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Autonomy is freedom. There is no need for qualification or quantification beyond the word itself, plain as it is. But how do we understand, or rather sadly misunderstand, this precious little word that keeps echoing itself ever so loudly?

What developments we experience today, across the sectors, speak evidently of our failure to understand the true meaning of this guiltless little word. We have autonomous schools, bodies and institutions. But are they all really self-sufficient, self-governing entities? Do they all have the ability to make their own decisions without being controlled by anyone else?

Herein lies the problem. None of them are truly independent. They have no freedom to act as they would like to and to define their own future course. At the heart of the problem seem to be our incapacity to define the very word.

In 2015, the graduates of the two colleges of education in Samtse and Paro, the two colleges under the autonomous Royal University of Bhutan, faced a serious employment challenge. Of the total number of 417 graduates, only 182 of them were recruited. Later, 200 more were recruited on contract basis. This happened because we got the meaning of autonomy completely wrong. Ministry of Education had projection of its own as did the so-called autonomous Royal Civil Service Commission.

According to Ministry of Education’s teacher recruitment plan, a total of 1,673 regular teachers and 436 teachers on contract will be required between 2016 and 2020, but the Royal University of Bhutan, another autonomous body, will be producing teacher graduates far beyond the absorption capacity of the education ministry.

So where is the link? Autonomy has reasons to be. Are we getting it right?

Problems arise when certain agencies and bodies are given autonomous status even as they are handicapped to function without full state support. Between dream and reality lies the shadow.

When organisations with autonomous status cannot function on their own, there will be problems. That’s why constitutional bodies like Anti-Corruption Commission and Election Commission of Bhutan have been trying to get out of the civil service loop. In the long-run, this system will create serious problems for both individual professionals and organisations.

The thing to understand is: why ought we to give autonomous status to organisations when they have no power whatsoever to decided anything on their own? At best this will only give rise to conflict of roles and responsibilities between organisations and agencies.

If delinking organisations from civil service is necessary, cut them out completely and give them the power to walk on their own without any government interference. We will have by that much fewer problems in making decisions.

The key is that we must understand what autonomy really means and let those organisations that should be free of government control be free. All things will then fall into place.

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