Amid talk of a trust deficit between govt. and bureaucracy, the reinstitution of the committee is a must

Governance: More than a month after the Cabinet discontinued the committee of secretaries (CoS), Cabinet officials said it was yet to establish a task force to review the functions of CoS and recommend if and how the committee needed to be reinstituted.

On December 12 last year, the Cabinet discontinued CoS with immediate effect, stating that it had “exceeded” its mandate by discussing issues outside the scope of its terms of reference, and has purposely withheld information, including important decisions from the government.

The CoS had discussed the allegations of corruption against a government secretary by an Indian magazine, Enertia, and had decided to request the government of India’s intervention on the allegations.

While these allegations are yet to be established, and contrary to what the opposition said, and some sections of the society felt, the suspension of CoS, according to some ministers, has not impacted the coordination between the Cabinet and the bureaucracy.

Although observers cite the recent issue of B.Ed. graduates as a classic case of lack of coordination among agencies, ministers argue that this issue would have come directly to the Cabinet even if CoS was in place.

Economic affairs minister Norbu Wangchuk said it was business as usual, and that the government had so far not faced any coordination issue after CoS was discontinued.

“It’s not that the discontinuation of CoS has paralysed the whole bureaucracy,” he said. “There are several other mechanisms in place to coordinate and discuss cross-sectoral issues.”

While that may be the case, the Cabinet did highlight the significance of CoS when it said that CoS was an important institutional arrangement established to enhance good governance and promote transparency, accountability, efficiency and professionalism.

“CoS meets once a week to ensure that the executive functions of the government are implemented efficiently and effectively by coordinating government policies, program and projects among the ministries.”  According to government officials, who requested anonymity, issues discussed and reviewed at the CoS level have weight and are an advantage for the Cabinet to take decisions.

Whether CoS would have made any difference is another issue, but the way the government handled the recent issues of English II paper leakage and the B.Ed. graduates has got people questioning the efficiency of the government in taking decisions.

From the drafting of the manifesto to the appointment of the Cabinet ministers, lack of coordination within the government, or between the Cabinet and members of Parliament has been pointed out several times as an issue for the government.

For instance, MPs were surprised when the Prime Minister, during the National Assembly’s question hour last June, said that the ‘meet the people’ programme was not a government initiative but the party’s.

Kuensel learnt that, after the PM’s clarification, civil servants, who used to accompany ministers to the weekly program, stopped attending it, saying they were apolitical and should refrain from attending programs organised by a political party.

In the last session, MPs and the Cabinet ministers were again not on the same page when the house went to vote on a particular clause in the budget bill that required the budget and appropriation bills to be referred to a committee.  A tea break that the Speaker denied was what made all the difference, MPs later said.

Following the Cabinet’s decision to surrender the three government secretaries to the civil service commission, members of the opposition and other parties said that the move has instilled fear among the civil servants.

Earlier this month, Druk Nyamrup tshogpa said that it believes that there was no trust between the government and the bureaucracy.

However, lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said this was not true and that the opposition and other parties are working up the civil servants, and creating a rift between the civil service and the Cabinet.

“One of the reasons for surrendering the three secretaries was to protect the trust between the bureaucracy and the government,” he said. “The actions against the secretaries were taken because they didn’t trust the Cabinet; there was a trust deficit.”

Meanwhile, members of the opposition said CoS was the first line of defense for the government and instituted in 2000 to address the issue of misuse of pool vehicles in the government.

“Without coordination and coordinated effort, it’ll be difficult to achieve national objectives, because effective coordination within the government would suffer,” opposition member Khandu Wangchuk said.

Leader of the opposition, (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho, said the CoS had two important roles – to advise the Cabinet and implement government policies. “The Cabinet might take policy decisions according to their pledges and manifesto, but the implementation of those will have to be coordinated by CoS.”

By Sonam Pelden