Thrompons say it is about accountability

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Thrompons are their own bosses. There is no parent organisation in particular for them or thromdes. They are elected leaders, and there are no organisations designated to monitor and assess them.

So in practice, thrompons have to report to the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs (MoHCA), Ministry of Works and Human Settlement (MoWHS), and many more.

Although there are some standards as per the Local Government Act (LG Act) 2009, about who the thrompons have to report to, there are no clear designations. The issue remains unresolved even after three elections.

Today, except for the Samdrupjongkhar thromde, the other three thromdes have elected their thrompon for the third time.

Thrompons say that the issue is more about who they are accountable to. They say it should be the town residents who voted them into office.

Phuentsholing Thrompon Uttar Kumar Rai, who is serving his second term, said they report to the MoHCA’s Department of Local Government (DLG), and the MoWHS. “However, the thromde collaborates with all the ministries and agencies. We have to report to them respective to the work involved,” he said.

Uttar Kumar said that as an elected person, the best option is to report to their voters, which is more about accountability than reporting.

“Otherwise, we don’t have a parent agency who can monitor or assess our work. This responsibility falls directly with the people.”

He further said that a thrompon’s job is to coordinate, facilitate, and showcase decisive leadership. This helps the town and its people grow, he added.

Uttar Kumar said that a thrompon’s work is to shape a city as per a specific “vision and mission.” Everything depends on the leadership of the thrompons, he added.

“We are elected, not recruited. So we belong to the people,” he said.

Gelephu Thrompon Tshering Norbu, said a thrompon functions independently in line with the plans of the community, within the domain of the LG Act 2009.

“A thrompon has to function in coordination with the DLG, constitutional bodies, ministries, agencies and non-governmental organisations,” he said.

“Thromde Tshogde is the highest decision-making body as per Article 11 of the LG Act 2009,” he said, explaining the thrompon shall report to the tshogde ,wherein all bureaucrats, elected members, and some members of a community are present.

Article 12 of the Act further says, “Thromde Tshogde shall consist of not less than seven and not more than ten elected members, including the thrompon.”

However, Tshering Norbu said the actions of thrompons are scrutinised by the voters.

“If there are any lapses, he or she shall be under media scrutiny before submitting the cases to the regulatory authorities for deliberations and the opportunity to get re-nominated and re-elected.”

Samdrupjongkhar Thrompon Karma Sherab Tobgyal, said ideally it would be better to report to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), through the Cabinet Secretariat.

“At present, we have to report to MoHCA and MoWHS, which I think is not justifiable,” he said, adding that it doesn’t seem practical as thrompons sign annual performance agreements (APA) with the PMO and submit reports to the PMO.

However, Karma Sherab said that thrompons must not report directly to the PMO. They should route through the Cabinet Secretariat. In terms of accountability, he said that falls with the voters.

Karma Sherab said that he also had shared his thoughts about the same issue with a consultancy firm, which is carrying out some studies. “Reporting to the PMO through the Cabinet Secretariat is the most ideal.”

Thimphu Thrompon, Ugyen Dorji said although thrompons are supposed to report to the DLG, they also have to give the information to dzongdags, as per local government policy.

“But it is not possible. I don’t think that has happened in the past two terms,” he said. “Even today, we don’t do that. To inform somebody within a day or two is difficult. It might be in the law, but if it’s not practical, what’s the point of having that?”

Meanwhile, the general understanding among the thrompons is that they are elected community leaders and that it doesn’t make sense to report to someone not elected, someone representing just one or two people. They say thrompons represent the entire thromde.

Ugyen Dorji said reporting to just one person is the most efficient way.

“But we are accountable to the people of thromde, and everyone in the town.”

In terms of relaying information to the thromde people on time, Ugyen Dorji said they have tshogpas via whom the respective information is passed onto the respective demkhong residents.

A hotelier in Samdrupjongkhar, Karma Tenzin, said thrompons are accountable to the people as elected leaders.

“By virtue of being an elected member, a thrompon is not subjected to RCSC rules and guidelines. But the local residents can see the developments under their leadership.”

However, thrompons have no one above to question them if a certain development is lacking or has failed in the town, he said. So the onus is on the people to make them accountable or change them in five years, he added.

Although thromdes have tshogpas, Karma Tenzin said most are not academically qualified and don’t have expertise.

“All the decision-making rests with the thrompon,” he said.

However, with Thromde Tshogdes, people get the opportunity to raise their voices on development work to thrompons through the tshogpas, who are in touch with voters and town residents.

While many say there is a need for thrompons to have someone immediate to report to, there is also the apprehension about the position getting politicised and manipulated. Since thrompons are apolitical, they say, it would be better left as it is.

“However, there is a need to monitor and assess their performance,” a Phuentsholing resident said. “But again, there must be a distance with the central government. We need to explore which agency should take up the task.”

Considering simple developmental activities that sometimes fail in the thromde, he also said it is debatable whether thrompons need a boss.

“Thrompons have huge decision-making power. What we have to maintain is accountability.”

Despite thrompons agreeing that it is to the people they are accountable, it is also clear that people exercise their democratic rights only once in five years. With most thromde voters away in other places, many feel even voters do not have much control to assess and monitor the thrompons’ job.

Madan Oli, a Gelephu resident, said there is the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) to monitor lapses. However, more than that, he said it was the public, the voters, who can monitor and assess a thrompon.

“However, I also think there needs to be someone to look after thrompons and assess them.”

Article 6 of the LG Act, 2009 states: “Local governments shall be supported by the government in the development of administrative, technical, and managerial capacities and structures which are responsive, transparent and accountable.”

Meanwhile, the director with the DLG, Kado Zangpo, said there are LG Entitlement Rules and Regulations under the LG Members’ Entitlement Act 2015.

“It is not really about reporting. It states, for example, the rules for authorising travel for thrompons. It is more about travel authorisation and who signs when they claim TADA,” he said.

Kado Zangpo also said that as thrompons draw authority from the electorate, they are accountable to the electorates.

“Technically, they have been elected by the people, so they report to the people. There is a mechanism for it in the LG Act. They should be actually presenting reports annually to the Thromde Tshogde, which should be made public.”

Kado Zangpo said thrompons are also accountable to the central government because the government provides the budget.

Among the executive, legislative, and judiciary bodies, local government is considered part of the executive body.

“So thrompons should listen to the highest executive figure (the Prime Minister) or the Cabinet. As per the LG Act, MoHCA is the central coordinating agency of the local government. So, we are saying they should report to the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs.”

Kado Zangpo said thrompons, however, have been reporting to the MoWHS. In the meantime, Kado Zangpo said they are already in touch with thrompons on this matter.

“We are figuring out who they should report to, whether it is the DLG or the home secretary. We will soon have this clearly drawn out.”