Govt. maintains that the education ministry’s prior approval is required

Politics: The Ministry of Education (MoE) stopping Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) from visiting central schools to conduct research is being dubbed as discriminatory and conflicting with the provisions of the political party rules, 2015.

In July, DNT had sought permission from the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) and dzongkhag and thromde education officers to conduct research on central schools.

The party, in a letter to ECB, expresses concerns on the conflicting views between the government and the opposition over education reform and re-introduction of central schools.

People, teachers and principals, the party met with have shared concerns over the reform, its sustainability and said that the move is a reversal of a self-reliant oriented policy towards dependency. Many were concerned that the whole education reform in itself is under-researched.

“People from different quarters were also concerned that education is getting politicised and is being used as a political platform,” a press release issued by DNT states. “Therefore, DNT in order to form its independent opinion has planned to conduct a research from July 18-30 in central schools in dzongkhags such as Punakha, Chukha and Paro to monitor and discourse with people directly involved and those uninvolved,” the letter states.

The ECB even granted permission for the party to visit central schools in these dzongkhags. One of the dzongkhag education officers had also accepted the party’s request. But the party received a letter from Punakha dzongkhag stating that it should first seek prior permission from the education ministry.

“…hence, this is to inform you all not to entertain any of such programmes without prior approval from the ministry,” the letter from the ministry sent to dzongkhags and thromdes states.

The ministry also stated in its press release to the media that it is only logical that the ministry is informed on anybody’s visit to schools. “It is not desirable for anybody to just walk into the school for research or whatever reasons,” the press release states.

According to the ministry even teachers and educationists with desires to conduct research on schools seek approval from the ministry. The ministry then studies the proposal, the purpose and the outcome of the research and only then permission is granted. “A political party going to the school without the permission of the ministry was naturally a concern and an obvious reason to stop,” a press release from the ministry states.

While DNT maintains that it followed the due process, a debate has ensued on whether political parties should seek permission from the ministries to conduct research or visit schools. According to DNT party manager, Phurba, the party found no reason to seek permission from the ministry since the registered political parties are allowed to visit institutions to conduct research and meetings with due permission from respective dzongkhags and dungkhags as enshrined in the political party rules.

Section 10.7 of the political party rules 2015 states that a registered political party need not obtain specific approval to under-take political activities, such as holding consultative meetings or research in the dzongkhags/demkhongs.

“The authority was kept with the respective dzongkhags and dungkhags since they were apolitical while leaving the same power with the central government, which is also formed by a political party could disrupt other political parties from conducting such consultative meetings and research,” Phurba said.

This provision wasn’t included in the 2008 political party rules but was placed in 2015 to support and provide a level playing field to all the registered political parties. “The whole purpose and objective of decentralisation process and democracy is defeated if such permission had to be routed from the central government,” Phurba said.

DNT general secretary Tenzin Lekphell said that his party visiting central schools shouldn’t be viewed as different from the opposition’s visit. For instance, the opposition leader need not seek permission from the government or ministries even though he represents his party and visits institutions as a party president.

“It is nowhere written that political parties outside Parliament would require permission to visit schools. That way we felt we were discriminated,” Tenzin Lekphell said.

Opposition leader (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said that the status of all the political parties must be same. “Be it ruling, opposition or other political parties, they should have the same privileges and rights. They should all be guided by the same set of rules and regulations,” he said, comparing the situation to patients seeking permission from the health ministry to visit the hospital.

“If the government has nothing to hide and if what they are doing is right, they should allow the other political parties to visit the schools,” he said. The opposition also felt that political parties do not need the permission of ECB, in this context, since the commission’s mandate is to conduct elections.

Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said that it was disheartening and sad to see the government denying the right to information. “It is funny that the bureaucracy is coming in between now,” he said, adding this issue is also a reminder of how this government advocated and fought for right to information earlier and how it is reacting now when it is in power.

Meanwhile, DNT suggested that an independent agency or non-governmental organisation take up the research on central school since it can have a far-reaching  effect to the nation’s future.

Tempa Wangdi