The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North

The Sorry Saga of Bhutan's North
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Thursday, October 29, 2009

NO to Constituency Development Fund:Bhutan election commission

Election Commission’s dissenting note

CEC writes to PM advising revocation of grant
Constituency Development Grant 29 October, 2009 - Even as National Assembly members prepare plans and projects for the controversial constituency development grant (CDG), the chief election commissioner has written to the prime minister asking the government to revoke CDG.

In the letter he sent earlier this month to Lyonchhoen Jigmi Y Thinley, the chief election commissioner, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi, said that the CDG will compromise the conduct of free and fair elections.

“We know the government is a responsible one and will consider our request,” said Dasho Kunzang Wangdi. He refused to elaborate on what course of action ECB would take if the government refused their request, but said that ECB is ‘keeping an optimistic view’ for now.

The chief election commissioner also raised the objection in a special presentation made during the international democracy conference in Paro recently. The letter was sent to the government just before his presentation to the conference.

“The total amount of Nu 2m per constituency per year is a substantial amount and would definitely influence the outcome of future elections,” he said. “This undermines the core intent of the Bhutanese democratic polity, which is to uphold a system that ensures free and fair elections and a level playing field.”

He said that spending Nu 2m per year by the sitting MP in his or her constituency can be construed as conducting an election campaign.

Election campaign under normal circumstances can take place only when the term of MPs or a political party is over.

The CEC also says that members of national assembly exercising total control over the approval process in the disbursement of state funds for special projects in their constituencies would constitute an office of profit in violation of laws. The ‘office of profit’ is a violation of the Election Act since MPs are not allowed to have an office of profit once they are elected.

“The election commission also has the greatest concern on CDG as it engages the lawmakers with the responsibility of directly managing state funds,” he said in his presentation. The CEC also said that the direct involvement of members of the National Assembly in local government activities is liable to render LG institutions insignificant and may slow down the process of institution building as envisaged in the constitution.

The opposition leader Tshering Tobgay, who also got a copy of the letter said, “The ECB in its letter has said that CDG would compromise their constitutional duty to conduct free and fair elections, that it is an office of profit, can be construed as campaigning, undermines local government and is an infringement on executive authority.”

Also, the National Council, in the last parliament session, had decided that the CDG was unconstitutional, failed in many countries, against the principle of free and fair elections, was vulnerable to mismanagement and by unanimous vote, sent the matter for further guidance to His Majesty the King.

However, the home minister Lyonpo Minjur Dorji defended the government’s decision to go ahead with CDG. He said, “In CDG, the money goes to the dzongkhags and has to be spent, based on what the local government wants and, in my case, the three gewogs, I represent have already divided the Nu 2 million per year among themselves with plans,” he said,

“In a democracy, the elected government must at least have a few rights like CDG as in other democratic countries, otherwise if it is too rigid then democracy itself is at stake,” he added.

CDG is a Nu 2m per year allocated to every national assembly member that was approved by the cabinet in April 2009 as part of the budget.

The funds can only be spent once the intended program has the approval of the gewog tshogde (GT) and the national assembly member concerned.

The works are to be implemented directly by the GT, NGO or a community, with the gup submitting a periodic progress report to the dzongdag, with a copy to the concerned national assembly member. The project will have to benefit a minimum of ten households, fund at least ten activities over a period of five years and be used by activities, not covered by normal budgets.

By Tenzing Lamsang, Kuensel

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