The SDC ends it work in Bhutan amid encouraging signs of a burgeoning democracy
Switzerland's development cooperation with Bhutan began in the
mid-1960s. The SDC funded rural development projects run by Helvetas
for several decades before getting involved in the governance sector
upon the request of the Bhutanese authorities. Within 10 years, clear
progress had been made. The SDC's work in Bhutan is coming to an end
in early 2017.
Switzerland's development cooperation with Bhutan began in the mid-1960s. The SDC funded rural development projects run by Helvetas for several decades before getting involved in the governance sector upon the request of the Bhutanese authorities. Within 10 years, clear progress had been made. The SDC's work in Bhutan is coming to an end in early 2017.
It all began in the late 1940s when two young women – the daughter of a rich industrialist from Zurich and the future queen of Bhutan – developed close ties. This led to a long tradition of development cooperation between Switzerland and the small Himalayan kingdom. For several decades, the SDC funded rural development programmes that were run by Helvetas.
Swiss Expertise requested
After adopting a new constitution and holding its first general election in 2007 and 2008, Bhutan requested Switzerland's expertise in the area of democracy. The SDC responded by reorienting its support in an effort to help the kingdom put in place transparent and democratic decision-making mechanisms.
Over the course of nearly 10 years, the SDC invested more than CHF 20 million in the governance sector. On the ground, a number of steps were taken to make the authorities accountable for their actions and to involve citizens more in managing public affairs.
Looking back, both the Bhutanese authorities and people are grateful to Switzerland for the progress that was achieved. The SDC will end its work in Bhutan by the summer of 2017 in order to focus its efforts on regions of the world that are in greater need. Bhutan should now be in a position to further strengthen its democratic processes, building on a solid foundation.
Overview of the main projects achieved
The SDC provided Bhutan's Anti-Corruption Commission, which was set up in 2006, with capacity-building support.
The Commission handles an average of 450 complaints per year and does not hesitate to go after high-level dignitaries. In 2015, Bhutan was ranked 27th out of 168 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.
Decentralised forest management
In one of the SDC's signature projects in Bhutan, more than 600 village communities were encouraged to form forest management units.
Around 27,000 families are affected. They decide which forest areas under their control will be logged and make sure that the money received from the sale of wood, for example, is reinvested locally.
An independent justice system
The SDC, in a joint project with the Austrian Development Agency, helped develop an effective, independent and fair justice system.
The SDC funded study grants and supported the activities of several national training institutes. The Supreme Court of Bhutan also benefited from a partnership with Switzerland's Federal Administrative Court. Four new district courts were created in the country.
Strengthening decentralised authorities
With the support of the SDC, more than 6,200 local civil servants and elected officials working in decentralised authorities were provided with management skills training.
The SDC also supported the gradual allocation of financial resources to local administrative entities.
More accessible services
The SDC helped make it easier for the Bhutanese people to use the government's various services.
A one-stop-shop model was developed and rolled out in all provinces of Bhutan. The SDC also stepped in to ensure that the country's municipalities had an e-platform capable of providing people with 36 specialised services (birth certificates, trade permits, etc.). Every year, several thousand students apply for study grants over the internet.
One of the SDC's priorities in Bhutan was to support women's rights.
The SDC funded the work of the Bhutan Network for Empowering Women, an organisation that trains women who are interested in occupying positions of responsibility. Before the 2016 local elections in Bhutan, nearly 1,500 women candidates improved their language, communication and leadership skills.
Support for the media
The SDC has played a role in promoting and professionalising the media in Bhutan.
In addition to funding training courses for a large number of journalists, the SDC supported the creation of rural community radio stations and college campus radio stations. The SDC also worked with the Bhutan Media Foundation to help the government prepare transparent media-related policies and rules. The success of Bhutan's democracy will depend in part on the emergence of private media outlets and their ability to survive financially.
Round table, exhibition and drinks reception with music
On 11 March 2017, the SDC and the Switzerland-Bhutan Society will hold an afternoon celebration open to the public to mark the end of the SDC's work in Bhutan. A panel featuring several prominent Bhutanese and Swiss figures will discuss the SDC's contribution to the Himalayan kingdom's development and its nascent democratic process. The programme will be followed by a drinks reception.