Article 26 of the Constitution sets the tone of the nation’s civil service as independent and apolitical. Further, Constitution mandates that civil service must ‘discharge its public duties in an efficient, transparent and accountable manner.” Yet, both the Civil Service Act and Bhutan Civil Service Rules and Regulations lack clear direction on fixing accountability. Therefore, His Majesty’s Kasho mandating the “fundamental reform” in civil service, including its structure, laws, regulations, and procedure is timely and necessary.

There has been repeated reminder from the throne in the past. For example, during the public consultation in Lhuentse on the draft Constitution, in 2005, His Majesty said: “If the civil servants are efficient, the government will be strong and efficient. With regard to the parties, some members may be efficient, and some may not. The most important is the civil servants. For that, we should have a strong civil service Act. Good thoughts are not enough.” Similarly, during the 106th National Day in 2013, His Majesty said: “Whether it is the king or the government, as time passes, there will be constant change. In the end, a compact, efficient, and strong civil service is the key to ensure the nation’s present and future welfare, security, and people’s wellbeing. I urge all our civil servants to work harder than ever in the service of our nation.”

Currently, both the Act and Regulations emphasise strongly on ethics and integrity of civil servants without providing adequate legal procedures or mechanisms to fix the accountability. This has resulted in civil servants violating their ethics and integrity. Section 37 of the Civil Service Act requires that “a civil servant is responsible for his/her decisions and actions and must be accountable to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to his/her office as prescribed by law and the BCSR.” BCSR does not provide any clear directions or guidelines or rules in terms of fixation of accountability.  For instance, while Sections 167 (2) and (4) ACC Act makes it mandatory to suspension once the Anti-corruption Commission takes a decision to suspend a public servant, RCSC often took shelter under Rule no. 19.10.1 and 19.10.5 of BCSR, 2018 and refused to suspend civil servants charged under Anticorruption Act though legally BCSR has no legal authority over the Anti-corruption Act.

Similarly, the initiation of the Max system particularly forced ranking has been often criticised for discriminatory in nature. For example, if 5 percent of the total employees must be rated below average or need improvement, it only forces even some good employees to rate as need improvement to fulfil such rate. Similarly, the introduction of the superstructure is another obstacle and too restrictive. For example, if a civil servant with post-graduation in public administration has more opportunities at the executive level than a schoolteacher or an engineer or legal professional. Such systems cause more harm than benefits in their public service delivery. 

Therefore, now with the Royal Kasho, it is time that RCSC step out of the conventional mindset to restructure the civil service through well-researched laws based on reality and challenges. The laws must be broad enough to encourage creativity, promote work strong work ethics, and more important clear mechanisms to fix accountability.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.