Reach the unreached

The government has made much progress in bringing public services closer to its citizens in recent years through the establishment of community centres.

Of course, there is still much to be done to improve accessibility such as making more services available through the internet and even SMS.

Bureaucratic procedures have to be further simplified and response time of agencies reduced otherwise investments in technology only go to waste.

An online payment system would also bring Bhutan to the forefront in terms of public service delivery.

While this transition towards e-governance picks up pace, it is important that we do not neglect some of our remotest gewogs.

Given budget unavailability, five gewogs remain without community centres. Let alone community centres, four of these do not have motor road access or even electricity yet.

The concerned department is considering providing the four gewogs with an alternative source of energy so that community centres can be established but the costs are expected to be astronomical. While the centres would not be economically viable given the small size of the populations in these gewogs, the problem is that the department may not even be able to afford the high costs of establishing centres there.

The question is whether economy of scale and affordability should determine whether citizens of these remote communities can have easier access to public services, just like the rest of the country.

Or should they be made to wait until it is cheaper to bring services closer to them, which would also not divert funds away from other developments.

This is no doubt a tough decision to make.

An answer would likely depend on what our priorities are.

Not spending on these rural communities now may send the wrong message to other rural residents that it is more beneficial to live in the urban areas.

By prioritizing these communities, no matter the price, the message is that the government is absolutely serious about developing rural Bhutan.

It would be an important message as rural-urban migration is having serious repercussions on Bhutanese society like abandoned homes and villages, and urban towns struggling to cope with growing populations.

The cost of bringing one community centre to one of these gewogs may be around Nu 8 million.

This may be a very high cost but we are aware that some government pool vehicles cost even more.

When balancing the two, the cost of bringing public services to an entire community should always outweigh a new Prado or Land Cruiser. Such vehicles are replaceable with cheaper alternatives. Some traditions can and should end.

Our remotest communities need to be connected and provided with the same level of services that the rest of us can access.

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