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Statement by Ambassador Tenzin R Wangchuk at the General Assembly of the Society, Switzerland-Bhutan, 5th June 2021 at Zurich

President of Society-Switzerland-Bhutan, Mr. Claudio Zingg,
Members of the Board,
Members of the Society,
Dear Friends,

  1. My earliest memories or images about Switzerland were from the postcards and posters which some of my friends brought to school from home some 40 years ago. Then I thought, Switzerland must be the most beautiful place on this earth and I wondered if I could ever visit the place. Today, as I stand here, I can say with honesty that Switzerland is more beautiful in real life than my childhood imagination derived from pictures. I came across a quote by Nicola William who said this of Switzerland – “The first time I passed through the country, I had the impression it was swept with a broom from one end to the other every morning by housewives who dumped all the dirt in Italy”. Switzerland is indeed enchanting. I am incredibly lucky to be bestowed with the honour by my King to represent our Kingdom in Switzerland.
  1. It’s been almost a year since I arrived in Switzerland but unfortunately I have not been able to meet many members of the Society-Switzerland Bhutan (SSB). So I am very happy to be here today with you all to renew our friendship. I am delighted to have this excellent opportunity to meet and interact with both new and old friends of Bhutan. Thank you very much for the kind invitation. Lyonpo Dr. Tandi Dorji, Hon’ble Foreign Minister of Bhutan, extends his warm greetings to you all. Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo, who left Switzerland a few days ago, also asked me to convey her greetings to the members of SSB.

  2. I would like to congratulate Claudio on his election as the President of the SSB. I look forward to working closely with him and wish him every success in leading the Society to newer heights.

  1. My dear friends, for a small country like Bhutan, with limited representations around the world, Bhutan is still a country of myth and mysteries. While some of us would prefer that Bhutan remain that way, modern day imperatives require us to reach out to the world, and make it known that there exists a tiny Kingdom in the folds of the great Himalayas. In this pursuit, Friendship Associations such as the SSB has played an instrumental role in forgin meaningful relations and promoting greater understanding of Bhutan. I cannot overemphasize the importance of the role each one of you play as Bhutan’s friends and ambassadors in your neighbourhood and communities. I wish to place on record the deepest appreciation of the people and Royal Government of Bhutan to SSB for its dedication and commitment in  promoting and strengthening friendship between Bhutan and Switzerland.

  1. Although geographically far apart, our countries and peoples remained very close to each other, for decades. It may well be the nature of the people of the mountains to feel attached to one another, as also Switzerland’s desire to see Bhutan succeed, just as you have.

  1. I believe it is for this reason that Switzerland was among the first European countries to provide technical and financial assistance to Bhutan, particularly during our initial journey of socio-economic development. Over time Swiss assistance covered many critical areas ranging from agriculture, rural infrastructure, renewable energy, education, culture to governance. Switzerland’s imprint is today visible across the Bhutanese landscape. For me, a trip to Bumthng is never complete without buying a block of swiss cheese and a few bottles of honey. When I was a child, I remember milk and honey flowed freely in Bhutan. Then came the Swiss experts to Bhutan and we all had to start paying for it. Someone once told me this – French work to live but Swiss live to work. Seeing how industrious Swiss are, I am not surprised that Switzerland is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. We do hope that we can build on the legacy you left behind. -Perhaps the most important legacy you all left behind is the eternal imprint of friendship and gratitude in the hearts of our people.

  1. Bhutan and Switzerland have over many decades developed a strong and enduring relationship, and this is exemplified by the extraordinary support and assistance rendered by the people and government of Switzerland in Bhutan’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Early on in the pandemic, the Helvetas Office in Bhutan contributed Nu. 2 million to the Royal Government’s COVID response fund, followed by a donation of CHF 20,000 by the Swiss Embassy in Delhi to the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu Fund. We also received the first shipment of the 7,000 RT-PCR and 10,000 test kits from the Swiss Embassy in Delhi.

  1. I would also like to take this opportunity to express gratitude, on behalf of the Royal Government and the people of Bhutan to all SSB members for the solidarity and unwavering support extended to Bhutan during these difficult times and for the generous donation of CHF 28,000 to our COVID response initiatives, including to the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu Fund and the Loden Foundation. In particular, I would like to thank SSB for expending valuable time and energy in the pursuit of our common aspirations and objectives; one can conclude that such zeal and devotion can only stem out of genuine love and affection that you have for the Bhutanese people, and for that we remain ever grateful.

  1. It would be remiss on my part not to remember the founding fathers of Bhutan-Switzerland friendship.The story of Bhutan and Switzerland was born from a personal admiration and friendship between His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck and Mr. Fritz Von Schulthess well before my time in the early 1950s. I met the grandson of Mr. Schulthess early this year and the familial affection for Bhutan still remains strong.

  1. Despite being confined to our homes for most part of the past one year, we had frequent discussions and actively engaged with SSB members on a variety of issues. Together with Mr. Claudio and other friends, we have been working closely in identifying Master Trainers for the Build Bhutan Project, a priority project initiated by the Royal Government last year to address the workforce gap in the construction sector. I am pleased to note that the Swiss Embassy in Delhi has identified Helvetas as a partner along with other agencies in Bhutan to support the project for a duration of one year. Similarly, SSB is involved in many priority initiatives of the Royal Government such as the establishment of a joint certification programme between Nursing Institutes in Bhutan and Switzerland, promotion of ecotourism and creation of linkages between educational institutes, to name but a few. We will continue to rely on SSB’s guidance and support to ensure the success of these projects.

  1. I am aware that my illustrious predecessors have used the occasion to share information about developments in Bhutan. Although I do not have anything new to share given that many of you are well informed through your contacts and social media, allow me to briefly present some personal thoughts on Bhutan’s response to the current pandemic.

  1. After more than a year into the pandemic, Bhutan reported just over 1,000 positive cases with just one mortality. One would have assumed that we must have been fully prepared to respond to a pandemic of this magnitude. But the fact is that Bhutan, similar to many countries and regions throughout the world, including advanced nations,  did not have adequate infrastructure and the know-how to respond to a novel respiratory pathogen, for which no treatment or cure existed. In the wake of this pandemic which has now sadly claimed more than three million lives worldwide, pushed millions of people into poverty and triggered one of the biggest economic shocks since the Great Depression, Bhutan relied on internationally recommended scientific guidance and aided by our international friends and well wishers, stood strong in the face of an overwhelming multitude of challenges.

  1. In hindsight, our successes could be attributed to a series of factors. The efficient mobilization of our limited financial and human resources early on in the pandemic, for example, by initiating a rigorous campaign of contact tracing and testing, closure of international borders, advocacy of public health measures and recently the country-wide vaccination drive proved to be extremely helpful in preventing a full blown outbreak in the country. Furthermore, the high level of mutual trust that exists between the people and its leaders was a great asset which helped us withstand many challenges and adversities brought on by the pandemic.  But most importantly, Bhutan is blessed to have His Majesty the King Who continues to be a great source of strength and inspiration to all Bhutanese. Right from the beginning, His Majesty provided hands-on direction and strategic guidance, covering every possible pandemic scenario, and made numerous trips to high risk areas, encouraging health workers, volunteers, and others. Upon His Majesty’s command, the Druk Gyalpo Relief Kidu provided financial assistance to thousands of Bhutanese whose livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic, a program that has been extended until mid 2022. The picture of His Majesty at lunch alone under a wooden watch tower will be one of the most endearing and enduring images of my King.

  1. Even as we rejoice our successes and strive to learn from our mistakes, we are mindful of the dangers of Covid-19. As the pandemic continues to cause great suffering throughout the world, especially in our neighboring countries, we are ever more determined to exercise all caution, as exemplified throughout the pandemic by our vanguard, His Majesty the King and continue to follow a whole-of-society and government approach.

  1. The economy experienced the largest contraction in 2020 triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The growth is expected to drop to an all-time low of -6.3 percent as output from tourism-related services, construction, and manufacturing sectors deteriorated. Severity of the impact was largely offset by exceptional performance in the electricity sector with substantial increase in export earnings in 2020.

  1. Even as the unrelenting pandemic continues to ravage our world, it is my hope and prayer that everyone of you will continue to remain safe and healthy and that we will meet under happier circumstances next time.

  1. I would like to take this opportunity to express our sincere thanks to Ms. Marianne Frei for her support and friendship during her tenure as the President of the SSB. I am aware of the time and effort she invested in promoting and helping Bhutan. We all know that Marianne Frei will continue to be an integral part of SSB with her ever present smile. I have never met a person, always so  enthusiastic, like Marianne. Marianne, a big thank you from me and my colleagues.

  1. In closing, I would like to reiterate our sincere appreciation for the role that SSB and each of you play in strengthening friendship between Bhutan and Switzerland. I wish you all success in your endeavours and look forward to working closely with you. On our part, the Embassy in Geneva remains at your disposal for any information, support or assistance that we may be able to provide you with.