Limited understanding of the roles of local governments (LGs) at the local level and lack of LG administrations’ capacity to implement decisions have affected the effective functioning of Dzongkhag Tshogdus (DTs) and Gewog Tshogdes (GTs), a study has revealed.
The Assessment Study on DT and GT, published by the Department of Local Governance (DLG) recently, has found that there is a poor understanding of the rationale and basis of having DTs and GTs as instruments of decentralised governance and the main institutions of decision-making at the local level.
To address the issue, the study recommends the government to put in place a comprehensive decentralisation policy and develop relevant LG training modules on decentralised governance and the functioning of DT and GT.
The assessment report has come at a time when the government has allocated 50 percent of the budget to LGs as part of the decentralisation process.
An official in the department of local governance said that the study was funded by Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation as part of the decentralisation activities and aimed at strengthening inter-governmental coordination at the dzongkhag level.
The study was conducted to collect baseline information on the issues faced with DT and GT functioning as a means to facilitate designing of strategies to enhance the effectiveness of these institutions. The study covered 14 dzongkhags involving 92 participants, out of which 25 were women.
According to the study, meeting fatigue with lots of gewog meetings without proper coordination, poor turnout and lack of quality engagement in community meetings also hamper the functioning and effectiveness of LGs as the institution of decision making bodies at the local level.
Another impediment is the lack of a separate budget for chiwog zomdus and poor facilitation skills among tshogpas. Tshogpas do not have the required expertise and skills to influence community members for local development.
According to the study, there is no specific timeline of conducting DT and GT sessions, coupled with delay in agenda submissions and difficulty in prioritisation of agenda items.
Some of the challenges for GT and DT sessions are having only a few items in the agenda, irrelevant discussion points and delay in submitting points for the sessions.
LGs are also faced with absence of clear working modality between LGs and LG administration (non-elected). Lack of support and untimely response from LG administration officials and regional offices on the implementation of DT resolutions also impede the effectiveness of LGs.
Another highlight of the study is the need to train chairpersons and deputy chairpersons to moderate DT and GT sessions.
There is a guideline and framework on implementation of DT and GT decisions. However, LGs lack not only follow-up actions but also legal authority to take actions for not adhering to the resolutions from the DTs, according to the study.
It was also reported that one of the reasons why sectors and regional offices do not heed to the notices and directives of the DT and GT is because of the absence of legal mandate to take actions for non-compliance.
“While DTs and GTs are given substantial powers and functions through LG Act, rules and regulations, they are also more generic, and difficult to implement on the ground,” it states.
According to officials, the study will be used to draft a protocol for DT and GT would be developed based on the findings of the study. The protocol is expected to look into streamlining all issues related to the conduct of DT and GT sessions including the sitting arrangement of members and observers, among other issues.
In some dzongkhags, the dzongdag’s seat is below that of the DT thrizin, while in other places the dzongdag’s seat is above the thrizin’s.
The study recommended for a proper protocol for observers in DT and GT sessions.
Power and accountability
The study states that some provisions of the LG Act and LG rules and regulations need to be reviewed as they result into accountability and power-rifts between the dzongkhag administration, DT and GT.
There is a need to designate a clear-cut power of authority to the dzongdag as the chief executive of the dzongkhag and the DT chairperson as the overall head of the highest decision-making body at the dzongkhag level to avert trespassing into each other’s function, it found.
According to the study, the functional accountability of the DT chairperson is not specified in any law. LG Act holds the dzongkhag administration and the dzongdag accountable to DT only in respect of implementing the decisions taken by DT.
The LG Act empowers DT chairperson to approve official travels and leave of absence from duty for civil servants under the gewog administrations. The DT chairperson is required to inform the Dzongkhag administration to make official travels within as well as outside the dzongkhag.
However, the administration and management of civil servants under LG administration are also governed by the Civil Service Act and Bhutan Civil Service Rules and Regulation that outlines the provision for management of civil servants. Hence, the study states that there are issues with regard to fixation of accountability and reporting mechanism with different dzongkhags and gewogs following different practices with varying interpretation.
LG administrations and the DT and GT secretariats are staffed by civil servants who are directly under the control of the dzongdag. Although they are functionally associated to DT and GT, they report to the dzongdag and their respective agencies at the central level.
It states that the functioning of LGs as institutions have been impeded due to difference in interpretation of provision the civil service Act and LG Act and the absence of accountability mechanism.