More local government

Wanted: power and authority

The elections for local government are over. So soon, and for the first time, we will have local governments – thromde tshogdes, gewog tshogdes and dzongkhag tshogdus – elected and empowered by the Constitution according to which:

Power and authority shall be decentralized and devolved to elected Local Governments to facilitate the direct participation of the people in the development and management of their own social, economic and environmental well-being.

The local governments that were recently elected will serve for five years. But the first elected parliament and the current government have less than two years left in office. So it’s important that the government, parliament and local governments work together, as soon as possible, to reach a common understanding of the Constitutional requirement that “Power and authority shall be decentralized and devolved to elected Local Governments…”

That’s why, yesterday, the opposition party proposed that financial authority should be decentralized to local governments. That is, they should be provided annual block grants which they themselves would decide how and for what to use. Obviously, rules would first need to be framed defining limits, outlining procedures, and fixing accountability.

The current practice of approving annual budgets submitted by the dzongkhags is cumbersome. And it is restrictive. That’s part of the reason why local governments have not been able to make full use of their capital budgets.

Instead, give them annual grants. To begin with, the grants could be more or less equal to the budgets they currently receive. And what they receive is a pittance. So the government should be more than ready to give local government’s that much financial autonomy.

But the government is not ready. They argued that annual grants and annual budgets mean the same thing. They argued that decentralization and devolution of power and authority must take place incrementally. And they argued that the Local Government Act requires gewogs and dzongkhags to submit budget proposals for the government’s approval.

The government should reconsider. They should refer to Article 22 Section 18(c) of the Constitution which states that:

Local Government’s shall be entitled to adequate financial resources for the Government in the form of annual grants

And to Article 22 Section 18(d) according to which:

Local Government’s shall be allocated a proportion of national revenue to ensure self-reliant and self-sustaining units of local self-government