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.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Dr. Syed Ali Madni

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.

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