Following discussions on Zhemgang Dzongkhag Tshogdu’s (DT) resolution on making national dress  mandatory for all in the dzongkhag, Prime minister Tshering Tobgay said it is good that people are talking about the national dress.

“This discourse is important,” he said. “Unfortunately, the current discourse seems to be on the decision of the DT.”

The discourse should be not just on this issue but on DT, its powers and responsibilities, and its importance for decentralisation, he said.

The Zhemgang DT resolved that from December 17 this year, everyone in the dzongkhag should wear the national dress from 9AM to 5PM in both towns and villages. Chairperson of the DT said it was according to the Local Government (LG) Act and the book on etiquettes to protect and preserve national identity, culture and tradition. This resolution sparked numerous discussions on social media with an equal number of people supporting and criticising it.

Lyonchhen said that people should continue to talk about national identity and dress at a national level and how to promote and secure the identity for the country’s overall well-being and sovereignty. He said that he had not seen the actual resolution of the DT and that he had known it from media reports only.

“I would imagine the members of the DT, gups and mangmis, would have discussed this at their gewogs. I would hope that this reflects the priorities of the people,” he said. “If the people, in general, want such a regulation, then I suppose we may have to support it as long as it is not illegal.”

He said that if the people of Zhemgang want such a regulation to be passed and the DT is just listening to the voices of the people and had debated it in the DT, and passed the resolution, then unless it is unconstitutional or unlawful according to the LG Act, “we should support the decision.”

“This goes for all decisions,” the Prime Minister said. “If we’re confining the discussion on the gho and kira at the DT then we are missing the opportunity,” he said. “We’ve got the opportunity now to talk about national identity, culture vis-a-vis rules and regulations, and the imposition of culture vis-a-vis voluntary exercise.”

But on the other hand, he said, here is an opportunity to talk about DT and their rights and responsibilities.

Lyonchhen said that Bhutanese should be considering the importance of the dress all the time and its importance for sovereignty and unique culture. “We all accept that,” he said. “What we need to debate is the imposition versus voluntary exercise at the national level.”

“If you want to talk about DT, don’t talk about just this, let’s talk about the overall DT, its importance and also respecting the other agencies that provide the checks and balance in a democracy,” he said.

Lyonchhen said that rule of law is of paramount importance and everyone must protect and nurture it.

In Bhutanese democracy as articulated in the Constitution, local government (LG) has an important role to play.

“We also have LG legislation that defines not just the importance of LG but also their roles, responsibilities and powers,” he said.

So it is important for us, the Prime Minister said, not just as a government but, as a country to support LG to allow them to exercise powers and responsibilities as required by the Constitution and supported by relevant laws.

“Our government has been not just supportive but spearheading decentralisation because we want LG to play a more active role and this is exactly what His Majesty The King has commanded. LGs are not the lowest, it is the closest form of government,” he said.

This is why, he said the government has done many things whether it is providing grants to the gewog level to the tune of Nu 2 million (M) a year, improving the salaries and benefits of the LG members, providing them utility vehicles, grants of Nu 7M a year to the dzongkhags, human resource grants, giving each dzongkhag an excavator and a JCB, or providing gewogs with power tillers. “All these have to do with decentralisation and the amount of training we have provided to the LG functionaries is to strengthen LG through decentralisation.”

Rinzin Wangchuk  & Tshering Palden