The little fiefdoms of Bhutan

His Majesty the King in the 106th Nation Day address in 2013 pointed out the issue of ‘limited coordination and communication among government agencies which invariably leads to lack of coherence.’

In what is the latest example of such behavior the Department of Revenue and Customs (DRC) went ahead and levied custom duty taxes of 20 percent on books in the middle of the National Reading Year proclaimed by the government. This initiative is dedicated to the 60th anniversary celebrations of His Majesty the Fourth King.

It is surprising that even senior Ministry of Finance officials and the Finance Minister himself was not informed of such a move by the DRC until it was brought to the attention of the government by aggrieved bookshops.

The fact that such a move would go against the very letter and spirit of the much publicized National Reading Year appears not to have dawned on the DRC officials. This shows the still compartmentalized way of how the government works.

In many other cases heads of various government agencies treat their jobs less as public service and more as  small fiefdoms to lord over with occasional turf wars. This is also why many government programs and initiatives cannot achieve their full potential due to lack of coordination.

The casual disregard of the complaint letter to the DRC by just replying with a section with dubious interpretations shows another problem.

The biggest complaints of the private sector even after all the red tape reduction exercises and McKinsey inspired ideas is the sheer lack of coordination among agencies, strong red tape and also the difficulty in getting proper services.

The government of the day is not comprised of only elected heads but also an array of senior and mid level bureaucrats.

The elected leaders must provide clear leadership from the front and not hesitate to take strong decisions and even calculated risks. The job of the bureaucracy is not to hold tight over fiefdoms and wage turf battles but instead work like a well oiled machine and genuinely help the elected government to fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the people.


If you have a reputation as a big, stiff bureaucracy, you’re stuck.

Jack Welch

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