It is not about money

Another talk about salary raise. Another assumption that Bhutanese people are only after money. It is of great wonder that our people just don’t seem to get it.


What is it, then? What is it about? Well, it is more about:

Sense of self-worth. People continuously assess their self-worth. In a society where one is defined more by social identity rather than personhood, people ask questions such as, “Why am I so useless?” Forget about repaying one’s parents and country, one realises that one can’t even pay the house rent. And sees one’s life slipping away. People then decide to make a jump.

Sense of belonging. People want to feel belonged, valued and acknowledged. People seek validation and affirmation, from their superiors and from their peers. When they don’t see them coming, people start wondering, “Does it even make a difference if I am here or not? Who cares? Who really bothers?” In most cases people will move on if they feel that they are not valued.

Sense of purpose. By and large, Bhutanese people are selfless (still!), and are service-bound. However, when Bhutanese cannot fulfil selfless aspirations and projects, in the sense that, when people cannot even repay their parents because of stratospheric living standards, or when people find that they cannot even contribute anything to nation-building, people start reasoning. Where do I stand in this whole gamut of nation-building? What is my role in this country? Where is my place in my society? If they do not see a greater purpose in one’s life, they will go find it somewhere else.

Money is the secondary reason for the exodus, from what I gather, but it is seen as the solution to fix the above existential questions, plus everything else. There is an illusion, both in the government as well as among the population, that money is the answer to all our problems or issues.

This “knowing what the people need” approach to public policy, which is defined as paternalism in sociology and political science, is where, I feel, we are going wrong. Public policies, as the name suggests, is a policy for and by the public. It should be a grassroot thing and not a top-down hit. It should be demand-driven and not decided by the source. Visions can be top-down but public policies should be formulated bottom-up.

Sure, in this hyper capitalistic world, money is required and that money helps. But unless we fix the deeper psycho-social problems – at individual level, and as a nation, we will find ourselves in the same state and situation even after 5 or 10 years. We will find ourselves there with more money, but with an empty heart, or mind – or both.

If the answer to the question, what motivates you to leave, is money, the follow-up question should be, “what do you need the money for?” In most cases, it will be either, “I want to repay my parents” or “have money to do good things, or help others.

And I said it before

In July of 2019 right after the teaching profession became the highest paid civil servants I spoke at the first Biodemocracy conference. There I categorically told those present that the move was not going to reduce teachers’ attrition. The excitement would last for 2 months and teachers would be back to attempting for Australia visa. (See below for more details on this).

Is raising salary meaningless?

No. Again as I said it before, the higher salary will attract the best people into the civil service but it will not do anything to retain them. It might also bring some Bhutanese back into the country from the UN and other international agencies and institutions. But if the objective is to retain the existing corp, it is a mission that is dead on arrival. Few might change their mind but those who have decided are waiting to walk away with higher gratuity and terminal benefits. Yes, the government is caught in a catch-22 game.

So my recommendation is to find the underlying cause, instead of treating the symptoms.


The link to my talk at the Biodemocracy Conference is here

Or go to page 44 of the proceedings

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