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Fears of politicisation impede nation’s progress: Govt.

MB Subba

Efforts to amend the Local Government Act 2008 have been ongoing for more than a year. But it is going to take more time.

The government feels there are barriers in the Act that do not allow the central government to work together with local governments. The LG Act, which was expected to be tabled in the forthcoming winter session of Parliament, has been postponed by a session.

The LG Act was one of the Acts that the law review taskforce has recommended for amendment.  Director of the Department of Local Governance (DLG), Kado Zangpo, said that the government wants to invest more time in amending the Act.

“The DLG has completed its part of the work. But the government wants to seek more expert views and carry out in depth studies,” he said.

However, it is not only the LG Act that needs to be amended. The government has hinted that other laws, including the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) Act, may need to be harmonized. 

The government feels that there is a lack of communication among three institutions – politically elected central government, local governments and bureaucrats – due to the design of the laws.

 

Disconnect

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, at a recent meeting with Kuensel, said that the fears of politicisation of civil servants and local governments by the central government had led to a “big disconnect” between the institutions.

The prime minister said that a careful read of the LG Act suggested that there is no communication between gewogs and between gewogs and the dzongdags. Dzongdags, he said, are mere observers and that the plan activities in the dzongkhag are passed by the Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT) under the chairmanship of an elected member.

“I have absolutely no problem personally. Are we on the right track? I have concerns. We are already on the path of creating 205 non-communicating blocks,” Dr Lotay Tshering said.

The country’s decentralisation process, he said, had gone stronger with the allocation of block grants that local governments have full authority over. But he expressed concerns that the communication gap between the central government and local governments has emerged as a barrier against reaching the government’s vision to the grassroots.

“There is no mode of communication. In fact, it is legally designed not to be working together (because the word political is used negatively),” Dr Lotay Tshering said.

The prime minister asked if keeping the status quo would serve the country’s interests. Such problems, he said, would impede the nation’s potential to achieve speedy progress.

The prime minister said that the legal system has made it difficult for the government to even advise local governments on the use of funds for fears of politicising the latter.

“There is a big disconnect between the central government and local governments by the nature of the design of our system. Members of political parties cannot be associated with local governments due to perceptions of politicisation,” he said.

It is found that there is no coordination between members of parliament and local leaders. “Local leaders are not cooperating with the MPs,” said an MP. “But at the same time, MPs are also responsible for the development of the constituency we represent.”

The prime minister questioned the rationale of drafting such a local government Act. “I was told that the Act was drafted after referring Acts from Europe, Switzerland, Germany,  India and China,” he said, adding that the Act has been too tight.

By design of the country’s political system, only the central government is politically elected.

He cited shortcomings in the thromde system. “For instance, voters are the people whose census are registered within Thimphu Thromde only, but there are 150,000 beneficiaries to enjoy the good job done by the thrompon and his team,” he said.

Dr Lotay Tshering also expressed his reservation on the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) Act, saying that there were fears of politicisation of civil servants due to the nature of the Act. “Politicisation, as I see, can be positive or negative, but the usage has been negative.”

The prime minister cited the example of the appointment of people at the executive level. He said appointments at critical posts were made without the notice of the government. He said appointees at executive posts should be able to understand the vision of the elected government.

Harmonisation of laws has been a priority for the government recently. The law review taskforce has concluded that there are seven laws that are in conflict with the Constitution.

However, it is expected to take time for all the laws to be amended and harmonised.

The National Assembly has finalised nine Bills and two conventions to be deliberated in the upcoming session. But some of the laws that require amendment, including the Election Act 2008, are not being tabled in the upcoming session.

The Assembly secretariat did not share what the Bills and conventions are.

Chairwoman of the legislative committee, Tshewang Lhamo, said that the Cabinet was expected to table a couple of Bills for amendment. She said other Bills that will be deliberated include Mines and Minerals Bill, Impeachment Bill and Minister’s and Equivalent Post Holders’ Entitlement Bill.

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