Paying for support

Dasho Nima Wangdi, director general of finance, justifying the government’s decision to increase the allowances and benefits of gups, was quoted as saying that:

The pay commission, which was not a full time committee, could be instituted by the government only for major systemic changes in pay and allowance structures. “In the gups’ case, the government has the full authority to decide.”

He’s right: the Pay Commission is not a full time committee.

And he’s wrong: the government does not have any authority to revise the pay and allowances of public servants, including gups, independently. It can do so only at the Pay Commission’s recommendation, and subject to the endorsement of the Parliament.

Article 30.2 of the Constitution:

The Pay Commission shall recommend to the Government revisions in the structure of the salary, allowances, benefits, and other emoluments of the Royal Civil Service, the Judiciary, the members of Parliament and Local Governments, the holders and the members of constitutional offices and all other public servants with due regard to the economy of the Kingdom and other provisions of this Constitution.

Article 30.3 of the Constitution:

The recommendations of the Commission shall be implemented only on the approval of the Lhengye Zhungtshog and subject to such conditions and modifications as may be made by Parliament.

The government’s decision to increase the allowances and benefits of the gups is arbitrary. It may also be illegal. And Dasho Nima’s support for the decision is misguided.

Increasing the travel allowances of the gups and providing them with mobile phone vouchers is no small matter. The decision is expensive. The decision affects other public servants. And the decision could be politically motivated.

But, it’s not just the gups who are benefiting from our government’s disregard for procedure. Last year, ACC employees were also granted an allowance arbitrarily. And the National Assembly approved pay increases for members of parliament without the recommendation of the Pay Commission.

The rule of law is important. Especially during these early years of our democracy. And especially so, when we’re dealing with money.

Granted, there may be a need to revise the salaries, allowances and benefits of the public service. If so, reconstitute the Pay Commission. Let them do their job. But take their recommendations seriously.

And follow the law. Then civil servants won’t have to cover for the government.

Dasho Damcho on LG

In session

“Where is Dasho Damcho la …” enquired Sonam_t commenting on my open letter to the Dasho Dzongdags. “Where is honourable Damcho?” echoed Tangba.

Dasho Damcho’s recent response to their queries follows:

Dear Sonam_t and Tangba,

Thanks for your concern. I am still sticking around but like to keep a low profile. The issue that Hon’ble OL has raised was discussed with me and was discussed several times in the preceding NA Sessions as well. Unfortunately, most people are not aware of it because of absence of live telecast and the papers were not interested in covering these issues in depth! The issue first started with the complaints by the people of Wamrong when the DPT party workers attended a DYT meeting in Wamrong Dungkhag claiming direct orders to do so by the PM, that allegedly resulted in the decision to change the course of a feeder road that was already started.

The Opposition has made its stand very clear on the non-involvement of party workers in GYT and DYT meetings. It was the intention of the Constitution to have an independent LG. Despite that, the Government seems to be bent on involving Party Workers in GYT & DYT meetings, which I strongly feel that it undermines the independence of the LGs. It is for the same reason why even Dzongdas are not permitted to vote in DYT meetings.

My argument is that when it comes to permitting any person to attend a GYT or DYT meeting either as observer or expert, it should be left entirely at the discretion of the Chairman of the DYT or GYT as per the LG ACT. Now that the PM himself has mandated that party workers should be involved in these meetings, I do not understand how they can be involved without compromising on the independence of the LG, and the worst part is that it becomes obligatory on the part of the Chairmen to abide by it, howsoever mild the PMs words are crafted. And it is not just the issue of attending meetings but from the Press release, it is also about involving them in all developmental activities.

Anyway, thanks for remembering me once in a while.

Open Letter to Dasho Dzongdags

Calling on chief executives

Dear Dasho:

I am writing about a matter of grave importance: the involvement of political parties in local governments.

You will recall that, during your recent annual conference, the Prime Minister called for party workers to be involved in the development process at the local levels. And, that he requested for party workers to be invited to observe the sessions of the local governments.

Article 22 of the Constitution clearly defines the powers, objectives, structure and functions of local governments. It also ensures that local governments remain nonpartisan. As such, political parties cannot be directly involved in the development process at the local levels, and allowing them to do so would seriously undermine the integrity and authority of local governments.

Chapter 8 of the Local Government Act empowers the chairpersons of local governments to invite any person as an observer during their sessions. So nobody else, including the government, should be permitted to decide who must be invited as observers. And nobody, especially party workers, should be allowed to receive automatic invitations based on their positions. I firmly believe that giving in to the government or to party workers on this matter would compromise the powers of the chairpersons, and encourage party politics to influence local governments.

Local governance has been carefully and steadily strengthened during the past three decades, beginning with the establishment of Dzongkhag Yarkay Tshogdus in 1981. The introduction of parliamentary democracy should further strengthen local government institutions, and the Constitution, which requires power and authority to be decentralized and devolved to local governments, provides the legal instruments to do so.

I would, therefore, like to request you, Dasho, as the Chief Executive of your Dzongkhag, to protect local governments to the best of your ability, and to prevent political interests from corrupting this important institution.

With my best wishes,

Yours faithfully,

Tshering Tobgay

Copy: The Chief Election Commissioner, Election Commission of Bhutan

Photo credit: Kuensel

Open Letter to Chairpersons

Stand up, stand up!

Like last year, the opposition party was again left out of the annual conference for local government chairpersons.

It was important to meet them. And it would have been useful. But I couldn’t. So I’m sending them an open letter expressing my concerns over the CDG and the inclusion of party workers in the local development process.

Photo credit: Kuensel

Talk about towns

Thimphu Thromde

Thimphu Thromde

Yesterday, the government proposed a motion in the National Assembly to endorse a list of thromdes (urban settlements). Thromdes, along with gewogs and dzongkhags, form our local governments. But the Local Government Bill, which describes different types of thromdes, has not yet fully completed its passage in Parliament as required by Article 13 of the constitution.

The bill was endorsed during a special joint sitting of the Parliament two months ago, and was submitted to His Majesty the King for His Assent. Till Royal Assent is granted, the LG Bill will remain just that – a bill. And that Assent is not automatic. Article 13 Section 10 of the Constitution states that: “Where the Druk Gyalpo does not grant Assent to the Bill, He shall return the Bill with amendments or objections to deliberate and vote on the Bill I a joint sitting.”

So a few of us suggested that it may not be correct to discuss the proposed list of thromdes until the LG Bill has been fully enacted. That could amount to taking His Majesty’s Assent for granted.

But the government’s proposed list of thromdes has other problems as well. First and foremost, the Dzongkhag thromdes are categorized as Class A or Class B. According to the LG Bill Cass A thromdes will each have a thromde tshogde (a town committee), which will comprise of elected representatives including an elected Thrompon. And, Class B thromdes will not have tshogdes. This distinction between the Dzongkhag thromdes may, in effect, violate the Constitution, which requires that “A Dzongkhag Thromde shall be divided into constituencies for the election of the members of the Thromde Tshogde”, and that “A Thromde Tshogde shall be heaTalk ded by a Thrompon, who is directly elected by the voters of the Dzongkhag Thromde”.

Many MPs have argued that most Dzongkhag thromdes (Gasa has been repeatedly used as an example) are too small to currently warrant a tshogde, and that such thromdes will be upgraded to Class A thromdes as and when the population in these thromdes increase to acceptable levels. I see it quite differently: give tshodges to the smaller Dzongkhag thromdes, and you empower them to attract businesses and people to their respective constituencies. Otherwise, the smaller Dzongkhag thromdes will never grow to levels that will allow them to be categorized as Class A.

The proposed list of Yenlag thromdes (satellite townships) also was not complete. Only eight thromdes were proposed in this category, and a few belonged to one dzongkhag. The Constitution, however, implies that each Dzongkhag will have at least one Yenlag Thromde.

In the end, the National Assembly resolved not to discuss the list of thromdes till Royal Assent is granted for the Local Government Bill.

Parliament endorses LG bill

All 67 MPs present at the extraordinary sitting of the Parliament voted “yes” to unanimously pass the Local Government Bill.  The Bill had been narrowly rejected by the Parliament during its third session about six weeks ago.

The extraordinary sitting of the Parliament was commanded by His Majesty the King as a special case to reconsider the Local Government Bill, the enactment of which was necessary to hold local government elections and to properly implement the Tenth Five Year Plan.

In my statement, after the Parliament cleared the Local Government Bill , I requested the government to render full support to the Election Commission of Bhutan so that they can conduct the local government elections properly. I also reminded the government that, with the passage of the Local Government Bill, the implementation of the Tenth Five Year Plan activities should begin in earnest.

And I appealed to the government to work towards upgrading Class B Thromdes to Class A Thromdes as soon as possible. The LG Bill classifies dzongkhag thromdes according to population, size and economic activity. And according to the Bill, only Class A Thromdes will have thromde tshogdes. Class B Thromdes will not, and will, in essence, function just like yenlag thromdes. The Constitution requires each dzongkhag to have a dzongkhag thromde, each of which would have a thromde tshogde. The elected thrompoen is the executive head of the thromde tshogde.

Questioning change

Managing markets

Managing markets

So the Cabinet has directed the Ministry of Agriculture to take over the Centenary Farmers’ Market. Apparently the Cabinet had decided that the Thimphu City Corporation was not managing the farmers’ market properly.

The government’s intention is good. They want to ensure that the farmers’ market is well managed; that it is hygienic; and that it benefits our farmers.

But the implications are not good. The government risks undermining local government. Accepted, the Thimphu City Corporation may not have done a good enough job managing the farmers’ market. But that is precisely why they need to be supported. And their capacity strengthened. Instead, the government has decided that the city corporation is unable to manage the farmers’ market.

If local governments fall short, we must support them. We must build their capacities so that they can discharge their duties properly. The most damaging thing we can do is to take away their responsibilities. That amounts to centralization. And that, regardless of intentions, is not good for local governments. And what’s not good for local governments, is not good for our democracy.

Good local government

local leaders

local leaders

Yesterday, I was in Haa. I’d gone there to observe part of the Dzongkhag Yargay Tshogdu that was in session since the 19th of May. And to receive instructions from the members of local government’s highest body in my dzongkhag.

During the past year, there’s been a lot of talk about local governments, especially about their capabilities. My position has been very consistent: that local governments, in all 20 dzongkhags, are competent, and that they are more than able to discharge their duties as enshrined in our constitution.

Yesterday, I saw that I was right. I saw that the DYT session I attended, though only briefly, was managed very well. Discussions on every issue were vibrant. And, even on difficult matters, the level and quality of debate was of a high standard. Much higher, I’m afraid, than that of the National Assembly.

So I will continue to insist for devolution and decentralization of resources and authority to local governments. Our sacred constitution demands nothing less.

Meeting gups

Many of our readers expressed concerns about the opposition being left out of the 5th annual meeting of the Dzongkhag Tshogdu and Gewog Tshogde Chairpersons that ended today. Some were obviously outraged. And a few suggested that the opposition organize a separate meeting with the gups.

I appreciate your concerns. And your advice. Thank you.

We’ve decided that organizing a separate meeting with the gups would not be proper. It would send the wrong message: that the annual meetings are organized only for the government. In fact, gups are apolitical. And they are important. So all relevant agencies should have access to them during the one time they congregate together. And I’m not just talking about access for the opposition party. I’m sure the National Council would find it useful. And NGOs. And the private sector, among others.

Organizing a separate meeting is also not possible. I’m already in my village, Dorikha in Haa! I arrived half an hour ago.

So, because I couldn’t meet them in Thimphu, the idea is to travel to the dzongkhags to meet them there. And I’ll telephone those who I can’t meet in person.

I view this as a good opportunity to interact with local governments at an even more personal level.

Remote schooling

The National Assembly, our nation’s highest legislative body, spent a good 30 minutes yesterday talking about a school in Gasa.

The issue was tabled by the Honourable MP from Gasa, Dasho Damcho Dorji, the other opposition member, on behalf of the people of Gasa. The people want the government to reverse its decision to downgrade Gasa LSS to a primary school. The people argue that if their school is downgraded, fewer of their children will be willing to continue their studies, after completing Class VI, in the boarding school in distant, wetter and hotter Jeyshong.

Lyonpo Thakur Singh, our education minister, claimed that he had consulted the dzongkhag authorities. That’s the problem. He should have consulted the people, not bureaucrats. Civil servants report to, and are accountable to, the government, and, some times, will not represent the best interests of the people.

If Lyonpo Thakur had consulted the local government instead, he would have understood their difficulties and seen their aspirations. And a decision, regardless of what the decision, could have been made jointly.

And the local government would not have raised the issue about Gasa PS in the National Assembly. And its honorable members would not have spent 30 minutes, one-sixth of the total time, talking about a remote school in Gasa.

Decentralize. Please. And strengthen local governments.

(Gasa primary school was upgraded to a junior high school durnig the Eighth Plan. See Kuensel article)