Happiness as a defining factor
Bhutan, the only country in the world to measure happiness – through its GNH (Gross National Happiness) Index – is extremely protective of its traditions and core values. Does that mean it is totally immune to outside influence? Modern technologies? Certainly not.
Nestling in the Himalayas, landlocked between China and India, the Kingdom of Bhutan was completely isolated for centuries, but has slowly begun to let in some aspects of the outside world. A good example of these changes is television, introduced in the country in 1999. At the time, the king said that television was essential to the modernization of Bhutan and a major contributor to the country's GNH but warned that the "misuse" of television could erode traditional Bhutanese values.
Small but growing fast
Since then, the Bhutanese economy has seen important developments. The industrial sector is nascent and still relies mainly on very small entities but some sectors such as cement, steel, and ferroalloy have been set up. The technology sector, in areas such as green tech and consumer Internet/e-commerce, is being developed; a good example of this evolution is the Thimphu TechPark, inaugurated in 2012, which provides support to start-ups through BITC (Bhutan Innovation and Technology Centre). The major contributor to the country’s economic growth is the hydroelectric power sector.
The mindset in Bhutan today seems to be geared towards economic development. In an interview with the New York Times, the Bhutanese Prime Minister, Tshering Tobgay, said: “In the last few years, we have transformed beyond recognition — politically, economically and socially. […] Rather than talking about happiness, we want to work on reducing the obstacles to happiness”.
In a country undergoing such changes, the use and understanding of standards and conformity assessment is a must to get things right from the start, essential to building proper infrastructures and developing the industrial and technological sector. Affiliate Leader Phuntsho Wangdi, who is Director of BSB (Bhutan Standards Bureau), was well aware of this when he invited Rauser and Chew to visit Bhutan.
Upon arrival in the capital, Timphu, Rauser and Chew met with BSB stakeholders and led a workshop where they gave presentations outlining IEC activities in general, the Affiliate Country Programme and the CA (Conformity Assessment) Systems, and focusing more specifically on IEC International Standards for rural electrification. The event brought together 46 participants from the electrotechnical sector, including governmental agencies, rural electrification and renewable energy programmes as well as certification bodies. Also attending were regulators, representatives from the Bhutanese telecoms and from the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
The second day of the visit was dedicated to training for the local NEC (national electrotechnical committee) and BSB staff. Discussions centered on the development of the NEC and the possible establishment of technical groups – embryos of potential future mirror technical committees – in which members could focus on technological areas and common interests (e.g. rural electrification, safety, and so forth).
Meeting with local authorities
Rauser and Chew also met with representatives from the Bhutan Electricity Authority, the local utility, which is one of the NEC stakeholders. Their renewable energy department showed great interest in learning more about IEC International Standards and committed to participating more actively in NEC activities in future.
The next stop was the Ministry of Economic Affairs, where they had an appointment with the Minister himself and were able to explain the importance of international standardization and conformity assessment for the country’s economy and industrial sector.
Having local authorities onboard and supportive is essential to the development of the Bhutan NEC and its involvement in IEC activities.
Hydroelectric sector drives economic growth
A visit to Punatsangchhu-I, currently the largest hydroelectric project in Bhutan, was also on the programme. The development of Punatsangchhu-I, carried out jointly by the Royal Government of Bhutan and the Government of India, started in 2008 and is expected to be fully operational by 2020.
Meeting with Indian and Bhutanese management and engineers, Rauser explained that Bhutan, through its NEC, had access to 200 IEC International Standards that could be put to good use in the project, since the electrical equipment has not yet been installed. The Bhutanese Director of Punatsangchhu-I was especially keen to learn about the benefits of the Affiliate Country Programme, as his country will be in charge of maintenance once the power plant is operational. Discussions also envisaged having representatives of the dam team in the local NEC.
The visit proved that the Bhutan NEC is fully supported by the IEC Affiliate Team in its endeavour to move forward. The plan now is to adopt more IEC International Standards in view of becoming an Affiliate Plus, to apply to ACAS (Affiliate Conformity Assessment Status) and to the IEC Mentoring Programme.