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.
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.
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.
A Gup in Paro, on the purpose of local government
A woman during a focal group discussion in Bumthang, on the need for citizen engagement
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: