About Dutch and Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness

The Prime Minister of the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan seems to be so scared of actual and perceived threats that he invested more than 3 million of the local Ngultrum currency in security arrangements for his new penthouse.

This was revealed by the Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay himself, during a press conference on 12 February. He reacted to a press release by opposition leader Pema Gyamtsho, agitatedly released a week earlier. Gyamtsho demanded a thorough investigation into the alleged misuse of public resources by the PM for the development of his private residence in the outskirts of capital city Thimphu. ‘The use of public resources for private benefits’, he said, ‘is a serious form of corruption.’

The perimeter of Prime Minister Tobgay’s residential area is protected by concrete walls of about 2,5 meters high. They are fitted with CCTV cameras and sophisticated security warning systems. Armed police forces guard the area continuously. The minister had commanded them to come up with a risk assessment. Based upon actual and perceived threats, they had to install complex security arrangements. At the same time, perhaps hypocritically, the Prime Minister told the state’s news bulletin that ‘in a country like Bhutan, security should not be a concern’.

Luxury in the name of security

The government built a colony of extremely expensive residential villas and penthouses for the cabinet ministers in the Lhengay Densa area. But there is no obligation for these officials to reside in this area. That’s the reason why Tshering Tobgay chose to fortify his privately owned penthouse, complete with  luxury arrangements in the name of security. The opposition party used the term ‘corruption’, because public funds seemed to be misused. And what will happen with these expensive security installations, after the tenure of the Prime Minister ends?

In Bhutan’s controlled democracy, the powers of the opposition are limited. Nevertheless, it is allowed to raise its voice forcefully, which is a good thing in itself. After the opposition had blamed Tobgay with misusing public resources, the government was compelled to involve the Auditing Authority and to prompt him to reimburse the funds. The question that remains; which perceived and actual threats are endangering the life of the Prime Minister, in this country of Gross National Happiness?

Mark Rutte used to live in a rented house

The Prime Minister didn’t hesitate to threaten the opposition party with charges of defamation, should the alleged corruption complaints prove to be fallacious. At the same time, the newspaper ‘Kuensel’ mentioned that Tobgay had reimbursed the incurred expenses of his security arrangements. In fact, this seemed to prove his guilt of misusing public funds.

In The Netherlands, a country with 20 times the population of Bhutan, Minister President Mark Rutte used to live in a rented house. Recently it became known that he had signed for the purchase of a large penthouse in the same neighbourhood Benoordenhout. Installing security measures here, comparable to those of Bhutan’s Prime Minister, is not an issue here. No opposition party would ever need to raise the issue of corruption. So, are the Bhutanese people happier, or the Dutch?

Journalist. MComn. from The Hague University. Masters Thesis on Media Relations. Professional Video Editor (Final Cut Pro Certified). Cameraman.