The government plans to table the Local Government (LG) Act for amendment in the upcoming session to address issues that have emerged in implementation block grants as part of the decentralisation process.
The department of local governance (DLG) director, Kado Zangpo, said that the department, which has reworked proposed amendments on the government’s directive, is ready to submit it to the government. DLG had submitted a draft to the government in 2020 but was asked to conduct more consultations.
Proposed amendments have not been shared with the media but the director said that the department consulted stakeholders, including local governments, Gross National Happiness Commission and the Royal Civil Service Commission.
Issues with LG Act
Members of Parliament (MPs), who are pushing for the amendment of the LG Act, feel that it restricts them from exercising their oversight roles, which include monitoring and review of development activities.
MPs also point out the lack of proper planning of development activities at the local government level and that the loophole could allow LG members to appropriate funds at their whims.
Such issues, they say, could lead to wasteful expenditure at a time when the government has provided half of the budget at the disposal of local governments.
Drametse Ngatshang MP Ugyen Wangdi said that the LG (Amendment) bill was being tabled in the upcoming session. He said that inconsistent provisions among other issues needed to be streamlined through amendment.
The amendment bill was withdrawn from the National Assembly on the recommendation of the home minister. Home Minister Sherub Gyeltshen declined to comment.
Wangdue’s Athang Thedtsho MP Kinley Wangchuk said the LG Act was not only restrictive for MPs and agencies to exercise oversight duties but also inconclusive on how LG leaders could be held accountable when the Act was violated.
Kinley Wangchuk said that the National Assembly Act empowered Parliament committees to summon officials, including ministers, for questioning as part of their oversight roles. But he added that the LG Act did not provide any space for MPs to question local governments should they make wrong decisions.
Lack of proper communication and coordination between the local governments and MPs has also been an issue as the LG Act does not require local governments to either consult or inform the concerned MPs about development activities at the dzongkhag or gewog level.
An MP, who wished not to be named, said that local governments should keep MPs in the loop not only to enable them to exercise their oversight functions but also for the local government’s own benefit. “We can render our support and offer advice to the local government if we’re kept in the loop,” he said.
Gangzur Minjey MP Kinga Penjore said there was room for improvement in the LG Act. He said that working relation between MPs and the local government should also be enhanced.
There is also a lack of a proper document to guide local governments on the prioritisation of resources. The issue has already led to the allocation of funds from productive to non-productive activities, some MPs say.
MP Kinley Wangchuk said the GNH Commission must provide a standard economic roadmap to all the dzongkhags, which should then guide gewogs to draft their own plan within the dzongkhag’s economic roadmap.
A gup from Tsirang said that local governments appropriate funds based on National Key Result Areas (NKRAs) and Local Government Key Result Areas (LGKRAs).
A former MP said that only 30 percent of the provisions of the LG Act were being implemented. He said that there was a gross mismatch between the LG Act and the local government rules and regulations.
Section 236 of the LG Act states that the gewog tshogde and dzongkhag tshogdu secretariats shall, as soon as possible, provide a copy of the agenda to members of the local government, concerned members of Parliament, and other relevant agencies. But an MP said that LG secretariat officials did not follow the Section and there was no legal clause to hold officials accountable.
Speaking on a similar note, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering in January last year said that there were barriers in the LG Act that did not allow the central government to work together with local governments.
The government feels that there is a lack of communication among three institutions—politically elected central government, local governments and bureaucrats—due to the design of the laws.
He said a careful read of the LG Act suggested that there was no communication between gewogs and between gewogs and the dzongdags. He expressed concerns that the communication gap between the central government and local governments had emerged as a barrier against reaching the government’s vision to the grassroots.
However, one of the issues that Parliament is expected to be mindful of is the possible interference in the local government and encroachment on their powers.
The role of dzongdags could also become an issue amid deepening decentralisation. Some say that the role of dzongdags should be redefined.
The LG Act states that the dzongdag shall be accountable to the DT in respect of implementing the decisions taken by DT. Dzongdags were members of the pre-democracy National Assembly, but they are members of neither the Gewog Tshogde (GT) nor the Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT).
A defined role for dzongdag is also expected to avoid conflict of authority between elected local leaders and dzongdags.
The works and human settlement ministry in July last year, on the instruction of the prime minister, wrote to the Trashigang dzongdag to implement the blacktopping of Merak gewog centre road via Khardung against the decision of the Trashigang Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT) to blacktop the road that goes Chaling.
An MP had lobbied to implement the DT decision although the implementation of the ministry’s directive would benefit more households. In line with the government’s directive, the DT later reversed its decision.
However, whether or not the central government can intervene in certain cases that merit a revisit of the local government decisions also remains as an issue.
The DLG had not proposed any academic qualification for local leaders like gups, mangmis and thromde tshogpas in the draft it had submitted to the government last year.
The legislative committee of the National Assembly in the second Parliament session had proposed a minimum academic qualification of Class X for gups and mangmis. But the LG (amendment) bill was deferred due to lack of adequate homework.
Should there be any changes in the qualification of local leaders in the LG Act, Parliament should also amend the election Act as it prescribes only a functional literacy level certificate.
Bji gup Passang from Haa said that the present LG Act could not resolve the problems faced by the local governments. “We’re facing a shortage of human resources as the government has increased the block grants,” he said.
The Assessment Study on DT and GT published by the department of local governance (DLG) in 2019 found that there is a poor 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.