Are block grants used sensibly?

The question about whether the block grants allotted to Local Governments (LGs) are used judiciously has emerged with a few gewogs having built huge buildings and structures with these funds.

And in few other gewogs, huge portions of the grant are spent in the construction and renovation of lhakhangs and temples.

In Drakteng gewog in Trongsa, it was reported that a huge building has been built as its gewog office.

While it has been reasoned that the three-storied building will be used for one-stop service delivery for the public, the question is whether such a huge building for a gewog office is even necessary. Why not use these funds to address other pressing issues in the gewog first?

The block grants, it has been reported, are prioritized based on the needs of the people in a gewog. However, it is important to know how these needs of the people are assessed and classified.

The LGs today have been given flexibility in the planning, budgeting, and the release of budgets in the 12th Five Year Plan and 50% of the national budget is provided to LGs as block grants. The finance ministry allocates budget to LGs based on the resource allocation formula set by the GNH Commission and the total budget is allocated based on the priorities of the 12th FYP.

Though there is a guideline on block grants, there are also those who feel that importance has not been given to address the pressing issues in the gewog such as maintenance of farm roads, access to health and education facilities, and other agricultural and economic activities.  

What is the use to the people in a gewog of a grandeur temple or an office when they still confront the same old problems of poor farm road, no access to safe drinking water, and the lack of water for irrigation facilities?

The thing is a grandeur temple or an office in a gewog can wait. Farm road connectivity, access to safe drinking water, access to medical facilities and other most important areas that uplift and improve the lives and livelihood of the people in a gewog must be prioritized. Let us address these basic problems first before spending huge money elsewhere.

It is heartening that the detailed assessment of the impact of block grant utilizations are currently being carried out by the finance ministry and the GNH Commission jointly, and it will be completed by December.

However, while not just looking or monitoring whether the funds allocated to a gewog were fully used, we must also see the areas where the grants were utilized and also ensure that they were utilized for the most important issues in a gewog.