Unknown to many, there was hectic lobbying behind the scenes by various individuals both inside and outside the government including even PDP candidates, who lost in 2013, for the post of ambassadors.
However, to the surprise of many and the disappointment of a few, the final list consisted exclusively of senior diplomats within the foreign ministry including the brother of a former DPT minister.
Similarly the grapevines in the government also talked about behind the scenes lobbying for the post of government secretaries. There were also hopes in some quarters that old precedents would continue and people either related to or close to the ruling party and its members would get an advantage. After all what better mechanism to perpetuate power than appoint one’s loyalists at the top hierarchy of the civil service. Some names had also been floating around or more accurately had been floated by various interest groups.
However, here again the final list of the secretaries show that all of the above considerations went out of the window and the charge was put in the hand of senior, neutral, respected and well established hands.
Even the appointment of the Constitutional heads and Commission members of the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) and the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) showed that professional and well respected figures were put in the right places.
It is often said that actions speak louder than words and for those watching the above actions a few messages from the government become very clear.
The first priority seems to be to reward capability and seniority over party or even family loyalty. In the recent past it was noted that politicians in power and top bureaucrats seemed to have one too many linkages. Some argued it was sheer coincidence due to Bhutan’s small society while others pointed to other factors.
The second and equally important move, related in a way to the first is the de-politicization of Bhutan’s civil service system. This started right from 2013 when the Prime Minister’s office did not appoint anymore political appointees and hired only professional civil servants, even though this did cause concerns on increased workload for civil servants in the PM’s office.
When party candidates themselves lobby to become ambassadors there definitely would be strong political pressure on the incumbent government but even this seems to have been put aside.
The third point is in sending a message of reassurance and confidence to the civil service in terms of a merit oriented civil service system where it is possible to rise to the highest levels by doing one’s job in a professional manner. The three secretaries case, whatever the justifications or explanations shook the civil service and there were those who wondered what would happen hereafter. There was fear, doubt and also tribalism in some quarters as to if the politicians are exercising their muscle to the detriment of bureaucrats. The answer has come in the subsequent appointments where merit and capability seem to be the main criteria with seniority trumping in a few places too.
This is not to say that all appointments so far have been perfect as there will always be some loose ends but what matters is the majority of the appointments and the intent.
As far as the secretaries are concerned apart from the cabinet due credit must be also given to the Royal Civil Service Commission as a democratic institution that did the selection of the broad list of the candidates from which the cabinet chose the names.
In that sense all the democratic institutions built by the Monarchy have time and again protected and strengthened democracy and provided hope and justice to the people.
Ultimately be it ambassadors or secretaries it is important to have capable and important people in the right places for the greater national good.
In the workplace, employees should be judged on their merit and hard work and not on aspects that are irrelevant to their performance.