The race for thrompons has begun with more than 11 candidates, including the former thrompons, in two thromdes declaring their interest to contest the election later next month.

This is a huge improvement, at least in number of candidates, from the last election where the two major thromdes – Thimphu and Phuentsholing –  had a lone candidate elected on the “yes” and “no” basis of voting.

Formal campaigning is yet to start, but the messages are coming out as candidates justify their grounds for contesting for the post.  From ensuring water supply to better management of garbage, roads and building “livable” cities, candidates are listing the priorities.

The big question is what difference a new set of thrompons or re-elected ones would make.  The promises sound familiar.   Past thrompons were elected on the same promises.  Unfortunately, after a decade of handing over the management of the thromdes to the elected thrompons, we are still dealing with the same old issues.  The concept of what is called intelligent urbanism – plan for balancing development with nature, traditions, making the city efficient, convivial and friendly with amenities flew out of the window from the pressure of urbanisation and those who wanted to make the most of their land.

There are visible changes.  More water sources are tapped, roads are widened and potholes filled, but the pressure from the growing thromdes has overwhelmed thrompons and thromdes.  They cannot keep up with the pressure on the thromde’s infrastructure.  There is no optimism or excitement.  This arises from the fact that elected thrompons cannot do much, even if they want to and come with the grandest of plans and ideas.

The thrompon and the council are expected to play a crucial role in determining the present and future course of developments of towns and the community.  But they have to rely on the bureaucracy that mans the thromde offices.  Former thrompons are candid in saying that the synergy is missing if not the bureaucracy is the main hurdle.  Thrompons alone cannot do anything.

There is a call for delinking the thromdes from the civil service.  Thrompons had been proposing for the same for years.  Now that the draft 21st century economic roadmap recommends the same, there are more reasons to consider making the thromde an autonomous body.  Thrompons are confident that they can function, and function better with almost half the manpower.  Another way of making thromdes work could be giving them financial authority.  Thromdes are cash-strapped, but they do not have the authority to raise money through taxes, charges or fees besides collecting them.  The Thromde Finance Policy, 2012 intends to support and assist thromdes towards financial sustainability and self-reliance in line with the principles of decentralisation.  But in reality, the thromde depends on the government for budget and cannot even increase fees without the approval of the finance ministry.  Land taxes in Thimphu thromde, for instance, are still based on the rates fixed in 1992.

If thrompons or thromdes are expected to perform better and live up to expectations, they need to be empowered not only by a few hundred votes, but also through autonomy, human resources and finances.