Don’t begrudge the LG hike

Sections of the social media saw some civil servants and anonymous accounts questioning the local government pay hike and asking the same for civil servants.

The local government pay hike is applicable to only 1,499 members of whom the real issue seems to be with the 205 Gups. The pay commission’s report is also about bringing the local government within the government system of provident fund, increments, gratuity etc which they were not getting before.

Despite all the due and cry the total budgetary implication is only Nu 135 mn which can be easily financed from state revenue.

A pay hike for 30,000 influential civil servants, which in fact would be politically far more beneficial, would run into billions and, at the moment, would bankrupt the treasury. It is also a fact that civil servants have historically got regular and consistent hikes while the LG has been comparatively ignored.

However, the issue is not about the LG hike or its comparatively negligible financial implication, but about the place that the LG holds in Bhutan’s young democracy.

The LG is increasingly playing an important role in strengthening democratic participation at the grass roots level. Local democracy here is not just about national party politics but the ability of people to elect competent and deserving apolitical candidates at the LG level.

When one looks around in the immediate surrounding, especially in rural areas, a vast majority of services are provided by the LG from census to permits, to local projects and more. In fact the vast majority of Bhutan’s population, which live in the rural areas, spend much more time around Gewog offices than any other government institution. In many cases the Gewog office is the government for them.

So it holds true that the quality of lives of the vast majority of people in our country, who do not come on Facebook forums, are dictated in large part by the quality of the local government.

The recent LG elections show an increasing challenge to get good candidates or candidates at all for many LG posts, with even repeated elections still leading to empty posts and unrepresented people. The Gungtongs are happening not only in the villages but also for LG posts now.

Going by the fundamentals of Democratic evolution, the Constitution, LG Act, LG Entitlement laws and the principals of good governance the government has to increasingly decentralize its activities and services.

50 percent of the capital budget of the 12th plan and many local level decisions are being delegated to the LG. Now any government cannot just pass on big responsibilities, but it must ensure that there is adequate pay and facilities too.

The one thing it’s (America) very good on is local government.
Heather Brooke

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