Behind the closed doors and out of the notice of local leaders, the local government department had been busy during the Covid-19 pandemic. It has completed two major exercises. A detailed report on the merger of gewogs is submitted to the Cabinet. Now it has proposed amendments in the Local Government Act.
The next LG elections is around the corner. There is time but the government and the Parliament would be pressed for time if both the major changes are to be approved in the upcoming winter session. If the Parliament approves them, there is a lot of work on the ground starting with a massive delimitation exercise.
From the information that is shared with the media, it is clear that a lot of research and work had gone into the exercise. The Parliament is not in session and most of our attention today is on the pandemic. It is however never early, if not late, to start a discourse on an important change that is in the offing.
We can expect some resistance on the merger of gewogs. It is in the interest of elected leaders including in the Parliament. It is an open secret that local leaders like gups or even gup dreps (former gups), mangmis or tshogpas are important to the parliamentary elections even if they are supposed to be “apolitical.” During elections, some candidates measure their chances by how much support they have in each gewog.
Local leaders are not present in the Parliament. But their representatives would do the talking even if the DLG’s recommendations are technically sound and politically correct. We can pre-empt arguments like gewogs of Thimphu, as a part of Wang Tshochengay (eight great clans of western Bhutan), resisting a merger in the name of culture and tradition.
Chang and Mewang gewogs are overwhelmed by urbanisation as they are close to the Thimphu Thromde. Debsi in Chang gewog is an extended city. The gewog’s population is 1,140 people as of last year. Most residents do not have their census in the gewog.
A compilation on the 205 gewogs profile throws up interesting figures. Most gewogs including those in the highlands have nearly 100 percent telecommunication coverage. Some gewogs are accessed through other dzongkhags while one has five elected leaders for just 210 people.
The DLG had not proposed a minimum academic qualification. It expects the issue to arise “naturally”. This is one issue that had been on the minds of the parliamentarians with the Legislative Committee of the Assembly even proposing one before the discussion was postponed. It can only be expected. The DLG is already hinting at better remunerations and status if gewogs became lesser and bigger. Responsibilities would mean commensurate reward.
The old argument of experience and qualification will resurface. This takes us back to the debate of qualified leaders not understanding the interests of the people because they do not live in the rural areas and candidates who are in touch not qualified to represent the people.
The proposed changes will have lasting implications. We must aim for the highest standards and keep up with changing times and global trends.