Yes Minister

There is a saying that the true nature of a person is revealed once he or she is given power. The next five years for the Prime Minister elect and his cabinet will be a test, both of their professional and personal qualities.

In 2008 after DPT’s victory, apart from five older ministers, there were another six new ones including the Speaker. All of the above had comprehensively won an election which most thought they would lose.

Given the huge mandate they got at the time, they were nothing short of being the people’s champions. The then 2008 cabinet made all the right noises and gestures and seemed genuinely humbled by the trust reposed in them. At the time, these ministers seemed to be humble, approachable, and some would even say ‘good’ people.

However, in a period of five relatively short years, these ministers went from an initial period of high popularity to their party losing the 2013 elections, largely due to their ‘actions and inaction’. Many of the now former ministers are retaining their seats only because their constituents had hoped for them to return as ministerial candidates.

The performance of the new Prime Minister elect and his ministers in the next five years will not only determine the nation’s future, but also how their party, PDP will do in the 2018 polls.

As they take charge of their respective ministries, the ministers will realize that they wield power and influence like never before in their lives. Being human, this will obviously change how they see themselves and those around them. This is, especially so, in a hierarchical society like Bhutan.

However, with great power comes great responsibility, and so the new ministers will do well to focus more on the responsibility part.

One of the flaws of the incumbent DPT government was that it kept asking for more and more power and privilege, but in the end could not satisfactorily fulfill their responsibilities.

In 2008, when DPT came to power, their ministers in a record span of time, soon forgot that it was the will of the people that put them in power, as slogans like ‘JYT Phenomena’ ascribed the victory to a single leader. The next five years saw this leadership cult further being built up with it being even apparent in the election campaign advertisements.

As the party lost touch with their real masters, the people, who voted for them, their style of governance and policies soon reflected this arrogance of power.

Similarly, PDP ministers and MPs alike, should remind themselves that apart from their hard work, the main reason for their victory is the democratic will of the people.

It will be in their interest to stay in touch with the grassroots, be humble, listen to their problems, empathize with them, and as far as possible solve them.

Minister’s ascribing demagogue or ‘Trulku’ like qualities to themselves and walking only in the rarified air of the elite may find themselves looking for a suitable apartment to rent in 2018.

The Prime Minister elect and his ministers will have to grasp the workings of their respective ministries and provide leadership at the same time. They will, of course, be helped in this task by a strong and fairly competent bureaucracy.

Here the ministers will come face to face with a largely monolithic, sycophantic, and hierarchical bureaucratic system. It will be tempting to leave everything in the hands of secretaries and directors who ‘know’ the system, but doing so will mean that ministers will not be able to deliver and, moreover senior bureaucrats do not have to go in for re-election every five years.

The minister, without engaging in unproductive micro-managing, should guide the ministry with a firm but sure hand, and be aware of what is happening within the ministry. Ministers should avoid becoming like a former minister who even faxed his own press releases, and on the other extreme, a minister who was ‘shocked’ that his own ministry had not spent most of the allocated budget.

The people will be looking to the ministers to deliver, not only professionally as competent leaders and administrators, but also in terms of democratic values like transparency, fairness, approachability, humility, and accountability.

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves”

Lao Tzu

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