Less than month after receiving Dhar and Kabney from His Majesty The King in the symbolically significant Simtokha Dzong and a few weeks after taking the oath of office, the Dangchu Gup, Sonam Dorji in Wangduephodrang Dzongkhag put up his resignation on 14th November 2016 which was accepted by the Dzongkhag Tshogdu Chairman the next day.
Both the early resignation of the Gup and its casual manner has opened a potential Pandora’s box for the Department of Local Government under the Home Ministry and also local governance in general.
It has been learnt that the Gup had already applied for further studies to Australia and the Gup election win was just ‘second option’ in case he did not get his further studies in Australia.
On the legal end it was found that the Local Government Act has no provisions to deal with such a case or prevent such a casual resignation. This will now leave the road open for all 205 Gups to vacate office at any given moment for no reason at all.
The Home Minister Lyonpo Dawa Gyaltshen said, “This is a very discouraging act as the people really trusted the Gup and elected him and moreover His Majesty personally conferred Dhar and Kabney to the newly elected Gups.”
The Home Minister said that apart from bye-election costs and inconveniences it is expected to significantly impact the development of the Gewog.
The Finance Minister Lyonpo Namgay Dorji said, “This resignation will have an impact on the developmental activities of the Gewog because this is the peak year of the five year plan when implementation is in full swing. It is also the peak year of the annual financial year of the Gewog.”
The Finance minister said that it was very unfortunate and he hoped that the younger generation does not follow this example.
The Director General of the Department of Local Government Lungten Dorji said that the Department would be discussing the matter with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).
He said there would be a need to look into the provisions of the Local Government Act as well as this case could lead to many such future cases in the future.
Though some Gups in the past have been forced to vacate their office mid way either due to court judgments or grave illness this is the first case where a Gup has resigned even before taking over his office.
The DG said that both he and the Wangdue Dzongda were not in office when the resignation happened and even then, he as the head of the DLG was not even consulted on the matter.
The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Chogyal Dago Rigdzin said that the ECB after receiving a notice from the DLG would start the process for conducting a bye election in the Gewog.
The CEC said, “This early resignation is a violation of the promises made to the people to serve them for five years based on some personal convenience. This is also after His Majesty has offered Dhar and he has taken the oath of office to serve.”
This bye election which cost under Nu 1 million will also mean more expenses for the ECB.
The early resignation by Sonam Dorji is in the context of the special emphasis and faith put His Majesty in Local Government.
On 13th October 2016 His Majesty personally granted Dhar and Kabney to Gups to highlight the important role of the locally elected leaders in strengthening democracy and furthering development at the grassroots level.
The ceremony had been held at the Simtokha Dzong, which is significant and sacred as the first Dzong built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel.
His Majesty specifically mentioned the 3,391 individuals who stood for the elections, and commended them for their dedication and commitment in stepping forward to serve the Tsa Wa Sum.
His Majesty had said the Gups have been entrusted to work towards enhancing the security and sovereignty of the country; promoting peace, harmony, and unity amongst the people; and upholding the traditions and cultural heritage.
His Majesty had said that the Gups must set good examples, and ensure that their personal conduct and professional achievements are worthy of emulation for posterity.
His Majesty had said the Dhar for the Gups is granted from the Golden Throne in recognition of the immense importance attached to local governments. His Majesty said that there is every likelihood to wrongly perceive local governments as the lowest level of government when in reality; it is the most important level of government– nearest and closest to our people.
Given the wrong precedence this case could set for other and future Gups, its impact on governance and the discovery that there are no legal provisions to deal with such a case, the Home Ministry will be reviewing the resignation section of the Local Government Act.