MB Subba

Despite much progress in decentralization in the past 40 years, various studies showed lack of proper guidelines has led to numerous lapses in the conduct of the local government (LG) sessions.

In view of such findings, the Department of Local Governance (DLG) has awarded the Centre for Local Governance and Research (CLGR) to come up with proper guidelines to conduct Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT), Gewog Tshogde (GT), and Thromde Tshogde (TT).

The CLGR would also develop tools to help implement the guidelines and diagnose areas of reform for effective functioning of local governments.

The DLG recently released ‘Assessment Study on DT and GT’ which stated that such issues have rendered LGs largely ineffective in terms of exercising their powers and functions. The main function of a local government, according to LG Act, is to provide democratic and accountable government for local communities.

Executive director of CLGR, Tharchen, said that the assessment study on LG found numerous lapses in conducting LG sessions starting from agenda setting process from the chiwog zomdu to following up works on resolutions. He said the project would be completed within the next three months.

Other shortcomings observed are that LG sessions are either too short or feature issues that could be addressed at the sector level. It is also observed that there is no proper procedure for passing resolutions, some of which are passed in absence of data and proper research.

The CLGR is also expected to come up with protocol for sitting arrangements for LG sessions. There is no uniformity in the sitting protocol of LG members, dzongkhag officials, media, observers and members of the public. In a recent DT session, it was observed that officials were seated with DT members.

Some of the major issues observed are holding of GT and DT without preparation meant to prompt an in-depth decision making process. It was also found that no reading materials like progress reports, financial reports, budget and expenditure figures or any other background information and data are distributed.

The CLGR is also conducting trainings for local leaders from eight pilot gewogs from Haa, Trongsa, Trashigang and Tsirang. The pilot gewogs are selected by DLG and Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation Bhutan.

“We urgently felt the need to extend the scope for rest of dzongkhags and gewogs as early as possible,” Tharchen said. He said that there was a lack of understanding on the legal intent of LG Acts and functions of LGs.

Tharchen said that reporting and accountability systems in carrying out plan activities at the local level were not properly organised. He also cited poor awareness on the powers and functions of LG institutions and local government administrations.

Sources said that it was not only local governments but also civil servants and regional officials that need awareness on elected LGs and LG administrations. Due to such gaps, they say clashes between LG officials and dzongkhag officials are expected.

The project is funded and technically supported by Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation Bhutan as part of the on-going decentralisation and local governance project.

An official from Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation Bhutan said that the project would contribute in capacity building of local government LG functionaries.

The study on DT and GT has highlighted limited understanding of the rationale and basis of having DTs and GTs as instruments of decentralised governance and the main institutions of decision-making at the local level.

The study was conducted to collect baseline information on the issues facing the DT and GT, while  functioning as a means to facilitate designing of strategies to enhance the effectiveness of these institutions. The study covered 14 dzongkhags involving 92 participants, out of which 25 were women.

According to the study, meeting fatigue without proper coordination, poor turnout and lack of quality engagement in community meetings also hamper the functioning and effectiveness of LGs as the institution of decision making bodies at the local level.

According to the study, there is no specific timeline of conducting DT and GT sessions, coupled with delay in agenda submissions and difficulty in prioritisation of agenda items. Some of the challenges for GT and DT sessions are limited items in the agenda, irrelevant discussion points and delay in submitting points for the sessions.

LGs are also faced with absence of clear working modality between LGs and LG administration (non-elected). Lack of support and untimely response from LG administration officials and regional offices on the implementation of DT resolutions also impede the effectiveness of LGs.