This afternoon I arrived in Delhi for the 28th World Economic Forum on India, taking place over the next three days in Gurgaon, as satellite city of Delhi. India and Bhutan are neighbours of vastly different scales, but I can’t help wonder what lessons I will be able to take back with me from the next few days.
While the journey from Thimphu to Delhi is only a couple hours by plane, I am struck by several contrasts. Some of these are impossible to miss: the sheer size of a city whose metropolitan population is roughly 200 times the size of Thimphu’s; the brown cloud that covers Delhi as opposed to the crisp blue winter skies at 2400m in Bhutan. Other contrasts lie much below the radar: corruption is endemic to the point of shackling India’s infrastructure sectors while being graciously scarce across the border; and public-private dialogue, which has the capacity to paralyze India, is completely nonexistent in Bhutan.
Another contrast between the two countries is their respective rankings in competitiveness, one of my ostensible deliverables while in Bhutan. While India ranks 59th on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index, while Bhutan is not even listed. (I hope that a listing may be a tangible outcome of my time in Thimphu.) On the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index, the difference is less stark, with India 132nd and Bhutan ranking 144th.
What does all this mean, and what does it have to do with public private dialogue? This evening I had the pleasure of dining with Dr Amit Kapoor, Chairman of the Institute for Competitiveness, based here in Gurgaon. One of the things he explained was the Ease of Doing Business index is looking at a much narrower slice of society than the WEF Competitiveness Report. At the other end of the spectrum, Bhutan’s own Gross National Happiness Index looks at a much wider swath of a society. None is inherently right or wrong.
One of the most interesting points made during dinner was that competitiveness is the sum total of the performance and prosperity of each and every firm in a country. In India it is not just Infosys and Wipro that add to the competitiveness of the country, as the IT sector employs perhaps 5 million out of 1,250 million people. In Bhutan, it means that DHI, my employer, certainly has a role to play, along with every other private sector employer in the country.
If the role of the private sector is to compete, there is an equally important role for the government, which is to level the playing field and set the “rules of the game” that allow business to compete. This is by no means a simple task. In many countries, India and Bhutan included, the intrinsic thinking is that business is evil, and will maximize profits at the expense of social and environmental detriment. While this certainly can be the case, the reality is that such behavior is detrimental to business itself in the long run.
At the Institute for Competitiveness, they operate as an independent think tank, interacting with both Business and Government. Business commits both time and money in equal amounts to explore how they can be more competitive as a collective. Government is then on the receiving end, and through training of bureaucrats and parliamentarians on the workings of competitiveness, they can better create the right rules of the game and ultimately the enabling environment to allow business to thrive.
While the idea of training governments how to govern might at first glance seem insulting, it makes sense if we look at how little bureaucrats likely know about running a business. By learning about how the collective of firms in a country will be impacted by regulations and policies, governments can then start to become enablers of a competitive society rather than regulators of business.
With an institute to act as interlocutor, public and private sectors can be brought to agreed and converse on how to improve and enhance prosperity. Perhaps this is the public private dialogue that Bhutan needs.