Nima | Gelephu

While acknowledging the need to merge gewogs, local government officials in Sarpang say the plan needs proper research and consultation with people and gewogs before implementation.

Gewog officials also say Sarpang plays a strategic importance in ensuring safety and monitoring the long porous border.

Gakiling gup, Nim Dorji, said the gewog merger plan lacked proper research. “Some gewogs existed for a long time and there are some that share historical importance. We need to study those well.”

He said that monitoring cross-border situations and providing required services for the community along the border would be challenging if gewogs in the south were merged.

He claimed officials took months to reach all people in the gewog for assessment, and traveling during monsoon was not possible to some remote settlements today. “The places are without proper bridges and roads.”

Gup Nim Dorji said officials working on the merger should not only consult government agencies but also local government officials and people.

It was learnt that Sarpang would be reduced to five gewogs from the existing 12 gewogs if the gewog re-organisation plan was implemented in the third local government election.

Local leaders say there were only one or two gewogs that could be merged in Sarpang, considering the total population and reliable service infrastructures of the gewogs.

Gelephu gup Ugyen Wangchuk said the current plan to merge gewogs would worsen rural issues such as gungtong and rural-urban migration. “It would also affect service delivery.”

He said the gewog merger plan is not in line with the idea of decentralisation. “Local government plays a vital role in providing required service to the people. It’s early for us to go for the reorganisation. It would worsen the situation of people left behind.”

Officials said that it was too early for the merger without required infrastructure and services not in place for the communities.

Some, on condition of anonymity, said that the Mangmi could be replaced by other important technical officials in the gewog.

“They’re given pay and benefits like gups, while most of the work is done by administration officer and gups. These are few changes we could bring in to improve service delivery at the gewog level,” an official said.

Gup Ugyen Wangchuk said Bhutan would not be ready for merger in another 15 years.

He said it was important to understand the capacity and living standard of people before deciding on the merger. “We rely on digital services but there are challenges concerning few online services that are done at the gewog level.”

Local leaders also said the consultation regarding the merger was done twice in the western and eastern regions but not in the south so far.