Fighting corruption is supremely difficult, as it is proved by the recent expulsion of UN anti-corruption mission in Guatemala, the jail sentence of a former Korean President or the murder of an African journalist investigating corruption.
Considering the huge cost of corruption, many experts and observers would recommend looking at public policy or business practices in place in countries such as Denmark or Finland, known for being transparent and accountable societies. Yet countries such as Bhutan, in the heart of the Himalayas, can provide original approaches in dealing with anti-corruption policies.
On the path of the Thunder Dragon
Known as the Thunder Dragon Kingdom, Bhutan has embarked on the path of democracy in recent years, bringing on a series of social-economic changes while opening up to the world. Yet, it ranks among the poorest countries in the world with 12% of its population below national poverty line.
Bhutan is also surrounded by South Asian states with high level of corruption, in particular India and Bangladesh. Despite its own challenges and according to the Corruption Perception Index 2017 of the NGO Transparency International, Bhutan ranks 26th out of 180 countries, while much richer countries do not fare so well: Poland (36th), Spain (42nd), China (77th) or India (81st).
The results indicate that Bhutan may be a good example in a quest for effective anti-corruption policies. How did it manage so well despite the odds? And what can we learn from its experience?
Loss of personal power for the public good
In the fight against corruption, it’s essential to avoid hypocrisy – preaching good while acting badly. To avoid such behaviour, in Bhutan real actions and accomplishments are celebrated rather than mere words. There as in many countries, corruption is usually defined as the abuse of power for private gain against the public good. Bhutanese history offers some explanations that are linked to the Wangchuck sovereigns, called Druk Gyalpo or Dragon Kings.
King Jigme Singye Wangchuck (reign 1972-2006) has been able to demonstrate how a leader acts without corruption and how he embodied ethical principles. Indeed, in 2006, he abdicated in favour of a democratic process in which most of the monarch’s power was transferred to a Council of Ministers and an elected Parliament. The first democratic elections were held in 2007.
The monarchy sustained through the fifth and current Druk Gyalpo King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who followed the same ethics as his father. In doing so, he also embodied what is antonymic to corruption: the loss of personal power for the public good.
Making corruption a collective issue
Involving the population in public life through elections marked a crucial change for Bhutan. In this Buddhist country, acting collectively is part of the culture, especially in the fight against corruption.
Pupils, students, professionals, corporate executives, journalists and civil servants are involved at different levels to address and look at corruption from their own unique perspectives. For example, in investigated the country’s mining sector, the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) interviewed a wide range of stakeholders, including mine representatives and inspectors, environment and forest officers and local leaders and representatives.
This process do not limit investigations to a small group of specialists, making anti-corruption actions more inclusive.