From the feedback, largely from Kuensel readers, the government’s plan to reduce the number of gewogs by merging some gewogs is being received well. The decision, if the government implements, even at the cost of an election, is not only about saving money. It is about better governance.

Our leaders created the dzongkhags and gewogs and local government bodies like the tshogdus and tshogdes when situations warranted it. Decentralisation of power was a masterstroke of His Majesty The Fourth Druk Gyalpo. It was a royal vision to devolve power from the government to the people so that people at the grassroots could tell the governments how their villages, gewogs, towns and the dzongkhag should develop.

A lot has changed. The local governments not only have administrative power, but huge financial autonomy. Today, if we go around the country, we will see the fruits of that masterstroke and the successive decisions to empower the local governments from gewogs to thromdes. Since 2008, we had been building roads, the most common demand from the people. Road was seen as a harbinger of development. We have built more than enough. Some gewogs are now connected with more than one road while in some gewogs even villages have roads at their doorstep.

Connectivity is one of the reasons for the proposed change in gewog number. It is not only roads that connect gewogs, chiwogs or households. With the advancement in ICT, the way we administer or govern has changed overnight. It took about a week, for example, for a government circular to reach the gewog. If the gup is away on a tour, an amended circular is already with the village messenger before the gup could read the first to his people.

Developments have brought the gewogs so close that for instance, Hungrel and Wangchang gewog centres in Paro are only 15 minutes drive apart and even closer to the dzongkhag headquarters. No gewog is remote with the exception of Laya or Lunana. Even Laya with a blacktopped road and internet will lose its remoteness.

If we can do with lesser gewogs, it is fulfilment of a royal vision. At the same time, it is another major development in our governance system. We didn’t create gewogs to employ the jobless. The administrative cost will be reduced by millions of ngultrums, as many gups, mangmis, gewog administrative and tshogpas lose posts together with the gewog. But change we must welcome.

Not to deride the present gups, but local governance could enter another era with change in time. Like in the past, the decentralisation process will ensure a manpower shift. Contrary to fears that a gewog with more voters would be advantageous, people would have better choices in terms of candidates. What villagers considered as priority – electricity, BHUs, water and roads, are achieved. The next step is keeping with change. And for that, perhaps we need leaders of a different calibre.

One common feedback is the qualification of local leaders. Should we have a minimum academic qualification with work experience? We should reflect on the changing roles of the local leaders? What about making it attractive with salary, perks and qualification? What about making it like the thromde governance structure? 

A gup with a government director status, perks and authority with a qualified team like engineers and architects at his/her disposal would be more efficient.

With all the other aspects of the Bhutanese governance system changing, it is time for the local governance system to evolve with the change in time and priority.