This essay tries to explain the importance of managing performance in the public service in order to fix individual responsibility and accountability in the delivery of public services. Although institutional accountability has come to the centre stage of discussion on fixing accountability today, it is imperative that we understand and accept that it is the aggregation of individual accountability that arises to institutional level of accountability.
The Bhutanese civil service is all too familiar with words like meritocracy and professionalism and it is understandable. They have come to the fore especially since the introduction of the position classification system (PCS) which was aimed at ushering in a new era of civil service and public service delivery. Of course the efficacy of such a change in the system still remains largely questionable albeit the best of intentions. Changes in organizational values and culture are not the simplest of things to achieve and understandably, bureaucracy is a strong culture. To expect immediate change may be being a little too optimistic and naïve too if I may say so (with my little experience in the human resource field).
The Bhutanese bureaucracy, I would think, went through three main stages of development. The earliest known public servants were the officials serving at the Royal Courts. The Royal Edict by the fourth Druk Gyalpo for the establishment of a Royal Civil Service Commission marked the second stage, which saw the beginning of a civil service that would eventually become the elite governance class and lead the country in a democratic Bhutan. Today the civil service is expected to function under a wider political guidance from their elected leaders (this may very well be considered the third stage) representing another change in its existence. But what has remained consistent has been the function of public service delivery, each change facilitating a better civil service with growing through increased investment in the human resource of the country.
Global changes have a fair share of impact on our civil service and the most notable one is probably the use of modern communication technology. Computers and the Internet have become an essential work tool at all levels and with increasing inclination towards governance policy of reliance on evidence based decision making, information is becoming even more crucial, highlighting the pervasiveness of computers and technology in our society which is here to stay. Equipped with modern education, our civil service took on the challenge of delivering public services that only seems to be getting complex and wider along with the number of civil servants. Today we may have a fairly good ratio of public service provider vis-à-vis the public that is less exposed but with increased needs for efficient service delivery. The planning and monitoring system (PlaMs) developed by the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) allows for tracking of development works in the country. Information fed into the system from administrative units (agencies, Dzongkhags, Gewogs, etc.) allow for disaggregation and analysis.
With all these efforts today we have a civil service that is held in an even higher esteem and it clearly remains the most coveted job in the country. Our civil servants have some of the best opportunities in terms of studies and trainings. To help them do their work better, computers and resources are at their disposal. With the system of monitoring the development work in place, would it not be logical to expect more of the civil service today?
In many instances we come across the word accountability when we discuss development. It is catching on very fast taking a centre stage at many discussions today, perhaps at the heart of development and democracy. We are more often then not inundated by questions of accountability at the institutional level that we forget it at individual levels except when it comes to acts of crime and corruption. Although it is a welcome sign, it is still quite different from the kind of accountability we are referring to when we are talking about a civil servant’s efficiency in the sphere of governance. Accountability as we all know is crucial especially when we talk of democracy. An institutional arrangement of accountability is only as good as the people in the institutions. Therefore the focus should be equal, if not more, on ensuring individual accountability within the system. The various state functionaries are there to deliver services to the people. Although we choose to say these institutions deliver services; it is actually the people working in these institutions and in this case the civil servants. It is very easy to get distracted by looking at the size of the civil service in our own context but in reality, the measure of the delivery of these institutions are logically the aggregation of the delivery of services by its staff. What could be hindering the civil service then?
Managing performance is critical to managing any human aspect of an organization and an organization dependent on the human capital to that extend needs to recognize this without failure. The civil service needs to be motivated to deliver at its best. Rewarding the right people for the right job is not only a cliché but doubly relevant. The performance appraisal system currently in use in our civil service tries to introduce an individualistic accountability mechanism as compared to the PlaMs which focuses more on the agency level accountability. It is logical to think that only when an individual delivers can an agency deliver. This is because the aggregation of individuals in an agency makes up the result of delivery of the agency in question. I have noticed that there is disconnectedness in our case and therefore, in the stand-alone systems that we have invested in and continue to invest in even today. We may have failed at linking performance of heads of agencies and the performance of individuals in an agency and in turn the agencies. Therefore performance of an agency is reflective of the performance of the Head of the agency. It maybe appropriate here to take an example for a better understanding.
The example taken is purely for discussion and not intended to discredit any one. A Dzongda’s performance should be reflective of the delivery of a Dzongkhag Administration and therefore similarly a Director’s performance should reflect the delivery of a Department and so on and so forth. This not only allows heads to be accounted for the outcome of their efforts but clearly establishes a system where there is also room for taking into consideration team spirit and organizational effort. Without an objective appraisal system, we may be failing at enhancing performance in that sense.
Objective and not subjective performance appraisal, tied to rewards in the civil service will help motivate the civil service bringing about enhanced overall performance. Promotions (early, fast-track and normal) are clearly rewards and other similar rewards could be tied to performance of individuals, agencies and hence, heads. I am sure the Royal Civil Service Commission with its pool of experts can design incentives, not necessarily directly financial (bonus, etc.) as is practiced in the corporate sector but reward nonetheless. This is all possible with huge investments already made in hardware (computers, servers, etc), software (PLaMs, Zhiyog, etc) and human resource. It is only a question of integration. The Chiphen Rigphel project is already the beginning of such a natural progression of moving onto such an integrated system. We must realize that the under pinning reasons for investment and development towards such platform in bringing about a culture of evidence based decision making is in concurrent with the general change occurring in the country. Therefore, the human resource factor which in turn influences greatly the efficiency of other factors of production needs such a transparent and efficient system equally if not more.
Three clauses in particular from Article 26 of our Constitution highlight features of the civil service and key words that I have taken the liberty of presenting in bold, more than desire such integration:
1. There shall be a Royal Civil Service Commission, which shall promote and ensure an independent and apolitical civil service that will discharge its public duties in an efficient, transparent and accountable manner.
4. The Commission shall endeavour to ensure that civil servants render professional service, guided by the highest standards of ethics and integrity to promote good governance and social justice, in implementing the policies and programmes of the Government.
5. The Commission shall, in the interest of promoting merit, productivity and equity, ensure that uniform rules and regulations on recruitment, appointment, staffing, training, transfers and promotion prevail throughout the civil service.
In conclusion our civil service plays a crucial role in the development of our country. It also influences our societal values as it is in this pool that we see the intellectual elites in the country. Therefore, it is from here that a democratic, a progressive and a socially just psyche can grow and flourish, permeating all lives in our country. Thus playing impetus to building and advocating a national character we can all be proud of today and for all times to come.
[Published in the 3rd Edition of National Council Magazine]