The decision of some of the senior civil servants to join the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) as candidates for the upcoming National Assembly election has raised questions on the civil service being politicised.
PDP has officially declared 11 senior former civil servants as its candidate for the upcoming election. The party has not revealed when these civil servants had accepted the offer to stand as party candidates.
PDP finalised candidates for the 14 constituencies that are occupied by the Opposition in March this year although the names were not revealed. However, some of the candidates of those constituencies resigned only recently.
Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said that it was quite obvious that some senior civil servants were identified as potential candidates by the government months ago.
He said the party did not believe the rumours that was doing the rounds more than a year ago that some of the secretaries and dzongdags were promised party tickets and were making frequent visits to their future constituencies despite the lack of relevance to their jobs. The rumours have, however, turned out to be true, he added.
“How much more political can these civil servants be, and how much more can the civil service be politicised than this? So much so for independence of the bureaucracy and the apolitical status of civil servants,” Pema Gyamtsho said. “What would stop future governments from doing the same? What would be the credibility of our civil service?”
Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s (DNT) general secretary, Tenzin Lekphel, said the government has set a wrong precedent by appointing civil servants from critical positions like the cabinet secretary and the director general of the department of local governance (DLG) as candidates.
He said the cabinet secretary and the DLG director general directly deal with people at the local level and that the positions could be used for influencing voters at the grassroots. “It looks as if the appointment of some of the candidates to their former positions were planned,” he said.
PDP has nominated former cabinet secretary Kinzang Wangdi as its candidate from Bartsham-Shongphu in Trashigang and former DLG director general Lungten Dorji from Zhemgang’s Panbang constituency.
Tenzin Lekphel also said that the risk of politicisation of the agencies and institutions becomes real when a party makes the civil service and corporations the main pool of candidates. He added the danger of politicisation of the civil service comes from the ruling party.
Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) vice president, Sonam Tobgay, said that it is an individual’s choice to join a political party but once a civil servant gives commitment, he or she must resign immediately and not abuse their office.
“Contrary to what the PM said, I think the best and brightest are still in the civil service and have not joined PDP,” Sonam Tobgay said.
A former National Council member requesting anonymity said that such a trend could lead to collusion between the civil servants and ruling party. “This could affect free and fair elections,” he said,
The appointment of civil servants, he said, also lead to misuse of government machinery for political activities. “There will also be a high risk of official misconduct, favoritism and despotism by the official,” the former councilor said.
The trend, he said, could lead to political interference in appointment of important positions. “Nobody knows when they agreed to join a party,” the former NC member said.
Introducing candidates on June 1, Prime Minister and PDP president Tshering Tobgay said that appointment of former DLG director, dzongdags and drungpas was in line with the party ideology of decentralisation.
The candidates with knowledge in local governance will be helpful in further strengthening the decentralisation process, according to him.
When PDP declared the new candidates on June 4, it was learnt that former Trongsa dzongdag Sonam Rinchen had come in his duty vehicle, Prado. Another candidate, former Zhemgang dzongdag Harka Singh Tamang came in a private vehicle that was driven by the dzongkhag’s driver. The two were relieved from their duty days prior to the declaration of their candidature.
PDP’s general secretary Sonam Jatso said he has no comments to make.
Earlier, at the 36th of the meet the press session, the prime minister said that approaching civil servants would not amount to politicisation of the civil service unless the person registers with the party. He argued that the party would give the ticket to a candidate only after he registers as a member.
He said that the fact that they are required to resign meant that the government kept the civil service apolitical.
Besides PDP, DNT has roped in civil servants, Dorji Tshering as Merak-Sakteng candidate and Ugyen Dorji from Thrimshing-Kangpara, who resigned recently to contest the election. However, Tenzin Lekphel said that they did not hold critical position in the government.
Veterinary doctor Dr Chenga Tshering resigned from the civil service recently to contest from Thrimshing-Kangpara constituency of Trashigang. The party’s candidate Choki Gyeltshen resigned to contest from Lhuentse’s Menbi-Tsenkhar constituency.
Civil servants, who resigned recently to join BKP are Sangay Tenzin from Thrimshing-Kangpara and Ten Gyamtsho from Radhi-Sakteng.
In an earlier response to Kuensel, Chairperson of Royal Civil Service Commission, Dasho Karma Tshiteem, said that he had not received any confirmation about any serving civil servant joining political parties.
He said that if serving civil servants are found and proven to have become members or declared as candidates of any party, it shall be treated as serious violation of civil service rules.
Kinzang Wangdi, former cabinet secretary – Bartsham-Shongphu, Trashigang
Tshering Dorji, former foreign secretary – Kabji-Talo, Punakha
Lungten Dorji, former director general of the department of local governance – Panbang, Zhemgang
Sonam Rinchen, former Trongsa dzongdag – Chumig–Ura, Bumthang
Harka S Tamang, former Zhemgang dzongdag – Gelephu
Dorji Norbu, former director general of National Library – Nganglam, Pemagatshel.
Sonam Tshering, former Gelephu drungpa Sonam Tshering – Khar-Yurung, Pemagatshel
Tashi Tobgay (PhD), former Registrar of Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences – Bumdeling–Jamkhar, Trashiyangtse
Sonam Dendup, former Thimphu City Bus Director – Mongar constituency.
Karma Dukpa (PhD), former principal of Yangchenphu High School – Nanong–Shumar, Pemagatshel
Chandra Bdr Mongar, former assistant Auditor General – Lhamoi-Dzingkha, Dagana
Gem Tshering, BPC MD (not confirmed) – Doga-Shaba, Paro