Transformation – From different Prisms

The nation has been undergoing unprecedented transformation, which ensued after the Royal Kasho from His Majesty the King on Education and Civil Service reform. The message was simple; we need to be prepared for the future; for new challenges, we need new policies and interventions; Bhutan cannot be left behind in the global march of technology and “as one of the most important institutions of our state, there is an urgent need for the civil service to re-examine itself so that it is able to shoulder the responsibilities bestowed by the Constitution, live up to the trust and confidence reposed by the Throne, and meet the hopes and aspirations placed by our government and people.”

His Majesty referred to the Third Druk Gyalpo and said that in order to respond to the new challenges, His Majesty King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck initiated far-reaching reforms to streamline and modernize the public service, building upon the modest but important initiatives of our First and Second Kings. His Majesty further said that to promote good governance and social justice, civil servants must be professional, uphold the highest standards of ethics and integrity, and exhibit qualities of adroitness and compassion.

The Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) began its reform process. Senior executives were managed out; agencies with similar mandates clubbed and one ministry removed. The Performance Management System (PMS) has also been revised. But where have we reached?

While we cannot speak for all civil servants, there are many who have now begun multitasking. They do not reach home at 5.05 PM. They move early to office. Thus, we can surmise that we are leveraging the strengths of our civil servants. The “sense of complacency and indifference generated by the guarantee of job security,” appears to have evaporated. We cannot say that the RCSC’s PMS is the best and watertight. Every model will have weaknesses.

Concerning the reform (transformation), the RCSC informed that it is working closely with executives to accelerate efforts to transform the Civil Service. According to the RCSC, these efforts will result in a fundamental shift and overhaul of the manner in which public service is delivered to the people, and how Civil Service agencies are organized to do so. RCSC said that there will be redesigning in public service delivery; and reorganization of agencies to put the well-being of citizens and our future generations at the front and the. “The Civil Service will strive harder to deliver economic prosperity, progress and wellbeing for all.  In order to achieve this vision and better serve the people of Bhutan, the Civil Service remains committed to continually push ourselves to be more effective and efficient. The recent leadership assessment exercise that started in January 2022 is a significant milestone in a series of transformational changes to revamp our Civil Service and RCSC’s approach towards personnel and performance management,” the RCSC said. We are positive that RCSC would have achieved these aspirations or are very near to the destinations.      

However, there still is the other side of the coin. The “Yes Boss” syndrome continues to triumph. There still are civil servants who cannot question their seniors and others who are perceived to be powerful. Perhaps, agencies transformed without transforming the people. 

Additionally, many allude transformation to the civil service only. Transformation was instituted in other agencies too, and the work continues.  The Jigme Wangchuck Super Fablab at Babesa is a testament of transformation in the areas of technology and innovation. The Fab 23 hosted at the Fablab indicates that Bhutan is on the right track in terms of transformation in technology. And this is essential. While issuing the Royal Kasho, His Majesty said: “The twenty-first century economy will be driven by artificial intelligence, robotics, automation, big data, and blockchain, while digital currency, digital wallet, digital banking, and quantum computing will define the financial landscape. We must pre-empt these profound developments by restructuring the budget process, financial norms and procurement systems to fast-track our transition to a knowledge-based and tech-driven economy.”

There has also been transformation in Education. There is more emphasis on developing the abilities of children for critical thinking. As commanded by His Majesty, self-discovery and exploration are prioritized and learners are involved in the creation of knowledge rather than making them mere consumers. STEM subjects have been prioritized.

Within the economic domain too, we have seen transformations. In hydropower, we are going for smaller projects. Digital assets are harnessed. Alternative sources of energy are explored. The increase in sustainable development fee (SDF) is also a policy transformation, just as the adoption of the Property Tax Bill of 2022 is. Bhutan is making bold moves and it should be done, for it is the call of the hour.  

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel had said: “My resolve is such that until the task is accomplished, I will persevere even if lightning should strike from above, the space in-between collapse, or the earth below move.” We have seen that His Majesty follows the same principle in thought and action. Similarly, in the exercise called Transformation, let us assist His Majesty in every way possible. We always think that one small action will not make a difference. What about the cumulative impact of 30,194 civil servants and others who work in the corporate world and the private sector? 

Finally, can we say that transformation has now ended, especially in a world driven by technological innovations, where everything could change in a minute or an hour? Thus, transformation will be an ongoing process, based on current needs and future targets.  And we have to be prepared for it!

Ugyen Tenzin from Thimphu