In-conversation with the Chairperson of the Royal Civil Service Commission

The Chairperson of the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC), Dasho Karma Tshiteem, talks to Business Bhutan reporter Dechen Dolkar up on the successful completion of five-year term as the second commissioner and his achievements and challenges.

Q. Upon the end of a successful term as the second commissioner, what are the most satisfying memories that you take along with you of your time with RCSC?

A. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to serve King, Country and People and I feel satisfied that I, along with my fellow commissioners, made as much of the opportunity as possible. There are too many things to mention but certainly working with large number of highly qualified and capable civil servants on the five areas of reform – OD Exercise for right sizing, Bhutan Civil Service System enhancements for greater professionalism (Super Structure and Separation of the Professional and Management Category from the Supervisory and Support Category), Performance Management System improvements for greater productivity, accountability and meritocracy, Succession Planning and Leadership Development for enhancing leadership in the civil service and Civil Service Wellbeing to take better care of civil servants, as well as the focus on developing the soft skills of civil servants through coaching skills, mindfulness retreats, emotional intelligence – remain a singularly satisfying memory.

Q. The time you assumed the office, you must have had many innovative ideas or the changes which you intended to apply in RCSC? Were you able to implement all of them?    

A. I believe we implemented almost all the big ideas we had in mind, as highlighted above.

Q. Many people felt that civil service witnessed the slowest growth during your term. Was it deliberate attempt to curtail the growth aligning with RCSC motto of small, compact and efficient civil service? 

A. Immediately upon appointment, we froze all decentralized recruitment, which was the main cause for the slower growth. We wanted to make sure that the approved staffing, the basis for such recruitment, was based on real needs. This was the main source of the slower growth. Thereafter, based on the government wide OD exercise, new staffing requirements were approved which are now used as a basis for the annual recruitments. Also, we took a decision to maintain the annual growth of civil servants at the same rate as the national population growth rate, so that the ratio of civil servants to the population would remain the same while services and governance would not be affected.

Q. RCSC’s mandate is to maintain small, compact and efficient civil service; however on the other hand there is shortage of human resources in many government organizations. How does RCSC manage it and what are the challenges?

A. This is actually not the case on the ground as RCSC ensures that all genuine needs are met, based on proper assessment. Infact, one of our initiatives was to establish criterions for deriving recruitment numbers so that it was not left to arbitrary decisions. For instance, in education, we use a formula to derive the numbers of teachers we need. The formula factors in 18 hours of teaching, subject and number of sections. For the general civil service, we use 1603 hours per year as the threshold to justify one additional staff. Therefore, the real challenge now is how productively the available people are utilized and that is a question of leadership in the organizations.

Q. Tackling unemployment is the government’s biggest challenge. In Bhutan, does the civil service exam make the civil service entry ever stricter?

A.་Our country cannot afford to use the civil service to solve unemployment problems. That is a recipe for disaster, as can be seen from the cases of failing countries where they have done so. As the civil service is fully staffed, we must be crystal clear that annual growth rates will be very small, mainly to replace those who have left the civil service. With technology, even these numbers might get smaller. Private sector or self-employment will have to be the main source of employment for the vast majority of new job entrants. That is simply the future of employment.

Q.             The Royal Civil Service absorbs quite a number of job seekers. And many do prefer secure government jobs. But RCSC is making it ever hard to land a government job. How can the RCSC maintain a balance? What is your comment on this?

A.             While the annual recruitment numbers will not grow significantly, the RCSC will continue to recruit around a thousand people annually, mainly to meet shortages that still exist in certain areas, or to replace those retiring or resigning. Therefore, there will always be space for the best and brightest to join the civil service but this will always be based on needs as highlighted earlier.

Q.             Many were affected by the reforms you brought during your tenure. For instance, one decision has been that PhD holders cannot hold managerial post. Do you think every reform was positive and best suited to the civil servants?    

A.             We believe, with a great degree of confidence, that our reforms will serve King, Country and People, as they will strengthen the civil service as an institution. For instance, the decision that forces PhD holders to remain as specialists will ensure that people who go for PhDs and spend a long time studying to get this degree, will utilize the knowledge and experience they get as a result, for the benefit of the country. Otherwise we have to question the wisdom of a system that supports and allows people to spend extended portions of their civil service career studying instead of working and finally when they get the degree that indicates high level of specialization, we allow them to become an Executive using none or very little of what they have learned. Isn’t this a waste? Indeed PhD holders are even scarcer than medical doctors so there is even more reason to ensure that we keep them in positions and institutions that will benefit from the investment the country has made. Similar reasoning, which was also discussed with those who will be affected, underlines all our reforms and I am happy to say that the concerned civil servants, while not happy, have largely been supportive.

Q.་What do you think should have been done but could not be done or materialized for varying reasons?  

A. There are a number of things that we wanted to do but could not be done. This was not due to outside forces but mainly due to timing and sequencing issues. For instance, the elevation of Position Levels of heads of autonomous agencies to Ex 1 to make it more commensurate with their higher responsibilities, facilitate succession planning as well as, deservedly, allow civil servants who devote a lifetime to the service of the Tsa-wa-sum and reach the executive level to also finish their career at the highest position level.

Q. What is your future plan?

A. John Lennon – a favorite singer of mine – famously sang “life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans” so I hope to be mindful and enjoy life instead.