Bhutan's king issues corruption warning as country grows more prosperous

Bhutan's King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (2nd from left) and Queen Jetsun Pema (right) emerge from arch-shaped passages as they visit the Rock Garden in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh Oct 5, 2014. The king of Bhutan on Thursday urged
Bhutan's King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (2nd from left) and Queen Jetsun Pema (right) emerge from arch-shaped passages as they visit the Rock Garden in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh Oct 5, 2014. The king of Bhutan on Thursday urged his people to be on their guard against corruption as their once isolated Himalayan nation grows more prosperous. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

THIMPHU, Bhutan (AFP) - The king of Bhutan on Thursday urged his people to be on their guard against corruption as their once isolated Himalayan nation grows more prosperous.

King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck said corruption - a scourge of Bhutan's wealthier neighbours India and China - was the greatest potential threat to his country's development.

"The highest probable risk to development that I foresee is corruption," he said in a national day speech.

"Our national development efforts will be hindered by unchecked corruption."

Bhutan is the only country in the world to pursue "Gross National Happiness", a development model that measures the mental as well as material well-being of citizens.

The king said that while it was good for the country to have ambitions of greater wealth, "we must also realise that increased workload compounds associated risks".

Bhutan has developed rapidly in recent years, as a new democratically elected government brings roads and electricity to rural areas.

The tiny kingdom was famously the last country to get television, finally embracing it in 1999, at a time when less than a quarter of households had electricity.

It ranks 30th on Transparency International's corruption perception index - up from 45th position in 2008 and way above India at 85 and China at 100.

Nonetheless, there have been instances of official corruption.

Last week, three senior civil servants were removed from the foreign ministry after they wrote to the Indian government to complain about a magazine article alleging official corruption in Bhutan.

Local reports said they were being punished for sending the "strongly-worded" letter without the approval of the government.

The government is investigating the corruption allegation, which related to commissions for the awarding of state contracts.

Many Bhutanese feared that a 2008 shift to democracy would be accompanied by corruption once politicians took over the reins from their widely revered king.

Tenzing Lamsang, editor-in-chief at local newspaper The Bhutanese, said the monarchy had been instrumental in keeping a check on government corruption.

"His Majesty the King has constantly stressed on the dangers of corruption and recognised anti corruption efforts," Lamsang said.

"With the monarchy still having a strong influence on the hearts and minds of ordinary Bhutanese, such messages are taken seriously and have a strong societal impact."