Conflict: The tussle between the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) and the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) may have been resolved with ECB gaining independence, but human resource management within the independent ECB has not gone well among some of the employees.

In a five-page complaint letter written to Kuensel twice within months, the officials who call themselves against the system and not against the Commission said ECB’s independence has deprived them of opportunities while recruitment and promotions rules are flaunted.

They prefer to be governed by the Bhutan Civil Service Rules (BCSR).

At least 12 officials feel that promotions are handpicked while one was given two meritorious promotions in three years. On July 31, 2015, the Royal Audit Authority has issued audit memo questioning the rationale behind the meritorious promotions.

“All the employees of the ECB – the Chief Election Coordinator, Returning officers and National Observers and all the staff working in Thimphu and dzongkhag contributed for the successful conduct of the two rounds of National Parliamentary Elections.”

“Why was only one person given meritorious promotion?”

The letter indicates there are 19 officials not happy with the development.

One official said that dzongkhag election offices are over staffed and after the completion of elections once in five years, there is no work. “The staff in the dzongkhags are remaining idle for most of the months,” he said.

The three department chiefs, they alleged, were handpicked and made department heads without inviting open competition. “One of the department heads doesn’t even have a bachelors degree qualification. One cannot become chief of a division without a university degree,” alleged the letter.

They also alleged that the personal assistant of the Chief Election Commissioner was promoted from position level S to P5 soon after completing higher studies when the rule specified at least 14 years of active service.

Employees of the ECB were initially civil servants. But since 2010, the ECB drafted its own service rules and started recruitment of employees on its own. Some officials within the ECB, however, feel that ECB service rule (SR) needs endorsement from the cabinet and other stakeholders.

Officials also alleged that those officials recruited without getting through the civil service common examination in 2010 were directly placed in P5, which they said was against the law. “This can happen only in ECB,” they alleged. “Still, ECB continues recruiting new officials without following BCSR rules and by not referring to the approved staff strength.”

The ECB in an emailed response to the accusations states that the ECB does not follow the BCSR rules, but functions as per ECB service rules and regulations (ECBSRR) endorsed by the ECB. The service rules, it says, is recognized by all institutions of democracy in line with existing laws of the land.

The ECB, on the other hand, feels that the recruitment of 2010, was carried out legitimately as per the electoral laws and ECBSRR before the first ever LG elections to fulfill ECB’s core mandate. “The two types of employee Id is a not an issue now as we have streamlined all HR actions in consultation with the RCSC,” the response stated.

On the meritorious promotions, the response said that this pertains to the past decisions of the ECB. “These were awarded as per the legal procedures in line with ECBSRR respecting the principles in the BCSR for officials handling higher positions despite being in lower grades,” it stated.

The ECB states that the records of human resource committee recommendations and commission’s decision are testimony to transparent and fair HR actions, which was respected by all till now.

RCSC director Tashi Pem said the ECB is an independent body and that it is not governed by the BCSR. “ECB employees are public servants but not civil servants,” she said.

The commission argues that the commission already had two departments. The training division got upgraded to make the departments, to serve the need based on feedback received from “learning from experience” programmes and in-house structure review and organogram, completed recently. The heads of these departments have been functioning as officiating directors. “The final appointment will be as per the provisions of ECBSRR which allow open competition as per set criteria,” it stated.

Officials alleged that the RCSC has tried to harmonize the position and solve the existing HR issues with ECB but ECB didn’t cooperate. However, the response said that no issue exists between the RCSC and the ECB. “We are proud to inform that the RCSC and ECB enjoy complete harmony and understanding on this issue,” said the ECB.

The letter requesting Kuensel to talk to 11 election officers stated that a lot of ECB employees are not happy with them being independent of RCSC and prefer to be under RCSC.

“Commissioners maintain that as per the Constitution and the Election Act, the ECB is independent,” said a dzongkhag election officer. “My interpretation is that Commissioners are independent, while the secretariat and below officials must be under RCSC.”

On the dzongkhag election offices not having enough work, the ECB letter stated that the wrong notion indicates certain ignorance regarding the overwhelming electoral and civic education works in the non-election period and its importance in a democracy.

“As we don’t advocate or showcase the multi-activities of our employees, it is unfortunate that a few commentators feel that dzongkhag offices are ‘overstaffed and under-worked’,” it stated.

MB Subba