Yangchen C Rinzin 

An initiative, a part of reforming the civil service has kicked off at the Center of Bhutan Studies (CBS) amidst confusion, complaints and lack of clarity and coordination making some civil servants drag their feet to take part in the four-year-long programme.

The initiative is to train 108 civil servants in the research field and create a pool of research officers who will be sent back to their agencies. Given the confusion and lack of information, civil servants who are nominated call it training, some think it is a transfer while some feel coerced to take part in the initiative.


The vision

CBS’s president, Dasho Karma Ura, the incharge of the initiative, told Kuensel that although the implementation process is yet to be complete, this (the initiative) is the first step towards civil service reform. It is to train civil servants in research capabilities or in the research field.

He said that what CBS is trying to do is strengthen the capacity of civil servants irrespective of their professional background. “We need to first establish a common profile of good researchers.  We want to spend a lot of time building research skills.”

The president said that without proper research is done for any kind of reports, usually hinders decision making, which is actually happening today.

“Although many officials are asked to write project proposals or policies or prepare review reports, there is a lack of intensive research leading to implementation issues,” he said.  “That is why there is a difference between what is in the paper and what happens in reality.”

Research, the president said, plays an important role in decision making and it is possible only when there is evidence-based data through proper research.

These civil servants would conduct research related to various national issues.

Those that have joined the CBS is undergoing an induction course. They will then be trained in research and its methodology, including other training like Dzongkha typing for about two months.

It will be followed by training in research ethics with some of the trainers joining virtually from Oxford University. “In the end, we would be creating a pool of bureaucrats with critical thinking skills and who can conduct research,” Dasho said.    

“After about two months, the Cabinet should give us important research topics that we will research.”

The decision of 108 civil servants is based on the plan to train at least two civil servants from the 48 departments. However, as of now, only 46 civil servants have joined.

Dasho clarified that these civil servants can avail any kind of opportunities like further studies or training or go on extraordinary leave if they want to in the four years they are with the CBS.  “As for now we’re building skills and we shall see if civil servants can really work on research. Those that cannot will be sent back. But we must at least give it a try and not give up even before trying.”

He urged civil servants to grab the opportunity and take research seriously when the resources are free and available.


Confusion galore

However, implementation of the initiative left many civil servants questioning the process of selection, particularly because of lack of information.

Civil servants that joined CBS and those yet to join claimed the entire process of “transferring” them to CBS was confusing. Many said they were sent against their will. “There was no clear information on what criteria the selection was based and what we would be doing at CBS,” said a civil servant who wants to remain anonymous.

Although many supported the reform initiative and said it was a good opportunity to learn, they were worried about their job and the projects that they are heading or working with.

Those who have joined said that they were initially asked to attend a seminar on the “sensitisation of civil service reform through Zoom meeting”. After almost a month, in July, they started receiving emails that they were released from the office to CBS.

A civil servant who joined recently said she was taken aback when she learnt she was asked to go to CBS. “By the time I knew I was already being relieved from the office. I was asked to leave because my agency head said it’s a directive from the RCSC.”

Many claimed that the RCSC did not even consult them. Others said that there were no proper terms of reference that they could refer to clarify the confusion.

“It is not clear if we are transferred to CBS or if we are on deputation,” a civil servant coming from another dzongkhag said. “If it’s a transfer there are certain procedures we need to follow. I left my family back in the dzongkhag.”

A few also shared that they were worried if it would affect their individual work plan, an important tool to rate the civil servant’s performance or for promotion.

Many said it should have been left to those who are interested in research.

“I approached everywhere including the RCSC to tell them that I’m not interested yet, I’ve to join by next week. We’re sent because there is no replacement, as one condition was to send a replacement if the chosen civil servant can’t join,” a civil servant said.

An official from RCSC said that the Commission’s mandate was to deploy civil servants based on the CBS request. The official did not specify the criteria for deploying civil servants.

The official said that civil servants must serve where they are sent.  “This is a part of civil service reform where they can build their capacity. When they return to their organisation, they can contribute by conducting research.”

The official clarified that the salary and allowances will not be affected although it is like an interim transfer for four years. “We have already told agencies that there is flexibility in case the agency needs the official back.”

Some departments and ministries, Kuensel learnt, had flatly refused to nominate candidates, while some had approached their ministers to intervene.


An opportunity

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that there is a need for good researchers or research units that would come out with empirical studies with critical thinking to help governance.

“Data and evidence in governance are important.  This initiative would build the capacity of every individual working with CBS,” Lyonchhen said. “This would also contribute to evidence-based planning and decision making.”

Lyonchhen added that reform in civil service can never happen in one package but would come through various programmes and plans. “This is one of the steps.”

He urged civil servants to participate saying it is an opportunity better than a master’s degree course while also acknowledging the problems in implementing the initiative.