Is local government election in sixteen dzongkhag thromdes and yenlag thromdes, a pomposity or a veracity? That is what hundreds of aspiring candidates who resigned from jobs while some left studies to contest are waiting for appropriate responses from the relevant organisations.
Rumours with various theories are going around. The general public too seem to be dismayed and confused with the thromde election called off indefinitely at the last moment and ngotshab elections being held recently. The formation of a special commission as per the Supreme Court writ supposed to harmonise differences between the Constitution and election/local government Act is also yet to be commissioned. There seems to be no urgency anyway.
While we understand the conditions on which the writ was issued, a prompt and tangible decision as to whether elections would be held or not; if it is going to be held, how sooner or later and the modality spelt out clearly would be appreciated. This would enable derailed candidates to take appropriate future course of actions. Bread and butter must be earned if thromde elections die a silent death.
I call the whole process pompous because so much noise has been made. In 2013, one of the pledges of the sitting government during the campaign was to establish dzongkhag thromdes and yenlag thromdes in all dzongkhags. Accordingly, the bill was passed by the National Assembly in the summer session of 2015. The Election Commission in their turn carried out delimitation works and also notified the general public of the upcoming thromde elections asking aspiring candidates to start processing their documents.
The logic of the government and Election Commission to go ahead with elections, irrespective of the town’s physical and population sizes, for instance, Gasa with just 23 voters is/was found wanting. Thus, the intervention of the Supreme Court makes sense although the timing played a little villain. And the opposition party’s stand that all our towns are not yet ready for establishment of thromdes is unfounded in my opinion. There are dzongkhag towns which are physically as well as population wise, similar, if not bigger than Samdrupjongkhar and Gelephu with exceptions to Thimphu and Phuentsholing.
It is high time that we move from pomposity to veracity of concrete actions, befitting the image of our nation. We have already announced to the world that ours is a vibrant democracy within this short span of time of its institution. We must live up to that standard. Therefore, it is time for a coordinated and concerted effort from all stakeholders free of self-motives because advantages of having an independent town municipality are manifold.
First and foremost, establishing a thromde guarantees decentralisation and devolution of powers and authorities from the central government and dzongkhag administration to locally elected government as per the principles enshrined in the Constitution. When the structures, processes and practices of local governance is brought closer to the electorates, there is ownership and accountability established in the system. A major weakness of public administration in the country today is inefficient management of high level functions such as policy formulation, strategic planning, setting standards and monitoring, because central/dzongkhag agencies are preoccupied with a host of other issues, while overlooking areas of municipality development.
This will certainly change once a thromde is established as evident in Thimphu, Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrupjongkhar over the last 5 years. A thrompon and tshogpas who are either born or bred in the local towns would be committed and have better perspectives, capable of planning strategically well ahead of time and into the future.
In addition, an elected thromde tshogde will provide opportunities for a wider diversity of innovations, and increase flexibility of governance in the context of changing circumstances. For example, a participatory model of governance will mainstream individual/groups who were previously excluded, thus creating greater scope for local and community self-management. This means that the pool of talent, creativity, problem-solving capacity and leadership qualities which previously remained dormant in the local population will be able to find expression, and can be applied to the problems, visions and aspirations of the local community. As a result, this will contribute to social and economic wellbeing of our nation.
Subsequently, development of small scale cottage industries and service sector growth will create opportunities for local youths with technical, managerial and leadership skills to remain in the local towns, thus reducing the rural/urban migration problem in the country. Thromdes will also facilitate the growth of civil society institutions and networks, as citizens perceive the benefits of working in collaboration with local government, to advance their interests. They will therefore organise themselves into appropriate organisational forms, to pursue that objective and contribute to nation building.
In conclusion, I would like to highlight that a town like Samtse has tremendous future prospects for economic growth and self-sufficiency. With 300 plus acres of the Damdum Industrial Estate already finalised; the Samtse – Phuntsholing highway almost complete; the Samtse – Haa road under construction and with proximity to Indian cities like Siliguri, Gangtok, Darjeeling and Kalimpong, Samtse can bounce back from a sleepy little town to a vibrant economic hub of the country with high potential to contribute to the national treasury.
Unlike elsewhere, Samtse enjoys uninterrupted free border movement and transactions of goods and services with much ease and comfort of the people. Hence, I am confident that northern stars are bound to shine bright on Samtse in the very near future.