Reforms initiated by the Royal Civil Service Commission to make the civil service more efficient have to an extent pushed civil servants to perform better.

The anxiety over the performance of the agencies among civil servants presenting the achievements and failures are palpable at the annual performance agreement review. While it may appear so, this apprehension that’s projected at these review meetings with negotiations and requests and justifications are not necessarily driven by the concern for the organisation. A civil servant’s performance rating is pegged to the organisation’s rating and it is this concern for the self that manifests more at the review meetings.

Emotions aside, the commission’s reform on Performance Management System (PMS) ​has been long time coming. PMS it found was abused by the civil service to evaluate the performance of the civil servants. Supervisors were not evaluating civil servants based on their performance and were generous in their ratings with almost all scoring outstanding. In this context, the reforms initiated are positive. Aligning individual performance or work plan with the organisation’s target would encourage meritocracy, accountability and identify non-performers.

However, reforms have to be implemented taking into ​account the nature of work our civil servants do. The grievances from teachers against the individual work plan (IWP), one of the requirements for performance evaluation​,​ is an example of a good intent gone wrong with misunderstandings aplenty. Schools believe that they have to have at least one teacher in the need improvement category, not necessarily because that teacher needs further improvement but because it is a systemic requirement. Such notions are unhealthy and detrimental to the whole intent of the reforms.

Recently, a school in Thimphu decided to put a teacher who was to superannuate soon in the need improvement category. The teacher agreed. He was leaving the system anyway. But to end a career spanning decades with a need improvement remark just because the system prescribes it is preposterous. Our teachers deserve better, be it at school or when they leave and the civil service commission cannot be indifferent to their concerns.

That the prime minister has commissioned a review of the IWP for teachers shows that the commission had not been responsive enough to address the grievances of the teachers. The issue with IWP for teachers isn’t new. The commission cannot lament apolitical civil servants approaching political authorities for intervention if it hadn’t been proactive in clarifying matters at their level. Intended or not, the commission has in a way become party to or has encouraged the precedent that has been set for civil servants approaching political authorities. Such practices raise serious questions on the institution’s apolitical-ness.

Be it in the civil or public service, reforms should focus less on technicalities and more on creating the space for the reform to take place.It has to be context and culture-appropriate and must gain the confidence of the people in the system. An empowered and informed civil service is what ​the reforms should aspire for, not a disgruntled lot.