RCSC faces the problem of keeping the civil service apolitical
One of the challenges faced by the Royal Civil Commission (RCSC) is to keep the civil service apolitical. This was revealed in the 1st Annual Report of the Second Commission covering a period of fourteen months from April 2014 to June 2015 released last Friday. As mandated by the provisions of the Article 25 Section 9 of the Constitution of the kingdom of Bhutan and Section 19 of the Civil Service Act of Bhutan 2010, the Royal Civil Service Commission shall submit an Annual Report on its policies and performance to the Druk Gyalpo and to the Prime Minister.
Civil servants are considered the backbone of good governance and play the most critical role in the nation building processes. In addition, at the heart of good governance is the role and character of civil service. Good governance, good systems and high standards of professionalism in the service are fundamental to our nation’s journey to transform from a young democracy into a vibrant and mature democracy. This requires a Civil Service culture where people discharge their responsibilities professionally, impartially, and apolitically and serve the Government of the day without fear, favour or prejudice.
The RCSC as the central personnel agency of the Government has the responsibility of creating an apolitical Civil Service but thus far, no mechanisms have been put in place to actually ensure that the Civil Service remains so. Consequently, it has become important to provide civil servants the awareness and ability to navigate the new situation where one has to work closely with elected leaders. It has also become important to provide civil servants the protection required to enable them to perform their duties without fear or favour. Therefore, the RCSC will be coming out with protocols for interaction and communication with elected leaders to be put in place as evidence of their impartial, apolitical, professional advice and which can be used to provide objective basis for RCSC intervention in times of conflict between civil servants and politicians. Explicit policies on record keeping and documentation – hard copies and emails- in relation to interaction with ministerial offices will be put in
place. Protocols are also required to ensure that written notes accompany oral briefs and that records of discussions in all ministerial interactions are maintained. The RCSC will also use the upcoming Executive Forums to discuss these issues so that the executives, who interact most with ministers and politicians, have clarity on how they should engage. At the same time, having such explicit protocols and policies will also have the effect of creating such awareness among the ministers and politicians, and equally important, their expectations from civil servants.
Further the RCSC also faces the challenge of maintain the civil service small, compact and efficient. Making the civil service and efficient has been a daunting task as civil service is the single biggest employer of work force in the country. The civil service to population ration is 1:28 which is quite large as compared to other countries.
With constitutional obligations of the government tom provide free education and primary health care as well as basic infrastructure in a rugged mountainous terrain with scattered population, the optimization of human resources will remain a constant challenges. This is further complicated by systems where there is little accountability for excess recruitment or idle people. At the same time, a number of acts cover institutional arrangements, which may not always be optimal. All this show that maintaining a small compact and efficient Civil Service will remain a constant challenge as the mandate rests with the RCSC but decisions leading to Civil Service growth are not with the RCSC alone. Therefore, it will be important for the RCSC to work closely with all the important institutions. The RCSC has raised these issues in a number of meetings and going forward, proposes to do so periodically.
The other challenge faced by the Civil Service is corruption where 38 civil servants have been investigated by the Anti Corruption Commission ( ACC) of which 34 were suspended. Another 3 cases were sent to the RCSC for administrative action and one, con- victed for misdemeanor, was sent on compulsory retirement. Many of these cases were comprehensively covered by the media, including social media. Notwithstanding the final outcomes of the cases under investigation, there is little doubt that public perception of the integrity and honesty of the Civil Service suffer as a result. As the backbone of good governance, such negative perception is of serious concern for the Commission and effort must be made to reduce such occurrences as this can lead to erosion of public trust.