2021 Bhutan Year in Review : The Past, Present and Future

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Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering presented the third State of the Nation report on 24 December 2021.

The opening of the Third State of Nation report kickstarted with Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering's gratitude to His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Her Majesty Queen Jetsun Pema for being the beacons of hope during the dark hours of the ongoing pandemic. His Majesty undertook the sole responsibility of guarding the frontiers and travelled to all parts of the country to ensure the safety of the people. 

Below are the excerpts from the full third State of Nation report.
Download Bhutan third State of Nation Report.

Some initiatives of the compassionate King during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • A Transformation Office was set up to track and follow through the progress of 10 reforms of Gyalsung, education, civil service, quarantine facilities, foreign worker management, construction industry professionalisation, urban development, procurement system, water, and public finance and taxation reforms.
  • The Royal Commission for Urban Development to review and revise the current Thimphu structural plan came about. This office has also been tasked to develop regional capital city plan of connecting Thimphu and Paro
  • De-suups undergoing skilling in wood work, digital marketing, chartered accountancy, mechanisation, culinary, forging, wellness, and many other life skills. They are also a part of the numerous integrated water projects for drinking and irrigation, and now the pilot road projects.
  • His Majesty’s grand project of Gyalsung is underway. Five academies, in its magnitude and glory of structures, that will accommodate nearly 13,000 youths for National Service are being developed.
  • His Majesty, who always has his people at heart granted citizenship kidu to 422 individuals. This adds to over 20,688 citizenship kidu granted so far. Similarly, His Majesty granted khimsa land kidu in Goenshari to 191 households of Lunana so that they have winter homes of their own.
  • His Majesty commanded the continuation of the Druk Gyalpo Relief kidu (DGRK) until July 2022. The DGRK has reached phase seven and so far, 48,751 individuals have received the Royal kidu at least once. The kidu is extended to even children and on an average 6,900 children received monetary support. A special kidu package was also provided to 2,555 households in Phuentsholing who continue to bear the maximum brunt from the pandemic. Since April last year, over Nu 3.6 billion has been disbursed to those affected by the pandemic.
  • His Majesty sold his personal savings shares held as Sungchob and Kidu Funds, which were established as a security fund for the country and were to finance the National Service project. A mass sale of 31 million shares of the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan and 35 million shares of the Bhutan National Bank were subscribed by over 30,000 investors raising Nu 3.3 billion. The proceeds from the sale were used to replenish the NRF.
  • His Majesty has granted Royal soelra of Nu 807.96 million to over 5,000 De-suups who have been active frontliners serving in various capacities including guarding the frontiers, managing the quarantine facilities, patrolling the neighbourhoods, and providing paramedical services. Similarly, over 300 retired armed forces who returned to serve the nation during the pandemic have also been granted Royal solera amounting to Nu 65.22 million.
  • Under the Royal guidance, numerous programmes for skilling, re-skilling, and up-skilling are up and running. Under the Desuung Skilling Program (DSP), 2,000 De-suups signed up for 76 programmes, and over 700 have completed trainings in 30 programmes. Today, about 1,300 are undergoing training in 46 programmes across 10 dzongkhags. To date, over Nu 200 million for logistics and Nu 33 million as stipend have been granted.
  • Since April last year, His Majesty has also provided kidu on loan interest payment to individuals and businesses, including non-performing loans in the country. Almost 140,000 loan account holders, individuals as well as businesses, have benefited from this kidu. It comes to about Nu 14 billion.
  • Under His Majesty’s guidance, quarantine facilities with 1,000 beds have been constructed in Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Samtse, and Samdrupjongkhar. These facilities will be used for other essential purposes after the pandemic. In addition, His Majesty also commanded the conversion of the Druk Green Power Corporation office in Phuentsholing as a COVID-19 Hospital.

While His Majesty set the wheel of national reform in motion with skill and strength, Her Majesty Queen Jetsun Pema, like a mother whose primary concern is her children, matched the efforts by offering emotional support to her subjects. Her Majesty has stood steadfast and unfaltering both in resolve and commitment to serving the needs of the people, deeply complementing the efforts of His Majesty at all times.

Some of Her Majesty's initiatives include:

  • Mental wellbeing has been a deep concern, especially during the pandemic. The Pema Center, a hospital for mental health and wellbeing was founded under the patronage of Her Majesty. The construction of the 60-bed hospital inclusive of outpatient consultation and counselling emergency services, treatment and procedure rooms, pharmacy, and inpatient wards along with human resources development is underway to optimise the tertiary care for mental health.
  • While the nation grappled with a series of lockdowns, the Bhutan Red Cross Society under Her Majesty’s patronage, helped the people with funeral arrangements as well as coordinating the final rites for the deceased. 
  • The impacts of the lockdowns were manifold especially for women who were subject to domestic violence. To address this, Her Majesty issued a Royal Command to establish the 1010 domestic violence helpline for timely rescue and provision of secure shelters to the victims.
  • Celebrating the birth of His Royal Highness Gyalsey Jigme Ugyen Wangchuck and as a gift from Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen, the government had pledged to offer mobile cardiotocography service to all our expecting mothers. Since then, mobile cardiotocography or iCTG services have been introduced in the country and are being implemented in 46 health centres. iCTG is an innovative form of conventional CTG based on Internet of Things (IoT) technology. It can monitor the health condition of an expectant mother and her fetus.
  • To improve the quality of mother and child healthcare services in the country and offer specialised Mother and Child Healthcare services, the government are constructing a 150-bed Gyaltsuen Jetsun Pema Mother and Child Hospital in Thimphu. The hospital is expected to be completed by June 2022.
  • A noble initiative of Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen to secure the health of women and children, the government recently awarded the construction work for 65-bed Gyaltsuen Jetsun Pema Mother and Child Hospital in Mongar. The hospital is will be completed by April 2025.

In the comprehensive report, the government also provided updates on many issues concerning good governance, education, economy, employment, health, agriculture, tourism, foreign relations, women and children, infrastructure, environment and the future.

Health

  • In one of the most inspiring moments, His Majesty the King awarded the Druk Thuksey medal to the ministry on the occasion of the 113th National Day in December last year for its extraordinary service during the pandemic.
  • To transform healthcare services from “provider-driven” to “patient-centric” with components such as home-based care, medicine refill follow-ups and appointment systems for the sick, we have started Service with Care and Compassion Programme (PEN HEARTS) in various districts.
  • Some key digital initiatives include the development and operationalising of the Bhutan Vaccine System, Druk Trace App, Stay Home App, and Health Facility System which were critical to fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. The ministry is also implementing the Electronic Patient Information System Project (ePIS) as a component of the Digital Drukyul Flagship programme to streamline the health information system and will be rolled out in 10 health centres in the first phase by February 2023.

COVID-19 response

  • Hailed internationally as the fastest vaccination drive during a pandemic, Bhutan successfully rolled out two nationwide vaccination campaigns achieving more than 90 percent coverage of the eligible population in the country. It took more than 4,800 health workers, over 1,200 vaccination sites and extensive preparation that involved training and rigorous awareness programmes.
  • As of today, 77 percent of the entire population (all ages) have been fully vaccinated in the country. Further, 93.6 percent of adults (18 years and above) are fully vaccinated and 93.4 percent of children between 12 to 17 years are also fully vaccinated.
  • The National Immunisation Technical Advisory Group (NITAG) has approved the vaccination of children between five to 12 years. Works are underway to procure additional 180,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine (pediatric formulation) worth USD 1.314 million for this.
  • 54 flu clinics and five RT-PCR testing laboratories have been established in the country since the onset of the pandemic. As of 22 December, a total of 1,276,721 Covid-19 tests were carried out nationwide. This includes 894,915 RT-PCR tests and 381,806 rapid tests.
  • As part of preparedness and response, hand washing and safe drinking water stations were installed in 83 health facilities, 18 public places, and two institutions (Thimphu Draktsho Vocational Training Institute and Wangsel Institute for Deaf, Paro).
  • COVID-19 surveillance measure includes the introduction of mandatory quarantine in government-sponsored facilities. This includes quarantine of two weeks for fully vaccinated and three weeks for the rest of the international travellers. A non-compromising seven-day quarantine for travellers from high-risk areas in the country is also enforced.

Tourism

Bhutan has been an exclusive tourist destination, and the country has fascinated people from around the world. The impact of Covid-19 on the tourism sector has been overwhelming. The pandemic impacted all aspects of the industry—arrivals, revenue generation, and livelihoods. 

In 2020, the total trip expenditure made by tourists during their stay in Bhutan including Minimum Daily Package Rate (MDPR) and other additional expenses fell by 93 percent. Direct revenue or the sustainable development fee also declined by 88 percent, from USD 23.42 million in 2019 to USD 2.76 million in 2020.

Reforms in the tourism industry

  • From construction of three roadside amenities in Bumthang to identification of 10 more village homestays in Gasa to construction of bird watching deck in Zhemgang, major facelifts were given to local infrastructures. In Zhemgang, the DuenmangTsachhu, a popular hot springs spot was also upgraded. Additionally, about 91.56 km of trails have been improved in Bumthang and Trashiyangtse.
  • In preparation for the eventual reopening of the industry, and to ensure the health and safety of tourists and service providers, a "Clean and Safe" certification is being conducted for hoteliers and tourist restaurants in Thimphu, Paro, Wangduephodrang, Punakha, Haa, and Bumthang.
  • Launched the Druk Kora platform for people seeking tour packages to travel within Bhutan and those looking to promote domestic tour packages. An agreement has been signed with tour operators to promote Dagana, the least visited dzongkhag, by organising familiarisation tours.
  • Videos such as “Virtual Journey to Taktsang” was aired. More than 980,000 people viewed the video within a week. Similarly, another video titled “Bhutan for You” engaged over 990,000 viewers.
  • The MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions) Tourism Strategy was developed to promote Bhutan as an exclusive high-end destination for business tourism.
  • To facilitate visitors, a tourist information centre was set up at the Paro International Airport.
  • Bhutan participated at the World Expo 2020 in Dubai. 
  • The development of ecolodges along popular trek routes has been approved. This is expected to improve trekking services and visitor experience.

Read also the transformation of Paro Airport into the kingdom's largest art gallery and the makeover of Taktsang trail. Check out the journey of the lone traveller to Bhutan in 2021.

While tourism has been on hold in Bhutan since March 2020, various initiatives are underway to prepare for post-pandemic tourism. 

The future

During the recent 114th National Day celebration this year, His Majesty drew the country's attention to "service delivery" and "accountability" as critical pivots to resilient nation-building. 

Similarly, in the report, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering urge all to uphold accountability and institute exceptional work ethics. 

"Nonetheless, with the Command from the People’s King that has transpired from the submission of the citizens, this is the ultimate task at hand – to revolutionise our way of working for the greater good of our people and the country. 

As the Head of the Executive, I am willing to listen to our agencies and people. I urge all agencies to come forward with ideas and imagination. I’ll invite feedback and welcome criticism equally. Such an honour it is to be a part of the nation’s new pages of transformation. When we reflect decades down, this event from the pandemic years will stand tall.

While I always believe in hard work and sincerity, this responsibility will be a true test of my character. I will not yield to the fear of failure or be blinded by success. I will strive to achieve more before the term of the government ends and until my last breath in service of the King, country and people." - Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering

Download Bhutan third State of Nation Report.



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