Fresh out of an institute and ready to start a career in the civil service, Sonam landed a job as a procurement officer with a government establishment in the capital. Few months into the job, she realised her store officer could handle her job. She wanted a change.
She called her father. Her father called his cousin who he though would have better “influence or network” to get a transfer. The reason the father suggested in the transfer application was family issues. A young officer not being able to learn on the job, he thought, would not convince the bosses. Sonam got transferred.
It is no exaggeration to say that most Bhutanese would try to pull strings when something has to be done. Telephone calls to the boss before a job selection interview, using uncle and aunties, friends and the elected leader from the constituency to get things done are common. The National Integrity Assessment report confirms this. It found out that half of the people it interviewed for the report perceived that family and friendship were beneficial in having services processed faster. In short, it is better if we have “connections.”
But this is not new. What is also not new is the findings on favouritism and nepotism in public service delivery based on relationships. What is new is we have not been able to do anything. The Anti Corruption Commission publishes the assessment report almost every year. What has changed?
Even if it is the duty of the service providers, people still look for connections to receive the service they are entitled to. After decades of substantial investment in human resource development, technology and initiatives to professionalise service delivery, the fact that people still look for connections or is a clear indication that there is no impact. If people still prefer using relationships or influence, the purpose of professionalism is defeated.
Although the professional levels in Bhutan have improved, there is much house cleaning to be done. Controversy follows most job interviews, transfer and promotion. The notion of “his candidate or her candidate” is hard to get rid off to an extent that people are challenging the ACC to conduct a survey on the lucrative posts and family background of those selected. It is common to see the son or daughter recruited in the same professions their parents are in.
With social media providing a platform to vent out frustrations, it is full with complaints and criticism. Many brush it aside as a sour grape example. And many do not complain officially. However, there is a reason. Without evidence, it could backfire. Even if one accusation holds water, there are ways and means to hide it. For instance, nexus among the job selection panel would bury all evidences.
It boils down to ethics and morality. The recommendation the report made like developing service delivery standards, education and managing feedback are not new. It has not worked. One problem is everybody is a part of it. Everybody is trying to pull his or her own strings. The difference is in the thickness of the string.
E-service sounds like a good solution. But again, it depends on the person sitting behind the computer and the calls he receives from.
Ultimately heads of ministries and organisations, senior leaders of the official and private sector, and the increasing number of people those who supposedly understand the situation have to make more responsible decisions.