About Me

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Phurba is from the remote hamlet of Dangchu under Wangdue Dzongkhag. He started his education from the last hut of erstwhile Dangchu Community School and then to Nobding and to Bajo. After class X, he went to Punakha HSS and obtained his degree in Economics from Sherubtse College, an affiliate to Delhi University. Prior to joining civil service, he did his Post Graduate in Public Administration from RIM. He started his career with the Ministry of Education as an Asst. Planning Officer. Today Phurba is a Planning Officer at the Gross National Happiness Commission Secretariat. He obtained Master in Economics from the Australian National University.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Bhutan’s pursuit of happiness in the pandemic era

 After decades of development gains, the impacts of COVID-19 threaten the inclusiveness and sustainability of Bhutan’s future, Dendup Chophel and Phurba write.

Before the pandemic, Bhutan was one of South Asia’s most robust countries, enjoying political stability and economic growth despite its still-developing status. The country’s development was well on track, focusing heavily on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Among others, the government has focused on the elimination of poverty (SDG 1), climate action (SDG 13), and protecting, restoring and promoting the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems (SDG 15) as immediate goals.

However, COVID-19 has been an unprecedented crisis for the country’s stability and growth, as reported in its recently submitted second Voluntary National ReviewReport on the implementation status of the SDGs to the United Nations.

At the beginning of 2020, Bhutan was a country excited about its future. It has had an uninterrupted sovereign status since its founding in the first half of the 16th century, and is one of only two countries in the whole of South Asia which has never been colonised – no mean feat for a country of just around 700,000 people.

Bhutan has been praised for its progressive, sustainable, and inclusive development outcomes, which have been underpinned by a stable polity. These outcomes are particularly striking given the country only started its planned development in the 1960s, when its very first modern roads, schools, and hospitals were constructed.

Before the pandemic hit, Bhutan was poised to graduate to a Middle Income Country (MDC) by 2023, when its ambitious 12th Five Year Plan was set to end. The 2020s were supposed to be ‘a decade of action’ when the country  would move resolutely towards its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

More on this:Measuring income inequality in Bhutan

Since the SDGs were aimed at achieving broad-based, sustainable, and inclusive development, they were seen to be in close alignment with Bhutan’s own professed national development goal – known as Gross National Happiness(GNH) – and thus, integrated well with its Five Year Plan.

Then, on 5 March 2020, the country faced the biggest test in its modern history. A tourist tested positive for COVID-19, and the country was immediately put under a hard lockdown.

This hit the country where it hurts most. Bhutan’s ‘high value, low volume’ tourism policy, which regulated tourist arrival by charging a fixed tariff and setting minimum service requirements, had made tourism one of its biggest growth drivers, and closed borders had a huge economic impact.

As tourists were shut out of the country, along with the thousands of foreign construction workers – both critical lifelines for Bhutanese growth – the country went into an unprecedented recession. In 2020, the country’s gross domestic product growth contracted to -6.8 per cent according to the World Bank.

In response, the country mounted a determined response to the unfolding crisis, spearheaded by the King. Over 90 per cent of the eligible population has been vaccinated, there have been only three deaths recorded from the virus, and the country’s public health system has proved largely resilient against the pandemic.

However, there has been an immediate impact on the country’s development. Its second Voluntary National Review Report on the implementation of the SDGs was presented to the United Nations on 15 July 2021.

More on this:Bhutan a rock and a hard place

The report was prepared with input from government agencies and other stakeholders, and stated that the country’s progress toward several SDGs was at risk of being derailed because of the pandemic.

Progress on poverty reduction has been reversed, and rampant rises in essential commodity prices have strained household capacity while exacerbating existing inequalities.

There have been mass layoffs of workers, particularly in key service sectors such as tourism, and the return of overseas workers has overwhelmed the country’s social welfare system.

As it has been across the region, school attendance was disrupted for children, especially in the worst affected southern border districts, jeopardising otherwise impressive gains in the provision of quality universal education.

In a country which has made constitutional and regulatory provisions for the pursuit of happiness through inclusive and sustainable growth, COVID-19 has exposed fundamental structural weaknesses in its biggest growth sectors.

There has been an overreliance on a few productive but vulnerable sectors as well as an unsustainable dependence on the import of foreign labour, essential consumer goods, and industrial materials.

Efforts are underway to contain the worst fallouts in the wake of the pandemic through an Economic Contingency Plan and other fiscal and monetary measures. These include a cross-sectoral 21st Century Economic Roadmap being currently prepared to enhance social outcomes, productive capacities, and good governance, with the goal of getting SDGs progress back on track – the country’s development rests on their success.

While Bhutan’s impressive epidemiological and public health success has saved thousands from needless death and suffering, the impact of COVID-19 on the livelihoods of people throughout the region has been significant. Ultimately, the continued progress of Bhutan’s development, and, in the end, its happiness, will depend on how well it rebounds economically from this crisis.

This article is part of Policy Forum’s In Focus: Developing Asia section, which brings you analysis from experts on the policy challenges facing its least developed members.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Speech for welcome session by Global Programme, ANU

Good Afternoon to all! At the outset, I would like to join former speakers in welcoming you to ANU and congratulate all of you for making to this premier institution, premier not only in Australia but also has a prominent place in the list of top universities in the world.  I also would like to thank Global Programme office for all the assistance and support that we have enjoyed so far and also for giving me the opportunity to speak in today’s function.
Well, to introduce myself, my name is Phurba and I am from Bhutan. In my brief interaction with some of you I came to know that many of you are not aware where Bhutan is. It’s a small Himalayan country sandwiched between two Asian giant, China in the north and India to the South. Before getting this opportunity to study in ANU, I was working with the Bhutan government for the last five years the field of planning and policy formulation. Currently I am pursuing Masters in International and Development Economics at Crawford.
At this moment, many of you must be thinking what I have undergone last year at this time of the year. At this time last year, I was excited and at the same time worried. Excited because I am getting chance to study in such a renounced university in the developed country with the support of prestigious scholarship. This was a huge achievement for me especially considering my humble background where both my dad and mom has never been to school and they remained illiterate today. Worried because I was to study in an entirely different system along with other international students. Worried because I just arrived here and have to attend class from the very next day, before I even know how to navigate around.
I would now share a few difficulties that I have faced during my initial phase of life here in ANU with the intention to make you aware of the situation.
I was educated in a system where teachers almost spoon fed us. But here if we want to excel, we have to really double our effort to deep drive into the topics which lecturers will only sort of introduce in the class. I was used to in a system where the first session is spent on introduction and interaction to know each other. However, here the lesson starts from the very beginning. I wasn’t aware of that and I was not prepared mentally. I went to the first lecture with a diary book like I was going for meetings back in the office. And in the class I thought the lecturer was just introducing the topic and he would repeat in the next class with a greater detail. But I was wrong, terribly wrong. It was indeed a real marathon. By the time I buy proper note books and settle for studies, a few weeks has already gone. By then I realized that I was trailing. My suggestion for all of you is to take seriously from the first week itself so that you don’t fall behind.
In my previous college, we had main exam only towards the end of year that is in December. At that point in time, my college doesn’t have semester system. We can afford to relax first few months and and work hard a few months before exams and get through. However, here we have to do mid-term exam in merely 7 weeks. I was not aware of the need of double our effort in such system. Time flies once you are into academic session and you really don’t know how the time passes.
ANU has a good set of teaching team and rich teaching-learning materials. Lecturers and tutors are accessible upon prior appointment or during their consultation hours. Beyond that unlike in my previous college, we cannot meet them as and when we like. Special tutorials are available but only upon payment. So I urge you all to meet your professors during the consultation hours and gain maximum out of it.
Another point that I felt important is knowing one’s strength and interest. What we thought when we were planning to go for further studies is one thing and the reality is quite another.  Try to assess the course that you have enrolled properly and see how you can cope up and also how interesting is the course. Your brain and heart has to match. If they don’t match, explore other options before it is too late.
Today when I enter into my second year and look back at those difficulties that I have undergone in my first year I can safely say that it is possible to beat the odds if you are willing to. And I am still trying hard to keep up the pace and I believe that it should be continuous process.
Lastly I would like to take leave of my colleagues with the message, don’t loose your focus. Take learning as a moral responsibility. It is only through continuous learning and life long learning that can add to the vast knowledge of mankind. ANU has one of the rich libraries and fabulous facilities, use them. Open your mind and enjoy the scenic beauty of vast campus.  Wish you all the best in your endeavour and enjoy your stay here.
Tashi Delek

 Phurba, ANU

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Gross National Happiness

Ladies and Gentlemen!

Very Good afternoon

After I picked number “3”from the lucky dip, for a couple of minutes, I was thinking what should I present to my international friends especially as I am second, number one being our coordinator who has already spoken. What subject could make my friends interesting? At certain point I even thought I should sing a Bhutanese song which needs no preparation and any ways no one can understand it. Or should I tell a short story? These were some of the questions I was asking to myself. I turned to two of my friends and casually asked them on what topic should I speak. Both of them suggested me to speak on Gross National Happiness as I am the first Bhutanese to speak in this august gathering. So finally I decided to speak on this topic even though I am not an expert on GNH. I was once again worried when Mr. Soren Villadsen informed the class that Bhutan has different method to measure the welfare of their citizen and he is going to discuss this and find out what this new animal is in the forest. If he is going to discuss should I stick to it? By then only a few hours left for me to really prepare this topic which deserves our best effort.  Due to many limitations, I will not be able to comprehend this topic within this few minutes. Never the less, I will try to at least give you some idea on GNH. By the way Bhutan is a Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayan region in Asia tucked in between China in the North and India in the South. Some choose to call the “Last Shangrilla”.

You all will agree that all most all countries measure their development using GDP methods. In Bhutan however, we measure the growth of our country by Gross National Happiness. Our forth King in 1970s when he was a teenage young boy pronounced that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product”. Since then now more than 4 decades back Bhutan´s journey with GNH began. Our king then realized that existing development paradigm-GDP didn’t consider the ultimate goal of every individual that is to achieve Happiness. Our king thought that if all our trees are cut down and sell, our GDP will increase. Such an act of neglecting our environment will cause flood and other related damages and more investment would be required to mitigate them. This would further increase GDP but not necessarily improve the lives of people. On the other hand conventional GDP doesn’t take into account the volunteer work we do and also free time we relax and socialize. Therefore, GNH is more important.

Now what is GNH? GNH is defined as a “multi-dimensional development approach that seeks to achieve a harmonious balance between material well-being and the spiritual, emotional and cultural needs of our society.” (Website of GNHC). It is basically about holistic, sustainable and inclusive growth of the country. As said by an American management guru Peter Drucker, “What get measured, gets done”, since 2008 precise metrics to measure GNH was initiated.

GNH has four pillars and nine domains

1.       Sustainable and equitable Socio Economic Development

a.       Living standards

b.      Education

c.       Health

2.       Preservation and promotion of culture

a.       Cultural diversity and resilience

b.      Community vitality

c.       Time use

d.      Psychological well-being

3.       Conservation of environment

a.       Ecological diversity

4.       Good governance

a.       Good governance

Each of these domains has certain numbers of indicators and sub indicators to measure as objectively as possible.

Now in Bhutan we try to mainstream elements of GNH into all our plans or programmes. And all our progammes and plans have to pass to through GNH Policy and Project Screening Tool which ensure that relevant dimensions of GNH are considered in a systematic way while assessing policies and projects.

Lastly, I would like to clearly state here that presenting on GNH doesn’t mean that Bhutan has attained GNH. Like most of the developing nations we too are struggling with challenges of fulfilling the basic needs of our people. But at least we have GNH as our developmental goal that makes us unique from others. Never the less, I am happy to report that GNH index is 0.743 in Bhutan. Also Bhutan is one of the top 20 peaceful countries in the world to live in according to the recent Global Peace Index. The General Assembly of the United Nations in its resolution 66/281 of 12 July 2012 proclaimed 20 March the International Day of Happiness recognizing the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world and the importance of their recognition in public policy objectives as proposed by Bhutan. Thus many countries are now increasingly seeing GNH as an alternative goal for development.

This is in nut shell what GNH is.  If you are interested, please google on GNH. I am sure the browsers are bombarded with articles on GNH. As I said, this topic deserves much more time and effort.

Thank You

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Tribute to His Majesty the Fourth King of Bhutan

People of Bhutan are the lucky to be born in this country under the reign of dharma kings. His Majesty the fourth king’s birth on 11th November 1955 to this land of pristine beauty was indeed an answer to our prayers and prophesies. Trying to write a usual short birth day message on this auspicious day to His Majesty is a challenge. There is just too much to write.
His Majesty means so much to us. Today it is hard to believe that our country has reached so far under his golden reign of over three decades of his selfless, perseverance and innovative action.
He is an extra ordinary monarch. His selfless and dedicated acts for the welfare of country and people were epitomized during the 2003 military operation where he risked his own royal life for us. He single handedly brought in all rounded development to our nation in keeping with the ideals of GNH which he is the architect. We enjoyed unprecedented peace and harmony coupled with economic growth and social development during his reign.  His reign also saw enormous increase in enrolment both in formal and non- formal education with concomitant increase in number of educational institutes. The reform of education taken up during his reign is now changing the landscape of education in Bhutan. Bhutan has came long way and there was a sea changes for good during his reign. We owe too much to His Majesty the 4th King.
On this auspicious day, I offer my sincere prayers for his good health.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Golden Touch

The modern education in Bhutan has made what I am today. I have been yearning for the opportunity to pen down my feelings on the impact that modern education had on me. On this occasion, I must say that I couldn’t find a more apt opportunity to do it than now when the modern education system in our country is marking its hundredth year of existence. The observance of the Sherig Century by the Ministry of Education of which I have fortunately become a part has allowed me the chance to retrace my own educational journey.  
In the decades after the 1960s when mass modern education first started, there has been tremendous emphasis on education in Bhutan. It was in early 1990s that the effect of this emphasis on education trickled down to my village and we were endowed with a small school. Considering all the basic facilities missing in our village among which were health and RNR extension offices, the Royal Government had wisely chosen the provision of a school as a priority. Establishment of the school was not the priority then for many people. Other development like roads and bridges which bear tangible result in short periods of time have always taken more priority than the more long term projects like education. But this was not the case in my village.  When the government established the school, there was overwhelming response from our people even though it took almost two decades to see the impact of education. During that time, we were literally lifted from the farm. Now, our village can see many young folks like me who are educated and contribute in big and small ways in their own rights. We were by and large, the first generation to get modern education from our village. 
We started our schooling from the hut that was constructed with labour contributions from our parents. The government on the other hand provided us with minimum basic facilities that were enough to keep the process of teaching and learning alive. While, our government was not in the position to provide us with fabulous curriculum and lavish resources, but it was nevertheless successful in engaging us by providing motivated and enthusiastic educators who were able to make up for the deficiencies in all the other spheres. It is very true that education can take place even under the tree if we have motivated learners and educators.
Today, I can clearly remember the moment when a couple from Kerala, India came to our school to teach. To many of us, they were first Indian nationals we had ever seen. Language then was the strongest barrier. I vividly remember how they instructed us to cut grasses. Very often, sign language was the means of communication between us. My teacher used to carry a sickle and literally demonstrated to let us cut grasses, for we were not able to understand English then, certainly not the English that they spoke. We used to speak in Dzongkha to them when we had to talk to them even though we knew they don’t understand. It was also our first to get a lady teacher. When she first came to our class, we said in habitual unison, ‘Good Morning Sir’. By then we thought all the teachers teaching subject other than Dzongkha were called Sir. The only exception to the ‘Sir’ rule was ‘Lopon’ applied to our Dzongkha language teacher. We took a couple of months to get used to the idea of referring to our lady teacher as ‘Madam’. Our journey began from there with our two Indian teachers who brought keys to unlocking our infantile minds which was then duly filled with treasure troves of wisdom by other teachers later.
While the goal of education is pretty broad, for me it has taught me to become a productive member of the society. At a more mundane level, it has given me the chance to live a more comfortable life than my parents. Education in many other countries is an expensive market product. However, in Bhutan we are fortunate to have free education which people from all walks of life can avail. My humble standing in the civil service today is a testimony to the far-reaching effect of free education in our society. If I had to pay for my education, I am sure that I will still have been toiling in my village today.
Being a beneficiary of our generous education system, I am today happy to be able to work for this system. Looking back, I am proud of the choice I have made in my life, helped in large measures by the wisdoms that I have been able to land. It is now my chance to give back what I have received. It is my singular fortune to be in a position to help our education system grow from strength to strength and help change more young people like me.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Farewell Speech for Valediction of 29th IDEPA, NUEPA, New Delhi on 29/04/’13

Hon’ble Vice Chancellor of the University, Distinguished Heads of Department, Learned Professors, esteem lecturers and staff, my Dear Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen. At the outset, I would like to wish you all a very Good Afternoon.
I am Phurba, hailing from the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan which is, some choose to say sandwiched between two giants, India and China. Today, I am standing before you, with a myriad of emotions; quite similar to those I faced the first day I entered this building. Most of all, I will miss the very heart of my experience as a student; my friends and my teachers. A lot of things will change in our lives from now on! But the memories, the fun, frolic, experiences, no one can take that away from us. I am extremely proud to be able to call this University as my alma mater. I am proud to call myself as an alumini of this well known University, which is truly, The Peak of Learning.
If there is one thing which we’d take from this University back to our own country, it’ll be the point about the nectar of knowledge that we have sucked from this very university. Knowledge is power and we cannot quantify or put price tag on it. It is precious and priceless. As most of you may be aware that most of our friends are facing difficulties to limit their baggage to the quantity allowed by respective airlines. If knowledge, experience and learning are something tangible, I don’t have slightest doubt that the situation would be far and worse than limiting our luggage. Within this three months time we have learned many things, so much so from not having touched the computer to techno savvy. We were able to engage ourselves meaningfully in social media where a group exclusively has been created for 29th IDEPA which is administered by me on the face book. It was surprising that within a few weeks, whole batch has become members of this group. We can now vividly remember those planning techniques like projections and various educational indicators, to name a few which were something new to many of us. We cannot say that we have became management gurus after completing this course but I am certain my friends will agree that we have started our journey towards it or in the worse cases we are able to at least learn many new management, economics and financial terminologies which were just jargons that we never consider important. With this course, now at least some of the mediocre with halt hearted knowledge will not easily fool us. It is from this course that we were given the roots to grow and wings to fly. We were enriched. We came as caterpillars and we are going as butterflies. However, we can reach so far but not further had it not been our learned professors, strongly supported by efficient management. Therefore, on this special occasion on behalf of our friends and on my own, I would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to all the souls that were involved directly or indirectly to enable us to do some soul searching here.
When I look back at these moments today, I see that in the depths of despair and the heights of happiness, we’ve all been together. I know that my batch is always with me; and so it must be the case with many of us. From East, West, North and South, we were able to make a good family for three months. We came from unique and divers background. Forget about knowing each other, many of us didn’t hear and didn’t see some of the countries even in the map. We have diverse group coming from Eastern Africa, Western Africa, Southern Africa and Central Africa. We were also joined by our only colleague from Chile, Latin America which has stunning natural beauty and robust free market economy. We have also participants from Asia’s most enthralling destination like Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. Joined us were participants from unmistakably beautiful archipelago of the Philippines, from the pristine and sacred Himalayan countries like Bhutan and Nepal, from the Island of Sri Lanka and mountainous Tajikistan. Some are independent from time immemorial while other got independent later. Some are rich some are not so rich. Some are endowed with precious resources while others have their own advantages. These vast differences were an added advantage for this batch in increasing the intellectual frontier of our knowledge. To all my dear colleagues, it was fortunate that because of our karmic reaction, we were able to cross our path in the journey of our precious life. We have learned a lot from each other. We have shared every good moments and created good memories during which we laughed and sing together. We might have also passed through some difficult time but we’ve been together in all this. I personally would like to take all those good memories and dump here bad memories if at all we ever had one.
Personally, I am honoured to be part of this programme. It is like coming back home. Firstly, Bhutan and India shares an exemplary relationship which we always look forward to nurture in all times to come for the mutual benefit of the duo. Secondly and importantly, I personally felt indebted to India for making who I am today. This is because of tireless effort put in by my dedicated Indian teachers. They took days to reach my schools cooking food under umbrella and sleeping in the densely forested area. In my entire ladder of education, I didn’t have a single year without Indian teachers and still I am learning from Indians. So, this is a blessing in disguise for me to visit the sacred place where my Gurus belong.
Lastly but far from the least, I just have two cliché words for the university and my friends.  That is Thank you.
Tashi Delek!