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The case of community information centres

The discussion on bringing community information centres (CIC) under the gewog administration saw the National Assembly voting along party lines.

The Opposition had moved a motion to change the management of these centres from the Bhutan Development Bank Ltd. (BDBL) to the gewog administration. It argued that doing so would improve service delivery to the people. All 17 opposition members voted for the change; 24 members from the ruling party voted for continuity.

This is not the fist time the Opposition has raised this issue.

When its management was transferred from Bhutan Post to BDBL during the last government’s term, the Opposition in 2015 had said that the change would have serious ramifications on the quality of services. A financial institution, it believed, was not equipped to provide non-banking services to the people. Then, it argued that Bhutan Post, which was operating the centres, was trained to provide these services, unlike BDBL. Today, it moved a motion to handover the operation from BDBL, which now has the experience to the gewog administration, which does not have the experience in the operation of CICs.

While the intent of providing public services through a single window is a good initiative, its management has so far been politicised.

Depending on the government of the day, the community centres change hands. It is an irony that the community is not involved in running their community information centres. The last government pledged to open banks in the gewogs and so the BDBL was given the task to run the CICs. Somewhere in the transition and in our obsession with its ownership, we forgot that these centres were opened to provide services to the people. Their establishment and the subsidies the government pays was to reach government to citizen services to the grassroots, cut down travelling expenses, and save time. For the people, the ownership does not matter as much as the quality of services provided.

Some local government officials say that service delivery at CICs has improved under BDBL. The people, however, face problems when the lone operator goes on leave by informing their bank but not the local leaders. It is observed that the services provided at the CICs are also provided by the gewog administration, except that people pay for these services at CICs. This could leave room for misuse of cash and, in the past, operators of some CICs were reportedly terminated. If these issues are resolved, local government officials say it may not be necessary to bring the CICs under the gewog administration. If it can’t, they would be happy to run the centres.

The communications minister has asked for time to assess the issues raised on the operation of CICs. A thorough study would help our policy makers assess the impacts of the CICs so that public service delivery is enhanced. While it may also study the future potential of these centres, the assessment could help guide any government in using the centres for the purpose it was opened for – to provide public services – not to misuse it.

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