Mass exodus leaves OAG in limbo

Mass exodus leaves OAG in limbo

Attrition rate sees recruitments and resignations of attorneys in the same year

The high attrition rate in Bhutan has crept into every section of the society and the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is not an exception. The year 2022-23 saw over 53 personnel resigning from the OAG on a voluntary basis with 48 of the employees below the age of 50 years. The attrition rate has seen a dramatic increase over the past few years. In total, 64 individuals left the organization representing 21.92% of the workforce.

Such a high attrition rate has impacted the overall coverage of audit functions besides impacting the quality of output as Professional and Management group was the maximum to leave at 25.95% of the total staff within that group.

In light of the notable high attrition observed by the office in 2022, the office took proactive steps by recruiting 10 attorneys on a regular basis and appointing 15 attorneys on a contractual basis making a total recruitment of 25 attorneys in the year 2023 alone. However, during the period under review, a total of 23 attorneys resigned from the office including 7 of them who were recruited in the year 2023.

In the same year, 8 senior attorneys availed extraordinary leave (EOL), taking the total number of officials on EOL to 13 and creating a significant gap in both numbers and experience.

The majority of the attorneys who resigned from the office or those on EOL had an average tenure of around 8 years or more working experience in the office.

Consequently, attorneys working under the Department of Justice found themselves tasked with handling a total caseload ranging from 50 to 70 cases.

Similarly, the four divisions within the Department of Legal Services are currently staffed with 9 attorneys, with each division functioning with 2-3 attorneys falling short of the approved staffing level for the Department by 8 attorneys.

The significant attrition rate of experienced attorneys had several impacts on the functioning of the office. The prosecutors and attorneys are overworked to execute their responsibilities, often confronting challenges and risk while representing the State. Further, the office lacks specialized attorneys in the field of criminal law, drugs, finance, drafting, finance, taxation, public international law and many others.

The parallel consequences were lack of succession planning, and a need to further expand its staffing and resources to respond to significantly increased workloads across all divisions. The efficient use and management of the OAGโ€™s resources is limited as a result of the lack of human resource, planning, and management capacity in the OAG.

Rigid staffing pattern and high attrition in the office has attributed to the office struggling to manage the diverse array of legal matters it encounters. Its inability to retain senior and highly skilled attorneys has impacted overall expertise of the office, hindering its ability to address complex legal issues. This has also led to unfilled post of chief and executive positions, which have remained unfilled for several years. Currently, both the departments are without a director and 4 divisions out of 6 are currently being headed by officiating chief attorneys appointed by the office consisting of P2 & P3 senior attorneys.

Moreover, the lack of resources has hindered the effort of the office to specialize lawyers in specific areas of laws.

โ€œNevertheless, the office has made it a priority to employ all resources at its disposal to carry out their mandates, and in the face of these challenges, it acted decisively to defend and uphold the rights of the Bhutanese people and prosecute those who would do them harm as ensuring Governments rights are protected in the realm of corporate, finance and international affairs,โ€ the OAG stated.

Meanwhile, the OAG, in collaboration with the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) and other pertinent stakeholders is continuing to address the challenges in retaining highly-skilled, diversified staff to tackle concerns pertaining to law enforcement, litigation, management, and other areas.

As of December 2023, the office had a total of 67 employees. Out of 67, 12 officials work for the secretariat services while 13 are currently on EOL and 2 on deputation to other offices. Excluding the Attorney General, there are 39 attorneys who render professional legal services to the government. While 30 attorneys work for the Department of Justice catering prosecution, litigation and enforcement services, 9 attorneys work for the Department of Legal Services.

By Tashi Namgyal, Thimphu