29 March 2012
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE BY Prime minister of bhutan


Bhutan is at the forefront of a growing movement that intends radically to change global economics, politics and business practices by emphasizing happiness and well-being rather than growth, the tiny Himalayan kingdom’s Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley said at Headquarters today as he announced the first-ever conference on the topic.

“We have come to the United Nations to offer the world a chance to [discuss] ways to create a holistic sustainable development paradigm,” the Prime Minister said at a press conference, outlining arrangements for a day-long meeting to be held in New York on Monday, 2 April under the sponsorship of Bhutan, which four years ago launched a gross national happiness (GNH) measure to guide public policy.

The session will be the first outcome of a consensus resolution, “Happiness:  Towards a Holistic Approach to Development”, adopted by the General Assembly in July 2011.  The Bhutan-sponsored text recognizes the pursuit of happiness as a universal aspiration embodying the spirit of the Millennium Development Goals.  It encourages Member States to help counter unsustainable patterns of production and consumption by elaborating measurements of happiness and economic well-being to better guide public policies.  (For more details, please see Press Release GA/11116 of 19 July 2011).

Prime Minister Thinley said that in line with the resolution, Bhutan had planned to host only a panel discussion, but the notion of promoting GNH to measure quality of life and social progress had struck a chord that resonated far beyond the General Assembly Hall.  “We are deeply heartened by the response,” he said, adding that the event had been elevated to a truly high-level meeting.  A long list of Presidents, Heads of Government, Nobel laureates, academic and spiritual leaders planned to participate.

Monday’s events would be split into three segments, he continued, with the inaugural session featuring an address by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a keynote speech by Laura Chinchilla, President of Costa Rica, a global environmental leader, and a speech by Prime Minister David Cameron on the United Kingdom’s pursuit of policies promoting well-being.  In addition, a representative from Thailand would discuss that country’s forward-looking “sufficiency economy” philosophy, and an official from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) would highlight that body’s efforts to develop a set of holistic indicators to better measure societal progress.

The Prime Minister said the second part of the event would focus on the four pillars of the GNH paradigm:  promoting sustainable development; preserving and promoting cultural values; environmental conservation; and fair distribution and efficient use of resources.  The Conference would conclude with an interactive debate among all stakeholders, to which 600 participants had signed on thus far.

As for outcomes, he said a report on the discussions would be submitted to the Secretary-General, and Bhutan hoped it would set out some voluntary recommendations on the creation of sustainable economic models that could lead to human well-being and happiness.  Hopefully, Member States could apply it as they saw fit, on the basis of their individual national circumstances.  He also expressed hope that a task force would be appointed to help guide Governments and policymakers in developing institutional arrangements or relevant legislation.  Bhutan had agreed to hold the event in April so that the discussions and recommendations might serve as inputs for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), to be held in Brazil from 20 to 22 June.

Responding to concerns that the GNH movement would not be taken seriously in a climate characterized by rampant Government corruption, out-of-control consumption and massive spending on arms, the Prime Minister said:  “Society has reached a stage where any responsible human being must make every effort to stop the planet from hurtling towards self-annihilation.”  Indeed, due to the recent devastating spate of natural catastrophes, the emergence and rapid spread of new diseases and epidemics, and the dwindling of natural resources, human society was today far more amenable to the suggestion of a new holistic socio-economic development paradigm than it had been even 10 years ago, he noted.

All those worrying signs were sparking a broad sense of insecurity and uncertainty, he continued.  While some Governments might look askance at the notion of a “happiness index”, average citizens, including activists, academics and intellectuals, were nudging them to take a new paradigm seriously.  “It would be too irresponsible for anyone to dismiss the idea outright,” he said, adding that responsible citizens the world over were beginning to question what their leaders could offer in terms of “a more real, a more sensible and a more sane vision for the future”.  Nevertheless, he acknowledged that broad implementation of GNH measures would be challenging, but expressed hope that next week’s discussions would lead to agreement on a “broad vision” that would inspire various processes which could be implemented voluntarily at the federal, as well as community levels.

To another query, he replied that Japan was a prime example of a county that had tested the limits of conventional, gross domestic product (GDP)-led economic models.  Having experienced their highs and lows, that country had seen all too clearly their benefits and deficiencies, he said, noting that Japan was very serious about setting course on a more holistic and sustainable development path in the future.  Having been invited to speak in Japan on several occasions, he hoped the country would participate in Monday’s event and implement the resolution.

Asked about the role of religion in the GNH movement, Prime Minister Thinley said it played a “big part” in setting out the moral and ethical framework that provided the basis for individuals and communities to conduct their lives.  Ignoring religion had led to the perilous situation in which human society found itself, he said, noting that the lack of a value frame had kept people from reigning in the excessive greed that was wrecking the planet.  Lamenting the accepted belief that “consuming more makes you happier”, he warned:  “Limitless consumption is simply not viable in a world of finite resources.”  Monday’s meeting would close with prayers from Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Islamic leaders, he added.

Asked about the situation of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal, he said well-being and happiness was not only for Bhutan “or certain countries”, but for everyone.  He said his country had been seriously engaged in pursuit of the well-being and happiness of all its citizens for decades.  In a comparative sense, the country had become a destination for large numbers of people driven from their homelands by ecological calamities, economic instability, political instability and other forms of depravation.  “ Bhutan happened to appear to these people as an attractive destination,” he said.

Those coming from “one particular country” in such large numbers had been aided by porous, uncontrolled borders, and had led the Bhutanese Government to take certain security measures, the Prime Minister continued.  The result had been that, while Bhutan had traditionally been a destination for many people —particularly from Tibet and Nepal, who had settled down and been accepted as citizens — the numbers had had begun to threaten Bhutan’s stability and had led to the adoption of constitutional and legal measures.

Yet, there were now signs of a “durable solution”, he said.  Nepal and Bhutan were engaged in substantive dialogue over how they could share responsibility over the people currently in refugee camps, “in the event that these people have no other options but to settle in either Nepal or Bhutan”.  The international community had stepped in to help resettle some refugees in other countries, he added.

“Are you happy?”, one correspondent asked, to which the Prime Minister replied that he had come to realize that ensuring the happiness of others “is often very difficult”.  Underscoring his frustration over Bhutan’s lack of resources and its ongoing struggle to assist the large segment of its population living in poverty, he said that creating the conditions for happiness was not necessarily a “happy task” for all those involved.

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For information media • not an official record