With decentralisation of power to elected local governments, the need to redefine the role of dzongdags, who were traditionally the chief executive officers of the dzongkhags, has been felt.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering recently met with officials from the Department of Local Governance (DLG) to analyse the decentralisation process and the role of dzongdags. Gewogs today plan and execute most works independently.
“As we continue to empower local government through progressive financing and important functions, what is the role of dzongkhag administration, particularly the dzongdag?” the prime minister’s office (PMO) wrote on its official Facebook page after the meeting.
The government feels that the allocation of 50 percent of the total budget as block grant has given LGs the autonomy. “The block grant also enables the local elected leaders to answer their electorate,” the PMO wrote.
DLG director Kado Zangpo said that the LG Act is being reviewed for amendment. “We discussed about the decentralisation process and its status,” he said.
The Constitution and the LG Act describe dzongdag as the “chief executive” of the dzongkhag. But the dzongdag’s role in planning and development and framing of policies at the local level has become ceremonial.
Section 252 of the LG Act states that the dzongdag shall be accountable to the DT in respect of implementing the decisions taken by the DT.
However, with the delegation of both planning and execution power to elected local governments, the relevance of dzongdag as the chief executive officer of the dzongkhag has been questioned.
Dzongdags were members of pre-democracy National Assembly. Today, dzongdags are members of neither the gewog tshogde (GT) nor the dzongkhag tshogdu (DT).
A defined role for dzongdag is also expected to avoid conflict of authority between elected local leaders and dzongdags.
The signing of the annual performance agreement (APA) between the government and dzongdags has also been questioned as most of the works are planned and executed by gewogs independently. Local governments, including gewogs and thromdes, are empowered to prioritise and re-prioritise development activities within their jurisdiction with limited role of dzongdags.
The executive director of the Centre for Local Governance and Research, Tharchen, said that the dzongkhag administration, whose head is the dzongdag, and LGs must be looked at differently.
He said dzongdags are accountable to DT, whose head is the DT chairperson.
Pointing out some discrepancies in the local government setup, Tharchen said that while dzongdag was accountable to DT, gewog administration officers (GAOs) was not accountability to GT. According to him, there is no clarity on who takes the accountability for failure at the local level.
A gup said that dzongdags’ role as the chief executives is still relevant although the local government setup has changed significantly and that they play a crucial role in the implementation of works. “All civil servants including engineers and sector heads are controlled by the dzongdag.”
He said that dzongdags handle projects worth Nu 40 million and above. “Projects funded by the central government directly also come under the jurisdiction of dzongdags.”
According to the LG Act, the dzongdag is responsible for the overall implementation of the dzongkhag’s annual plans and programmes within the approved budget allocation.
Dewathang Gomdar MP Ugyen Dorji said dzongdag remains the head of the dzongkhag administration, while DT chairperson as the head of the dzongkhag.
He said the developmental plans are prepared by the LG, and the budget is allocated by the central government. “So, in the long run, when the LG’s capacity is fully developed, they should be just facilitator between the LG and the central government and play an advisory role in the LG.”
Ugyen Dorji said that dzongdag, who is a civil servant, couldn’t be the head of elected officials. He adds that civil servants cannot take the mandate of an elected official.
Questions about whether or not regional heads come under the jurisdiction of the dzongkhag administration are also raised. It is the dzongdag who summons regional heads to DT for explanation and that it has led to conflicts between officials in some dzongkhags, according to sources.
Tharchen said there was no proper and defined role for the 16 dzongkhag thromde representatives. The post of thromde representatives has been equated with that of a mangmi in terms of entitlements.
The LG Act states that the dzongdag shall assist the chairpersons and local governments in carrying out his or her functions. According to the Act, the dzongdag shall, upon request of the LGs concerned, direct the relevant sectors to provide technical or other forms of assistance to the LG.
The PMO wrote that the government wants to make sure that our interpretation of the LG Act, the scope and pace of decentralisation so far, and current arrangement and structure suit the country’s interest.
The PMO stated that the government’s aim was to empower the people in the grassroots by way of decentralisation, through an efficient local government instrument. “In the long run, we have to ensure our efforts to decentralise do not result in isolated, protective blocks.”