Reforms in public service delivery have received considerable attention over the past years. With technology as a key enabler, the government past and the incumbent has made attempts to improve public service delivery.

But these efforts continue to fall short, to the extent that the competency of the organisation that has the mandate to deliver a particular service is questioned.

On January 1, Thimphu residents who had gone to the Motithang fuel depot early on to avail LPG cylinders were in for a shock. Their LPG card was not accepted anymore because the trade office’s online services for POL products came into effect that day. This means, kerosene coupon, new gas connection and refilling of LPG cylinders were to be availed online by downloading the POL mCoupon App.

Customers were taken aback when they were asked for the e-coupon number. Those who carried smartphones were able to download the App but weren’t able to process their request. Those who didn’t carry smartphones panicked. A ruckus ensued and after much request to the depot staff to accept the card they had issued earlier, some were able to return home with refilled LPG cylinders.

This happened because the economic affairs ministry and the regional trade office failed to inform the people early on of the change in availing POL products. A public notification was posted on the ministry’s website but it was issued the day the online service went live. It was wrong of the ministry and its dealing agency to assume that all residents in Thimphu carry a smartphone. It is inexcusable that it failed to create awareness and to inform the public about the change in availing public services.  It matters little that the residents’ struggle for basic services unfolded within walking distance from the ministers’ enclave.

Our policy makers need no reminder that central to the demand for better public services are the expectations of citizens. This means the citizens’ needs must be at the core of every decision, from strategy to design to execution. The way POL products are dispensed to consumers today shows the incapability of those agencies that are tasked with the responsibility to deliver public services. The agencies must know that they are not doing the citizens a favour by being efficient.  It is their responsibility to be so.

We see weak accountability as one of the factors responsible for poor service delivery. Policy makers and economic affairs ministry must initiate reforms and transform the way the trade department functions. Agencies that have the mandate to deliver public service have to change the way they think and act and assess their roles in a changing Bhutan.

The government recently launched eKaaSel for people to express their dissatisfaction, problems, and provide feedback related to public services offered in the country.  But it is hoped that the government doesn’t wait for a citizen to lodge a complaint online for it to react. Redressing public grievances should not be for political stunts.