Against the backdrop of an increased responsibility and budget at the local level, the need to upgrade the qualification requirement for local leaders, especially gups and mangmis, has been felt. 

Local governments will have the power over 50 percent of budget in the 12th Plan. In the past, individual gewogs discussed their budget utilisation plans with the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) and Ministry of Finance. They only have to submit their plans to the government.

The need for a qualification requirement for local leaders has been felt by local leaders themselves. 

Speaking at the Democracy Forum 2019 on April 30, Nubi gup from Trongsa, Ugen Tenzin, called on the government to initiate a legislation to upgrade the qualification requirement for local leaders. 

Ugen Tenzin, a former dungpa who is current Trongsa Dzongkhag Tshogdu chairman was highlighting the role of a local government in modern Bhutan. With increased responsibility, he said that elected local leaders must be qualified.

“It’s difficult for people with little or no qualification to deal with the public,” he said, adding that planning and execution of development works are carried out by local governments.

The Nubi gup also urged the educated youth to contest local government elections to understand the issues at the ground level. “You can make it to the highest decision making body from the grassroots,” he said. 

Held at the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB) convention hall, the Democracy Forum was attended by National Assembly Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel, MPs, and former ministers, former MPs and representatives of political parties among others. 

Tsirang’s Tsholingkhar gup, who has a university degree, Passang Thingh Tamang, said at least a Class 10 qualification was required to run a gewog in the today’s scenario. He said that gups should be able to read and understand all government documents. 

Moreover, he said that just being able to read and write in Dzongkha was not enough as most of the documents are in English. Election laws allow a person with functional literacy in Dzongkha to contest local government elections, except for thrompons. 

However, upgradaing qualification requirement for local leaders requires amendment of electoral laws. 

Section 21(d) of the Act states, “A person shall be qualified to be elected as a member of a Local Government, if he/she is functionally literate and possesses skills adequate to discharge his/her responsibilities as certified by the Election Commission of Bhutan or possessing a formal degree in the case of candidates for Thrompon.”

Former National Council member and one of the founders of the recently launched Centre for Local Governance and Research, Tharchen, said the Election Commission of Bhutan should update its questions from time to time even if no qualification level is fixed.

He also said that having qualified local leaders would do away with the need of a gaydrung. “The local government’s capacity should also be enhanced.”

Tharchen said that his organisation would collaborate with relevant government agencies and international organizations to strengthen professional capacity of local governments. 

In the 12th Plan, local governments will be able to exercise greater flexibility in planning, budgeting and release of money from this year, according to the government. The government has said that the capacity of local governments would be enhanced. 

The change, the Plan document states, is aimed at promoting ownership and quality delivery of local plan priorities and development by local governments. However, some have questioned the local governments’ capacity to implement the increased budget efficiently.

MB Subba