Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Bhutan : The ongoing GAO versus gup wrangle

19 August, 2008 - Long after the government appointed college graduates as gewog administrative officers (GAO), Zhemgang’s gups and the graduates are caught up in a power tussle. Some have even stopped speaking with one other.

The bone of contention is the powers and responsibilities identified in the GNH Commission’s terms of reference (ToR) for the GAO.

While the GAO’s job is to plan, manage and monitor development programmes, GAOs claim that they are being reduced to mere clerks at the gup’s office.

“I’ve no work other than to draft office orders and prepare minutes,” said a Zhemgang GAO. The GNH Commission’s ToR identifies GAOs as the “Chief Executive Officers” at the gewog level, but confusion has risen as the gewog yargye tshogchung (GYT) chathrim, which empowers gups to have all the executive power in the gewog, still holds sway.

The rift between GAOs and gups cropped up when some GAOs sought to bring into effect the GNH Commission’s ToR and Local Governance Act without realising that changes have taken place only on paper, according to gups.

A gup, who requested anonymity, said that the GAO in his gewog demands power to execute all developmental works.

“He makes me feel as if I don’t exist in the office,” he said, adding that he had all rights in accordance with the GYT chathrim.

There are even cases where GAOs decide and implement activities without even consulting the gup.

“The gewog can’t afford to have such clashes at the beginning of the Tenth Plan,” said a gup. “We need cooperation.”

Another gup said that he tried to support and develop good relation with his GAO. “But he thinks I don’t know anything. I can’t help it if my GAO has such an attitude.”

On the other hand, GAOs said that the gups are unwilling to share information for fear of losing power. They said that they did not even have a proper office to sit in or a computer to work on.

“I was asked to bring my own chair by the gup,” a GAO in Sarpang dzongkhag told Kuensel.

The GNH Commission’s ToR guarantees administrative powers to the GAOs to implement all gewog tshogde (GT) decisions, authorise payments and supervise civil servants in the gewog, oversee affairs of the gewog and ensure that the GT and the gewog administration function smoothly as per regulations.

But dzongkhag officials said that, until the implementation of the Local Governance Act and finalisation of the GNH Commission’s ToR, the GAOs should follow the old terms where they are to provide administrative assistance to the gewog.

“For a while, GAOs should adjust in the existing working environments,” said Zhemgang dzongdag, Kunzang N Tshering.

The dzongdag said that it was mandatory to review the Local Governance Act and bring out clear-cut rules and regulations, roles and responsibilities and authority for all gewog officials.

A GNH Commission official said that the GAO was brought under GNH to optimise human resources. “GAOs were appointed to provide planning support to the gewogs.”

There are about 186 GAOs in the country today.

By Tashi Dema

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