They have also asked for the Cabinet and the economic affairs minister to be held accountable

RCSC: The opposition party yesterday called for the reinstatement of the three surrendered government secretaries to their original positions, stating that imposing a major penalty in the form of a reassignment for procedural lapses was not justified.

While the opposition stated in a press release yesterday that it appreciates the Royal Civil Service Commission’s decision, they said that the commission’s action is based on the procedures that are prescribed for surrendered civil servants.

“In essence, the RCSC has accepted the surrender, even though their earlier statement had stated that they weren’t in a position to accept the surrendering of secretaries,” opposition leader (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said.

The opposition also pointed out that, of the total 18 charges levelled against the secretaries, individually and jointly, the only charge that merited the commission’s consideration was the procedural lapse of not informing explicitly the Cabinet on the committee of secretaries’ (CoS) decision and action.

The commission on February 28 stated, through a press release, that the three government secretaries had acted in good faith on the ENERTIA allegations.

“Therefore, the key question is whether the punishment, which, according to chapter 19, section, is a ‘major penalty’, is proportionate to the violation of ‘failing to inform the cabinet and lack of coordination between the Cabinet and the CoS,” the opposition’s statement said.

According to the opposition, the Cabinet, being the highest governing body, should bear full responsibility for ensuring coordination, and should be held accountable for the same lapses.

“If not, such a high-handed action by the Cabinet would set an unhealthy precedent, whereby the Cabinet of the day can compromise the autonomy and independence of the RCSC, and get away with blatant violation of the provision of the Constitution, the Civil Service Act and the BCSR,” it stated.

According to the opposition leader, minutes of the CoS meeting were never shared with the Cabinet even in the past.  “The CoS and Cabinet function on the principle of trust and confidence, and there was no system of sharing the minutes,” he said.

As head of the bureaucracy, he said, the secretaries have certain authority, and the ministers only intervened when a major policy decision was to be made.

“The information is always provided informally, and if there were issues, it was always resolved amicably, because these were the two highest decision making bodies,” he said.

The opposition also pointed out that the grounds, on which the secretaries were earlier charged, have changed, and finds no mention in the commission’s decision later. “The only charge the commission found worth considering was the procedural lapses and, given this reason, the secretaries should be reinstituted to their original positions, until otherwise proven,” the opposition leader said.

The Cabinet, according to the opposition, should be held accountable for violating due process and the provisions of the Constitution, the Civil Service Act and the BCSR.

(Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said the Cabinet should take responsibility, because such an action sets an unhealthy precedence, and future governments are likely to take blatant knee jerk actions, based on their likes and dislikes, or based on their assumptions.

“In which case, the civil service will be demoralised, insecure, and the lack of trust between the government and secretaries would result in the loss of productivity of the whole civil service, which ultimately means loss to the nation as a whole,” he said.

The opposition has also asked that the economic affairs minister be held accountable for “negligence of his duty as a Cabinet minister, by failing to coordinate within his ministry and the Cabinet,” and for “willfully distorting information and misleading the nation on national TV, where he vehemently denied any knowledge of the course of the action taken by the secretaries.”

“Such an act is tantamount to violation of the minimum ethical code expected of a member of the cabinet to tell the truth,” the opposition said.

As an apolitical body and a house of review, the opposition feels that the case also merits the attention of the National Council, to review the Cabinet violating provisions of the Constitution, the Civil Service Act and the BSCR.

Since this also become a case of defamation, the opposition has called for the civil service commission to take appropriate action in protecting civil servants against defamation, as per section 92 of the Civil Service Act of Bhutan.

Sonam Pelden