Public Policies

Public Policy is the principled guide to action or in-action taken by the administrative and executive branch of the State. It must solve problems efficiently and effectively, serve justice, support governmental institutions and policies, and encourage active citizenship.  In the United States this concept refers not only to the result of policies, but also more broadly to the decision making process. Verification and evaluation are essential to the functioning of this system.

Many far-reaching public policies such as wholesome and inclusive social programmes, regionally balanced economic liberation approach and inbuilt barricade from political and authoritarian manipulation, enunciated by His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck was truly genius. The entrenched programme of budgeting model, which has been adopted, has saved the public from fluctuating fortunes and celluloid decisions of the authorities.

Social Security

His Majesty the Fourth King introduced many social security programmes to promote the welfare of the population through assistance measures guaranteeing access to sufficient resources for food and shelter, and to promote health and well-being for the population at large and potentially vulnerable segments. Health and education services were made free to all segments of the society. Rural Life Insurance and Rural housing insurance schemes relieved the burden of poor and needy in times of death of a family and misfortunes.

These schemes were initially introduced on the intervention of His Majesty the King to ease the suffering of rural population as a government subsidized schemes and administered by the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan. Death Scheme was one of them. Pension covering the civil servants, members of the armed forces and employees of the corporate sector alleviate the burden of some of the senior citizens on old age.

Decentralisation and divestment:

Learning from the past and recognizing the need to bring services closer to the public, the second phase of Fourth King’s reform saw a gradual shift to decentralization of executive authority from the centre to the grassroots. Beginning with the Fifth Five Year Plan developmental activities were decentralised to Dzongkhag administrations. It was at this juncture that disinvestment, corporatization and privatization of several government agencies occurred particularly in the banking, insurance, telecom, electricity and transport. Several agencies were delinked from the Civil Service to promote corporate and private sector developments.  With the formation of the elected Council of Ministers with the reintroduction of the post of Prime Minister in 1998, His Majesty devolved full executive powers and functions of the King to the Council of Ministers.

Financial discipline and Accountability

His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck was concerned with financial integrity of our Bhutanese society. I was honored to be appointed as the Auditor General in March, 1985 and demitted the Office on 30th August 1991, successfully completing a term of 6 years and 5 months. My tenure as Auditor General of Bhutan was a major milestone in my life and it was same for the Kingdom. His Majesty asserted that Bhutan is at a very critical juncture. It has an opportunity to build the nation void of corruption. I was also commanded to be fair and fearless with my new assignment. This inspired me to be a part of the historic journey and making of the nation. I promised to obey this great Command and render humble service to this great Nation.

My appointment as Auditor General weighed heavily on me. I had the responsibility of auditing and also carried out investigation and prosecution of perpetrators to fulfill the trust and responsibility bestowed upon me by His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Until then, no other entity in Bhutan was entrusted with the tasks of investigation and prosecution. Fulfilling the gap and the expectation of His Majesty, the Royal Audit Authority undertook the additional task of investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of fraud and corruption. Later with the advent of the Democratic Constitutional Monarchy, functions other than auditing were assigned to the Anti-Corruption Commission and Office of Attorney General.

Role of the Auditor General

The role of the Auditor General is critical to maintain the integrity of the government. The Auditor General ensures that Parliament has access to independent audit information as a part of the framework of accountability and scrutiny of the executive branch of government. His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck stated:

“The Auditor General must carry out his responsibilities with utmost loyalty and dedication in the interest of the Government and the people, unaffected by any consideration for those in position of power and influence, and showing no discrimination whatsoever, in the line of his work. The Royal Audit Authority must carry out its responsibilities by conducting proper and timely audits of public funds utilized by the ministries, departments, corporations and other organizations of the Royal Government. In order to stop corruption and check the misuse and wastage of public funds to ensure their proper utilization for the benefit of the public, the Auditor General is authorized to audit any person in Bhutan, regardless of status or position, in the course of discharging his important responsibilities.” 

The Auditor General must be free to act without direction or interference. While carrying out the constitutional and statutory responsibilities, the Auditor General is required to discharge its responsibilities without fear, favour or prejudice. In short, it has to be performed within stringent professional and ethical values. This provision will remind the recommending authorities to select an Auditor General, who is fearless, competent and impartial. Self-aggrandizement and perpetuated rule destroy initiative and growth. John Adams said:

“The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.”

 Financial system

Before adoption of the Constitution, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck conducted a massive financial discipline and introduced many remedial measures on the system and made many systemic and structural reforms. Financial Manual was updated to address budgeting, debt management process was initiated, computerized system of the Bhutanese Accounting System (BAS) was instituted, the Companies Act was amended and the Annual Audit Reports were posted on web site of the Royal Audit Authority. These initiatives enhanced public accountability process.

Throughout the annals of history, our world has been enriched and ennobled by the feats of ordinary men and women achieving the extraordinary. None like His Majesty the King Jigme Singye Wangchuck inspired the Nation to achieve the seemingly impossible and stupendous task. His national interests with high thinking and simple living made Bhutan truly a great and transformed the opinion from contempt to adulation. Bhutan can live with his administrative and financial system from fluctuation fortunes and mercurial moods of the politicians to greater and glorious future under his worthy son and great successor.  His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who reinforced the national conviction said:

The biggest challenges facing Bhutan at the moment are complacency and corruption. We cannot achieve anything without hard work and honesty. Corruption is indignity and disobedience to laws.

Governance under the Constitution

The Vision of Governance of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck culminated into adoption of the Constitution of the Kingdom when the Nation commemorated the centenary of the Hundred Years of the Glorious Rule of the Monarchy on the Golden Throne. Article 17 of the Constitution refers to the decentralization of the powers of governance to the people of Bhutan through their representatives with the power to form a government by appointing a Prime Minister and Ministers through direct election.In the parliamentary system, the Prime Minister and Ministers are first members of the National Assembly. They are accountable to their constituencies. The Prime Minister cannot be selected from the National Council, as it is non-partisan body. Further, the Prime Minister cannot appoint a member of the opposition as a Minister, in order to silence any potential criticism and unhealthy atmosphere within the ruling party.

Contributed by

Justice Sonam Tobgye (Retired)