Bhutan's Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay discusses the development challenges facing his country. He begins by reflecting on the achievements of Bhutan’s three-decade partnership with ADB.

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Title: Bhutan's Vision of a Sustainable Future

Description: Bhutan's Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay discusses the development challenges facing his country. He begins by reflecting on the achievements of Bhutan’s three-decade partnership with ADB.

Tshering Tobgay
Prime Minister

We joined the ADB in 1982, so it’s 32 years. And in the last 32 years, we have benefited tremendously from ADB’s support, in almost every sphere of development: health, education, agriculture, infrastructure, roads, communications, finance, energy. And so, in the last 32 years while we have experienced unprecendented growth because of our enlightened leaderships in the form of our kings, we have been able to achieve this level of success also because of our friends and ADB has been with us in the last 30 years. Partnership we have enjoyed with our partners has not been about getting credit or taking credit. It has been about joining hands to make Bhutan a better place, joining hands to realize our social economic goals, joining hands to eradicate poverty, and in Bhutan’s case journey through the process of cross national happiness together.

Q: How important is regional cooperation for Bhutan?
A: Bhutan is a land-locked country and we certainly are no longer isolated. And if you want to progress in a sustainable manner we have to work with our region, we have to work with our immediate neighbors but also with the rest of the world. And so, common road is becoming important, common waterways is becoming important, data connectivity becomes important, trade, commerce, tourism, and common agenda and a common solution for environment also becoming important. Peace and prosperity go together; peace and prosperity are founded on connectivity, cooperation. Unless our peoples live in harmony, we cannot expect to enjoy as a region, peace and prosperity. The best way to live in harmony is through interconnectivity. Interconnectedness through trade, tourism – people to people contact and by having projects that are cross border such as hydropower.

Q: How do you see revenues from hydropower helping Bhutan develop as a country?
A: Hydropower is a gift to us. Its nature’s gift to Bhutan. It’s also a gift that’s been nurtured and looked after by our leaders, our kings, had they implemented short-term, short-sighted policies to harvest our environment, forest for instance for immediate monetary gain the potential of hydropower would not be as great as it is today. Now, this gift, gift from the throne, gift from mother nature, is something that we need to tap but tap intelligently so that while we enjoy the fruits of hydropower and those benefits are used for social development of the country to provide our children with free education, to provide our people with free health care, we must also ensure that we do not ruined the environment. And that is how it has been done. Most of our hydropower, in fact all of our hydropower schemes as of now are run off the river schemes have minimum environmental impact. Electricity is being transported all the way to the villages. Our farmers no longer need to use firewood. Therefore, maintaining the health of our forests. When the forests are healthy, the water systems, the water encatchment areas are healthy, and they generate more water, more sustainable water to drive the turbines of the hydropower stations. The excess power that we produced is exported to our neighboring countries in particular India. And the clean power that is exported replaces otherwise dirty power that they would have to generate and use. With ADB, we’ve developed power plant called  Dagachhu Hydropower and this is the first cross-border clean development mechanism project. So, we are exporting, generating, clean power; we are exporting green power to India at the same time we are exporting carbon credits. This is good for the Bhutanese environment but it is also good for the regional environment. 

Q: What are the main development challenges that Bhutan is facing today?
A: The success that we enjoy today is that though we are a small economy we provide free education to all of our children, free health care to all the Bhutanese, our unique culture is still vibrant, and our nature, our environment, our ecological system is still pristine and resilient. Now, the challenge is how to improve on this success, how to strengthen our economy, how to create jobs, how to increase the tax base, how to increase revenue but at the same time providing equal opportunity for our people by providing access to free education, access to health care, equal access to jobs to fulfill their potential and without compromising our economy and the state of the environment. We are working. We have an economic stimulus package and I just spoke with the Asian Development Bank president explaining that through the economic stimulus package we want to provide our youth with access to credit, to training ideas, to build, to start as many small and micro cottage industry as soon as possible. As soon as we feel that the success of this program is draining our resources, we are going to come knocking at the doors of ADB.

Q: Can you talk about your vision to turn the capital Thimpu into the world’s first e-vehicle city?
A: This is not a competition. So being the first city to be electric car, electro vehicle city or the electro vehicle capital city or the electro vehicle country – being the first, that is not the goal. That is not the purpose. What is the purpose is to use the potential, the opportunities that electro vehicles offer the world but in our case, Bhutan, to use it for our benefit. We have some of the world’s, in fact, we have the world’s lowest electricity tariff rates in the world. We are paying some of the highest rates for fossil fuel and we have a trade in balance. Therefore, it makes common sense, use the resources that you have – electricity over the resources that you don’t have which is fossil fuel. If electric cars were not tested then we wouldn’t do such a thing but companies have spent billions upon billions trying, searching, developing, and testing these vehicles and they have worked. In Bhutan, I have tested a few vehicles and they have all worked, not a single one has failed. In Bhutan, electricity is clean, electricity is cheap; fossil fuel is dirty, fossil fuel is expensive. Distances are short, where you have mountains, you also have rivers going downhill that generate electricity and distances are short. I think that electric vehicles so far has been designed for Bhutan. So, I think, they will succeed in Bhutan. Let them succeed in Bhutan and then they will go on to take over the world.

Q: Looking forward how do you see the partnership between ADB and Bhutan evolving?
A: We have the political will. We have limited resources. Where resources are available, we will invest in, but we need the support of the world, we need the support of the Asian Development Bank, to make this succeed in Bhutan, for Bhutan, and for the world. And therefore, I have requested the Asian Development Bank for support to procure electric cars, electric buses, and also to install the infrastructure that’s required, charging stations. I see, Bhutan participating with all the other countries, all the other 6-7 members of the ADB, to defining the future of the world and perhaps exercising leadership to get there. Rather than every country working with ADB in isolation, I would see ADB being the focus where heads of government and heads of state converge on ADB along with the experts and discuss important issues that are common to all of us – poverty, inclusiveness, environment. And I see, ADB, providing that platform for leaders to work together to address common problems.