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Strengthen local governments first

The success of Bhutan’s democratisation process hinges on the success of the local governments. The evolution of local governance system so has been at the centre of our development planning. Consequently, programmes were initiated that were geared towards greater and deeper decentralisation. However, in little more than a decade since we launched the process of democratisation under the Constitution, where are we exactly?

The 12th Plan is significant not just because of the enormity of total outlay, which is the biggest we have ever witnessed. The Plan is the last before Bhutan graduates to a middle-income country. Also, the Plan’s central aim is to achieve a harmonious and sustainable society through enhanced decentralisation underpinned by the vision of leaving no one behind, narrowing the gap between the rich and poor, and ensuring equity and justice.

Coping with the change, which the Plan demands, will be challenging.

To enhance decentralisation process, which is seen as critically important to achieve equitable development, local governments will be given 50 percent of the budget as block grant in the 12th Plan. This means the local governments can prioritise and implement their development needs without the centre having to intervene. But then there is the question of whether the local governments can handle it all what with challenges of human resource shortage and problems resulting from it.

Even as we speak, a chiwog in Lauri Gewog in Samdrupjongkhar has not had a tshogpa for seven years. Most men in the chiwog are lay monks registered with religious institutions. The election of the members of the local governments is governed by the provisions of the Election Act of Bhutan 2008, which mandates that religious personalities remain above politics and cannot participate in the electoral process. Women are not keen and forthcoming.

Such problems can weaken the local government machinery and present more challenges when local governments are left to chart their own development plans with increased financial control. When villages, chiwogs and gewog do not have their representative to spell out their developments needs and plans, the problem that could ensue is development gaps rather that equitable development.

What of enhanced decentralisation then?

There is an urgent need to fix the problems facing the local government machinery. Rolling out the grant in the name of enhanced decentralisation will be inviting more complicated problems otherwise.

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