While they had some concerns about the refugee problem, the four members of a European parliament delegation told Kuensel that their visit to Bhutan, from November 23 to 28, had dispelled many misconceptions that they had about the country.
After an audience with His Majesty the King and meetings with the prime minister, foreign minister, finance minister, and many other people in Thimphu the parliamentarians, two Dutch and two German, said that they were leaving with very positive impressions of a wide range of developments.
Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk with the European parliamentarians
The delegation, according to the leader, Mr Peter Michael Mombaur of Germany, had come to Bhutan specifically to “listen and learn” about the country as an obligation to their voters because Bhutan was a partner of the EU with a “very special geopolitical situation”.
“We learnt a lot through very detailed dialogues with His Majesty the King and ministers about social welfare, public administration, the constitutional process, the problems in southern Bhutan, and the problems of the camps in Nepal,” said Mr Mombaur. “I think the way you reformed this state in the last 30 years, and continuing the discussion with the constitutional reform, is most remarkable and very skilful until now. We are very impressed with the national culture and with the signs of religious life and readiness to discuss all problems.”
On Bhutan’s problems, the European parliamentarians noted that the insurgents from India posed the biggest danger. Ms Maria Martens of the Netherlands said that she was impressed by the attempts to try to solve the problem peacefully. De Heer Rijk van Dam said he hoped that India would share the responsibility of solving the problem.
The parliamentarians said that they were particularly interested in the refugee camps and that, contrary to what they had been told before coming to Bhutan, they found the leaders and people ready to discuss the problem openly and frankly. They recommended a realistic and early approach to a solution.
“The discussions were very open and the ministers were prepared to have an open discussion although they couldn’t tell all we wanted to hear but we can’t have all our questions answered,” said De Heer Rijk van Dam of the Netherlands. “We got much insight into the background of the problem, how complex it is.”
The parliamentarians said that they were concerned about the procedures of dealing with the people who did return to Bhutan, on appeal procedures if they felt they were not treated correctly, and the citizenship issue. They emphasised the importance of the “human” element in dealing with the problem.
Mr Thierry Jacob of the Interparliamentary delegations secretariat said that he had received a much more positive impression than he previously had. “The feeling that I got here compared with the previous recommendations and study I made is that the willingness on the part of the government to solve the problem and what we hear outside is very different,” he said.
Herr Bernhard Rapkay of Germany added that the problem of the refugees was just one of the delegation’s interests. “For instance, we have to monitor or try to monitor if the money the European Union has given to Bhutan is in good use,” he said. “Having visited the EU-funded projects, we were very happy that the money we give has been put to good use in such a way that it helps the people and the development of the country.”
Mr Peter Michael Mombaur said that he was particularly impressed by the efficiency of the administration. “It was astonishing, something I didn’t expect before my visit here,” he added. “I know a lot of the so-called low-developed countries in the world and I have to admit that this is one of the best I ever saw.”
Mr Mombaur told Kuensel that the delegates had been warned that the “Bhutanese were clever in dealing with visitors”. “I think that’s not the point,” he said. “The Bhutanese are clever in good governance, in administration, in financial management, in running their country.”
The parliamentarians will report the findings of their visit to the European Commission.
By Kinley Dorji