A Cold War between RCSC and ECB leaves the career of 130 hanging in the balance

Unknown to most, the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) and the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) have been engaged in a long standing and escalating tussle since 2010 over who has the final authority on Human Resource decisions like recruitment, promotions, administrative actions etc for ECB.

The RCSC, through all these years, has been maintaining that it has the final say as

per the RCSC Act 2010, while the ECB has been saying that it has the authority under Election Act 2008.

In the context of Constitutional bodies trying to find their place and assert independence, the ECB fired the first salvo in 2010 when it drafted its own Service Rules and Regulations effectively delinking ECB from the RCSC.

At the time in a sign of the times to come, despite being invited, the RCSC did not send its representative to ECB in helping draft the regulations. However, the then Anti Corruption Commission Director did turn up at ECB to help draft the rules.

A RCSC official said, “The then ECB citing its Act essentially forced its way through and created its own HR system separate from the RCSC.”

The Chief Election Commissioner, Chogyal Dago Rigdzin echoing the institutional position of the ECB said, “The ECB has drawn up its own service rules and regulations as per section 41 of the Election Act of Bhutan 2008 and is not governed by the RCSC.”

Section 41 of the Act says, “The Election Commission shall have full authority over all aspect of its financial and personnel management.”

He also said that all ECB employees cannot be called civil servants as they don’t come under RCSC but rather they are called public servants.

However, the RCSC on its part has never accepted the separation and it has mentioned so in the last annual report of the previous Commission and also the first annual report of 2014-15 of the new RCSC Commission.

The 2014-15 RCSC Annual report under the section of ‘Key Issues and Challenges’ says , “The Commission found, as reported by the former Commission in their last Annual Report, that ECB has been taking independent HR actions, which included making their staff choose between being a civil servant with the RCSC or remaining with the ECB. Subsequently, they have taken a number of decisions, including recruitment, without any approval from the RCSC.”

The annual report says, “Going forward, in line with the Constitution and the Civil Service Act of Bhutan 2010, the RCSC hopes to bring their HR actions under the RCSC

but through MoUs, provide them greater delegated powers and flexibility to ensure that their HR needs, whether it be recruitment, training, transfers or promotions, are met.”

The RCSC, in its report, however, says that the authority in four areas like recruitment, meritorious promotion, administrative recourse and staff strength and positions will remain with the RCSC.

In recruitment, the ECB currently recruits is own staff at various levels independent of the RCSC. The RCSC is insisting that candidates only be recruited through its Bhutan Civil Service Examinations used to recruit civil servants.

For promotions the ECB as per its rules gives promotion and meritorious promotion to its staff. The RCSC wants all meritorious promotion cases to come before it for the final decision.

ECB currently decides its staff strength in line with its own requirement and activities and also creates its own positions. The RCSC wants a final say on this to ensure multi tasking and has pointed out that Dzongkhag election officials have very little work.

Currently ECB has all the administrative action authority for all disciplinary actions. The RCSC wants ECB staff to have recourse to RCSC for appeal in case of major decisions.

However, whatever the RCSC says the ECB has been winning the battle so far using its Act and also getting the required current budget from the previous and current governments.

The RCSC in its annual report says that ECB has been able to recruit new people on its own and take its independent HR decisions since they were provided budget for such recruitments.

However, the RCSC in its own way has also been fighting back and not making the going any easy for the ECB.

According to ECB officials the RCSC refuses to send any of its representatives when the ECB is recruiting new staff.

Of the 130 or so staff 55 have been recruited by ECB independently either to be replacements or fill up vacancies.

A RCSC official said, “The RCSC refuses to recognize or acknowledge any of the staff recruited by ECB as civil servants as they did not go through RCSC.”

In what is leading to growing frustration in the ECB the RCSC is also refusing to recognize certain promotions and meritorious promotions given by the ECB to its own staff. Many ECB staff of whom 68 have RCSC backgrounds have been surprised to learn that despite being given promotions under the ECB service rules they have still be kept at their old grades under the RCSC records. Some of them even approached the RCSC to update them in the list.

An example is of the senior most bureaucrat in the ECB who is the ECB Secretary, Dawa Tenzin. His elevation from the previous post of Chief Administrative Officer to Director and then that of Secretary by the ECB under ECB service rules has not been recognized by the RCSC.

The Secretary said, “I sent my staff to check with the RCSC but instead of recognizing me as an Ex level officer they have kept me at the P 1 level in their records.”

The CEC said that Dawa Tenzin had been made the secretary since he was already the head of the secretariat.

There are other officials from RCSC backgrounds in the ECB whose promotions have not been recognized by RCSC.

According to the ECB Secretary the ECB despite having its own service rules and system has not been getting any Human Resources budget for trainings. He said all the budget currently goes to the RCSC and the ECB only gets the occasional leftover trainings when there is no one interested in other agencies.

Too add to all this there is a lot of confusion on the actual status of the ECB officials.

The RCSC while asserting in its annual report that it should have the final authority over ECB officials has not counted the ECB staff in its calculation of total number of civil servants.

However, the ECB Secretary said that currently the Dzongkhag level ECB staff were kept under the respective Dzongdas and were evaluated by them.

This confusion seems to have left many ECB officials in a no-man’s land and with uncertainty over their future career path. There is also the unsaid issue of ECB officials aspiring to a higher or different career path outside the ECB.

The CEC, however, said that things are quite clear and all the people working in the ECB are not civil servants but independent public servants and have a career path in ECB itself. He said those people wanting to join other agencies would have to resign from the ECB first.

Both the CEC and Secretary also said that in a note the previous RCSC Chairman around 2009 had given around six months for civil servants to leave ECB and join back in RCSC but with no assurances of being fully employed in RCSC.

The secretary said that around the time around 24 officers left and joined back in the RCSC.

However, when asked on if the ECB was clearly cut off from the RCSC service pool the secretary said it was not clear but the fact that the RCSC in its latest report did not include ECB staff as civil servants is an indicator in itself.

On the other hand the RCSC has not given up yet and wants to bring back the ECB staff under its fold through a process of discussions. A RCSC official said that at the moment there was no discussions scheduled but the new leaders on both sides would need to discuss and find a way out.

For the ECB the primary overriding concern like the ACC seems to have an independent HR system free of the RCSC given its important role in conducting elections. However, unlike the ACC the ECB could latch on to a provision in its own Act. The ECB in a sense does not want its employees ultimately having to go back under the very politicians for whom they conduct elections. The strong stand of the former ECB Commission also played a role in having an independent HR system.

For the RCSC by the virtue of it being a constitutional body with independent powers it sees no logic in any Constitutional body wanting to have an independent HR system. A RCSC official said that if RCSC was under any minister then it could understand the ECB’s stand but the RCSC itself was apolitical and took independent decisions based on its Act like in the case of the three secretaries.

Of the 130 staff of ECB excluding the Commission there is one executive, 75 officers and around 46 support staff.

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