Following the Election Commission of Bhutan’s public advisory to avoid public meetings and gatherings from February to May and August to October this year, the weekly Meet the People Programme has been suspended until the National Council (NC) elections are over.

According to records with the Cabinet secretariat, 200 meet the people sessions have been conducted since it started in 2013. It has so far attended to more than 1,500 applicants.

The programme is conducted every Saturday.

People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) general secretary, Sonam Jatso, said the programme tries to address problems related to public service delivery or government related services and that the programme does not entertain legal issues, kidu cases or issues related to constitutional agencies.

The government started the programme to provide an opportunity for citizens to freely interact with the prime minister and cabinet ministers without seeking formal appointments, and share their views and feedback on government performance especially regarding the delivery of public services.

The programme is one of the government’s 100-day pledges, which state that the Cabinet would dedicate at least a day in the weekend to meet the people.  It states the party would initiate this programme, so that the top leadership would be abreast of people’s problems and ensure transparency in governance.

Sonam Jatso said that through the programme, the government is accessible to people without having to go through long formal procedures. “If the issues are serious or there is a large group of people, the prime minister himself attends the programmes.”

He said that people call and register with the cabinet office in advance but that people without prior appointments are also allowed.

The programme has been beneficial, he claimed, especially to address miscommunications such as people not getting the services they should. “The best thing about the programme is that it is informal.”

The programme was first conducted at the Natural Resources Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL) conference hall but later moved to the PDP office at Olakha.

Sonam Jatso said the venue was moved to the party office as the utilisation of the NRDCL hall incurred cost and the hall was not always available.

He said that the programme was also tried in places other than Thimphu but was unsuccessful due to less number of people showing up.

Karma Cheki