Kinga owns three buildings in Thimphu. Last income year, he paid Nu 700,000 in income taxes. The road leading to his commercial buildings are in dire state. Those who leased the properties are questioning him, on a daily basis, for the poor roads and drainage system. Kinga is helpless. 

The thromde officials know him well and his problems. They try to avoid him because they have no answers or budget to improve the road even after he contributed about 30 percent of his land to the so-called land pooling system. Kinga was among the handful of landowners who readily agreed to the land contribution system after the thromde and planners convinced him how his property value would increase with infrastructure and amenities provided.

The capital city’s thromde is cash-strapped. The needs of the residents, voter or not, is unlimited. There is the demand for better services whether it is road, parking space, water, parks or waste management. The thromde or the elected thrompon cannot provide basic amenities, forget the pledges they made during the campaign period.

It is straight-forward. Without money, the thromde or thrompon cannot do anything. The little he raises in fees and charges is not enough for the upkeep of the city. This is the same in all the thromdes. If thrompons were to live up to the expectations of the voters or improve the thromdes, they need money.

Unfortunately, the only source of improved revenue will not go to the thromdes where voters (property owners or registered residents) live and pay taxes. The parliament revised the value-based property tax by 0.1 percent last year and it is expected to bring millions to the government coffer – thromde coffer if it is given to them. 

The increased revenue going to the government revenue account will ensure equitable distribution of resources. However, it is not as straight-forward as it sounds. Revenue raised from taxes, fees and charges should remain with the thromdes.  A thromde with revenue could plough it back to improve public services. After decades of planning, Bhutan’s capital city is grappling with the same issues. Residents are complaining of basic things. There is not enough drinking water, our roads are congested and pothole-ridden. Garbage and sanitation is a problem, so is housing and many other basic things.

A taxpayer in a thromde would not mind paying if basic services were improved. It is not happening. Thimphu predicted, for instance, the traffic congestion 10 years ago. How has the city road network expanded? Thousands of vehicles are added to the same road network every year.  Retaining the revenue raised from taxes with the thromde – financial authority in other words – is one way of improving services and making the thromde accountable. 

Today, the Thrompon can get away with the excuse of “lack of budget” for failing his promises or the wishes of the residents. In many sensible cities, the mayor is given the authority and put in the line of fire for failing to deliver services. Taxpayers could demand services for what they pay. 

In Bhutan, the road ahead is as clogged as the capital city’s drains and policy maker’s brains. The thromde has no money and residents, no services. It’s a quagmire. 

Perhaps, high on the agenda of political parties vying to be the government should be to make thromdes financially independent and improve, at least, basic services.