The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pressure on to perform well

Phuntsho Choden

LG Elections: Literacy & Skills Test27 August, 2009 - Nganglam gup, Tenzin, is under a lot of pressure these days. The 46-year-old says that voters in his village in Pemagatshel expect him to re-contest in the local government (LG) elections this year. This came after election commission officials said that candidates have to sit through various literacy and skills tests to be eligible to contest. He is a trained legal counsel and, according to voters there, he will qualify with ease.

Dorokha gup Chandra Prasad, on the other hand, has decided to contest in the LG elections. But the 30-year-old gup is anxious whether he will be able to qualify the tests or not, especially the written test in Dzongkha.
The election commission of Bhutan’s (ECB) announcement to conduct various skills tests for LG candidates before elections has garnered a lot of attention among voters, both in rural and urban areas, and those wanting to contest the elections. With LG elections supposedly nearing, some have welcomed the criteria, while others are apprehensive.

A guideline, specifying the details of the tests, was released on August 25, stating that ECB will develop a set of standard question papers, format for oral test and a scoring system for the literacy and skills tests. ECB will give the certificate to those LG candidates, who score above 50 percent overall in all tests.

“We’ll be appointing a committee of experts for individual assessment of candidates through these well structured tests,” said chief election commissioner, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi. “Gups, mangmis and tshogpas have important decision making responsibilities at the local level and people should have the choice to elect someone, who is educated and capable.”

A ‘functional literacy test’ will include a written and verbal test in Dzongkha to assess the candidate’s ability to write, read and comprehend official papers on the subject of local governance.

A ‘possession of skills test’ would consist of computational skills, where the candidate will be asked to add, subtract, multiply and divide. The candidate will also be assessed for analytical and managerial skills.

“It shows that election of local government leaders is being given a lot of importance. They want people, who can write, comprehend, speak well, have leadership traits and are able to assist the gewog administrative officers,” said Toewong gup in Punakha, Touchu.

However, the literacy and skills test for LG elections will not be a cakewalk for aspiring candidates, as well as for the ECB officials.

With elections in 205 gewogs, ECB officials said that it is going to be a “lot of work,” recording the oral exams and compiling answer sheets of more than 500 candidates from test centres in every dzongkhag. “We haven’t yet worked out the details of how we’re going to arrange the tests and how many people we might have to recruit to conduct or assess the skills,” said an official.

Asked why such tests are to be conducted only for local elections and not for parliamentary or thromde elections, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi said that there was an assessment system in place, when candidates had to produce their certificate of a formal university degree. “Local leaders have a very important role to play and they’ll be the foundation of good governance.”

Recently, a 41-year-old former civil servant had gone to visit his family in a village in Mongar and was approached by many people to stand for the gup elections. “The general public is aware that they need more qualified candidates,” he said. “I’ve told them that I had other plans. But I’ve seen them ask a lot of other people, who are at least high school graduates, to contest.”

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