© HelvetasBhutan

Bringing Decision-Making to Local Communities

© HelvetasBhutan

Helvetas supports the government of Bhutan in developing a national decentralization policy. It will empower the citizens to meaningfully engage in local governance and improve their social, economic and environmental well-being.

  • Project Name
    Decentralization and Local Governance
  • Project Phase
    2018 to 2022
  • Funding
    This project is funded by donations.
  • Thematic focus
    Voice, Inclusion & Cohesion

Vision of decentralized governance

The 2008 Constitution of Bhutan transitioned the Kingdom into a Democratic Constitutional Monarchy. Article 22 of the Constitution states that „Power and authority shall be decentralized and devolved to elected local governments to facilitate the direct participation of the people in the development and management of their own social, economic and environmental well-being”. So, the vision of a decentralized system of governance in Bhutan is to bring decision-making over sustainable, just and harmonious socio-economic development closer to local communities.

For decentralization to succeed it is important to empower citizens to meaningfully engage in participatory local governance. The project strives to include the voices of women, youth and other disadvantaged groups. The participatory planning and social accountability enhance the access to and quality of public services like education, water and health. Improved frame conditions allow local governments to effectively fulfill their functions and to enable civil servants and elected representatives to respond to the needs of the citizens and manage resources efficiently.

© Helvetas Bhutan
© Helvetas Bhutan

An important milestone in Bhutan’s decentralization journey took place when local government bodies were established in districts in 1981 and in counties in 1991. The purpose was to promote people's active participation in expressing their priorities and developing local plans based on these priorities. Today, the local government bodies have become the highest decision-making authority in the 20 districts and 205 counties. They have been given increasingly greater authority and responsibilities. They have leaders elected based on their ability to understand, listen, and articulate (goshey, nyenshey, labshey) the priorities of people and bring about development.

«If you shout at the blue sky, no one might hear you.»

A Gup in Paro, on the purpose of local government

What may have prompted decentralization in Bhutan? One, it is part of the country’s democratic reforms. Since Bhutan became a democracy in 2008, HELVETAS partners with local institutions to promote citizen engagement in local decision-making including women’s participation, and accountability to citizens. Second, decentralization helps to make public service delivery efficient. The government is making significant steps in this. HELVETAS has been supporting through capacity development and fostering collaboration between different actors. Thirdly, it is about empowerment of local government institutions as they are the government closest to the people. In this, HELVETAS helped to draft a decentralization policy and offers various trainings and awareness programs. So far, over 2000 men and women from local government institutions and administration were reached through leadership programs, decentralization and citizens engagement awareness programs.
The processes above have challenges. Local governments need support to take on their additional decentralized responsibilities, and to become real actors in a democracy. The understanding and pace of decentralization is different between central agencies, leading to confusions at local levels. Among citizens, a democratic culture has not yet found firm roots although there are now clear signs of people becoming more vocal about their expectations, and more questioning when these expectations are not met. Special mention must be made of the low participation of women in local government with 1% women in the position of elected heads of counties and 12% deputy elected heads.
© @Helvetas
«We understand best where the ache is.»

A woman during a focal group discussion in Bumthang, on the need for citizen engagement

Empowering citizens and officials

The Bhutanese Department of Local Governance through its project partnership with Helvetas Bhutan seeks to strengthen the decentralization process in Bhutan. Helvetas supports the former through a series of defined actions such as:

  • Local Government Assessment Study
  • Articulation of Decentralization Policy for Bhutan
  • Implementation of the Decentralization Policy
  • Strengthening citizens engagement with local governments, specifically women and youth
  • Developing capacities of local government officials

Our quarterly newsletter “Highlights"

For development practitioners and anyone interested in our projects and approaches.

How Helvetas Supports People in Bhutan

Helvetas promotes vocational training in Bhutan to make up the shortage of skilled workers. We also shore up civil society in its new role.

Voice, Inclusion & Cohesion

In many countries where we work, men and women are unable to claim their rights and participate actively in decision-making processes.