The Royal Civil Service Commission supporting the national effort to deter substance abuse by instituting mandatory tests for pre-service and in-service civil servants is a commendable move.

Starting next year, all recruitments in the civil service will be required to undergo test for controlled substances. The commission is also looking ​at introducing such requirement for in-service candidates wishing to pursue further studies.

Such a decision recognises the burden of substance abuse that has left the country overwhelmed.

With law enforcers challenged in curbing access and supply of controlled substances, the commission’s decision to tackle the issue through a demand reduction approach is exemplary.

Since the rest of the institutions follow the civil service rules, it becomes important to see how this decision ​is implemented. ​The handling of the recent case of cabin crew​ members testing positive for controlled substances has lost the public’s faith in institutions that are mandated to curb substance abuse. The Supreme Court’s ruling on SP+ and the legislature have received as much flak in our substance abuse discourse.

Taking offence to the court legislating and citing lack of time, the legislature appears unsure about amending the Act Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse Act, 2015, despite the urgency of the issue. The Cabinet’s decision to propose amendment of Income Tax Act 2001, Sales Tax, Customs and Excise Act 2000 and Customs Act 2017 as urgent Bills in the upcoming session is indicative of the  government’s priority. In such a situation, the commission supporting the national effort to deter substance abuse sends a strong message to institutions that are mandated but are hesitant to take the effort foreword.

It tell us that addressing the menace of substance abuse that our youth and adults indulge in requires will more than political, legislative and financial empowerment.  The Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA), which is now empowered, takes offence when its authority is questioned in the media but remains reluctant to hold those who test positive for controlled substances, accountable. As the lead agency and competent authority in this national effort to deter use and abuse of controlled substances, we expect more from the authority, even if that comes with threats.

Recently, there were rumours of few candidates losing their scholarship, including a civil servant, after they tested positive for controlled substances. As the competent authority, BNCA’s test results are considered final. The authority’s findings were binding on these candidates, one of them being a resident of Merak but not on the cabin crewmembers. How did the authority weigh the risks of these public servants in service delivery that they were meted with varying sanctions?

Assessing the risks of civil servants who abuse controlled substances to service delivery in terms of their productivity and costs needs to be studied further. In its ​drive for a drug free civil service, the commission needs to be sure that it is not basing its decisions on assumptions.

But it has made a start and it is hoped that other public institutions will join in the effort.