A leaked copy of the Civil Service Reform Bill 2022 which was widely available on WhatsApp has lead to some discussion among civil servants.
The Bill lays out the much anticipated restructuring of the civil service in terms of doing away with the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR) and Ministry of Information and Communication (MoIC) and merging their departments with other ministries and the creation of the new Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources.
Departments and certain autonomous bodies have also been moved around or joined together.
A civil servant on the condition of anonymity said the restructuring will be like ‘old wine in a new bottle’ if it does not translate to a change in how business is done and how civil servants function.
The civil servant said that if things like inflexibility in getting in labour, the use of foreign currency for business, doing away with red tape etc are not addressed then the impact of the restructuring will be limited on the private sector.
Another civil servant pointed out a conflict of interest in how some of the regulatory bodies and departments were brought together.
He questioned how the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources can have the Mining, Hydropower, and also have the Secretariat of the National Environment Commission and the Forest Department as Mining and Hydropower are about resource exploitation and NEC and Forest is meant to regulate them.
He also pointed out that clubbing Employment and Labour with the Ministry of Economic Affairs is also some conflict as the MoEA’s main job is to promote businesses and in doing so the workers and employers may not get top priority.
He said the placing the policy and planning part of the GNHC under the Prime Minister’s Office does not make much sense as the Prime Minister was already the head of the GNHC.
Another civil servant said combining the Drugs Regulatory Authority (DRA), Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) and Bhutan Narcotics Control Authority (BNCA) into one as the Bhutan Food and Drug Authority makes sense as long as it can function like the FDA of the USA.
However, the civil servant said bringing the three agencies together is just the first step and several more things need to be done.
He said in the case of the DRA the issue is not just merging, but its own inflexible stand saying that all international drug companies selling medicines in Bhutan have to register in Bhutan due to which many medicines are not available as Bhutan is too small a market for registration.
In other small countries they accept the drugs if it is registered in the EU, USA etc.
The merging of the Media Council and Film Commission back with BICMA was also questioned as the former two are to promote and develop the media and film industry, but BICMA is purely a regulatory body.
There were also some mid-level civil servants who asked how the senior executives took the decisions and if it was based on the personal whims and interests of the senior executives. Some of them said the changes also looked like the Organizational Development Exercises carried out by RCSC under the tenure of the first and second elected governments.
RCSC says reforms are deep and a lot will change
However, a RCSC official said the above views may be there because people are not fully aware of the full extent of the changes and reforms that are not only structural in nature but also changes how things are done and also how accountability is placed.
On the issue of regulatory bodies being merged or brought into ministries the RCSC official said that even under the current set up regulatory bodies are not doing a whole lot of effective regulation.
The official said the top board or commission members of the bodies are already senior government officials, and even if bodies are merged or brought into ministries they have to deliver on their regulatory roles.
The RCSC official said that on things like NEC and Forest coming together with mining and hydropower or labour and MoEA clashing the official said there are environmental and labour laws and nobody can go against the laws which have to be enforced.
In terms of how things will be done differently, the RCSC official pointed to the cluster system where the civil service is divided into clusters of Governance, Economy, Social and Security as one of the examples (see separate story on clusters on pg 1). The official said that the Performance Management System has also been revamped to better track and measure performance.
The official said that Bhutan is a small society and it does not make sense to create too much bifurcations between the policy making and regulatory aspects as it only costs more tax payer money. The official assured that there will be no conflict of interest.
The RCSC official said that another change is that the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for agencies in the Five Year Plan will undergo three major changes.
The official said the problem so far has been that the KPI targets for agencies in the five-year plan are very modest and many of them are achieved well before the plan is over and there is nothing after that. The KPI has also been limited to short term or medium term goals.
Going forward, the KPI will firstly be much more ambitious and secondly it will not be agency centric only but be at a national level like GDP, unemployment etc and thirdly it will have a longer term vision.
The official clarified that even if the KPI is very ambitious like for example having a Singapore level of service delivery, but people will not be penalized for not achieving it, and instead the progress towards achieving that will be measured instead.
As part of this another change is that planning will be done on a more long-term basis beyond the five years plans and it will be done in a strategic manner. This is one of the main reasons why the policy and planning arm of GNHC is coming under the PMO which will also monitor the plans. The PMO will take a lead in the National Strategic Planning for the long term.
The official said that in the new system the ministries are the key focus with even regulatory bodies within them and at the same time there will be certain professional and standard setting authorities.
The RCSC official gave the example of the Bhutan Professional Qualification and Certification Authority that brings together Bhutan Medical and Health Council, Bhutan Board for Certified Counselors, Engineering Council, Tertiary Education Board and Department of Occupational Standards under Ministry of Labour and Human Resources.
Another is the Bhutan Construction and Transport Authority.
The official said bodies like this will look at the quality of the infrastructure, quality of engineering, medical professionals, health professionals etc.
On the allegation of only a few senior executives calling all the shots, the RCSC official said this is not true as firstly there is a Steering Committee that sits above the team of senior executives and things can be done only once the Steering Committee gives approval.
The official said that apart from that the restructuring exercise did not just happen like that, but first there was a vision exercise to see what would be important transformation areas.
It was here that the five areas of establishing and strengthening Ministries as the foundational structure of governance; repositioning Ministries and Agencies strategically with allied mandates and common objectives for greater synergy; leveraging technology for improved service delivery and productivity; cluster common services to provide support functions such as Finance, HR, Procurement for optimal HR utilisation; and outsourcing and consolidating services wherever feasible, for cost efficiency came up.
The official also said that 40 plus executives did not work in isolation but they went back to their ministries and also consulted other P I officials below them and involved some of them too.
On the issue of the Media Council and Film Commission the official said that while their secretariats will be merged into the BICMA as divisions the Council and Commission will remain.
On the charge that the current changes are no more than a rehash of past OD exercises, the RCSC official said that it is not true and things have changed dramatically now and it is quite different from the past OD exercises.
One change is that the performance dashboards of all the executives will have a higher performance target and the focus will be on the progress to achieving them.
The RCSC official said that no civil servant will lose his or her job due the restructuring and people who need to be skilled will be skilled and be redeployed.
The structural changes
Apart from the structural changes mentioned above, the new Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources will take over the Departments of Hydropower and Renewable Energy to be combined as the Department of Energy, Geology and Mines from the MoEA and Forest and Parks from the Ministry of Agriculture.
The NEC’s secretariat will become the Department of Environment and Climate Change and
Department of Water is under this ministry.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will look after both Foreign Affairs and External Trade and be called the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Department of Regional Cooperation will be merged with the Department of Multilateral Affairs. The Department of Economic and Tech Diplomacy will be set up to develop our national economic interests on the trade and technology fronts.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests will be renamed as the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and only look after Agriculture, Livestock, Marketing and Cooperatives or Biodiversity.
The MoEA will be renamed as the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment and look after Industry, Trade, Commerce, Industrial Properties and Consumer Protection. It will take over Creative Industry, Information and Media from the MoIC and Employment and Labour from the MoLHR.
The Office of Consumer Protection in the existing laws shall be construed as the Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority. The Film Commission and Media Council shall merge with BICMA under the ministry.
The Tourism Council of Bhutan will be turned back into a Department of Tourism under this ministry.
Department of Cottage and Small Industry will be folded into the Department of Industry.
The Ministry of Works and Human Settlements will be renamed as the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport and handle Surface Transport, Roads, Infrastructure, Human Settlement and take over Aviation and Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) from the MoIC.
The RSTA and the Department of Roads shall merge as the Department of Surface Transport to carry out the development functions related to surface transport.
The regulatory functions under the existing laws for the Department of Roads, RSTA, and Construction Development Board shall merge and function as the Bhutan Construction and Transport Authority.
The Ministry of Education will be renamed as the Ministry of Education and Skills Development and look after Education, Curriculum, Schools, Qualifications and Youth and Sports.
It will take over Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and Skill Development from MoLHR.
The Secretariat to the National Commission for Women and Children shall be under the Ministry of Education and Skills Development.
The Department of Culture and the Dzongkha Development Commission shall merge and function as the Department of Culture and Dzongkha Development under the Ministry of Home Affairs; and the Secretariat to the National Commission for Culture and Dzongkha Development.
The Department of Disaster Management and the Department of Local Governance shall merge and function as the Department of Local Governance and Disaster Management under the Ministry of Home Affairs.
The Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications in the existing laws shall be construed as the Government Technology Agency.
The Government Technology Agency shall carry out functions related to Information, Communications and Technology in the Country including the formulation of policies, adoption of rules or regulations and implementation of related laws.
The Judicial Service Personnel of the Judiciary shall be delinked from the Civil Service.
The Bhutan Electricity Authority shall be renamed as the Electricity Regulatory Authority and report to the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources.
The Cabinet Secretariat will take on the following additional responsibilities of National Human Resource Planning from the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources, Perspective Planning and Regulatory Coordination from the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) and Macro-Economic Policy from the Ministry of Finance (MoF).
Under the MoF, Department of Macro-Economic Affairs will be renamed the Department of Macro-Fiscal and Development Finance. GNHC’s responsibility of managing external grants will be transferred to this department.
Department of National Budget will be renamed the Department of Planning, Budget and Performance. The responsibilities of central and local government planning from GNHC and government performance management from Cabinet Secretariat will be transferred to this department.
The aim is to complete the reorganization of agencies by December 2022 where laws do not require to be changed and by June 2023 for those that require changes in the law.