While attrition of civil servants across different rungs has emerged as a pressing issue confronting the country, there have been several cases of professionals on government scholarships still in training and those who have signed bonds with the Royal Civil service Commission (RCSC), terminating the contracts before expiry.
As these individuals pay off their contract obligations, the RCSC has little or nothing to say or do in such cases. Further, most of them belong in the P5 category of civil servants.
Sources close to the paper said there have been instances of graduates prematurely abandoning their training, such as the Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) program, at the Samtse College of Education.
These trainees are funded by the government for the Post Graduate Diploma and are obligated to complete their trainings and serve for a specific duration. However, they pay off their bonds, based on their duration of trainings and leave.
The paper learned that some of these aspiring teachers discontinued their coursework midway, incurring penalties amounting to approximately Nu 500,000 as enforced by the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC). However, the paper could not obtain complete data on the number of students who left the different programs.
This is not confined to those pursuing the PGDE Post Graduate Diploma. There has also been several instances of trainees pursuing Post Graduate Diploma in Financial Management and Public Administration doing the same and paying off their obligations as per the RCSC rules and regulations.
Under RCSC regulations, students who abandon their government scholarships and fail to serve for a minimum of three years are obligated to pay double the tuition fees as penalty. This rule is aimed to deter individuals from prematurely terminating their commitment to the educational program and leaving the country without fulfilling their teaching obligations.
Depending upon the government funded scholarship; bonds are also signed with those pursuing specialisation courses outside the country. However, those undergoing the specialisation courses also discontinue the obligation. Sources said that those in specialized category pay penalties ranging from Nu 1mn to 6mn.
According to the commission, record or data on reasons civil servants are terminating their contracts are not maintained.
“Contract termination means people are not completing the term and resigning where we do not maintain reasons for the termination,” an official from the commission said.
The official also added that candidates who undergo undergraduate and postgraduate scholarship programmes funded by the royal government have an obligation to serve equal or double the duration of the program depending on whether it is their first or second long term studies.
“Before beginning their studies, these candidates sign bonds, and if they withdraw before fulfilling the commitment, they have to repay the government,” the official said, adding that in fact, “it’s crucial that we recognize how bonds might work against the interests of the larger group of civil servants in order for them to serve and become career civil servants.”
Meanwhile, the latest data till May 2023 from the commission shows that 2,447 civil servants have resigned, with the highest resignation in the professional and management category with about 1,166 individuals, followed by supervisory and support category with 1059 and 208 in operational staff and 14 individuals in executive and specialists category.
The data also shows that from the 2447 civil servants, the highest resignation was in the P5 position level with 414. Those in these levels are individuals who have been in the civil service for less than five years.
In the P5 position level, 165 of the individuals separated because of the contract termination, meaning that they had not fulfilled their commitments. Two compulsorily retired or were terminated, 91 left after contract completion, two expired, two were delinked (agency no longer part of the civil service), one superannuated and 151 voluntary resigned.
In addition, the data also shows 272 of the S1 position level separating from the civil service, followed by 251 in P3 position level, 238 in P4 level and 215 in SS4 level, amongst others.
The official from the commission shared that high attrition rates in the civil service are a complex play of both pull and push factors. “The commission as the central personnel agency of the government can address attrition issues directly only through HR policy changes,” the official said.
“The policy interventions made have been expanding the talent pool for executives, allowing unlimited quota to sit for Bhutan civil service examination (BCSE), having multiple windows for regular recruitment and appointments into the civil service, and increasing the superannuation age for all position categories,” the official said.
Meanwhile, the commission is currently working on a manpower management framework that is aimed at providing greater flexibility to agencies for managing HR especially in recruitment.
A senior civil servant, who has retired said that it is important for the commission to come out with new measures. “It appears that they are doing it. Bonds and contracts used to work in the past when there weren’t much avenues like what we see today. Nu 1mn meant a lot in the past. But these days Nu 500,000 or Nu 1mn can easily be obtained through loans and other means and repaid within a year if one gets a good job even within the country,” he said. “If even trainees pay off the obligations, it just indicates that bonds will nor work.”
He also added that with the reforms and a merit based financial and career pathway, retention is possible. “One thing that we ought to remember is that we lost a number of seasoned and capable civil servants in the past to international organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO), UN agencies and others. Because of the growth in media and especially the social media, we are hearing more about such issues. Attrition and retention has always been a problem,” he added.
Sherab Dorji from Thimphu