Govt. aims to implement gewog merger plan in upcoming LG election

MB Subba

The number of gewogs in the country could come down drastically in the third local government (LG) election that will take place towards the end of 2021.

A multi-sectoral taskforce formed to work on the gewog rationalisation exercise has submitted its final report with recommendations to merge many gewogs to the Prime Minister’s Office. The report provides five options on the range of the number of gewogs to be reduced nationwide.

Director of the department of local governance (DLG), Kado Zangpo, said that one of the recommendations of the task force was to bring down the number of gewogs to around 90 in an extreme case. However, he added that the number of gewogs could remain higher depending on which of the five options the government would choose.

The DLG in 2012 had suggested trimming down the number of gewogs by 54. Another report the DLG came up within 2015 suggested doing away with 57 gewogs in view of administrative and financial burden on the government.

The gewog rationalisation report was supposed to be tabled in the recently concluded budget session of Parliament had it not been for Covid-19 pandemic.

The election Act mandates the Delimitation Commission to allocate and readjust local government constituencies after every 10 years if need be. The second delimitation is due in 2021.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering in a recent interview with Kuensel that the government had instructed the DLG and the task force to rationalise gewogs based on population, geography, distance from the dzongkhag and national headquarters and other advantages.

“The DLG informed us that it was seeking opinions of civil servants and MPs so that there would be no stone unturned when the final report is submitted to us,” he said.

Asked if the plan is to implement from the upcoming LG election, the prime minister said the decision remains to be taken. However, he added, “My upfront feeling is that I must implement anything that I start. Otherwise, I don’t believe in leaving it to the next government.”

The prime minister clarified that the gewog reorganisation exercise was a major reform that the present government as the proponent should implement the plan during its tenure. He added that it would not make sense if the proposed changes were not ready for implementation before the upcoming LG election.

“This is what my principle is. I would like to do it. I cannot frame the legal framework and ask someone else to do it,” Dr Lotay Tshering said.

Some local leaders said they were not consulted. However, officials said that decisions on such plans entirely vest with the central government although they could be consulted.

It was learnt that consultations with local governments were not done given the sensitive nature of the issue.


Rationale for gewog rationalisation

The task force looked into several pros and cons of merging gewogs and that there were hardly any reasons to not go ahead.

Kado Zangpo said that one of the obvious reasons for mergers was connectivity. He said that the gewog reorganisation would also lead to improvement of local leaders’ status and monetary entitlements.

He said the larger aim was to enable local governments to be creative in terms of job creation and administration efficiency. He added that the exercise would naturally lead to reduction in administrative and salary costs on the government.

“We can think of providing an adequate number of staff as envisaged by the Local Government Act. It will affect some of the existing gups and mangmis, but the benefit will be long-term,” he said.

The director said that the plan would strengthen the autonomy of local governments.

The constitution provides that power and authority shall be decentralised and devolved to elected local governments to facilitate the direct participation of the people in the development and management of their own social, economic and environmental well-being.

The director said that the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) would carry out the delimitation exercise after Parliament passes the gewog rationalisation plan. 

The number of gewogs was increased to 205 in 2005 from 199 in 2002 through bifurcation. But given the improved connectivity in roads and telecommunications across the 20 dzongkhag, the DLG feels that the idea of bifurcation of gewogs is obsolete.

The National Council (NC) had passed a resolution in 2012 to establish about 11 new gewogs to contribute in accelerating socio-economic development and alleviate poverty. Some of the gewogs the NC had proposed for bifurcation included Lumang gewog in Trashigang and Lauri gewog in Samdrupjongkhar.

 The prime minister also said that the task force was also asked to review drungkhags.

Kado Zangpo said that drungkhags were found important for the security of the country. Among the 15 drungkhags located in various dzongkhags, the oldest is Lingzhi.

Today, besides serving as an extension of the dzongkhag administration machinery, a drungkhag located near international boundaries oversees the country’s security due to their strategic locations.