Inability to coordinate our efforts is civil service’s biggest challenge

You complete five years in office as the chairperson of the RCSC. What do you leave behind? 

I leave behind many civil servant colleagues who are competent and capable of the journey we have begun to take our civil service from “good to great.” I leave with a sense of great satisfaction in the knowledge that I have done, with the help of Commissioner colleagues and countless civil servants, whatever we could do to strengthen the institution of the civil service by making it more accountable, meritocratic, professional and transparent. Above all, I leave with deep and eternal gratitude to His Majesty for the countless blessings and guidance and the sacred opportunity to serve the King, Country and People.

Among the reforms, what according to you was the most effective?

We feel that all the five areas of our reforms – OD Exercise for right sizing; Bhutan Civil Service System enhancements for greater professionalism; Performance Management System improvements for greater productivity, accountability and meritocracy; Succession Planning and Leadership Development for enhancing leadership and Civil Service Wellbeing to take better care of civil servants, made critical improvements to the Bhutan Civil Service System. In addition, the last three initiatives, focusing on soft skills, enhancing emotional intelligence and mindfulness retreat should bring about a new practice/culture/mindset in the workplace that should nicely complement the five reforms and might turn out to be our most effective and impactful intervention.

 

IWP was the most controversial. Why should it continue?

The Individual Work Plan (IWP) enhances accountability and so we found that the most vocal opposition to it were precisely those who were getting by without doing much. It is important to remember that the IWP is simply a mechanism to link what individuals do to what the organization wants to achieve. This enhances alignment of what individuals and organizations do to the national goals and objectives as well as their accountability. Infact, with IWP, Bhutan has taken Result Based Management (RBM), which in most countries stop at the organizational level (as with GPMS), to another level.

To my knowledge, we are the only civil service with such an end-to-end system. The benefits in terms of higher performance and productivity and better results should show. Further, since the final assessment is done by their chiefs and executives (instead of a distant RCSC), it is also the fairest way to identify who should be rewarded and recognized. This way, we can also uphold meritocracy, the main pillar of our civil service. Also, by separating those who are consistently non-performing, the civil service can now ensure that only those who work and contribute enjoy tenure. Therefore the IWP must continue as it enhances accountability, performance and meritocracy like never before.

 

The Commission was known for transparency. So why was the Organisational Development exercise report not made public? What were its major impacts?

The OD Exercise report was not made public because it was to be used as an input into decision-making and was part of an on-going exercise. The recommendations that came out of the exercise and approved were made public before implementation. Many important recommendations were based on the OD exercise such as the staffing of organisations, Agencification Framework to guide organizational development and minimize duplication, LG Common Framework to standardise LG organizations and reporting lines, Standard Operating Procedures and Turn-around-times to enhance public service delivery and accreditation Framework to enhance professionalism and standards. All of these should have a positive impact but it will take some time for the full benefits to show.

 

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced as a chairperson?

The five reforms we implemented touched each and every civil servant and so it was extremely important to reach out to as many as possible to explain why we need to make changes, what its impact will be on them and why they must still support it. There were obviously some who were not happy (and even took their grievance to politicians) but it is important to remember that there will always be some casualty of big changes and that is the price of change. Trying to reach out to all to convince them and to get their support was quite a challenge but it was also rewarding as it was through these close consultations that we were able to connect and get most of the civil servants behind the reforms.

 

What is the biggest challenge in the civil service today?

The biggest challenge in the civil service is what His Majesty clearly highlighted in the National Day Address of both 2013 and 2018 – our inability to coordinate our efforts, poor implementation, compartmentalization, low accountability, not learning from the past or other countries even though the civil service itself is full of our best and the brightest. Consequently, we are not able to take advantage of what His Majesty has often highlighted, our smallness and the opportunity for us to be nimble and agile. Infact, like a big country, even the smallest changes now take a long time in Bhutan. We need to make radical changes to critical areas such as the way we do budgeting or procurement so that we incentive optimal use of scarce resources by civil servants. We also need to rationalize and look at things like Return on Investment in our development expenditure so as to avoid wasteful expenditure. This might free up fiscal space that can be used to provide the proper compensation civil servants deserve. Finally, keeping the civil service small, compact and efficient is another challenge as everyone looks to the civil service as the solution to unemployment problems.

During your time, the RCSC came under much flak for not being able to protect civil servants such as in the resignation of three secretaries. How does RCSC ensure the security of civil servants? What measures are taken to boost their morale?

I believe we dealt with the regrettable case as fairly as possible under the circumstance. It is also important to highlight that all the three Government Secretaries were, to use the military term, honorably discharged. Civil servants know that as long as they do their job, and do it in good faith, and do it using all their past knowledge and experience, and it is formally documented, they have nothing to worry about. This is a message that we consistently convey in our Annual Reports that we make public as well as our annual meetings with all the executives. We have also come to an understanding with the ACC that all administrative matters will be dealt with by the RCSC and the outcome of our actions is reported in our Annual Report. All these have been done to foster confidence in civil servants that as long as they work for the interest of King, Country and People, and do so with due diligence, they are protected.

The election year saw much discussion on the politicisation of civil service. What is an apolitical civil servant?

The definition of apolitical for civil servants is clearly provided in the BCSR 2018. Basically, they should not be a member of a political party and in their work, they should be professional and impartial so that irrespective of their political inclinations (who they vote), the government of the day benefits from their best advise and effort. Infact we always advise civil servants at every opportunity that their job in the new scheme of things is “to tell (in black and white) their political masters what they need to hear, even if it is not what they want to hear and having done so, to faithfully implement, as long as it is legal, whatever decisions are taken.”

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