Observers say there is a long way to go before power and authority are fully decentralised and devolved

MB Subba

Members of the second local government (LG) completed their terms on October 26, marking the first decade of an elected local government under the Constitution.

Observers say that there is a long way to go before “power and authority” are fully “decentralised and devolved” to local governments as envisioned in the Constitution, but that the successful completion of the first 10 years is a milestone.

Outgoing gups said that “vast changes” that have taken place in terms of development activities and the increased participation of people in LG elections are a sign of the success of the country’s local governance system.  

However, while the LG has received increased financial powers, human resource issues that were raised 10 years ago still remain.

Samdrupjongkhar’s former Pemathang gup, Madhukar Subba, said that human resources at the LG level should be increased for timely execution of development activities.

He said that gewogs have to depend on the availability of technical experts like engineers in the dzongkhag and the drungkhag.

“Sometimes, work cannot start or be completed on time due to a lack of technical experts,” he said, adding that even some of the dzongkhags do not have enough engineers.

According to former Zobel gup, Pema Dorji, LGs have not received human resources as stipulated in the LG Act, and that the Act and LG rules should be harmonised.

The Act states LGs shall be supported by the government in the development of administrative, technical, and managerial capacities and structures, which are responsive, transparent, and accountable.

Guman Singh Gaylal, former Langchenphu gup from Samdrupjongkhar, said that the situation differs from gewog to gewog and that some are much better off than others in terms of human resources.

He also said that the increase in power and responsibilities should be matched with an increase in human resources at the local government level.  

Outgoing gups said that there was remarkable progress in terms of development in the past 10 years. The gups also said that LG’s financial and administrative powers have increased significantly.

LGs today exercise greater flexibility in planning, budgeting, and release of money. About 50 percent of the national budget is provided to local governments as block grants.

“The decentralisation of financial powers has greatly helped us facilitate the participation of the people in the development of their own social and economic well-being,” a former gup said.

However, the executive director of the Centre for Local Governance and Research (CLGR), Tharchen, said that the upcoming LGs should make evidence-based decisions to improve local governance.

LGs, he said, should promote inclusive participation in the decision-making process and development activities, and collaborate with regional offices. He said LGs should fulfil their legal mandates, powers, and functions.

Tharchen said that relevant agencies should provide training programmes for all the local leaders at the beginning of their tenure so that they can implement provisions of the Act uniformly.

“Training should be given based on the functions and mandates of the LG under the Act,” he said, adding that most of the current training programmes are less relevant to LG members.


The two women gups to recontest

The two female gups of the second LG said they would recontest with more confidence and experience.

While Dagana’s former Tashiding gup, Namgay Pedey, is contesting for a third term, former Gesarling gup from the same dzongkhag, Pema Wangmo Tamang, is vying for the post for a second time.

Namgay Pedey said male and female populations are almost equal in terms of percentages and that more women should participate as candidates in the upcoming elections.

“I have completed two terms, which shows that people will vote for women candidates,” she said.

Pema Wangmo said that people did not treat her differently for being a woman.

In the second LG election, about 11 percent of the total elected candidates were women. A total of 23 women were elected as mangmis.

The country will elect the members of the third local government within 90 days so local government services are not hampered.

There are 205 gewogs and 1,044 chiwogs. Elections to the post of the 14 thromde thuemis will also be held.

The third thromde election in Samdrupjongkhar will also be held along with the gewog elections, according to officials.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering took to the PMO’s Facebook page to thank the local leaders, stating, “I join everyone else in thanking them for the five years of dedicated service. It is through them that our people could seek meaningful participation in this shared journey of ours as Bhutanese.”

He expressed satisfaction that in the last three years, the utilisation of grants was “impressive and far more efficient”, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk