One of the biggest criticisms against the previous DPT government was of not bringing in major changes to improve the governance system. Even though Bhutan had become a democracy, but in many ways, business continued on as usual or got worse.
Bureaucrats were as secretive and fearful of their ministers, red tape made doing businesses more difficult, corruption and nepotism grew and flourished, and economic problems went from bad to worse.
This was further compounded by a government that equated ministers to a demagogue status, and refused to listen to people or consult with them on many key issues.
This was, perhaps, one of the reasons why people were unimpressed with what the DPT touted as its list of mainly Public Works Development (PWD) achievements.
The PDP government, in its five years, must not only have a list of highways built and houses electrified, but more importantly, improve or even do away with several systems that do not serve the nation and its people well.
The 2013 mandate is not just a change in government, but it is a clear mandate asking for systemic and deep changes in governance.
Starting from the top, PDP’s leadership must do away with the top down chain of command and semi-feudal mindset of governance where ministers can do no wrong and their words are the real law.
Ministers must strive to be transparent, humble, democratic, and open to criticism and new ideas. The excessive protocol, pomp, and ceremony that the previous government insisted on, are not in keeping with democratic values and at times is also a drain on the Exchequer.
In his past capacity as the Opposition Leader, Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay gave up his Orange Kabney, Patang and Prado and that went down very well with the people, and helped play an important part during the elections.
The PDP President, during his campaign, had stressed on the grave nature of the economic challenges facing the nation, to be careful in expenditure, and to adopt austerity measures.
The Prime Minister has, so far, walked the campaign talk by sending back the duty Land Cruiser and duty Crown luxury vehicles assigned to him. Instead, the Prime Minister is reusing his old surrendered Prado as a duty vehicle. He will be staying in his relatively simple house in Taba, instead of the Raven House in the Ministerial Enclave. He has also done away with the extra security, pilot vehicles and several other protocols assigned to the Prime Minister. Such expenses would not only cost the State Exchequer, but create pomp and protocol around him that will distance him from the people.
The Head of the Government and the Cabinet, by such moves, has set a very clear and no- nonsense example for the other ministers and also for civil servants to follow.
Such austerity measure, in times of an economic crisis, sets a good example for all to follow. It also heralds in the positive signs by the people’s representatives in serving the needs of the people and nation above personal gains.
Change at the higher level is vital as it will set an example to the entire hierarchy down to civil servants and to the grass roots level. The new Prime Minister must maintain this momentum and ensure such a change is not restricted to him or his colleagues alone, but is all pervasive in the system from the Secretaries to the drivers in the government, where service to the public and nation comes first above all else.
An important systemic change that must be introduced is transparency and accountability towards the citizens. Sunlight is often the best disinfectant and transparency will only prevent the government from making bigger mistakes. The government must also be accountable to the citizens, not only once every five years, but everyday of its existence for a real democratic governance. Transparency and accountability will also help empower the citizens. This can, in part, be helped by passing a quality and sound Right to Information Act.
As expressed through the noble vision of His Majesty the King, corruption must be tackled from the very start. The DPT government had made a mockery of its own slogan ‘Zero Tolerance to Corruption.’ The PDP government should do everything possible to curb all types of corruption ranging from nepotism, abuse of power, policy corruption, and also the everyday corruption. Corruption must be tackled, not for the sake of it, but because it stands in the way of socio-economic development and if left unchecked, it can cause political instability in the long run.
The bulk of the 11th Five Year Plan is expected to be spent on construction activities. Therefore, it will be important for the new government, in consultation with stakeholders, to review the entire procurement and monitoring systems. Badly built roads and infrastructure would have lost DPT more votes than any amount of critical campaigning by PDP Tshogpas.
The current problem is that the existing procurement laws are either not followed uniformly or there is a nexus between procurement staff and businesses in many ministries. In many cases, poor monitoring by engineers, who at times are bribed by contractors, lead
to poor quality infrastructure works. The refusal of the head of the ministry, which is the minister, to correct these flaws and set tough examples, only exacerbates and weakens the system.
Bhutan ranks on the list of the world’s worst business friendly places, which would help explain why we are not able to get enough investments to stimulate the economy. Given that the economy is of prime concern for the entire government machinery, it should be geared to making Bhutan into a business hub, and an exporting nation instead of an importing one.
This will not only lead a change in the bureaucratic mindset, but also changes in several restrictive rules and red tapes. The DPT’s greatest flaw came from ignoring the needs of the economy. The habit of treating the private sector like second class citizens will only lead to problems like the Rupee and credit crunch.
Bhutan’s biggest assets and also its biggest potential drawback is the youth, who have been largely ignored and left to their own devices, so far. The youth do not need more lessons on GNH, but we should invest in systemic changes in our education system, training institutions, private sector, governance and economy so that they are well skilled and equipped to shoulder the responsibility of nation building.
These are just a few examples where systemic changes, starting from a change in the mindset, are required. These changes are not only important for the people and the nation, but also for the PDP government if they want to have a long-term future in Bhutanese politics and governance.
Bhutan, under the PDP government, cannot continue with the business as usual mode, but needs to step it up, for the sake our own socio-economic and political stability and progress.
“A good system shortens the road to the goal.”
Orison Swett Marden