Yangchen C Rinzin

With the finance ministry discontinuing the practice of transferring grants to central and autonomous schools, principals of these schools question the status of their autonomy.

The ministry decided to allocate budget for central and autonomous schools in the local government’s Annual Grants through Multi-Year Rolling Budget (MYRB) and electronic public expenditure management system (e-PEMS).

The practice so far was to transfer the budget directly to the schools’ Current Deposit (CD) account. The CD account has now been closed.

Now all schools have to route their budget through local governments. Earlier, they had autonomy over the budget. All central schools were granted autonomy since 2015. Some schools were operating as autonomous schools with financial autonomy.

Many say that with the CD accounts closed and no autonomy over the budget, central and autonomous schools will function like the remaining schools that depend on the local government’s budget.

“This is a clear indication that schools have no autonomy, and our school surrendered Nu 4,000 balance left in the account,” a principal said. “The autonomy has become only a namesake.” 

As per the finance ministry, all schools were asked to close the CD accounts. Schools were told to meet all the pending bills or expenditures of last Fiscal Year (FY) 2019-20 through CD account balance and any spending for 2020-21 through annual grants.

Schools were asked to surrender the balance left from the CD account to the Department of Public Accounts.

With the autonomy in question, principals said this would affect the tripartite Delivery and Performance Agreement signed between central or autonomous schools, dzongkhags and education ministry for school autonomy.

The agreement recognises the autonomous school initiative that provides schools with policy settings and freedom to tailor high-quality learning opportunities. The agreement also sets out the performance and accountability expectations of the school, the resources and support provided by the education ministry and dzongkhag.

The school autonomy when it first started was an initiative to strengthen the sense of belongingness, accountability and transparency among teachers and students.

However, some principals told Kuensel that although the agreement would provide autonomy over the finance and human resources, schools never had autonomy over the human resources, except finance.

“But this autonomy is no more now,” a principal of one of the autonomous schools said. “The agreement ensures how the schools will perform and achieve certain things for school development. It is going to be useless without finance autonomy.”

Principals and teachers said that when there was autonomy, school administrations could decide on the year’s plans and implement the budget.  Schools will now have to follow a bureaucratic process like applying note sheet for budget and approval for any kind of works.

When the schools were autonomous, principals could decide immediately based on the budget availability or use the budget for any emergency activities.

“But now, even to procure a lock, I have to wait for the note sheet to be approved from the dzongkhag,” a principal in central Bhutan said. “I had to procure materials for maintenance work in credit from the supplier, and the note sheet was approved only after a week for the payment,” another principal said.

For instance, one of the principals said if the school has a budget of Nu 500,000 for the TADA/DSA and if the school spends only Nu 200,000, the balance is re-appropriated in other developmental activities.

“But now the balance would be re-appropriated in other dzongkhag activities,” a principal in the South said.

With the budget for Annual Grant already reduced by 50 percent due to the Covid-19 pandemic, some principals said that most of the budget goes into the agriculture sector, followed by other construction activities and education. “The work that we used to do in a day now takes more than a week.”

The heads of the schools that have accountants are confused about the status of these employees. A few said that the decision could be because of a few principals misusing the funds/grants. “Although the finance ministry never explained, because of a few people, why should entire schools suffer?”

A principal said that in 2018 the government took the budget for stipend and salary, and in 2019, the recurrent budget had to be surrendered. In 2020, the CD account was closed, withdrawing the capital budget.