The National Council (NC) last month wrote to the Chairperson of the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC), Dasho Karma Tshiteem, asking the commission to reconsider its reform initiatives pertaining to the supervisory and support (S&S) category of civil servants.
Signed by NC Chairperson Sonam Kinga (PhD), a copy each of the letter was sent to the Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay and Speaker Jigme Zangpo.
Following grievances from the civil servants falling in the S&S category, NC’s good governance committee (GGC) reviewed RCSC’s reform initiatives. The House of Review found flaws in the “remapping exercise” and the “fixation of the promotion period” for the S&S category civil servants.
GGC’s chairman, Tharchen, said that although RCSC can carry out reform programmes in the civil service, such initiatives should be within the scope of the Constitution and the Civil Service Act.
“It is the responsibility and mandate of the parliament, particularly NC, with its oversight role to remind the Constitutional Offices of their mandate, if they attempt to violate any laws,” he told Kuensel. “The good intent of the organisation cannot supersede the legal intent of the law passed by Parliament.”
According to NC, since the reform came into effect in March 2016, about 2,103 individuals were remapped from professional and management (P&M) category to the S&S category. To be specific, they were remapped from “P5-P3” to equivalent levels of “SS4 –SS2”.
NC wrote that the affected civil servants felt that such separation was a “demotion” for them. The remapping, according to NC, gave the S&S civil servants an impression that they were adversely affected in terms of perks and privileges they were otherwise entitled to.
As part of the reform initiative, the RCSC fixed the duration of promotion for the S&S levels at five years. However, for the “P”, “S”, and “O” levels – except for the probation period – the duration of promotion is maintained at four years.
This, the Council stated, has created misgiving among the S&S level civil servants who feel they were being treated differently despite belonging to one civil service system.
RCSC, however, stated that the effect of the additional one year would be well offset by the benefit accrued to them by having raised their last promotion level by one notch higher to P2 level. In addition, RCSC claimed that reducing the promotion duration to four years would entail a huge financial implication to the government exchequer.
NC stated to RCSC that most of the civil servants who are remapped from P levels to S&S levels have already acquired a Bachelors degree. “During the period while undergoing the studies, they claimed to have also lost their seniority in service.”
The main intention of pursuing qualification up-gradation, according to NC, is to move up the career ladder in the civil service by transitioning from S&S category to P&M category. Such a transition process, NC added, was promoted and allowed under the previous policy of RCSC. “However, the recent remapping exercise has not given due consideration to the qualification up-gradation of the affected civil servants.”
NC has asked RCSC to reconsider reducing the promotion period for the SS level civil servants from five to four years.
RCSC’s fixation of the promotion period, according to NC’s findings, is likely to affect about 11,656 civil servants (representing 47.75 percent of the total civil servants) across the country. It stated that since they form the critical mass of civil servants who provide frontline services to the public, there is a risk of affecting the overall public service delivery system if the concerns shared are not addressed.
NC argued that bringing down the promotion period from five to four years would entail setting uniform promotion period across all levels (except for EX/ES levels). Such a move, according to NC, would also be in keeping with the spirit of Article 25(5) of the Constitution that provides for application of uniform rules and regulations on recruitment, appointment, staffing, training, transfers and promotion throughout the civil service.
According to NC’s findings, despite introducing SS1 (equivalent to P2) to ease the earlier stagnation at P3 level, the additional number of years the S&S category civil servants have to spend to move from SS4 to SS1 is likely to impact them negatively in terms of financial benefits.
NC’s rough estimate of financial benefits shows that with the reform, a 25-year-old person entering the civil service at S2 level would earn a total of Nu 8,508,845 (Nu 757,590 as salary and Nu 93,295 as gratuity) if he serves 31 years and retires at the SS1 level. However, before the reform, he or she would have earned a total of Nu 9,148,045 (Nu 8,210,760 as salary and Nu 937,285 as gratuity).
This, NC stated, suggests a loss of Nu 639,200 to the concerned civil servant as a result of the reform. “Although it can be a good cost-cutting measure for the government exchequer, it appears to be unfair for the individual to be negatively impacted by the reform initiative,” NC wrote to RCSC.
If the promotion period is reduced to four years and the promotion level is still kept at SS1, it is estimated that a retiring civil servant would be earning a total of Nu 9,298,225 (Nu 8,420,460 as salary and Nu 877,765 as gratuity). This would incur an additional cost of Nu 150,180 to the government exchequer for every civil servant.
“The National Council is of the view that it would be worthwhile for the government to bear this marginal increase of cost, if it helps boost the much needed morale of those civil servants who are directly involved in the delivery of critical services to the public,” NC stated.
According to the Council, a group of civil servants from the S&S category who were concerned about the reform had approached the Human Resource Committees of their ministries or agencies and even the RCSC Chairperson. However, they were not satisfied with the responses of these authorities.
The issue was eventually taken up with the prime minister, the Speaker, and the Council Chairperson.
The Council stated that RCSC should draw lessons from this particular case and streamline the process for dealing with such matters in future. It added the need for the establishment of an administrative tribunal is articulated in Article 26, Section 6 of the Constitution. This, NC added, is further stipulated in Section 94 of the subsidiary law, the Bhutan Civil Service Act 2010.
“Against this backdrop, NC recommends the RCSC to establish an Administrative Tribunal to adjudicate civil service appeal cases at the earliest,” it stated.
The RCSC in its recently released annual report stated that a small group of S&S category civil servants appealed that they should be placed together with the Bhutan Civil Service Examination (BCSE) selected P&M category civil servants. “Since their grievances were not found reasonable, they were not entertained,” RCSC stated.
RCSC made clear that the primary objective of the reform is to uphold the principle of placing the right person in the right job and to retain professionals by allowing movement of civil servants only to the relevant positions whereby they remain true to their entry position. “Unfortunately, whether intended or not, the action of this small group of civil servants has set an undesirable precedent of civil servants approaching political authorities for civil service matters when they feel they might receive support,” RCSC in its annual report stated.
RCSC stated that the independence of the commission in the matters of the civil service must be upheld if the constitutional intent of an apolitical civil service is to be maintained. “It must be emphasised that the bureaucracy must be driven by rationality and logic in its decision making process for the strength and stability of the Civil Service system,” it stated.
One of the main purposes of the reform initiatives is to address long standing grievances of stagnation faced by the majority of civil servants in the S&S category. Before the reform, RCSC states that the career movement of civil servants in the S&S category was based on the entry level and qualification for further upgradation.
RCSC officials were not available for comment.