As Bhutanese, we have come a long way to move forward into the unfamiliar road of modernity. However, we have manifested a dream that was set more than a hundred years ago and we have achieved great feats in the process. Yet sometimes it seems that the privileges we have are taken for granted and we seek the unattainable. Nevertheless, it’s through this idealism that a prosperous nation can be reached; however, we often forget those who make it possible.
Did you ever stop to wonder what it would be like to live in a country without the government serving its people and where the necessity of the few is more important than the necessity of all? What about a world where a vast number of children die because of either dysentery from polluted water or starvation due to lack of food? How about a society that is plagued by illiteracy and is in peril of cultural extinction? Or citizens torn apart by constant strife? These are all realities that are due to the lack of one agency within society – a stable civil service.
Civil servants are our neighbors, friends and family members; however, their contribution to society is far greater than one might think. If not at home, civil servants make the dream of a nation reality. Spending countless hours in the office isn’t just a typical “nine to five,” it’s a constant pursuit to move the wheels of development. They are mandated to serve the nation and with it, the citizens. Every aspect of their job requires fulfilling the common objective in the country.
Think about daily life conducted in Bhutan and imagine what it would be like without good civil servants. One might go as far to say that it’s the daily duties of civil servants are what maintains the homogeneity we see in our rich culture. Subtly fixing the country’s issue, they are the caretakers of the country in some way, shape or form. Civil servants are responsible for each and every single need of the people, whether if it’s advising members of parliament, providing the needs of the destitute, creating efficiency in implementation of policies or assisting citizens throughout their daily lives; civil servants are an integral part of life in Bhutan. They serve as the institutional memory of a country; every other aspect can and does change. Though there is a general sense that due credit is not given to the civil servants, perhaps it is good to trace change in the Bhutanese mindset when it comes to the civil service.
It is interesting to note the slow evolution to the term ‘government servant’ in the country. It still garners a great deal of respect, but the prestige attached to it has waned. This can be attributed to the growing knowledge base of the public; and the considerable growth of other sectors in the country. In the days when a regular paying job was only the civil service, it was of tremendous pride to have one. Till a decade ago, a civil service job was the ultimate for new aspirants. Here the thought process could be muddled with the old assumption that only a government job is worth calling a job; if you listen to older generations, it is most likely they will talk about the security, opportunity, and growth in the job. When asked about aspirations, the ‘nod’ of approval is given to the one who aspires to be a ‘government servant’. For a country with very less monetary circulation, the only way of earning money was through the civil service. So we will have to understand the fixation with civil service jobs, decades ago.
In view of the civil service still maintaining a small number and with consistent development and expansion of other sectors, job creation has also increased tenfold. The mindset of people for other kinds of jobs has changed drastically. It is due to growing unemployment, but also because of the variety in opportunities as well.
The variety in opportunities is a good thing, but it can also create room for corruption. When the different agencies require to partner up for development, and considering the profit-making mandates of the private sector and the fixed pay package of the civil servants, there is room for temptation.
As with any society, there has to be check and balance. The responsibility of a civil servant enables the capacity for power, which could be reason for manipulation or corruption. The laws in Bhutan against corruption are very stringent; for the sole reason of ensuring integrity. But, how do we define integrity in relation to a civil servant? Is the fact that a civil servant follows through with his/her responsibilities enough? Or do we need to address the willingness and the time spent on doing their job as well? How does one determine that the people don’t just consider it a job but a career?
There are various mechanisms drawn out to ensure efficiency and effectiveness of every portfolio, to create a seamless system of governance. Probably the check and balance came in at the right time or a little late, but they are in place. It is the self-assessment of the government that has initiated systems in place to curb any forms of corruption (or plain laziness, if I may). For the most part, our government has been instrumental in improving itself. The civic sense is not lost; which has been the guiding stick that knocks out the ‘rotten apples’. To a certain extent, the civic sense is fueled by perks attached to the sector; which practically curbs inertia.
We must also extend due recognition to the other sectors for keeping the government on track. We must observe that these instigations for change have also been external. A lot has been done with collaboration from civil society, private sector and responsible media in improving the public sector. Emerging dialogues between these sectors ensures a practical and realistic picture of the government. There has been a distinctive change in the mindset of ‘government’ in the country. It’s no more an indisputable entity; the previous notions of ‘infallibility’ in the job are slowly replaced with conscious sense of ‘ownership’ of the job. We have begun to witness recognition for the ‘civil’ in their jobs; to create cohesiveness, efficiency and functionality for the benefit of the public and the nation. The public has begun to demand these responsibilities from the government.
It is also good to note here that sometimes dialogues may tend to focus on negative issues and may create notions not necessarily attached in reality. There is widespread dissent and frustrations, albeit anonymous and on web forums, against forms of government; which in fact questions the authenticity of stories and the subsequent damage it could do to parties involved, if not. It may be propagation for personal or political gratification, or it may be the plain truth. Therefore, it must be the responsibility of every agency in the country to address and ensure factual dissemination of information. Nevertheless, focus on adverse issue or lack of implementation which people know to be true may be the right kind of pressure that fine tunes and betters a civil servant.
We may also want to question why there is widespread anonymity in exposing fraud. Are we avid bloggers or just skeptical of the balancing system in the country? Is it because our society is so small to co-exist with people one may have rubbed the wrong way? Or are we too sacred a public to brave the bureaucratic storm? Or to begin with, we might want to try and understand what does not make a civil servant.
In saying so, the capacity for discretion will and always remains with the government. They may only be prompted from time to time, by other agencies. The focus should be towards constructive dialogue and directed towards the ‘chair’ and not the person sitting on it. Our government is practically new in engaging in ‘brutal’ discourses, but they are doing their very best to keep the interest of the public, private and everyone in between. One should remember the mandate of the civil service; which has been mostly ignored the world over, and give thanks to the good fortune we have had so far. They are the forerunner for any kind of development, they have brought about success under strong leadership and they are still relevant to our society. Questioning their relevance may bring about dissent of the kind we have not experienced after monarchy was established, and we must not- nothing good comes out of when motivated by factious and mercantile thoughts.
At the end of it, we owe a lot to civil servants. By virtue of being the ‘connecting dots’ of development and progress in the country, they have brought the nation where it is today. However, it is even more crucial their roles are further defined in the changing world of democracy to ensure the government keeps working for the people and not engage in partisan motivated politics.
So the next time you witness deprivation on the television or hear about a heinous act of genocide carried out by a dictatorship, always remember those who have gone the extra mile to provide the happiness in which this country is made of.