Just Bending It
Bhutan was one country in the world that had kept clear of corruption. But the menace is slowly making inroads into the nation’s national fabric.
Corruption is slowly seeping into the land.
Though South Asia is one of the world's most corruptco regions, Bhutan’s case is somewhat different and rather interesting.int Jigme Singye Wangchuck, theth former king of Bhutan, soon after ascending the throne, directed the kingdom’s Planning CommissionCo to ensure thatt the basis for the evaluation of the achievements of further Fiveyearye Plans would be to see whether the peoplepeo enjoy happinesshapp and comfort.com As such, the government as wellwel as the citizens startedstar measuring ultimate achievementac of goals under a holistic,h Gross NationalNation Happiness (GNH) Index --- a term coined byb the king --making happinessh and contentmentcontentmen the ultimate yardsticks of progress and prosperityprosperit instead of liquidity.
The country’scountr rejection of accepting cashc in hand as the only waywa to measure prosperity and introductioni of a new approach which started measuring prosperityprosp through the GNH- basedbase principle of spiritual, physical,physic social and environmental health of its citizens resultedresulte in a belief that wellbeing should get precedence overo material gains so money-making was supersededsupersed by inner happiness. As per beliefs in Buddhism, “craving”, meaning compulsively seeking happiness through acquiring material things is a fundamental hindrance to enlightenment. Naturally, accumulation of wealth was not their priority so the word corruption was known to them but corrupt officials were not so many.
How come a country with a population much less than Hyderabad (Sindh), where prosperity was measured by gauging its citizens' happiness levels, not the wealth, with the passage of time became so materialistic making such a novel and noble concept irrelevant. A study reveals that it was the instinct of greed which overpowered the ruling junta. There is a famous saying that greed for food can be fulfilled by eating more than you can digest. Greed for fame can be fulfilled by getting to the top by using trustworthiness and patriotism but the greed for money can never be fulfilled. It can only lead to disaster as greed breeds corruption!
Corruption was not so rampant in Bhutan till the establishment of democracy in March 2008. Even after the formation of a democratic government there was hope and optimism that democracy would reinsure that everyone was equal before the law; there would be accountability, abuse of power and nepotism and corruption would be curbed and there would be a new way of doing things. Years later, people’s hope turned into despair, their faith on GNH started gradually fading away and the King’s vision of sustainable development through a holistic approach towards progress and development faded.
There is a saying that it is very difficult to suppress greed and
therefore, establishing a corruptionfree society is next to impossible. People will always want to accumulate wealth. Fully aware of this fact, as a cautionary measure on 31st December 2005, His Majesty decreed that an Anti-Corruption Commission be set up prior to the establishment of parliamentary democracy in the country as it was very important to curb and root out corruption from the very beginning. Therefore, the Office of the Anti-Corruption Commission was formed before the adoption of the Constitution to build a strong foundation for the Commission to effectively carry out its functions and responsibilities.
Soon after taking over as the Chairperson of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Neten Zangmo said, "A small country like Bhutan cannot survive corruption so it should develop a culture of absolute intolerance to corruption.” Even then, corruption gradually and steadily became a way of life in Bhutan. It all started with favouritism and nepotism in recruitment processes, promotion and transfer of employees and a deliberate delay in making decisions with corrupt motives according to the Bhutan Corruption Barometer report for 2016.
One of the most alarming findings is that there is a high level of acceptance of corruption with the perception that corruption is a normal social phenomenon in almost every organization. In its concluding remarks, the report said that the concentration of corruption was in the top sectors comprising constitutional bodies, the private sector, NGOs, local government, autonomous agencies, corporations and the government. The report justifies the phrase “The fish rots from the head.” which suggests that corruption enters a country through its leaders and filters down to its citizens.
Quite a good number of Bhutanese people think that the shift to democracy was accompanied by corruption as the politicians took over the reins from their widely revered king, Tenzing Lamsang. They argue that the monarchy kept a check on government corruption and was instrumental in keeping this menace at bay. His Majesty the King had always stressed on the dangers of corruption and recognised the efforts of anti-corruption efforts. With the monarchy still having a strong influence on the hearts and minds of the ordinary Bhutanese, such messages are still taken seriously but honesty is gradually succumbing to the monster greed, they believe.
According to the National Corruption Barometer Survey, there is a very high level of tolerance for corrupt practices in Bhutan. Around a quarter of the respondents surveyed said that corruption was ‘normal.’ About 31.5 per cent believed that corruption had “increased somewhat” after the advent of democracy. The survey listed favouritism and nepotism in recruitment, promotion and transfer as the most common forms of corrupt practice in Bhutan. Whereas in an editorial published in Kuensel, an online newspaper, it was noted that the survey showed “corruption is pervasive in our society and is accepted as something that is part of our national life. This means if the initiative doesn’t come from the top, corruption will only grow. What is important is that there must be uniform application of laws and rules. At the same time, it is vitally important that media be given the space to exercise their mandate without fear of possible repercussions.”
In Bhutan it all started with bribery to senior government officials for jobs and lucrative tenders. According to the report, corruption was perceived to be highly concentrated at the top decision-making level with the Ministries of Labour and Human Resource and Judiciary and the private sector rated as the worst. One example was that of the Kashi stores industrial fronting case, where the cabinet decided to give back two licences when all licences should be cancelled by law. Two fronting committee members resigned in disgust on the grounds that 108 Bhutanese business licences were cancelled but a big fish was spared.
According to a report, if the corruption and nepotism is not checked at this stage, there will be more Kashi stores in the future, but of a bigger and more complex kind. In the past the complaint was of a few families dominating business in Bhutan but now, with democracy, the only change is that a few more families have joined the fray. For these connected few it is unusually easy to get licences and clearances and
Quite a good number of Bhutanese people think that the shift to democracy was accompanied by corruption as the politicians took over the reins from their widely revered king, Tenzing Lamsang.
bypass any bureaucrat who stands in their way. These influential few even have the power and connections to bend laws and policies in their favour. In the middle of all this, there is an increasing hue and cry that the past be kept in the past and only corruption cases which occur after a certain date be investigated.
The current King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck has urged his people to be on their guard against corruption as their once isolated Himalayan nation grows more prosperous. He said. “Corruption -- a scourge of Bhutan's wealthier neighbours India and China, was the greatest potential threat to our country's development. The highest probable risk to development that I foresee is corruption. Our national development efforts will be hindered by unchecked corruption. Bhutan is the only country in the world to pursue ‘Gross National Happiness,’ a development model that measures the mental as well as material well-being of citizens.”
Though Bhutan Transparency Initiative’s National Corruption Barometer Survey has found that favouritism and nepotism in recruitment, promotions and transfers, misuse of public funds and facilities and the deliberate delaying of decisions with twisted motives as the most prevalent forms of corruption in the country, there is no denying the fact that Bhutan is the least corrupt country in South Asia according to the Transparency International Report 2017 and that is because of the belief of Bhutanese in Gross National Happiness.