No extraordinary session of parliament

While important Bills will make the winter session of the parliament longer, civil servants express some concerns about the Civil Service Reform Bill 2022

The speaker of the National Assembly (NA), Wangchuk Namgyel had earlier said he is awaiting bills from the ministries to decide on holding an extraordinary parliament session or not. As there are important transformative bills that require discussion, the NA Speaker said there will be no extraordinary session.

However, civil servants and observers that the paper spoke to have different views on the Civil Service Reform Bill 2022, including those who believe that the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) could have asked for feedback from civil servants.

“This year’s winter session of parliament will be longer than usual because there will be a number of transformational bills and others on the agenda that needs serious discussion,” the NA Speaker said. He also confirmed that one of the important bills is the Civil Service Reform Bill 2022.

Involving senior executives and experts, the Civil Service Reform Bill 2022 has been drafted. When asked about it, a senior legal expert said the decision made to discuss it well augurs good for the nation.

“The tabling in parliament is important and a depiction of the separation of powers. It will now be the wisdom of our parliamentarians to accept everything, change, add or delete provisions of the bill,” he said.

Meanwhile, civil servants retired and working that the paper spoke, differ in their views about the bill. One from Gelephu said that merging and renaming ministries and agencies should not matter.

However, he said that the new Bill, if endorsed would reduce the “lengthy procedure in the bureaucracy and duplication of agencies that add ladders in the system.” “We hope the reforms will streamline the system and will be an effective shortcut means for public service delivery,” he said.

Another civil servant from Samtse said that the changes are timely and very appropriate. He said the laid-back and secured attitude of the civil service had to be shaken at some point and it is good that it’s happening right now.

“I feel service delivery is the foremost task whether the names are changed or merged or kept as it is. So, I hope the agencies and ministries prioritize that instead of debating on which parent ministry they belong to,” the civil servant added.

On the other front, a former civil servant said some of the changes made need to be discussed “comprehensively.”

“The Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) is being bifurcated, with one section taken under the Cabinet Secretariat and other under the Ministry of Finance. Is it politically correct? Will governments not take advantage of this, when both planning and resource mobilization are under their domains,” he said.

He added that Bills should be drafted thinking about the future. “If we are having problems now, it is because of the lack of vision of our Acts. In the future, governments can misuse this,” he said, explaining that till date the GNHC was making the plans and the government endorsing it, after adding some of their pledges. “Now, governments can plan as per their pledges,” he said.

On the resource mobilization part too, he said that when the government is involved, donor agencies will come with conditions. “The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other donors are known for imposing conditionality. Similarly, other partners could hold the government to ransom,” he said, adding that the future should be thought about.

Sonam, a freelance writer and consultant who read the Bill said some ministries have been given “extreme power.” “His Majesty always says that with power comes responsibility. If our leaders follow this, it is fine; but the common trend in and outside Bhutan is the nexus between power and corruption and also power and inability to take decisions.” When asked what he meant by the latter, he said that some leaders cannot take decisions, if due to their power, something very important is to be decided.

Meanwhile, another group amongst civil servants are those who think that their views could have been sought. “We know experts and senior executives were involved in drafting the Bill. But our views could have been asked, too,” one civil servant said.

Sangay Rabten from Thimphu