NC expresses support, concerns for block grant to LG
The members of the National Council (NC) expressed their support for the block grant to the Local Government (LG), but some members are concerned on staffing and quality of budget management at the gewog level.
The Members of Parliament (MP) attributed weak leadership, absence of information and transparency on rules and procedures, and poor or lack of robust accountability mechanism in place, as significant factors in increasing corruption in the country.
That was what the members enquired the government that the block grant needed to be more explicit on how it would be utilized, in the ongoing session of the Parliament after the introduction of the 12th FYP by finance minister Namgay Tshering on 9 January.
The capital grants allocation to the LGs in the 12th FYP has increased by 100 percent to Nu 50 billion from Nu 25 billion in the 11th FYP. The funds would be disbursed as block grant to meet the increasing demand of the public services from the LG.
While the LG is allocated with 50 percent of the capital budget for the first time, the top recommendation of the NC’s representatives was for the government to develop and manage a budget rules and regulations of the solid grant distribution.
Trongsa MP Tashi Samdrup recommended that accountability mechanism in place including human resource, rules and procedures to utilize a successful budget is important. “The Dzongkhag may have capacity to administer and execute the grant,” he submitted adding the initiative for human resources need at the gewogs to administer and monitor development activities.
The LG is the nearest and closest to the people in furthering the process of decentralization but presents corruption risks.
According to Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) report, Paro MP Ugyen Tshering submitted that the local government is most vulnerable to corruption because of the lack of human resource capacities. “The LG continues to be most corrupt agency in the country,” he submitted adding it would still continue to be most corrupt agency if human resource is not addressed.
Likewise, Haa MP Ugyen Namgay also recommended that accountability and integrity must be put at the heart of LG systems to reduce the risks of corruption. “Despite having no accountant and engineer at the gewog level, some gewogs even do not have the gewog administrator,” He submitted. “It’s important for the government to ensure efficient human resources management with qualifications and experiences.”
Responding to the council’s representatives, finance minister informed the House that the government would develop financial rules and regulations, and implementation guidelines. “The Gross National Happiness Commission Secretariat has regulations on planning consultation,” he submitted. “We will prepare for the budget allocation and resources planning including human resource development.”
According to the finance minster, the block grant would not be implemented in the current fiscal year but it would commence from the next fiscal year 2019-2020. “We will develop the capacity of LG leaders and ensure there are no malpractices in block grant,” he submitted.
Meanwhile, the members also submitted that the gewog works are executed by dzongkhag engineer and one accountant taking care of two gewogs, while some gewogs do not have Gewog Administrative Officer, resulting in difficulty with switching to the development activities and hinder the progress.
With the impressive development activities at the grassroots level, Gasa MP Dorji Khandu recommended the government to recruit an accountant and one engineer to each gewog. Additionally, he submitted it would also help to address raising unemployment issues in the country.
Citing an example of Laya and Lunana Gewog in Gasa, he submitted that officially, the places are 18 days’ walk to Lunana from Laya and come back. “After walking several days, the employees will have limited working days at the gewog but would cover huge travel expenses,” he submitted.
To deploy an accountant and one engineer in all the gewog, finance minister refuted that it is not applicable. “Many of the gewogs are located close to each other and one accountant for two gewog is enough,” he submitted. “We need to manage the resources effectively and efficiently where it is required and minimize in the needless areas.”
However, the finance minister Namgay Tshering informed the House that the government would look into the solutions of recruiting an accountant and one engineer base on needs at the local level.
The Constitution gives local leaders significant powers to implement plans for socio-economic development. On top of that, mandated to undertake decentralization policy, Gewog Administrations, formulate five-year development plans, run their own budget, and raise labour for public projects.
In this regard, finance minister informed that the increase in capital grant is aimed at strengthening the LG. “We will not be able to strengthen the capacity of the gewog level if we further delay to decentralize,” he submitted, “We need to decentralize including financial management to bring development in the local areas.”
Further, he also reported that a total grant of Nu 25 billion disbursed in the 11th FYP was being fully utilized for the new projects and received an additional budget of Nu 5.5 billion. “By looking at their progress, the government is confident that our local leaders are potential in managing financial for development activities,” he submitted.
LG is mandated to construction and maintenance of the farm roads, irrigation channels, agriculture and livestock, access to health and education, water and hygiene and household income among others.
The ACC report reveals that the LGs are more vulnerable to corruption because it is at the local level where citizens and public sector interact most regularly and directly. When corruption occurs locally, the impact on citizens’ lives can be the most damaging, with the poorest being hit the hardest.
Even though corruption affects everyone, and the constitution of Kingdom of Bhutan mandates every person shall have the duty to uphold justice and to act against corruption not many seem to carry out this duty, this is according to the report.
Finance Minister Namgey Tshering: “We will not be able to strengthen the capacity of the gewog level if we further delay to decentralize.”