As the second LG members complete their tenure on October 26, Kuensel’s bureau reporter in Gelephu, Nima, talks to Chuzergang Gup Sangay Tshering, who had been a LG member for more than two decades about the changing roles of LG members.
How did you become a gup?
I resettled here in 1997 from Bumthang. In 2002, people of Chuzergang asked me to stand as mangmi candidate. They supported me and I won the election. I served as mangmi. People then encouraged me to contest as gup candidate in the next election. People of Chuzergang supported me and I became the gup. Since then, I have been the gup.
I did not have any qualifications or experience to occupy such an important post but my hard work and dedication and trust of the people of Chuzergang helped me shoulder my responsibilities.
How powerful was a gup 15 years ago? How has the role changed over time?
When I started working as a gup in 2006, people were not aware of local governance, planning, and development activities. Even after conducting meetings repeatedly, they won’t have any agendas to share. Everything had to be done by the gewog. Gup had to decide what was good for the people mostly.
It was from the 11th Plan when people realized the need to take part in planning and development. They started to take part in planning and shared their suggestions.
In the 12th Plan, people came up with their plans and agenda. Some came up with issues that we were not aware of. We had to start prioritising the development activities. People were unhappy with us and we had to convince them.
With more decentralisation, how qualified do you think the gup should be?
I sat for the functional literacy test after attending non-formal education. But with changing times, a gup should know both English and Dzongkha. LG members should be class X or XII graduate.
Until 2010, most correspondences were made in Dzongkha, but now we have to depend on technology. Most services are digitalised. It is becoming more challenging to work without qualification and skills. If we are to serve the people and government well, qualification is needed.
In terms of remuneration, do you think it is enough? What are some of the perks or incentives of a gup?
Nothing is enough for people. The remuneration and benefits depend on how much the government’s coffer has to offer. It would be much better that way. For example, when I started working as Gup in 2006, I was paid Nu 8,000 in a month. I could afford a decent living. Today, we are paid more than Nu 36,000. Things have changed. If we try to get everything that’s there in the world, the salary we receive won’t be enough. That depends on how we manage. It won’t be safe to say that we are paid enough today but I am hopeful that the incentive and benefits would increase in the future.
Are there enough rules and measures in place to hold a gup accountable?
Accountability in local government has become important today to ensure development activities at the grassroots are not compromised. From 2006 till 2010, people were not aware of works done by the gewog. Today, they are aware. People keep a track of every activity and keep LG members on our toes. People report to us directly and also use media to question the quality of our work. Accountability at the gewog level has improved with people getting empowered.
We also have the Local Government Act in place but it needs revision. Some provisions of the Act are still not implemented. It states gewog would have an accountant, but we never got one. The ambiguities in the LG Act are confusing.
What are your thoughts on the plan to merge gewogs?
It is not necessary to merge all gewogs. But, here in Southern dzongkhag, we could merge two gewogs and make it one. There are not even two kilometres between two gewogs. In other parts of the country, the distance between chiwog and gewog centre is more than 50 kilometres. It is more practical to have gewogs merged in southern dzongkhags.
The gewog merger could also solve some problems we are facing today. Distance between Chuzergang and Sershong gewog is not more than three kilometres. We have all our water sources in Sershong gewog and more beneficiaries are here in our gewog. It is difficult to get a permit from the public when tapping water from Sershong. Even after getting approval to use their water source, building a water supply line from private land in Sershong is challenging, as we are in different gewogs. Gewog merger would solve these problems.
Human-wildlife conflict is a major problem for farmers and residents across the country. What should be done?
The human-wildlife conflict is still a problem in the gewog. Electric fencing helped us a lot although we see frequent damage and intrusion from the wild animals. This was because there are many incomplete fencing and disconnected points. We will be able to curb this issue within two years if we have proper fencing around the field. Almost 80 percent of the land is covered with electric fencing today. The remaining 20 percent was incomplete because the lands share a boundary with Sershong gewog. There are several roads and building a proper electric fence is a challenge. We should also be mindful that it would be impossible not to have any wildlife menace, considering the threats wildlife face today.
As an experienced local leader, what are some of the issues or problems that impede effective governance?
I have to be honest here. People expect the government to do everything. People are depending on the government too much, even on basic maintenance of facilities government provided.
Since the government provides required amenities like drinking water and irrigation canal, people should take care of it. When gewog officials try to make people responsible by contributing labour, they do not do it.
What would you like to tell your successor?
There are many candidates vying for the post and I would like to thank them for coming forward to represent us all. In the process of election, people will choose one of them and I would like to request them to respect the choice people make. Some might feel disappointed with people. Please don’t do that.
In Chuzergang gewog, drinking water is the main problem. People residing in the gewog increases every year and sources are drying up. The weather is worsening the situation. I hope the future gup would implement the drinking water plan that we have prioritized and provide adequate drinking water to the people.
Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude to His Majesty The King for granting us land kidu. There are more than 10,000 people living a prosperous life all because of His Majesty’s unprecedented blessing. May the King live a long life and continue to be our guide forever.
I thank the people of Chuzergang for supporting me in the past many years. I remain forever indebted to them. I have never dreamt of being a local leader for so long.
Edited by Tashi Dema