The National Assembly’s decision to withdraw the proposal to amend the Local Government Act added more confusion in the discussions surrounding local governance.

The NA deferred tabling the Local Government (Amendment) Bill twice prior to the withdrawal, citing the need for more research and consultations. The other reason was the plan to merge gewogs, which according to the government required further discussion.

Withdrawing the Bill is not helping anyone when so many things have to be straightened or strengthened in local governance.

Two years ago, NA’s good governance committee proposed a minimum qualification of Class X for local leaders.  It didn’t receive much support in the Assembly. The Department of Local Governance (DLG) had proposed to merge some gewogs, but that also did not receive support even after the department had carried out a thorough review.

Members of Parliament want the LG Act amended so that they could exercise their oversight roles like monitoring and reviewing developmental activities. The Prime Minister had also specifically said there were barriers in the LG Act that did not allow the central government to work with local government. The government stated there is lack of communications between politically elected central government, local governments and bureaucrats, which hampers reaching the government’s vision to the grass roots.

 The draft LG Act is not in the public domain and  it is not clear whether it is really the need of proper research or the risk involved that is closing the discussion. The government has been giving the same excuse for the last two years. Gewogs and drungkhags were created when accessibility and communications facility was limited. Situations warranted it those days, but with motorable roads, mobile phone and internet network connecting villages, priorities have changed. We know how close some gewogs, drungkhags and dzongkhags are to each other and merging those could save huge administrative costs to the government. With the LG elections nearing, amending the Act and reducing the number of gewogs could have also saved millions of election fund.

With the government’s block grants, our local governments not only have administrative power, but huge financial autonomy too. That mandates qualified and competent local leaders for good governance and efficient administration. Setting a minimum qualification, therefore, sound logical.

A decision on LG Act is easier said than done, especially when the LG members are influential in the locality and can impact election results. It will take a government that is not worried about losing votes to take bold decisions.