RCSC flags cooling period for civil servants joining politics

… the commission’s report reveals the dangers of not having one  

Yangchen C Rinzin

Maintaining an apolitical civil service, a mandate for the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) as per Article 26 of the Constitution, has become a major challenge, among many, for the commission. 

RCSC reported in its annual report 2019 that keeping the civil service apolitical was critical to providing good governance and a robust nation-building process. 

“An apolitical civil service provides the institutional memory, an independent and professional view in drawing up policies and programmes that uphold larger and long term interests of the nation,” the report stated. 

Many raised concerns during the Parliamentary elections in 2018 when some senior civil servants joined politics immediately after their resignation. 

“This concern was raised several times and also in the media,” the report stated. 

The then government had approached civil servants to contest in the elections and RCSC had asserted that those civil servants who have confirmed as candidates did so after they put their resignations. In the fray were a cabinet secretary, director generals, dzongdag, and a school principal. 

The former prime minister Tshering Tobgay had said that his party had approached civil servants to join the party as possible candidates and any party would have done the same. 

Some civil servants had not resigned even a month after the party had confirmed their candidature. 

The report stated that while there is a cooling-off period prescribed for members of political parties to join the civil service, it is not mandatory for civil servants who want to join politics. 

“Such a practice could lead to misuse of authority by potential political candidates especially at senior level,” the Commission reported. 

To avoid such situations, RCSC is going raise the issue with the Election Commission of Bhutan during the Constitutional Bodies meetings. 

However, the meeting has not convened yet and the issue is yet to be reported.

The Constitutional Bodies began such regular meetings since 2015. The meeting is expected to happen soon as all Constitution post holders are appointed. 

The report stated that civil servants, especially in senior positions, have to work closely with elected leaders and they must “speak truth to power” and ensure that decision making is well documented ensuring equity and transparency.

“However, apolitical civil service does not mean non-responsiveness. The civil service must work together with the government of the day to achieve national goals,” the commission’s report stated.

Given the evolving nature of the division of the responsibilities between politicians and bureaucrats, the commission continues to create awareness to civil servants on their roles and responsibilities. “They must have clear protocols and systems in terms of their decision making and interaction with ministerial offices.”

The increasing emphasis on decentralisation, RCSC reported, was another challenge the Commission faced that has impacted human resources 

There has been a steady rise in the number of civil service positions along with the growth of civil service strength in the local government. 

The autonomy to recruitment to vacant positions in the local government through open announcements and contract recruitment for time-bound projects and programmes at their will has given the power of hire and fire.

“This type of recruitment is not advisable to execute all local government (LG) activities through contract recruitment. Programmes, especially under the agriculture ministry, wouldn’t be delivered efficiently,” the RCSC stated. 

It has lead to difficulty in fixing accountability in the event of a quality issue of any programmes. “It is for this singular reason, that RCSC is hesitant in opening up indiscriminate contract recruitment across civil service agencies,” it stated. 

However, rationalising the number of gewogs, which is underway, is expected to help in improving the service quality at the LG level. It is also expected to optimise the utilisation of human resources and bring down recurrent costs substantially. 

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