Bhutan’s shadowy world

Bhutan has seen a series of scams, improprieties and abuse of power cases coming to the public attention.

These have been understandably greeted with outrage but there is also a need to delve deeper into the issues. It is clear that there is a systemic malaise as most of these cases would never have been possible without the active participation or silence of junior officials at various levels.

The Bhutanese civil service apart from corruption and nepotism suffers from the more prevalent culture of fear and blind obedience where, what the boss says, is the law.

This culture has created a fertile breeding ground for various other malpractices.

Historically a lot of this comes from the remnants of an earlier feudal era when the local feudal lord or government official was all powerful and could not be questioned. It was the fear of bringing the wrath of authority upon one’s household that over the years, led to a high degree of tolerance of corruption and abuse of power.

In many parts of Bhutan many villagers still live under that shadow of fear be it the fear of the local tshogpa, Gup, Dzongkhag officials or even visiting dignitaries all of whom still have enormous powers over the quality of life of the villager.

Most villagers therefore take gifts for even everyday tasks for officials at various levels who in most cases accept it as a given birthright.

It is misnomer that this is ‘Bhutanese Culture’ because extorting from citizens in a systematic manner is not a part of any culture.

The people who accept these gifts and tributes themselves live under an unofficial culture which often demands blind loyalty to ones boss to progress ahead. The Boss himself; apart from the official rules and regulations follows the unofficial norms of a shadowy world within the civil service.

This shadowy world within the Bhutanese civil service and governance structure is a intricate, invisible and powerful world of cliques, groups, family and loyalties where merit is only incidental.

This world is not very different in its concept from the Mafia where various godfathers rule over their own fiefs. The godfathers in this structure are either very senior bureaucrats or senior politicians.

These powerful figures will do favors for the junior officials or have the potential to do a favor in the future. Junior officials who want a quick path ahead comply. Favors, however, never come free and services have to be done in return.

More enterprising officials break even rules and laws for the benefit of these godfathers. The career paths of such officials are comparable to a NASA rocket launch with promotions, plump transfers and postings all coming in a flood. If the officials are ever caught for doing such favors then there will be little or no consequences.

However, the real action is when this structure comes in contact with the business world. Those within the business community who enjoy the goodwill of the godfathers will prosper in an economy where most businesses depend on the government. The result is an unholy super structure that enjoys both political and bureaucratic power as well as money power with one feeding of the other.

This shadowy super structure can easily extend its tentacles of control into the judiciary, media, private sector and other government institutions.

Those who dare oppose it weather within the bureaucracy or outside it will be targeted and hounded by these very powerful and organized groups.

The problem is not endemic to just Bhutan but is a global problem with the rise of globalization, political corruption, weakening of democratic institutions, etc.

However, once these structures get too heavy in many countries, more often than not, the structures either fall by themselves or the people get rid of it as in the case of Indonesia, Philippines, Middle East etc.

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16 comments

  1. well written the fact of Bhutan. This is exactly what I was thinking about in last few years.

  2. Very true, all rich bastards are vips

  3. Deeper thinking you called it? Other than blatantly blaming the politicians the Editor failed to suggest any way forward. He hinted a bit of chaos as exampled in the Middle Easts. In truth he is really looking for such anarchy. If taking tokens or gifts was not a part culture (good or bad) that were heavily practiced though we would like it to be totally abolished, are smoking in the office with no respect to other colleagues who do not smoke, arrogance and use of derogatory languages, copying the body languages of the so called developed world our culture? Why can’t we have a real editorial for once instead of opinion? 

  4. indeed a sad reality in GNH country like ours…hopefully it will change in coming years????

  5. samden drup matsug

    Mr. Phuntsho the Editor cannot offer any suggestion(s). He is just presenting the facts and if these bunch of civil servants are aware of such happenings they should take necessary steps to gradually stop these. So it is in the civil servants court.

  6. Quote: “This shadowy world within the Bhutanese civil service and governance structure is a intricate, invisible and powerful world of cliques, groups, family and loyalties where merit is only incidental.

    This world is not very different in its concept from the Mafia where various godfathers rule over their own fiefs. The godfathers in this structure are either very senior bureaucrats or senior politicians.”

    Indeed very true! Just sad and i know nothing will happen
    in the Bhutanese civil service mafia family.

  7. only a hot blooded bhutanese can have the guts to write this. no one till date had done it.

    My salute for ur bravery and sticking to truth. you truly deserve an award.

  8. It is really true. The junior lot of civil servant want to change this but their boss  trashes them hard. we can change this with the following
    1)a strong whistle blowing  system which protects the whistle blower 
    2)there should be law to protect whistle blower
    3) there should be intensive for whistle blower  after investigation if the  information given bu whistle blower is found to be true. the investigation should be lunched secretly  by the relevant agency .
    4) junior officer have no courage against their boss because they are targeted. and most of the corruption happen at high level and most of which are white corruption.

  9. Many of the points mentioned by Phuntsho are nothing new and happens all over the world, and suprisingly even in the advanced and developed countries. There are no vaccines developed to eradicate this malaise and so long as humans exist we have to live with and tolerate it. Having said this, what we can do is to make the civil servants and those holding public offices to be made accountable, and their roles and responsiblities more defined and transparent.I don’t think  we can be labelled as being labled as mafia,infact, what we lack is good leadership. Heads of Departments and Ministry’s who can be role models and set good examples for the rest to follow. 
    The RSC ought to be more proactive and think outside the box for a change and see how to get the best out of the civil servants rather than choking the system with rules and more rules. So much can be written on it and I would entertain more comments on this rather important and critical issue.

  10. Indeed, one also need to look at two sides of the coin. Here to some extent i agree, but other side is overlooked. Loyalty, interconnected relations among employees in the organization brings positive results. … So its not always negative as we think

  11. There is another shadowy world in the civil service. But since they make their own rules, what they want they usually get and they make it legit.

    The other shadowy world is in the new decentralized and local governments. A lot of nexus in dealings and very little transparency and yes, a LOT Of corruption all hidden behind faceless committees. 

    Decentralization has decentralized corruption. How democratic!

  12. GIVE NO HAPPINESS by rich and influential people and GOT NO HAPPINESS by poor people like us.

    GIVE NO HAPPINESS by rich and influential people and GOT NO HAPPINESS by poor people like us.

  13. Thumps up an editor! I think editor is nothing negative about it. Instead he is suggesting better morale and performance by our officials. If it is me i would not be scorned, furious, hatred, disgraced with the editor. Rather i would learn from him to get better and to do better. I think Bhutanese should learn to be critique and should be able to take huge criticisms and be a learning pupil from it. If every thing is taken for granted and all is well i doubt for a big leap for improvement, development, humanity etc. That is why we aspire to be equal with other countries. That is why we are in shadowy world still. Wake up guys…

  14. “This shadowy world within the Bhutanese civil service and governance structure is a intricate, invisible and powerful world of cliques, groups, family and loyalties where merit is only incidental” …… someone need to do something about it !!!

  15. Big-shots are corrupt. So are civil servants, business people, contractors. Only people above corruption are the very poor farmers of Bhutan.

  16. The Bhutanese civil service is in a deep mess and my bet is no one will do anything into improving it. The godfathers would know how costly it would be if this sensitive part is disturbed. The rotting would continue regrettably.

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