Government and governance in the post 2013 era

Steer into any major conversation these days-and the topic will inevitably gear around to the how the new government is doing. There are those who feel that the government, like its predecessor, should be given time to settle while there are also those who feel differently, and are starting to complain.

If anyone takes only an immediate view of one’s surroundings and makes an assessment- then more often than not, that assessment will be incomplete or lack a proper perspective. It is important to take in the bigger picture and wider historical and other perspectives to gain a more holistic understanding of what is happening in Bhutan today.

Be it in democracies or dictatorships- it is an international phenomena that whenever a government or leader that has been in power for a long time falls -there is almost always a period of brief instability of varying intensities depending on each country’s situation.

The 2013 election results was not only significant in the context of one political party giving way to another, but it also assumes deeper significance as the five senior DPT ministers including the former Prime Minister had been in power before 2008- going back all the way to 1998 when the first Council of Ministers was formed after the Fourth King passed on executive powers to the Cabinet.

Many would argue that the style and even to some degree-the content of governance from 2008-2013 was a continuation from the earlier Council of Minister years. Even then, the 2008 elections was a period of great change and though the Cabinet had mainly experienced heads- there was some initial confusion, especially with the senior bureaucracy.

In that sense, the 2013 election results led to a great change as it was a complete break from the 1998 era with a new set of mainly younger leaders assuming office.

Therefore, given such a degree of change- it is only understandable and even natural that there will be some confusion as the new government will take some time to settle down. A few former seasoned bureaucrats feel that the new government will need around six months to get a grip on major issues and a full year- by which time it can truly settle down and get cracking.

This would also follow the previous government’s track record when government activity like decisions and spending was at its peak in the second, third, and fourth year.

There are also those who say the new government is not doing as much as it should do. However, in terms of activity- the reality is that the government, ever since it came into the office, has been working in a ‘hyper fast mode’ due to its 100-day promises.

It is aiming to fulfill or initiate in 100 days- what should normally take a few years. Add to these are programs like, austerity measures, a Parliament session, Meet the People and the relatively open access granted to the ministers offices, and one will get a picture of a very busy and hectic government. On a lighter note- there are already some complaints from the spouses of some ministers who come back late from their offices.

The 100-day promises has consumed the maximum time and effort of the government so far -pushed on even more by a strong Opposition party and its various supporters.

Though speed and activity is always welcome in a new government, the downside is that the new government has not gotten enough time to take stock and ‘get to know’ the system and its implementers. There is also a danger that it will not have enough energy or time left for the overall and more important major issues.

For example, the former government in its election manifesto claimed to fulfill nearly all its 2008 promises. By logic- this should have got them re-elected with a thumping majority as many ‘political pundits’ predicted. But the reality was that the former government-fixated on its campaign promises- failed to get the engine started, or in other words failed to fix the big issues like economy, governance content and style, transparency, etc. The new government- in that sense needs to be careful to avoid the mistakes of the old government.

In fact, no political party in the world fulfills all its promises- as the election manifesto strategy is to always aim for the sky and then land on the tree at least. This is also a fact that voters are well aware of and will understand, and instead will vote on larger issues like economic development and well-being.

The new government at the moment is attempting to do the near impossible in fulfilling all its pledges, and if it is not careful or more pragmatic then it can consume the bulk of the attention, energy and resources of the government for a long time. Attention and energy that can be applied in more productive areas.

On the 100-day pledges-there are some that the government should either completely drop or modify, especially those whose fulfillment would do more harm than good to the Exchequer. There are also those that can be delayed until when the economy recovers. Key and essential ones like RTI should, of course, be introduced as there is no drain on the economy as such.

What is more, the need of the hour is bold, decisive and strong decisions from the government on economic issues, governance, and others. The government should not hesitate to take strong steps that may not go down well with some, but is good for the country. Attempting to please everyone will be the wrong way to go as it will lead to a stalemate and end up pleasing no one in the end.

The government should take a short time out and refocus on the bigger issues, and make the big and even painful decisions in the longer national interest of the nation.

“No one should have the right to ask you to keep promises especially if they don’t consider all the facts.”
Bree Despain

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