The government must do better

The pay hike controversy centering on the large hike for ministers and entitlements for MPs is only the latest in a series of avoidable issues and headaches dogging the new government.

There have been others, like the legality of BOIC, unsatisfactory communication on Education City, rejection of RTI by the NC, parallel government of senior bureaucracy, etc.

There are some common threads or features running through many of these eminently avoidable controversies. These include non-preparation or homework not being done, inadequate consultation, poor coordination, no strong or definitive collective leadership and poor communication.

Some would point out that this is a new government, in every sense, from all first-time ministers to many first-time parliamentarians and time would be required for them to get a more firm grip on governance and various issues.

However, in governance – time is of a very limited commodity and politicians are expected to hit the ground running once in power as they will be held accountable for any failure of the system. The only little time they are given is a six-month or one-year honeymoon period, which in the case of this government has nearly run out.

To be fair, unlike the previous government, many of these issues have nothing to do with corruption or abuse of power so far, but on the other hand, it is starting to point to incompetence and confusion in the government.

The previous government can be accused of many things but its approach to the civil servants’ pay hike was spot on. What helped was that a very vibrant media at the time could access some information to give some scoops on the hike before it was finalized. The public was outraged at the then Pay Commission’s top down hike where huge hikes were proposed for ministers and senior bureaucrats. Turning the situation to its advantage, the former government posted its draft pay hike reports on the finance website for feedback, and took a final decision that everybody could live with.

The current government, on the contrary, took a top secret approach till it was too late and only to suffer an unprecedented backlash and genuine public anger for a relatively new government. What was to be the new government’s biggest electoral goody has just turned into its biggest headache. It is still not too late to undo the damage by respecting the popular sentiments of the people.

On BOIC though, both sides have their arguments on its legality – the first duty of the committee set up by the government to study the ESP and BOIC would have been to make sure there would be no questions over the legal status of BOIC. This is a clear case of the government or its functionaries in the committee not doing adequate homework to avoid any future controversy.

One of the first biggest decisions taken by the government was terminating the Education City project on the basis of the Land Commission’s refusal to given land.

The project conceived during DPT’s tenure was full of conflict of interests, nepotism and in-transparency to the extent that it became a major election issue. The stubborn refusal or inability of the new government to put forward these points allowed the DPT and its supporters in the media to have a field day. The government even failed to highlight the detailed project report of Education City that exposed the project as nothing more than a front for building 699 luxury villas for the rich. The sheer lack of communication and also absence of willingness to state the obvious has resulted in large sections believing that the government has taken a vindictive decision on a good project which is not the reality.

The NC’s resolution asking the NA to withdraw the RTI Bill became one more entirely avoidable controversy and also throws a spanner in one of the government’s main promises. According to the NC, the problem, in short, was caused by senior bureaucrats dictating their own terms to NC over the presentation of the bill and the inability of their political masters to step in between. This, along with other issues, points to another major failing of the government – which is its inability or unwillingness to rein in and control senior bureaucrats leading to growing apprehensions of a parallel government.

With the new government on the verge of completing one year soon including its honeymoon period, the senior leadership of PDP government, must take charge and rectify such failings.

There needs to be more homework done, stronger overall decisive and wise leadership, better consultation and coordination, decentralization, placing of roles and responsibilities, better follow-up and much better communication. Apart from putting its own house in order, the government should not feel shy or constrained to hire technical experts and other advisors if they feel they lack the adequate experience. Ultimately, the common aim is to take Bhutan to the next level of development and achievement.

While people cannot tolerate a dictatorial or intransparent government, there is also an equally little tolerance for a government that is seen as being incompetent. The time for course correction must start early on and not when it is too late for the government and the country.

What you do has far greater impact than what you say. —Stephen Covey

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