The Chairperson of the Royal Civil Service Commission yesterday wrote an open letter to all civil servants detailing the need for the reforms, why it should not be misunderstood and how important changes and civil servants are for a better Bhutan.

There are some details for the hundreds of civil servants who are lost, frightened or are planning to voluntarily resign. The reform is targeted to make civil service agencies more coordinated and better positioned to tackle challenges, make the system more relevant, efficient and effective, build capacity to improve productivity and groom some with capabilities and heart to lead.

The intention of the reforms, widely known as transformation among civil servants, is noble. If it can achieve half of what is intended, every Bhutanese should benefit from a transformed civil service and servants. Bhutanese agree that the largest organisation needed a  big shakeup. The way they do and how they do was not benefiting the country or the people. The civil service is accused of being a lethargic organisation riddled with bureaucratic procedures, red tape, and as an organization that guarantees life-long (until superannuation) jobs.

The reform is realistic and relevant. It is about moving towards a system where performers are rewarded and non-performers punished. It is to incentivise those with bigger responsibilities or workloads  and improve public service delivery. It is also to test the mettle of each civil servant.

Hopefully, the open letter from the Chairperson will make civil servants rethink and make them understand the intentions of the reform. Hopefully, it is not too little too late. 

There are about a thousand civil servants who already left the system without having to be told to do so. Some of them are at the prime age with the potential to lead or take up bigger responsibilities. Going by the rush at the passport office, courts and banks, there will be more leaving. 

Australia is the destination. The prospects of better opportunities may be the main reason, but the transformation exercise, many say, is the other. Perhaps, the lack of transparency and information could have helped them decide to pursue a master’s degree in Australia or Canada – relevant or not. 

Many civil servants say they welcomed the reform initiatives, but became suspicious of how they were done. There is almost an information blackout. Those attending meetings are told not to share information with colleagues or junior civil servants, resulting in more suspicions. Outside the capital, many civil servants are anxious. The information they get is not accurate. Some are even apprehensive to like or share a social media post. Although civil servants are aware of the Bhutan Civil Service Rules, the July rule, called RADA (rules for administrative actions), has instilled more doubts, suspicions and fear.    

Civil servants resigning may not be a concern. It would help the failed idea of maintaining a small, compact and efficient civil service. The reform could achieve that. The biggest achievement would be if service delivery and efficiency are improved to help other sectors. 

The Commissioner has invited civil servants to register for a virtual meeting to dispel myths and to “unpack some of the issues about civil service reform.” It should rebuild trust. How many register to share honest opinion and views unafraid of “repercussions” will be a good start and a yardstick.