Neten Zangmo, recipient of the red scarf and the Druk Thuksey award, has served the Royal Government of Bhutan in various capacities – as the first Chairperson of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), Foreign Secretary, Cabinet Secretary, Director of Planning Commission, Principal of Royal Technical Institute (now College of Science & Technology), Principal of Royal Bhutan Polytechnic (now Jigme Namgyel College of Engineering) and Joint Director of Technical & Vocational Education. It is this vast experience serving the tsa-wa-sum with sustained integrity and commitment that she merits the introduction granted her in The Dragon’s Voice, as ‘the most important woman in the whole country… the legendary Neten Zangmo’.
However, Neten Zangmo, the heart daughter of Bhutan, comes to us from humble beginnings in Bumthang where she was born, later migrating to Trashigang for her formal education at Sherubtse public school. Till this day, this humility and sincerity remains unchanged within her as she strolls city streets and country roads with unfashionable, yet effortless poise riding an office Prado or the back of a tractor alike. When asked, she revealed the secret to her simplicity and confidence
My principles are more important to me than my life
Through over 30 years of service in the government from a National Service Trainee in 1985 to the Executive Director of the Samdrup Jongkhar Initiative (SJI) most recently, she has stalwartly contributed to setting higher standards of ethics and integrity within the governance system which materialized most strongly during her time as the chairperson of ACC. During these three decades, Neten strove for socially, economically and politically synergized approaches to build an effective, accountable, harmonious and equitable government hinged by trust and transparency. Currently, her biggest and most important mission remains her relentless desire for transforming the complacent attitude towards our changed political reality and our gift, that is democracy.
It is fueled by this optimism and the real possibility to institutionalize and lift the standards of democracy, that Neten Zangmo joins Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) as its leader. She recognizes that our current political climate is one saturated with fear, mistrust and fragmentation, where people are hesitant to speak out their feelings and aspirations for fear of repercussions from people of power.Neten hopes to create the space for civil discussion and robust argumentation on salient issues with the welfare of our nation guiding the political discourse.
Even with her ambitious project of boosting political will and wisdom at the state level, a conversation with her quickly reveals that Neten Zangmo remains the same humble person even today with her emphasis on self-respect and accountability:
You must be able to stand with your head straight on your shoulder and look anybody in the eyes. You must be able to see , recognize and respect the person you see in the mirror
It is perhaps due to the multi-dimensionality of Neten Zangmo that Kuensel has called her the ‘Antithesis of the packaged leader – irrepressible, candid, spontaneous, funny, feisty, independent, unfashionable and strangely charismatic… clearly, an original’.