In the recent weeks, media reported the imposition of fines and revision of fines on numerous aspects from waste management to vehicle document registration. In short, it is penalising the public to force behavioural change.  This is welcome news, but these developments are inconsistent and protect the State agency themselves from accountability.  With the reform in place, accountability must be fixed on both the citizens and State officials for the enforcement of these regulations, not otherwise.

During the opening of Parliament recently, His Majesty said: “We have some major administration and management issues. There are systemic weaknesses, gaps, and inefficiencies, leading to huge wastage. There is little accountability.” The State agencies continue to conduct the same old way of imposing fines without fulfilling their duties. First, while the law is applicable across the country, it is generally enforced in a few selected cities like Thimphu, Phuentsholing, and Paro—a clear case of inconsistency.

For example, the government liberalised tobacco across the country and Bhutan Narcotic Control Authority inspectors are seen enforcing no smoking in public places only in the main areas of Thimphu city. Similarly, Road Safety and Transport Authority officials force emission tests in only some places and not most of the places and so does waste management.

The major issue with State agencies is the failure to concede their lapses and failures to fix accountability among themselves. For example, Tobacco Control Act requires the State to provide tobacco quitting measures, but they are still unavailable to most people. Similarly, Waste Management and Prevention Act and Regulations state that the purpose of the Act is to “promote segregation, reuse and recycling of wastes, disposal of waste in an environmentally sound manner; and effective functioning and coordination among implementing agencies.” 

The principle of this law requires that the collective effort of both citizens and State and implementing agencies to “Prepare and adopt waste management plans, including plans for private businesses and industry to undertake the reduction of waste generation and disposal.”

The waste regulation requires that thromde or service provider to collect segregated waste for residential households at least twice a week and thrice a week for commercial areas.  How about those places without collection services or poor services across the country? Who should be held accountable? Should only the residents and commercial entities be liable?

As His Majesty said: “There is no need to be embarrassed, upset, distressed, or alarmed. There is no shame in acknowledging past mistakes. But we cannot continue making the same mistakes going forward. Our task is to bring about change and transformation, and radically improve the lives of our people. This is not the time to shift the responsibility to someone else.”

Are our State agencies fulfilling these visions or still making the same mistakes?

The current system of imposing fines as the quickest way to address issues of national concern is forgotten after a few months.

A vibrant democracy is about the rule of law and responsible State agencies. The agencies must accept their failures and prevent the same mistakes before resorting to fines and punishments. 

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.