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Civil service role and political priorities

Contrary to past elections, we are seeing an increasing number of civil servants getting into politics.

It’s not only resigned senior civil servants, who are setting foot in politics after resignation, but there is also an increasing number of civil servants who are resigning to contest in the 2018 elections.

Interestingly, civil service is increasingly becoming a place where political parties are headhunting for potential and prospective candidates as we gear up for the third parliamentary elections.

The trend, however, is a good indication and a good one for our burgeoning democracy. The civil servants are dubbed as the cream of the nation, albeit for a good reason too. We have many capable heads of government agencies – the bureaucrats such as the secretaries, directors and et al. And they are chosen amongst hundreds as the most deserving people.

The entry of civil servants will definitely be good in terms of deepening democracy and bureaucracy. At least it shows that they are not into politics looking for a job. It’s simply because resigning from civil service could be an individual’s hardest decision. It’s like a relinquishing a well secure job, a timely pay, trainings, workshops, other perks and incentives. Resignation, therefore, means slamming your door to all these benefits.

Another difficulty is that a civil servant just cannot go out and get back in the civil service as he/she wants. Why would a civil servant resign, deliberately knowing that he/she will never be able to join back? Such conditions are already stipulated in the Bhutan Civil Service Rules and Regulations 2010. Then there is the three-year cooling period too where a person affiliated with a political party must serve to vie for any civil service openings. This applies to the candidates too, meaning that a former civil servant after losing the elections cannot just go back and serve in the civil service.

However, the politicization of civil service has also emerged as a serious issue lately with political parties approaching civil servants in high and influential positions to be their candidates during the elections. There were many civil servants, who had consented to be party candidates after political parties approached them, even if they were still serving and continued to serve in the civil service.

While there is nothing wrong when a political party approaches a civil servant, however, the problem arises when such a practice could possibly undermine the integrity and apolitical status of the civil service. This goes with their position too.

For instance in one Dzongkhag, a section of the people there always grumbled in informal gatherings and congregations that they had to wait for weeks to meet the Dzongdag. When asked the reason, it was told that the Dzongdag was most often in another nearby Dzongkhag, familiarizing himself among his electorates for the elections.