Bhutan’s positive developments within 10 years of democracy

The ‘National Human Development Report (NHDR): Ten Years of Democracy in Bhutan’ report launched by Prime Minister (Dr.) Lotay Tshering and UNDP Administrator and the UN Under-Secretary-General Achim Steiner on 12 March in Thimphu says that Bhutan’s growing democracy has helped advance development, with an independent judiciary, a vigorous parliamentary structure, an accountable and transparent government, and an emerging civil society.

The report looks at the first decade of democracy in Bhutan, and its impact on national governance and it also looks at the resonance between GNH and the SDGs as broad visions for human progress.

A Perspective Survey on a Decade of Parliamentary Democracy 2018 revealed that, despite a period of adjustment, Bhutanese today are happy with the state of their democracy and perceive that they are engaged more than before in national decision-making.

“More than 80 percent said they enjoyed the right to express their views, and more than 75 percent said they are able to exercise their fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution”, states the report.

It says the trend of health, education, infrastructure and other core development indicators from the advent of democracy until today clearly indicates that democratically elected governments have made significant efforts to enhance human development.

The report says, “Bhutan’s Human Development Index value for 2017 was 0.612, having seen an over 20 percent rise since 2005.

The country has almost eliminated extreme poverty and is about to reach the target of extreme poverty under the Sustainable Development Goals”.

A substantial 36 percent of respondents to the survey conducted for the report perceived that democracy so far has not been able to reduce the gap between rich and poor.

The NHDR says “As the head of state, His Majesty The King has advised the executive branch of Government not to give in to the temptation of shortsighted planning based on the electoral term of five years.

There is a continued need for a long-term national vision and planning. This report recommends that Bhutan’s Vision 2020 should be updated.”

The report states that with nearly all constituencies in eastern Bhutan supporting the DPT party in 2018, there was a hint of regionalism and so political parties should continue attempts to balance regional representation in the Cabinet as an effective strategy to support national harmony.

Remaining apolitical is another challenge stated in the report. The requirement for bureaucrats, public servants, and CSOs to be apolitical has created hesitation and tensions.

“Developing a clearer definition of what it means to be “apolitical” is necessary to avoid discouraging open discourse,” the report recommended.

The report recommended the use of special measures such as quotas to increase the share of women in Parliament.

The report recommends waiving off the need to be a graduate to be an MP.

The report also states that for urban communities, a voter must have a gung which disqualifies most urban residents because they do not own land.

As part of decentralization, some major responsibilities and functions, have been shifted to local governments but a major concern is that local governments do not yet have adequate professional capacity to plan and implement activities at the local level.

It says the most serious risk could stem from implementing fiscal decentralization before local governments have the capacity and so training must be provided. Revenue mobilization at the local level is another challenge.Yet, it says, rural taxes have not been revised for 24 years.

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