The news of tussle between the Local Government (LG) members and the local administration is not new. This time, Kuensel news stated that since “the civil servants are directly under the control of the Dzongdag”, LG is unable to assert their authority on the civil servants in the local government administration. Dzongkhag Yargay Tshogdu and Gewog Yargay Tshogchung were established in 1981 and 1991 as path to democracy. Till 2008, the LG were mainly functioned under the leadership of Dzongdag and Dzongkhag Administration. With the transition into democracy, the functions and authorities of local government has fundamentally reformed the authorities of LG Members and re-defined the mandates of local administration. Unfortunately, this old baggage seems to still hold on and friction arises between the two.
Article 22(1) of the Constitution explicitly state that, LG is established to devolve the “power and authority” to elected members to “facilitate the direct participation of the people in the development and management of their own social, economic and environmental well-being”. This means, now the power and authority at the local level is vested to LG contrary to common believe that, local administration is above LG. Further, Article 22(18), (19) and (20) of the Constitution, mandates the local administration headed by Dzongdag, or Executive Secretary or Gewog Administrative Officer to lead the civil service machinery in the local administration to ensure transparency, accountability among the civil servants while facilitating, supporting and implementing the decisions of LG.
Sections 246 to 277 of the Local Government Act, 2009 reiterates the constitutional mandates and make it clear that, the local administration has no decision-making authority. The primary duty of local administration machinery is to implement the decisions LG. These include “general administration of LG, implement the social and economic development policies, plans and programs within the locality and, report and be accountable to LG for the implementation of the resolutions and be technical backstopping to the LG”. Keeping in line with this objective, the government has also allocated huge budget to LG for utilization at their discretion instead of local administration. Therefore, LG’s ability to control civil servants in the local administration does not arise. It may only be, because of territorial ego of both LG and head of the local administration added by old baggage of civil servants.
Further, Dzongdag or Executive Secretary or Gewog Administrative Officer are directly accountable to LG by Constitution and LG Laws, it is up the LG leadership to sort out any friction. Equally, the heads of local administration particularly Dzongdags, must remember that, while they hold a very senior government officer rank, their job is not to act as superior or treat civil servants separate from LG, rather to fulfil the constitutional and statutory mandates. This design is not by mere law or unique to Bhutan. It is an inherent basic principle of any democracy. His Majesty said “Local government is NOT the lowest level of government; it is the nearest and closest level of government for our people. For rural Bhutanese, local governments are indispensable avenues for participation in democracy and development. In the long run, the success of democracy in Bhutan will be determined by the success of local governments.”
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not reflect those of Kuensel.