In the wake of His Majesty’s command to up the Civil Service on 17th December 2020, many discussions have ensued on social media, mostly blamestorming, less brainstorming. I am dead sure that everyone concerned is into deep reflection and wide imagination as to what can be done and much may be already in place or been planned by now. It is only right that it is taken seriously because when His Majesty thinks, it is for the country. Not just for present but for posterity.
At this juncture, I wish to offer my thoughts on one aspect of the Civil Service which has been close to my heart. The Civil Service is a monopoly. It carries the sacred seal of the Palden Drukpa as ‘Royal Government of Bhutan’ which an agency outside its domain has no right to bear. What it does, another agency cannot. However, this monopoly should be viewed and used differently unlike the conventional economic model where it faces no competition and sets its own conditions and prices. This monopoly is entirely and ruthlessly organization-centric. This should not be the case for the Civil Service. It must be the monopoly that is parently, where parents are the last and only resort for children for care and protection. It must be like the sun shining every day without any demands. It must be like the floor of the house we live in where we do not have a scintilla of doubt as we step inside, but a complete trust it is safe and we are welcome.
This understanding and awareness must perch and ripe in each civil servant’s mind – as low as a sweeper to a Secretary. Ministers too are every citizen’s servant, not a political flag bearer once installed in those orange seats. When a citizen (irrespective of her/his physical presentation) shows up at the doorstep of a grand government office – grand in structure and authority, the attitude that ‘If this citizen does not come here for this particular service, where else can s/he go! Therefore, I must do all I can and as quickly as I can’ must resound as loudly as the dragon’s roar in all chambers of both mind and heart. The power of Bhutanese adage ‘anything beneficial is dharma’ should be invoked at every opportunity instead of letting it fade in old textbooks or in the lips of the few who may utter for selfish motives. It is most relevant in the Civil Service because everyone is aptly canonized to do just that.
And the tone and action should start at the top. Because the sun shines from high above, it is able to light and heat the whole world. The splendour of a snow-capped mountain is visible to everyone because it has risen into the space. What the top person does, everyone sees. What s/he says, everyone hears. It is best when s/he ‘walks the talk’ instead of favouring some and disfavouring or ignoring others on matters similar or same. While it is inspiring to view the top that is pure white lighting everyone equally with its reflections, the opposite is also true and at times, more damaging. If a poisonous rock is placed at the base or in the middle of a mountain, it can only defile its perimeter. But if the poison is in the snow on its peak, the whole mountain could decay or become obnoxious. As the human minds are negatively biased, the latter is more dangerous which we all must be mindful about. Ministers, Secretaries, Director Generals and Directors, and Chairman and CEOs must realize how damaging, frustrating, poisonous it is when they bid wrong instructions – especially when it raises eyebrows of people down below asking ‘where’s Tsawa Sum or where’s integrity?’.
When the society has matured and people are capable of rationalizing, the rhetoric of ‘do as I say, not as I do’ does not sail. It not only does not work, it is often destructive. One important sign we should look for which may be subtle is the undercurrent resulting in lack of ideas and participation, silos and whispering corners, more informal groups, dreading the top officials, etc. in turn resulting in poor performance as an organization. People, especially at the helm should be wary of those who only agree. We should all recognize that while the so-called disrespect may be in the tone and gestures someone chooses, offering an alternate idea should not be viewed as one. And it is not right when only those in the ranks are afraid of the top for poor or non-performance, and wrong or bad conduct. It has to be both ways. Why not we change the language a bit and call it ‘respecting each other’ and not ‘afraid of each other’ and ensure each one does what is right while addressing the needs of the citizens knocking the door expectant of cordial countenances. We must learn to smile at each other too, not just to tourists. Even when a citizen may have turned up for wrong reasons, s/he deserves to be explained well, not a reluctant face mumbling insolence.
I remember likening the civil servants to flowers years back and I still hold it true today. Flowers are exquisite externally and when we approach, they are tender, fragrant and most importantly, they have sweet nectar to offer (mostly). Their external beauty attracts and then offers what they have inside. I cannot help but lose myself in the stupor of how similar it is with the civil servants (all service providers for that matter). Everyone in the Civil Service is dressed well, and the reason should be to tell the citizens that ‘I am in a certain position to serve you’. Some even have additional paraphernalia. The tender touch of the petals should be shown through approachability in the face and gestures lit up with fervour and willingness to help. Those knowledge, skills, attitude and experiences gained through years of work and study/training should be the nectar that will quench the thirst of needy citizens. Since almost all civil servants are clients to other agencies, when one sees there are thorns in flowers, one should come back and remove one’s own instead of only condemn others.
I see that most civil servants, both young and old spend time on spirituality and dharma by attending discourses and visiting sacred places, which is undeniably wonderful. In fact, everyone must do that and it should be made mandatory. What is questionable however, is the impact on their lives when they are back. Some of those very people would be claiming TA/DA for tours which they never undertook, or admonishing and diminishing a young officer in front of others, or silently promoting a selfish personal agenda, or officially visit hometown on the pretext of some hazy official purpose, etc. Recently, there was a news of an RAA observation that officials had not even offered ‘nyendha’ from their own pockets.
With the introduction of design thinking, coaching, and emotional intelligence, etc. the parent agency RCSC, is trying hard to elevate the Civil Service to greater heights. However, sunlight alone cannot germinate a seed and seeds sown on a barren land cannot grow. Each civil servant must own it, pursue it and embody it – at all levels. There are many who are truly dedicated and doing their best. They should keep doing it, inspire others and also keep refining this fortitude and not be discouraged by any distraction. Others must learn and be inspired and up themselves for their own conscience, so they are at least acceptable examples to their own children since “you cannot give what you don’t have” – His Majesty The Druk Gyalpo.