The Royal Civil Service Rules of 1990 was the crucible of the legacies of the past and present Bhutanese experiences, synthesis of many management principles and residue of academic and administrative reforms. The eternal wisdom and pervasive wise guidance of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck that procedures and functions streamlined, rationalized, and simplified to ensure satisfaction, eliminate illegal activities, motivate, create, discover and render public service efficiency and effectiveness while reducing waste, bureaucracy and red tape.  Bhutan enhanced the qualification of its professionals, making them technically competent and skilled personnel to innovate, discover, invent and render public service, efficiently and effectively to make the Kingdom truly great as envisioned by His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck:

“A good system of Government that is not dependent on any individual or personalities, a system that will function efficiently because of its inbuilt merits, that is a legacy we must create for our future generations. Because of our small size and because we are presently at the crossroads of development we have the necessary flexibility and unique opportunity to create a system of administration that will be of the greatest benefit to our country’s future interests, security and well‑being”.

Role of Civil Servants under Democracy

With the advent of democracy, greater and more important role was demanded from the civil service. It was important that the small, compact, professional, and independent bureaucracy upholds and supports the government. Thus, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck said:

“With the coming of democracy, the Civil Service Act is very important. If the Civil Service Act is weak there is a danger that civil servants may be influenced to work for the political parties. With the commencement of the democratic form of government, it is important that we prevent these kinds of problems from creeping in, for which the Royal Civil Service Commission should be an independent body.”

The importance of professional and apolitical civil servants is considered indispensable as His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck said:

“The civil servants are very important. If the civil servants are efficient, the Government will be strong and efficient. With regard to the parties some members may be efficient some may not. The most important is the civil servants. For that we should have a strong civil service Act. It is very important to make the Royal Civil Service Commission strong and efficient. In future the civil servant must shoulder a huge responsibility. With the start of the new democratic government system, I expect that our civil servants will serve the Government with sincerity, dedication and honesty. Good thoughts are not enough, we need capable and competent people in the civil service and if this happens then they will be able to serve the country well.”

His Majesty’s policy of Democratic Governance is expected to ensure equality (of opportunity) and equity (social and economic justice) for all citizens. Therefore, His Majesty reminded the nation of the importance to uphold a system of government where institutions function according to democratic processes and norms. His Majesty the King, delivering the coronation speech, unfurled His Royal Vision:

“Although the process of socio-economic development was initiated in our country only a few years ago, we have achieved tremendous progress within a short span of time. In spite of this progress, our present internal revenue cannot meet even a fraction of our Government expenditure. Therefore, the most important task before us at present is to achieve economic self-reliance to ensure the continued progress of our country in the future.

“Bhutan has a small population, abundant land and rich natural resources and sound planning on our part will enable us to realize our aim of economic self-reliance in the near future.

“If the Government and people join hands and work with determination, our people will achieve prosperity and our nation will become strong and stable.

“Glorious Kingdom of Bhutan will grow from strength to strength and achieve prosperity, peace and happiness.

“Representative of friendly countries and other guests to participate in our celebration.”

Civil service must be apolitical and professional.  It is the constitutional duty of civil servants to serve the duly elected government and not the political parties or their politicians. The civil service is an instrument of government and not of party-politics. Democracy entails the voice of people through their elected representatives. The Constitution requires a politically disinterested and permanent Civil Service with core values of integrity, propriety, objectivity and ability to transfer its loyalty and expertise from one elected government to the next. His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck said:

“With regard to the civil servants, it has been clearly stated in the Election Act that they will not be allowed to join politics similar to the Royal Family. However, the civil servants may, if they feel that they could better serve the country, choose to resign from the civil service and join political parties so as to participate in politics. Otherwise no civil servants will join politics while they are still members of the government bureaucracy and institutions.”

The government has provided impressive and multitude of institutions in every corner of the country, but quality of services is deteriorating. Delayed and denial of services is inconsistent with good governance. Inefficient and ineffective services will erode public confidence. The Constitution imposes:

“The Commission shall endeavour to ensure that civil servants render professional service, guided by the highest standards of ethics and integrity to good governance and social justice, in implementing the policies and programmes of government.”

The leadership, governance, administration and management styles of the Wangchuck Dynasty may be clustered into four distinct features of the spoil system, implementer, merit system and the leadership that led to public confidence and respect for the sacred institution of monarchy. With evolution of democratic governance, His Majesty’s several decades of successful rule culminated into the formulation of the Constitution with incorporating an important provision for insuring good governance in the nation.

“There shall be a Royal Civil Service Commission, which shall promote and ensure an independent and apolitical civil service that will discharge its public duties in an efficient, transparent and accountable manner.”

This provision was to prevent politicization of the bureaucracy and ‘spoils’ that negates meritocracy. This in particular was in line with the reforms implemented consequent upon the Pendleton Civil Service Reform, and also to avoid the system of political appointments by the President (US and other Republic form of Governments) in managing the executive branch and appointment of advisors by the Prime Minister in the United Kingdom following the Civil Service Reform based on the Lord Fulton’s committee report. The Indian Civil Service, despite being legacy of colonist imperial administration, is known as the steel frame, an example of a well-functioning administrative system worthy of emulation. Their dedication and commitment to the service are invaluable attributes of consistency and continuity that safeguards national security and promotes economic growth and wellbeing despite changes in the political leadership that may be unpredictable and frequent.

Simple living with high thinking and patriotism were His Majesty the Fourth King’s blazing messages to the nation. He radiated public confidence and inspired his people. He abhorred favoritism and loathed financial indiscipline. He selected and appointed people of high caliber who delivered and elicited public respect and confidence. He often reminded me referring to a potential appointee that His Majesty may not like him but he was patriot. His Majesty always maintained that he wants good people and conveyed to the nation that the government is serious and the good and virtuous have their merit in His government. A controversial appointment pulverizes public confidence. Truly, the meritocratic polices of His Majesty echoed those of the best principles and philosophies of governance and Zhabdrung’s law of 1651:

“Appointment of an enlightened person ensures the accomplishment of personal pursuits and heralds peace, happiness and well-being.”

Contributed by

Justice Sonam Tobgye (Retired)