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The powers of local government

For the second time a drungpa is accused of battering a man. Samtse’s Tashichholing drungpa pulled the ears of his driver last year to discipline him. Now its Lhamoizingkha drungpa in Dagana, in a fit of rage, slapped and boxed a villager.

The conduct of these civil servants who hold leadership positions in the local government is deplorable. While the civil service rules are expected to address the case of alleged misconduct, an issue that calls the attention of policy makers is the reason that provoked the drungpa to manhandle the villager.

And the reason is that the villager complained to the dzongkhag administration and not to the drungpa. It appears to matter little to the administrations that the issue the villagers raised in the complaint letter was on distribution of drinking water pipes to the villagers. The complaint to the dzongkhag administration also accused the gup of providing the pipes to people he knew and not to other villagers. Other complaints against the gup include alleged misuse of the gewog’s bolero and awarding of community works.

Blaming helpless villagers of a procedural lapse and battering the complainant will not address the issue, nor make the drungkhag administration efficient. The show and abuse of power should not be tolerated even if it may be considered a norm in villages. For the drungpa to indulge in a barbaric act and to refer a case of assault as an administrative issue makes a mockery of the leadership position he holds and of the drungkhag administration. It belittles the issues facing our villagers.

The civil service commission and the local government bodies should do more to civilise its human resources, who despite being bound by laws and rules, undermine the rule of law. For as isolated as these cases may be, it is enough to mar the good work thousands of civil servants do across the country. And be it out of fear or admiration, civil servants and local government authorities are still respected figures in villages.

Given their nature of work, local government authorities are the closest to the people in the grassroots. While this may be empowering, it also means that their conduct is under close scrutiny of the people. Perhaps, it is for such reasons that allegations against the local government filed with the anti-corruption commission continue to be the highest among agencies. Last year, the commission received 81 complaints against local governments constituting about 27 percent of the total complaints received. The commission attributes this to the increasing delegation of responsibilities and resources to the local governments without commensurate check and balance and accountability mechanisms.

We have much work to do to put in place measures that deter officials from abusing their functions and power. A national integrity assessment 2016 had found that corruption in the form of favouritism and nepotism was prevalent in public service delivery. The recent case involves both abuse of power and favouritism.

But in highlighting the forms of corruption in the villages, what this case has brought to the fore is this: We are not just ineffective in supplying drinking water to the people. We are as inefficient in distributing drinking water pipes.

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