Bhutanese society is not only questioning decisions, but also the weak implementation of the decisions.
From the botched execution of the underage admission policy, the reinforcement of the plastic ban and the gaydrung issue to the controversial swap of Zhemgang for Sarpang for tourism, we are seeing several instances of indecisiveness and weak implementation that is costing both the people and the government.
The infamous plastic ban, while exemplary of the way we function is as telling of our attitude towards waste management. The national environment commission issues clearance to an entrepreneur, a beneficiary of the priority sector-lending scheme to set up a manufacturing unit for fabric woven bags as an alternative to plastic. The commission then reinforces a 20-year-old ban and realises that fabric woven bags are plastic in essence and thus harmful to the environment. It revokes the clearance it had issued through an oversight. The unit closes shop but the commission makes no qualms of similar products being widely used in the market.
When questioned, the commission claims that it is going slow on the plastic ban so as not to discomfort the public.
In reality, it is this very way of functioning that should discomfort all of us.
Inadequate policy implementation creates gaps, which are glaring in the implementation of these recent decisions. It shows that the government, who come to govern with the mandate of the people and the bureaucracy, who implements the decision of the government have not yet begun to work together. That the National Council called for a dialogue with the National Assembly and the government with the opposition shows that institutions are working in silos.
The national environment commission is tweaking the plastic ban decision for the government to take ownership of it. A procedural oversight in reinforcing the ban had made the ban redundant. Thus the rhetoric of “going slow”.
As the government rolls out new policies, it becomes important for the politicians and the bureaucracy to give clarity to their working relationship. Politicians will prioritise the plans and activities but the rationale of implementing them and the know-how is with the bureaucracy. Of the popular flagship programmes the government has announced, tourism has already struck a blockade while the programme for 24×7 water supply is being redone.
Policies are framed through the planning processes and while we have the broad plan to guide the activities, the prime minster has started meeting various agencies to help shape and sharpen the activities.
Even as the society continues to question decisions, we cannot question the fact that it is the politicians who have the final say on policy decision. Our bureaucrats have the responsibility to point out the possible consequences of wrong decisions. What this calls for is dialogue and a professional working relationship so that decisions benefit the people.