Picture Courtesy: Sonam Wangchuk

Constitution leaves selection of Cabinet Secretary to PM: RCSC

With the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) accepting the resignation of the incumbent Cabinet Secretary, Kinzang Wangdi in early May 2018, the post of the senior-most civil servant is vacant.

Kinzang Wangdi joined the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as it Bartsham-Shongphu candidate in mid-May.

Normally, in the case of the 10 government secretaries and 20 Dzongdas, the RCSC shortlists three names for each position and the cabinet makes a choice after which it is sent to His Majesty The King for appointment.

However, as per the Constitution the selection of the Cabinet Secretary is to be done by the Prime Minister directly after which the appointment is done by His Majesty The King.

The RCSC came across this fact before the selection and appointment of Kinzang Wangdi in April 2015, but it was never widely known.

A senior RCSC official on the condition of anonymity said, “The new Commission at the time checked the Constitution which was quite clear. The Commission then consulted with the Office of the Attorney General for legal advice and the OAG also found the same Constitutional clause to apply.”

The Constitutional section is Article 2 Section 19 (m) which says, “The Druk Gyalpo shall, by warrant under His hand and seal, appoint: The Cabinet Secretary on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.”

The same Article 2 in Section 19 (p) says “The Druk Gyalpo shall, by warrant under His hand and seal, appoint: The Secretaries to the Government on the recommendation of the Prime Minister who shall obtain nominations from the Royal Civil Service Commission on the basis of merit and seniority and in accordance with other relevant rules and regulations.”

Now this section with regard to the Cabinet Secretary is not an oversight or error in the Constitution but was deliberately put there.

Constitutional clause to empower PM

The Former Chief Justice, Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, who was the Chairman of the drafting committee of the Constitution said, “The section on the Cabinet Secretary being selected by the Prime Minister was deliberately put in because the Cabinet Secretary is a member of the Prime Minister’s team.”

“There are different authorities but the cabinet and the Prime minister are the prime authority,” said Lyonpo.

“His Majesty The Fourth King wanted the Prime Minister to have the authority to select the Cabinet Secretary with the intention of empowering the Prime Minister,” said the former Chief Justice.

The former Chief Justice said that actually the Prime Minister can nominate anyone who is to be then appointed by His Majesty The King but the convention is normally to have someone senior from within the government as the chief of the bureaucrats.

Theory and reality of the CS

The senior RCSC official also said that going by the Constitution the PM can even have someone from outside the government or for that matter even from the private sector. He, however, said that the normal expectation would be for somebody from within the government.

The official pointed out that the Cabinet Secretary is effectively the head of the bureaucracy and in terms of protocol and pay he is the senior-most bureaucrat.

In the erstwhile Committee of Secretaries, the cabinet secretary was its head.

The RCSC official said that this post has very important coordination functions between the different ministries and also in between the Prime Minister and government agencies. The official, said that once a person is appointed as cabinet secretary then he or she becomes the senior-most secretary.

Given that the post is outside the purview of RCSC, there is no post description, powers and responsibilities in the RCSC website.

Internationally, this post is considered to be the most powerful and influential in the bureaucracy, but so far none of the cabinet secretaries in Bhutan have been able to play that role or exercise that level of authority.

This is due to a variety of reasons- the chief among them being the the post of the cabinet secretary is a relatively new one compared to other well established government posts.

Though the post has a lot of potential responsibility, power and authority, in reality, it has been government secretaries calling the shots in their respective ministries for a long time.

What has also not helped is that there is no clear and widely accepted government rules and guidelines outlining the duties and powers of the cabinet secretary. Given that the two most important roles of the cabinet secretary are too coordinate government agencies and advise the Cabinet and PM on policy and other issues, the lack of such clear cut guidelines can be a hindrance.

RCSC’s earlier job description

The RCSC many years ago had come up with a draft job description for the Cabinet Secretary before realizing that this post is Constitutionally out of their purview.

The then job description says his purpose is to provide strategic policy inputs and manage the business of the highest executive body, the Cabinet, in formulation of national policies. His role is that of the senior-most Secretary of the Government. As the head of the Cabinet Secretariat, his core functions entail providing overall strategic direction and guidance to the functioning of the Secretariat and senior officials and also supervise, monitor and evaluate their works.

His responsibility as the secretary to the Cabinet and Prime Minister is to provide professional and strategic policy inputs for national policy-making and their timely and smooth implementation by various Ministries and Agencies of the Government as well as other public and private sectors.

He has to provide professional and impartial advice and support to the Prime Minister and and other government agencies on issues pertaining to the central government operations and processes, socio-economic policies, legislation and institutional aspects, emergency and security, etc.

The cabinet secretary has to prepare the agenda for and coordinate Cabinet Meetings and maintain the records of their discussions and decisions and prepare and issue executive orders and policy directives.

He has to ensure effective coordination and facilitation between Ministries and Agencies throughout all the sectors. He has to also coordinate with the other branches of the Government, Royal Secretariat, Constitutional bodies and other agencies on the functioning of the country.

The secretary has to direct, guide and implement national events. He has to prepare and organize meetings of the Prime Minister with foreign dignitaries and officials.

He is also supposed to be act as a chief spokesperson of the Government, on national policies and development strategies.

The paper says that he must have an in-depth knowledge of government policies – social, economic, political, security and development priorities, coupled with sound leadership and managerial knowledge and skills. It says he must have good command over written as well as spoken Dzongkha and English.

It says that the position requires deep and sound synthesis and analytical capability, which makes the work of the position highly complex and delicately intricate.

It goes on to say that the position also interacts with different sections of the Bhutanese and foreign agencies to advocate national interests and represent the government on pertinent issues. Therefore, the work of the position demands a wide range of knowledge on national as well as international issues, and articulating them appropriately into national policies and regulations.

The position, the paper says, receives only minimum supervision from the Prime Minister, Cabinet, and the government. Such instruction may be the conceptual framework or policy interpretation. The position needs to work largely independently, requiring highly independent exercise of judgment. Evaluation of his work is done directly by the Prime Minister (who is his supervisor) on the basis of the quality of policy inputs and advisories submitted by him.

It is hoped that while appointing a new cabinet secretary many of the issues of the past can be resolved in order to have an empowered and strong cabinet secretary who has clear roles and authority, as opposed to other senior bureaucrats and agencies which can strengthen the cabinet.

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