Need for better consultation

The Pedestrian day is the latest in a series of decisions by the government which has taken the Bhutanese public by surprise. The earlier ones would be the Tobacco Act, restricting rupee for vegetable imports, declaring Bhutan carbon neutral and etc.

The above cases demonstrate a need for policy makers in the government to consult the people more or set up a better mechanism to get public feedback.

The benefits will be obvious with the government not having to carry the risk of making decisions that will generate public backlash and also avoid unnecessary controversy. The people will benefit with decisions that they are aware about and also comfortable with.

While one of the positive aspects any government should aim for is the ability to make decisive decisions within a reasonable time frame, the other extreme is taking ad-hoc decisions.

Bhutan has been subject to some of these ad-hoc governance decisions that are causing some major problems for the populace.

To be fair the government in other instances has consulted and gone by popular public opinion on issues like civil service pay-hike, electricity tariff, junk food tax etc.

However, public consultation should also not be mistaken for lobbying. For example, the upward revision of the tourism tariff may have benefitted tour operators dealing in high end tourists but if McKinsey’s tariff liberalization plan was followed Bhutan would have higher numbers of tourists visiting us helping to address the rupee shortage too.

One aspect of some of the ad-hoc decisions like Pedestrian Day, Tobacco Act and declaring Bhutan carbon neutral is a thinly disguised need to please the international community.

The costs and implications of such big commitments, however, are at times not completely known by the decision makers.

Pedestrian Day for example is exactly just what the doctor ordered for many overweight people in Thimphu but it will lead to a dramatic decline in national productivity. The best example is the media industry. Since on Tuesday there is limited vehicle movement both collection of news and advertisement revenue suffers. The downward drop in productivity is around 20% since Tuesday is one of the five days of the week.

This would be replicated across various sectors of the economy with varying figures but the same result which is a productivity drop.

Declaring Bhutan as carbon neutral will also have considerable impact on the future of our industrial growth. One of the major reasons we have a rupee crisis is because we don’t manufacture enough neither for our own needs nor for export. Already tough environmental restrictions make it difficult for industries to come up.

Bhutan’s economic future cannot be given up in the applause of the UN General Assembly or be locked up as a meaningless award for good environmental behavior.

In numerous examples countries across the world that depend excessively on advice of foreign financial institutions, multilateral organizations, foreign governments etc. more often than not don’t do very well. By contrast South Korea in the 1950’s after the Korean War dumped advice from foreign multilateral financial institutions to ‘grow rice’ and instead went in for large scale industrialization turning a backward country into a tiger economy.

As a small country it can get very confusing for the leadership and policy makers especially with a flurry of information, success models and advice from international partners. However, it is also important for the leadership to take into account ground realities. Otherwise the result is already apparent in Bhutan with the failed NEP education system that was copied and pasted from a foreign country.

The Tobacco Control Act is also reminder of how things can go badly wrong when laws are clouded by ad-hoc law making, religious and emotional logic.

Another issue is also the much abused term of ‘stake holder consultation’ for laws, bills, projects etc. However, in many of these cases the feedback of stakeholders is barely visible in the final product with agencies doing what they want. This leads to bad laws and decisions which heads into the inevitable brick wall.

Therefore in the interest of having a healthy democracy and sound policies it will be important for the government to genuinely take in public feedback and also recognize local ground realities.

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7 comments

  1. Any unique and critical laws which affects public in general needs to be thoroughly investigated of its outcome….The only outcome of “tobacco ban” resulted in numerous citizen going behind the bar and very huge increase in price of tobacco products prevailing in black market…Before enforcing such laws they should have designed monitoring and control measures for the law.. And for the noble act which is gaining public protests is recently is the pedestrian day…Did the concerned authority even conducted any traffic study prior to enforcing of such laws…without conducting travel demand  studies of various  zones to be effected by law  and without conducting modal split studies, simply enforcing a law will cause chaos and significant loss in the economy of the country. If the above studies are done then the authorities can subsequently arrange alternatives ,at right place in right volume ,for the people to follow up their daily routine without any hindrances. Here i am not against the noble act intended by authorities but to make the noble act the better one..

  2. One of the weekend would have been true pedestrian day…n no taxis please…

  3. ‘stake holder consultation’…yes the most abused term to justify unilateral action. Basically government officials don’t understand what ‘stakeholder’ means and what ‘consultation’ means. They call you, sometimes under threat of penalty of some sort, and some junior officers give you a verbal instruction that is neither clear or comprehensive, and they definitely do not come to listen. Having completed their lecture, they check the box under “Public Consultation” and relax having ‘done’ their job. 

    They way they ‘call’ you is through BBS, as though it is a statutory requirement for all citizens of Bhutan to be glued to BBS just in case they have something to say. If you don’t have a habit of watching BBS, or if you don’t own a TV, or if you live in an area without electricity then I suppose the Gods have been unkind to you. 

    So thru BBS and their public lecture, the ‘stakeholders’ have been ‘consulted’. No more discussion. Does not matter how many online campaigns on facebook there might be against stupid legislation like against the Tobacco Bill. The ‘stakeholder consultation’ justifies it all!

  4. It is well intended but undemocratic. This is practically posible in bigger towns like Thimphu and Phuntsholing but meaningless in other townships.

  5. The focus should have been on improving public transport. With taxis moving around more than usual on pedestrian day total emissions will just about be the same. As usual poorly implemented with the seeds for its failure already sown. You don’t change people’s habits by forcing them to do things they don’t want to do voluntarily.

    • Good point. The ‘carbon footprint’ has simply been shifted from the private cars to taxis. Zero achievement and lots of punishment for those used to driving their own cars. I for one postpone all my regular chores for wednesday. So my CF is shifted from Tuesday to Wednesday. Again, zero achievement in savings.

  6. too many assumptions on intents about the genesis of the various initiatives. better research is needed rather than opinions

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