, health care system, and initiatives by De-Suung are compelling reforms witnessed during pandemic and post-pandemic stint.
The new rules can be made at anytime, anywhere, but when to put them into effect is more crucial. The effectiveness of the new policy will depend on when it is implemented.
One such shift included the tourism policy. Bhutan’s tourism industry has received a makeover as part of a national reform project that is taking place in various areas, from the government to finance. The long-term objective is to create a competitive tourist industry that is inventive and professional, and that offers Bhutanese highly skilled and lucrative jobs.
There will never be a greater time than this, according to Dorji Dhradhul, Director General, and Tourism Council of Bhutan. We recently returned from a lengthy break of 2.5 years. It’s almost like the tourism industry started in 1974 when it reopened after a long absence. Although it was founded in 1971, tourism really took-off in 1974. We are attempting to launch the tourist as if it were the first time, with minor improvements. In contrast to 1974, there haven’t been any significant modifications. The “High Value, Low Volume” policy was in place in 1974, however it had gradually watered down.
“Now that COVID has been in place for two and a half years, we are restarting it with the reinforcement of this strategy. It would be challenging to accomplish those few modifications if we waited another year after tourism was allowed. In actuality, there isn’t a better time to begin all those adjustments than right now. From 2019, there were already plans to reinstate and strengthen this strategy. However, the project was abandoned because of Covid-19. If the policy had been put into effect in 2019, it would have been challenging because there was already a lot of tourism business going on. Although the situation may not be ideal right now, there has never been a better opportunity to implement reforms. Since it’s a significant shift, some people could find it inconvenient and challenging. Therefore, the hassles and difficulty would be considerably greater if we did this at a different timing”, said Dorji Dhradhul.
For those in the health industry, Covid has turned out to be blessing in disguise. To screen for influenza-like disease and COVID-19, each hospital developed flu clinics that were independent and distinct from the main hospital infrastructure, and designated separate facilities to segregate COVID-19 cases. There are no infectious disease experts, virologists, or immunologists in the nation, and there are not many doctors, nurses, or technologists either. With 376 doctors and 1,364 nurses, there were 5.6 doctors and 18.4 nurses per 10,000 people in 2020. The population at risk was taken into account while reallocating human resources following the discovery of the first COVID-19 case in March 2020.
Moreover, by learning through pandemic situation, the health ministry has now launched the simulation based training on September 17th, 2022. The simulation based training project will train health professionals across the country in managing emergency situations and resuscitation thereby improving patients’ safety and quality medical care.
Dasho Dechen Wangmo, health minister, stated at the time of the launch, “We want patient to get quality, timely health services. But on the other side, to be able to do their job we also have the responsibility to equip them with the knowledge, skills and motivation and I think this lab will give them the required skills to do the best”.
This was yet another milestone for Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan (KGUMHT) to achieve its vision of excellence in medical education research and quality health care.
According to the media coordinator at KGUMHT, “The progress that we have achieved would not have been possible if there wasn’t Covid-19 pandemic”.
Following the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems like there have been several developments in a variety of industries. In terms of information technology (IT), infrastructure, and quality, changes are evident. Even the IT internet speed has increased during the pandemic.
“IT equipment was upgraded for use not only at our institution but also at other nearby hospitals. Since most meetings were conducted by video conference, even the learning platform is being digitalized. We wouldn’t have been able to develop those online management systems without COVID”, added the media coordinator.
De-suups’ voluntary serviced played instrumental role during the pandemic and in the public infrastructural developments. De-suung was launched for the first time in 2011 under the noble initiative of His Majesty the Fifth King. In Bhutan, DeSuug is the highest level of voluntary institution in the country. In the event of calamities, disasters, at philanthropic endeavors to assisting crowds during national festivities and events, they can be immediately identifiable by their orange clad. Their service has been expending since the pandemic.
Their service encompasses national water projects, road construction, border duty, fruit plantation, Gyalsung Project, dog population management and rabies control (NADPM), beautifications and infrastructural developments.
The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) in collaboration with DeSuung inaugurated the DeSuung Takshel Programme as part of Tourism transformation initiative on July 24, 2022 at Taktshang base, Ramthangka. In collaboration, several activities were initiated to prepare for the re-opening of tourism, particularly to enhance infrastructure and services in the popular guest sites.
DeSuung has been one of the finest projects and a game-changer for young people, according to one of the senior citizens. He said that they are given chance to work and be productive. With their enrolments, their attitude and behaviors have changed positively and most crucial, they have learnt to respect.
The name DeSuung/De-suup became well-known and respected for their tireless voluntary services rendered across the country during the pandemic. Today, man and woman in the orange clad are highly respected by the populace.
Dessup Pem Gyelzom of 48th batch said, “Firstly, I being Bhutanese itself is a pride for me and after being one of the members of Guardian of Peace, I feel gratified and blessed in everything I do hereafter. The changes that I see in myself after being DeSuup is self-confidence, before I was not that much open but now, I can even deal with any kind of people. It has improved my personality and now I can have positive outlook in and around my surroundings. It has given me confidence to overcome with the obstacles that are on my way. After all, it has made me bold and ready to help others with positive outlook”.
In the immigration front, from September 23, every Bhutanese entering or leaving the country must present a citizenship identity card or passport and fulfill all necessary immigration procedures. Bhutanese residing in or entering the country after visiting places across the border for any reason or length would need documents, according to a public announcement from the immigration service. Inter-dzongkhag travel that requires travelling through India will be facilitated with check post management system (CPMS).
Tshering Wangmo, Chief Immigration Officer, Department of Immigration said, “Unfettered and unregulated movement of a large number of people on a daily basis across an international border brings with it many challenges and implications, particularly from the security and border control perspective. In this regard, documenting, regulating and assessing the identity, document and intent of all people entering/exiting the country is imperative. This will enable us to maintain a record of people crossing the international border and also help address illicit cross-border activities”.
She further added, “So far, the majority of travelers have been compliant and supportive, the Department is grateful for the support and would like to thank the general public. We will endeavor to provide the best possible service and we look forward to the continued support, understanding and cooperation of the general public”.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) launched the Integrated Business Licensing Service (IBLS) System- Phase I on August 6, 2022. The system provides a single window to obtain trade license, small scale license with no clearance and small-scale license with location clearance from Thimphu Thromde. A total of 242 business activities will be available for license through this system.
With the consent of the Lhengye Zhungtshog, the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) has reorganized the civil service agencies into four clusters: governance, economic, social, and security clusters. Government departments were consolidated and given new names in order to increase their effectiveness and relevance.
These does not bring an end to reforms in the country and this could be one of the endless reforms that are yet to come along with the changing times for welfare and wellbeing of its citizen and for developed Bhutan. The changes, telltale of developments and importunate for change with believe in the visionary leadership of His Majesty the King, the country propels forward.