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.