Last week, Business Bhutan broke an exclusive story on few civil servants, mostly based in the capital, taking most of the foreign trips outside Bhutan.
In two years, between 2008 and 2009, civil servants who went for training between 5 to 13 times numbered 106. It happened at a time when some civil servants in the dzongkhags had not been outside Bhutan in their entire career. The real number would be much more because the audit report covered only eight ministries and three autonomous agencies.
The issue has sparked a debate. Business Bhutan’s website has already received one of the highest numbers of responses for the article. Some called in and others walked into our office to express their appreciation and concern.
The feedbacks from the readers on our website also encapsulate the general perceptions of civil servants about the civil service.
Some felt relief that an open secret has been exposed. ‘Sanja’ writes “Thank you! For some reason I feel that this was a long overdue piece.”
‘Kesang’ expressed hopelessness toward a snobbish system saying “this has been the conversation for the last many years. What has it led to? Nothing. This is just another sad story that will gain attention for a moment and then it’s all gone. Don’t waste time pondering over what the RCSC will do.”
In seven years of service, ‘Sonam,’ a civil servant, claims that he has never been outside the country. He is awed to learn that a civil servant was sent six times for training during his probation period when he was not even eligible. “I need the explanation why this had happened.”
There are also people who don’t expect better and are demanding change. ‘Paljor’ writes “it’s a quid pro quo system in RGOB that has worked for decades. It’s time to shut it down.”
In short, the reactions above define the apathy of our civil servants towards the RCSC. It is disturbing. We need to ask ourselves how people within the system have lost trust in the system overtime.
While many civil servants are disgruntled with the system, the citizenry is not happy with the civil servants either. They have been labeled as lazy. They love piling up files. They love playing solitaire at their work station. And they are also credited with any other untoward compliment one can think of.
Against this backdrop, the civil service is also the very institution entrusted with the responsibility of implementing all the developmental plans in the country. In such a scenario, how can we expect productivity from the civil service?
Moreover, civil servants also have other challenges.
One of the biggest is the rule that they have to be apolitical. We know that the civil service has many vocal, analytical, and pioneer opinion makers and we have rendered their contribution to politics as good as null, at least legally. On the other hand, we have similar rule for monks and nuns who are also apolitical and not allowed to vote. Thus, it may not be wrong to say that our civil servants are as good as monks and nuns who are only allowed to vote.
Another major challenge for them is that they are not totally free to talk to the media about the organization they work for. This rule has been interpreted, wrongly of course, to mean that they are even restricted to talk to the media.
Such a situation where the right to expression is limited makes civil servants resort to other ways of expressing themselves. It may not be entirely wrong to assume that most of the anonymous writers on http://www.bhutantimes.com are civil servants.
To top it all, the RCSC has been an organization that is one of the least transparent to the media. At a time when the prime minister of the country entertains direct phone calls from journalists, the leaders of the RCSC have mandated journalists to come up with letters of request signed by the managing director of the media house just to request for an interview.
Irrespective of the weaknesses, the civil service is still the most formidable institution in the country. It is the first choice career option for jobseekers.
For the civil service to grow, there are lots of gaps to be filled. It has to begin by being transparent to the media because it also means being transparent to the people of the country. There is also an apparent need for a change in leadership approach in the civil service.
There is a serious need to stimulate the morale of the civil servants and it will definitely not help if a select few keep on siphoning all the foreign tours which is seen as a one of the major perks to join the civil service in the first place.