Civil service setbacks

Call it one’s disinterest or the stringent rules and regulations, but not many seem to be swayed in setting foot in politics, especially civil servants.

The civil servants are dubbed as the cream of the nation, albeit for a good reason too. We have many capable heads of government agencies – the bureaucrats such as the secretaries, directors and et al. And while they are chosen amongst hundreds as the most deserving people, the least they want to do is get into politics.

The reasons are obvious too, and it’s all the stringent rules which they are chained with. It is never free and it wasn’t. It is foremost the hardest decision of having to relinquish a well secure job, a timely pay, trainings, workshops, other perks and incentives. But even if someone wants to, it would tantamount to slamming your door to all these benefits.

All said and done, we just can’t ignore that there are loopholes in the civil service rules and regulations. Why would a civil servant resign, deliberately knowing that he/she will never be able to join back? Such conditions are already stipulated in the Bhutan Civil Service Rules and Regulations 2010. How do we overcome this?civil service

Then there is the three-year cooling period a person affiliated with a political party must serve to vie for any civil service openings. This applies to the candidates too, meaning that a former civil servant after losing the elections cannot just go back and serve in the civil service.

And while how it would be taken up is a different issue, a political party outside the Parliament suggested last week that civil servants should be allowed to take leave to contest in apolitical offices like the National Council and Local Government elections. Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party president, Sonam Tobgay, says if they (civil servants) do not win the elections, they should be allowed to go back and serve as civil servants.

Stringent rules should be relaxed if it would only contribute in the creation of a more compact, small and efficient civil service. It’s only then that the bureaucracy can grow and the civil servants can grow too. It should have the best and the most capable candidates, and if need be allow those to join the civil service fraternity through open selections rather than reshuffling people within the same fraternity.

We are a young democracy. And a strong bureaucracy is an important component of it. Civil servants must be encouraged to play a good role in democracy. There must be congenial environment for them to join politics, and if need be allow them to join the civil service. Both ways, it will do good – for deepening democracy and bureaucracy as well.

Women & politics

It’s just not easy for women to get into politics. At least this is what many of the surveys and studies have been indicating so.

This predicament is further espoused by the report on the situation of low representation of women in elective offices that Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) released last week. It was timely and befitting too as we continue with our efforts to augment women’s representation in politics.

There is no denying the significance of women’s participation in a democracy. It’s pivotal. An increased women’s representation in Parliament or local governments for that matter will ensure that women’s voices are heard equally when it comes to making decisions that mostly affect their world. This importance is best summed up by Hillary Clinton, who said, “There cannot be true democracy unless women’s voices are heard”.women

Women’s representation is presently dispiriting in the Parliament as well as the local governments. Even the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report shows that women in Bhutan in elected positions are unfortunately rare – having been reduced from eight to four of the 67 elected Members of Parliament in the 2013 elections.

So where are we going wrong?

Firstly, gender stereotype has been identified as one reason for restricting women’s participation in the electoral processes. According to the ECB’s report, majority of the respondents feel that women are best suited to be teachers and a very few see women being suited for elective and top positions in governance.

Today, women are not yet adequately represented despite positions in the higher levels of government and decision-making being open to both genders and placement of women in the higher strata of government being encouraged. This, going by the report, is found that fewer women compared to men express interest in participating in elections as candidates.

Then there is the notion that politics is a male dominated field and that men make better politician than women. Even most women continue to have the same belief as well. A significant percent of respondents believe as well that men are better leaders compared to women. This notion, therefore, should subtly change if women are to make a difference.

However, what is heartening going by the ECB’s report is the agreed perception among the majority of respondents, who feel that there should be more women’s representation in the elective offices. This, however, won’t come easy or happen in a day.

More than facilitating women’s entry into politics and changing the present practices or systems, what is found wanting for now is attitudinal and behavioral changes against women that stems from the inherited psyche of society. It’s only after that where we can, perhaps, then envision Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg’s world – a world where there will be no female leaders in the future, but just only leaders.

The darker side

It’s regrettable as well as very upsetting, but none the less true. Suicide is gradually creeping into our society.

Just about a month back, we saw two students in Bumthang commit suicide where the disturbing photograph depicting the deceased with graphic details was even going viral on social media like Facebook and WeChat.

The above case, however, is not the single one that many of us chanced upon. There are many more people taking their own lives for one reason or the other that we don’t hear of. About 96 suicide cases, including attempted ones, were reported to the police last year. This means that eight people committed suicide every month in a country like ours with around 750,000 people. There is definitely a reason for great concern. But what is quite thought provoking is the reason for people resorting to this mean. Are lives’ circumstances precipitating suicide in our society?

Going by the cases, it’s not only adults but also children who have the tendency to take one’s life. The rich could be prone to it and so is the ordinary person. But what we are oblivious about is that small voice that triggers such a consequence.

It’s a very disturbing trend. We proclaim ourselves as the land of Gross National Happiness (GNH). Almost every policy is centered on this concept. However, we should also not forget the fact that a chunk of our near and dear ones conclude dying as the best way out.  These are obviously not the people who seem to be happy. Are we failing in our pursuit of GNH then?

The soaring suicide cases are also a vindication of our collapsing social system. There was more altruism in the past. People sacrificed for each other. Today we don’t even know who our next neighbor is. People are becoming individualistic. In the midst of all that, poverty is high. The least trigger may send people to the extremes.Reluctant

According to scientific reports, the reasons for suicide are numerous. But it’s mostly extreme depression that sometimes drives suicidal tendencies. And as a country, we don’t have adequate experts to tackle cases of severe depression and mental disorder that may lead to suicide. Pathetically, we have negligible numbers of psychiatrist or psychologist working in the country.

Further, we even don’t know exactly how common suicide is in the country. There are no available data. Getting the correct statistics and a real study on this matter is pivotal if we are serious about tackling this issue. The time has also come, besides the training of psychiatrists to take care of severe depression and creating awareness, to place emphasis on this issue because the problem of suicide is becoming real.

The sidekick of youth issue

Few days back a foreigner took to social media platform, Twitter, tweeting: Sad. Travel operator suggests you “avoid tussles with the [Bhutanese] younger, raucous boys if you don’t want to get into trouble.

Is this what the image of our youth has become? The youth that we pride in so much that they would be the torchbearers of our future and the reverence that the future of our nation lies in their hands.

What the tweet basically meant was that foreign tourists coming in the country are admonished by tour operators to refrain from messing up with our youth if they want to avoid trouble.

Perhaps this is an indication that country’s prevailing youth issue has affected the morality of our tourism industry in dubbing the country as happy and peaceful land. In doing so, the tour operator who cautioned the foreigner was quite right to expose the declining morality brought about by some of our youth resorting to drugs and violence.tourism

Having said this, the issue cannot be generalized to all youth. Such projection will only be wrong. But again, youth issue calls for attention. In fact there have been efforts from stakeholders to study the situation and bring about relevant interventions yet the responses seem to have missed the target.

The point here is not to discuss the youth issue which has been done extensively by policy makers, CSOs, media and the general public. The point here is to correct the reality back home when we are trying to sell our country as the land of happiness to the outside world. In other words we should prove the worth of the products we are selling without hiding any defect.

The youth issue may be subject of socio-cultural and psychological explanation, it must, however, not affect Bhutan’s potential area to showcase its unique culture and traditions as tourism products to the tourists who pay hefty tariff to visit the country.

The first places that tourists see when they come to Bhutan are Paro and Thimphu. Coincidentally, youth violence and delinquency are concentrated in these areas. The aesthetic scenes that the tourists enjoy will be diluted if they encounter such behavioral problems in the streets. God forbid, we hope tourists are not stabbed if they happen to hang out in pubs late at night.

Branding Bhutan as land of happiness can really cost the society going by how a tour operator cautioned a foreigner. It will entail moral education and behavioral change to make our streets safe and happy for the tourists. After all, we must deliver value to the product that we sell to the affluent tourists. Otherwise, youth issue can seriously stab the image of our country that the tourism industry is striving to portray.

The exodus of educationists

Is something wrong in the teaching profession? This is one pertinent question that deserves some deep reckonings, considering the exodus of educationists from this profession.

Whatever may be the reasons, an increasing number of people are opting to find a way out from this profession. While some have left for greener pasture, it seems some are impatiently waiting for that golden opportunity to bid adieu.

And further what is more alarming is the finding of the annual education statistics, 2013, that shows that a government schoolteacher leaves the teaching profession almost everyday in Bhutan. About four percent of teachers in government schools leave the profession annually for various reasons, according to the report; while teachers voluntarily resigning totes up to 750 between 2008 and 2013.teachers

Often studies have been quoted, reasoning that teaching as a profession is unable to attract the brightest candidates, but what is disappointing is that even the ones that are there today are possibly in a lookout for that exit passage.

Take for instance, the vacancies announced for the post of Drungpa/ Dzongrab a few years back. While it was not known then how many educationists or teachers actually tried for the post, but 14 shortlisted out of the total 17 were education officers and school principals.

Seriously, we need to find solutions to avert this exodus. While reasons could vary and could be many behind teachers leaving this profession, this is obviously not a positive development. Educationists play a crucial role in shaping the future of the youth and thus the future of the nation.

This also becomes a cause for concern in the wake of a deluge of flak on the quality of education in the country. Perhaps, it’s not the first time we are hearing the dearth of teachers, the appointing of contract based teachers, and the deteriorating quality of education in the country.

And while we have also been told that there is no dearth of teachers per se and education report identifying low academic and professional standards for entry into the teaching profession as major constraints in the current system, it’s time we right the wrongs in the system. How long will we continue to find replacement to fill the vacuum left by those who are leaving or are about to leave? The departure also means the departure of skills, knowledge and experience. These are the people who know the education system inside out. Retaining through appropriate incentives rather than finding replacements should be the immediate focus. 

Inaccessible access to information

Has media’s access to information become so grueling? It appears so going by what reporters looking for stories or information in the field say.

Even for a few details on certain stories, the reporters today literally have to beg or cajole for information. It’s all a matter of sheer luck or the mood of the source/interviewee sharing the information with that reporter. If he/she is lucky, she gets the story. Otherwise be prepared to hear the phone getting slammed against you. And there are some ministers whom you can never contact over the phone, no matter how much one tries.Tastatur Info

There has been so much reiteration on the importance of communication, transparency and openness for that matter, but these are just rhetoric or some malarkey if the present trends are any indication. And what is indubitably sad is the fact that there are the heads of government institutions and agencies who feel that they are doing a humungous service to the media by answering their queries and rendering information to them.

It’s only dismal if such are the understanding and comprehension of the media. The access to information today, which many media practitioners claim have become even more arduous compared to the past years, could perhaps also explain Bhutan’s continuous drop in global press freedom ranking.

And while we may make headway toward transparency and accountability with the enactment of the Right to Information Act, how many of us even believe, both in spirit and mind, that information is a public property? And that people have the right to this information, and people should know about public policies affecting them and their lives. It’s more about rights than a favor.

However, on the contrary, labeling media people as ‘Phung zoh mee’ (Controversy brewer) and lines like ‘Choe Media Tsu Nyam Tse Yeh (You, media people are a disturbance!) have only become common today. If media has failed today, if it’s in a piteous state, it’s not only the media to be blamed. If people’s trust in the media and media’s credibility is being questioned today, the lack of access to information and more-than-constricted access to information are partly to be blamed too. It’s simple as that!

Not a game of quid pro quo!

A rift of a certain kind between the two Houses – the National Assembly (NA) and National Council (NC) – was apparent since the first Parliament. However, it has only ballooned now, perhaps rampant with the two Houses at loggerhead on almost every trivial issue deliberated in the Parliament. pixx

Take for instance the deliberation on the pay revision. The Lower House endorsed the pay revision despite NC’s recommendation to defer the revision until the economy improves. And while NA has the prerogative on this matter, perhaps it would be befitting to take into consideration the recommendations from NC as well. As such, the whole time and resources that NC spent deliberating and coming out with the recommendations, therefore, become futile if their recommendations were to be simply ignored.

Similarly, NC’s refusal to not deliberate on the Right to Information (RTI) Bill puts to waste the time and resources that NA took to deliberate on the Bill. NC simply rejected the Bill citing that there wasn’t much time to discuss the issues in the Bill. A whole year would, therefore, be wasted if RTI Bill becomes a Dead Bill.

Although debate and discourse are ideal for a fruitful democracy, but it would be, therefore, wrong if the two Houses are entangled in constant disagreements all the time. It will only make law making process more cumbersome. If what NC recommends is rejected by NA, and vise versa, when will be able to enact laws?

The extreme positioning by the two Houses, with both towing the line of in the national interest, is only going to be a problem. Where do we build consensus? Should there be a mechanism where differences are sorted out even outside the Parliament? Or is it just about some sort of a power displaying game or a quest to exhibit the mightier of the two?

It would be wrong if NA rejecting recommendations from NC is a mere retaliation of NC having refused to take up or review Bills for deliberation. Similarly, it even applies to NC – it would be wrong if NC considers showing supremacy or authority the next time when the NA sends a bill for review.

It’s simply not a game of quid pro quo. The least NA and NC members should realize is look at the larger interest of the nation. They have been voted by the people; chosen hoping that they would strive for the interest of the people, their community and nation, and not to lock horns every time on trivial matter. Instead of serving the larger interest of the nation, their present doing is disservice to the nation.