Govt Secretaries term can be extended depending on performance

Government Secretaries until recently have had a fixed tenure of five years after which they retire, provided they don’t retire earlier due to the retirement age.

However, a closer look at the Bhutan Civil Service Rules (BCSR) 2023 released in December 2023 by the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) shows a major change on this front.

Section 11.5.2.3. of the BCSR 2023 says, ‘A term of Government Secretary shall initially be for a period of five years, and extendable based on performance, and other criteria as determined by the Commission in consultation with the Government.’

This basically means that secretaries can get extension beyond their 5-year term.

This is compared to the earlier BCSR 2018 where the term of a Secretary to the Government was fixed at five years or until the superannuation age, whichever is earlier

The change in the BCSR 2023 has been drawn from Section 33 of the Civil Service Reform Act of Bhutan 2022 which says, “The Royal Civil Service Commission shall determine the tenure and terms of employment of senior civil servants as prescribed in the Bhutan Civil Service Regulations.”

According to the RCSC, the only reason the change was made was because they don’t want secretaries who are very capable and have many years of service left retiring prematurely.

RCSC felt that Bhutan with a small population only has a small talent pool.

A RCSC official said if a secretary is appointed at a young age then they would lose out if they have to retire after 5 years.

 This is also in the context of the retirement age for civil servants being raised last year with executives and specialists retiring at 63 and not 60 like before.

Prior to democracy, there was no term limit for government secretaries and a person remained a secretary until retirement age.

The change came about with the Civil Service Act of 2010 where the Parliament decided to limit the term of government secretaries to 5 years only.

A former public official said the Parliament had made the change at the time as they did not want secretaries going on forever.

This had also coincided with the advent of democracy from 2008 when elected governments, ministers and MPs only got a fixed five-year term.

 The former public official said that even in the old system before 2010 by the time people became secretaries they would be close to the retirement age as the number of years required to get a promotion would ensure a person is close to retirement when reaching at the top.

He said it is the same now.

Currently a civil servant will take 5 years to get the first promotion, and the second promotion is 4 years except for SS4 to SSS which is 5 years. In the Professional and Management Category (PMC) the promotion is usually every four years after the first promotion.

It takes 5 years to get promoted from Executive Specialist 3 A to Executive Specialist 1 A in the medical profession and 6 years for Executive Specialist 3A to Executive Specialist 2A and Executive Specialist 2A to Executive Specialist 1A.

The former official said the change seems to be more to accommodate new changes where younger secretaries come up or younger secretaries come from outside as the RCSC can now even recruit people from outside the civil service on contract at the senior levels.

The former official said it is good such a change has come in as young secretaries who do well can get another term.

At the same time the former official cautioned that a risk here could be that people in Bhutan do not like to make others unhappy and so people may just be allowed to continue.

To avoid this the former official said there should be a clear and transparent matrix of judging the performance of secretaries.

Another hidden risk is that secretaries who can get close to politicians may convince governments to recommend a term extension for them to the RCSC.

One more risk is that secretaries could perpetuate themselves and their ideas across multiple terms accumulating a lot of power with no accountability, and it may also discourage younger civil servants down the line in the absence of lack of opportunities to move up the ranks.

A civil servant dryly said that if one does not get along with a secretary one can bear it out for a few years but now nothing is certain.

Here, RCSC said the extension will be based entirely on performance and the Commission will have a role.

RCSC also pointed out that while the check and balance for ministers is the electorate the check and balance in this case is the process of nomination.

The BCSR 2023 says the recommendation for extension shall be in line with Section 11.5.2.2.  This section says, “In line with Article 2 Section 19 (p) of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan, His Majesty The Druk Gyalpo shall appoint the Secretaries to the Government on the recommendation of the Prime Minister who shall obtain nominations from the RCSC on the basis of merit and seniority and in accordance with other relevant rules and regulations.”

Since the term of the Secretary is extendable based on performance, and other criteria as determined by the Commission in consultation with the Government, this paper asked a RCSC official on what the ‘other criteria’ would be.

The RCSC official said it would be determined by the commission and it will be some internal criteria that will not be shared outside.

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