A culture of mediocrity

When a nation faces a crisis, it calls for self-introspection and also self-criticism to find out where we are going wrong, and also how we can improve.

The ongoing economic crisis has generated a lot of debate and also a lot of plausible economic reasons on why we are at this state – from the role of excessive consumption to wrong policies.

However, one non-economic reason that has not been explored sufficiently is our Bhutanese work ethic.

It is not a big secret that, unlike our hardworking Indian or even Chinese neighbors, many Bhutanese are not as hardworking or comparatively even lazy.

All sectors of the Bhutanese economy or polity – be it government or private has a culture of mediocrity.

Though it will not be fair to paint all with the same brush, the Bhutanese bureaucracy though comparatively better than some other South Asian ones still has a long way to go, in terms of service delivery.

Despite a lot of effort – both internal and external like Good Governance Plus, PCS, McKinsey, Administrative Burden Reduction Exercises, etc., in the last few years – little has changed in the bureaucracy.

Though some of the above initiatives, by themselves, are not perfect – the fact that ‘implementation’ has been the main problem also does not paint a favourable image of the unchanging bureaucracy.

The popular image of a bureaucrat is either furiously playing a game of desktop cards, unwillingness to work, or empty chairs attending never ending meetings with questionable productivity.

The performance of government-owned corporations is subject to more vigorous internal performance assessments and performance-linked incentives. However, again in terms of service delivery, there isn’t a huge gap between civil servants and corporate employees.

This can be experienced when even after paying a big sum – one has to struggle with even basic internet or mobile connectivity or when power outages last several hours and happens frequently.

As a rule of thumb – people in the private sector, which is the largest employer after agriculture sector, has the most hardworking category of people.

However, mediocrity cannot be applied in terms of the hard work of generally underpaid and overworked individuals, but the approach of most large private sector companies.

The obsessive need of even big companies to do something illegal or semi-legal to earn the quick buck like, in the case of fronting, seems to be order of the day. There is less stress on building strong regional or international corporate culture and more on getting political patronage to secure business monopolies or other benefits in the short-term.

One more example can be seen in the construction of domestic airports where some contractors, according to a RAA Report, did poor quality works but hugely overcharged the MoIC.

Apart from the obvious productivity and work ethic issues surrounding this culture of mediocrity, another troubling aspect is its inbuilt system to frustrate true performers or achievers and create a glass ceiling for them.

This can be seen, especially in government organizations and agencies where very often the only way to rise up the ladder is to be in the good books of the bosses.

Another aspect of this mediocrity is our huge level of dependence on the government for virtually everything from the time we are born to our productive years.

Though things are slowly changing and improving, Bhutan and its people need to do much more to create a culture of excellence and hard work if we are to ever overcome our economic problems.

The solution here, for once, cannot come only from the government, but more importantly lies in the people to be willing to put in more time and dedication into whatever it is they do.

It is important to note that His Majesty the King, for quite some time now through various initiatives and projects, has been slowly but surely instilling that culture of excellence in both Bhutanese institutions and ordinary citizens.

As His Majesty the King has highlighted on numerous occasions – the only way for Bhutan to be a truly self-sufficient and prosperous nation is when its people are able to rise above the mediocre level and achieve greater things.

It is high time now that all stakeholders from the elected government to ordinary citizens also do our fair share.

“If any of you have a desire to be mediocre, you will probably find that you have already achi eved your ambition.”

Hugh B. Brown

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