Government concerned about high attrition rate

PM says measures to fill in vacancies left by people who have resigned from the civil service are being discussed

The attrition and exodus of people from different rungs of the society and profession continues with a record-breaking number of 2,612 civil servants leaving the civil service in 2022, surpassing the previous year’s record by more than 800 employees. 2022 also observed the highest number of voluntary resignations in almost a decade with more than 60 per cent resigning voluntarily, of which 307 were teachers. Additionally, around 400 nurses resigned from 2019 to January 2023.

However, the Prime Minister (PM) Dr. Lotay Tshering in an earlier interaction with the Bhutanese media said that despite resignations from critical professions, public service delivery has not been affected. Nonetheless, the PM also cautioned that if the trend continues, the affects would be seen. He also underlined measures are being undertaken to ensure that gaps are filled and services delivered.

“Right now, most people have left. However, the situation in public service delivery has not been drastically hampered yet. But if the trend continues, the direct impact will be seen in public service delivery, which will ultimately affect the general public,” the PM said.

He also said that, although the government doesn’t plan on restricting those people from going out, the government will have to bring in professionals to deliver the service to the public and fill the gaps left by the people who have left.

On probable affects if attrition continues, the PM said; “Next year around this time, if there is a vast number of teacher attrition, we should forget about the quality of education because it will also affect the quantity. We might need to keep periods free for students due to the shortage of teachers.”

While reiterating that public service delivery has not been affected that much and is manageable, the PM added that though people are currently receiving services in hospitals, “the quality may have been affected,” though it is difficult to quantify it at the moment

“Quality must have been affected if you’re able to measure it,” he said, adding that if attrition of hospital staff, such as nurses and technicians rise, there will be direct impact on public service delivery.

“I’m not saying that other professions are not important, but when we go to schools and start giving children free periods, and if patients don’t get the required medication then it will be a disaster,” the PM noted.

Speaking about measures to ensure continuous delivery of services and fill the gaps, the PM said that making the retirement age flexible is one measure being discussed. “Discussions are being held regarding the possibility of making the retirement age more flexible. Currently we are facing shortages of teachers and health staff.  However, they have to retire when they attain the age of 57. And we have lots of experienced teachers who are above 57 of age, but are not working as they have attained the retirement age,” he said.

The PM further informed that changes in the Civil Service Act was also done keeping in mind attrition and its affect on the services.

“We have even changed the Civil Service Act. We now have opt out and opt in option. You can go out and come back again. You can join the civil service again if you have resigned earlier also,” he said, adding that very soon the government will announce vacancies, with liberty for all to apply.

“There will be few eligible criteria and experience requirement. If you fulfill all, then all can apply at the chief, director and director general levels. Those who are not civil servants can apply, including those who are in Australia, Europe and other countries,” he said.

Speaking about Bhutanese going out he said that Bhutanese who are going out mostly or almost all are going to study. “Since many or all are going for studies we must take it as an investment,” he said.

He further explained that if we want people who have left currently to return after completing their studies, there should be opportunities created for them to come back to Bhutan. If they earn money in Australia, investments opportunities should be created in Bhutan.

“Which will be gradually done through the reforms and transformation,” he added.

Meanwhile Lyonchen also cleared rumors that among the general public that the government might restrict people to from going abroad seeing the huge number of people leaving. “It is not true at all. On the contrary government is supporting those who want to go,” he said, adding that the government has printed 10,000 plus passport quickly so that people don’t face issues of not getting passport.

The PM further said that people are also creating the impression that a huge number of Bhutanese have left the country. “However, this is not entirely true because the foreign ministry has issued no more than 72,000 passports so far, including those held by the general population who are currently in the country,” the PM said.

Meanwhile, observers say that unlike in the past, people leaving for Australia have different reasons. “Earlier, people used to go abroad, but in fewer numbers. Another difference is that previously, unemployed individuals or those wanting to pursue masters were the ones leaving the country. However, the difference between then and now is that even employed and well-paid individuals, including civil servants at the chief levels are leaving the country,” a senior civil servant said.

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu