After deferring the amendment of the Local Government (Amendment) Bill twice, the home ministry withdrew the Bill on May 31 saying, among other things, that it needed more research.
However, many are questioning why was the Bill tabled in the first place if it were to be withdrawn in the end and if the research was incomplete.
The Department of Local Government (DLG) had completed reviewing the Local Government Act of Bhutan 2009 and proposed the amendments. It was submitted to the Cabinet.
Many observers that Kuensel talked to said that it is still unclear what the government is trying to amend in the Act.
The DLG’s Director, Kado Zangpo said that although the review was submitted the government felt there was a need for a comprehensive consultation with the local governments.
“But the consultation couldn’t take place because of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said. “So, in a way, it’s good that the Bill was withdrawn because we can’t amend the Act for the sake of amending.”
A law review task force a few years ago had recommended the amendment of the Act. Kado Zangpo said that although the Act was due for amendment, it was not urgent.
Many observers agree that although the amendment would bring clarity on the role and responsibilities of local and central governments, it has not yet reached a critical level where the local government would become defunct if the LG Act is not amended.
The amendment would depend on what issue the government is trying to solve and, as per consultations done at different levels so far, it has come to light that the biggest issue is differences between elected and appointed members at the local governments.
Kuensel learnt that the amendment of the Act could bring clarity on the roles of LG functionaries, including that of the dzongdag, the dzongkhag tshogdu (DT) chairperson and gups.
The proposed amendments would not only give more power to LGs but also streamline the reporting system for LGs.
For instance, the confusion of whether dzongkhag thromdes should report to the works and human settlement ministry or to home ministry has to be streamlined.
The amendment had also incorporated sections on how coordination between the central and local governments should take place.
Earlier, the Bill was deferred after the legislative committee of the National Assembly proposed a minimum academic qualification of Class X for gups and mangmis.
However, many had disagreed.
A local government member said that while many Members of Parliament are for this provision, the Cabinet was not keen. Many gups also had voiced their concerns against it. “Which government would want to hurt the local governments? So, we can see it’s wise for now to withdraw the amendment,” he said.
Some shared that more than amending the Act, there is an urgent need to amend the LG Rules and Regulations (LGRR) 2012 since many of its provisions contradict the Act.
For instance, Section 189 of LG Act states that the chairperson of a monitoring and evaluation committee shall be elected from amongst members of the committee.
But the LGRR 2012 states that the chairperson of the local government (DT chairperson at the dzongkhag level and GT chairperson at the gewog level) will be the ex-officio chairperson of the committee.
“The amendment might focus on giving more power to dzongdags than the local governments,” another observer said. “Otherwise, the Act is neatly in line with the Constitution and doesn’t need immediate amendment.”
Some gups also believe that there is a need to first solve the problems in implementing the Act. A former national council member said that with thromdes still not established in all dzongkhags, amendment review must take this into consideration. “It’s long overdue now.”
According to Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji, who is also in charge of the home ministry, the plan to merge gewogs, which requires further consultation, is one reason why the Bill was withdrawn.
The plan required further discussion since the number of drungkhags and gewogs could change.
Kado Zangpo said that although the task force had completed the research, the Cabinet had asked them to redo and carry out an in-depth consultation with the local government, which is underway.
“We need to consult with gups and communities of some gewogs on the rationalisation of gewogs,” he said. “But it’s been disturbed by the ongoing pandemic.”
He added there were several aspects such as culture that needed to be considered before merging gewogs.
Some observers said that merging of gewogs would have a direct impact on the Act, especially when the number of gewogs changes and, subsequently, the number of LG members.
By Yangchen C Rinzin
Edited by Jigme Wangchuk