Friday, April 21, 2017

An Uncommon Civil Servant

Few months back, I was invited to speak to a group of youngsters who were training to be tourist guides. I began my talk by telling them how smart they were - in deciding to train as guides. I told them that Bhutan’s and, therefore, their future is intrinsically linked to tourism, which is good because the tourism industry is the only bankable industry in Bhutan that has the potential to grow unabated. I offered the view that they should not mistake guiding tourists as a routine job - but as the initial steps to acquiring a useful profession. That guiding is merely a stepping-stone to bigger things in life. After all, there are a few billion tourists out there rearing to come and see what all this hoopla about the land of GNH was about.

Along the way, I also fervently pleaded with them to resist the absurd temptation to mimic the American twang and drawl, including sporting the punk’s hairdo and painting their hair pink and blue. After all the Americans come here to see and feel Bhutan and the Bhutanese - not to meet up with a poor example of themselves.

But the most important point I made to them was this:

“Of one thing I am very glad - that you did not opt for the civil service because in my view the best way to irretrievably ruin yourself for life, is to join the civil service."

For seventeen long years I too belonged to that breed of people who are neither civil, nor servants. But fortunately for me, all of those years were spent in the corporate world where the work culture is totally different from that of the civil servants. Thus, I emerged out of the system unscathed and still smelling like roses. My long held view, both inside as well as out of it, has been that the civil servants are everywhere else but! When you most need them they are either taking part in the departmental archery match, or at the crematorium keeping vigil over a dead body, or at the hospital visiting a distant uncles’ sick daughter, or rushing off to pick up or drop off their children. And the rare times you can get them to grudgingly do their job, they behave as if they are doing you a favor.

But today I had an experience that is nothing short of a bolt from the blue - I am totally flummoxed!

I am publishing this small handbook on the wild birds of Bhutan. As per rule I need an official Certificate of Registration from the BICMA, as well as an ISBN # from the CBS & GNH. So I wrote out my application, attached all the necessary supporting documents and drove over to the BICMA office in Olakha to submit my request. I was ushered into the office of the Licensing and Compliance Division where I was introduced to Ms. Younten Dolma, Assistant Communications Officer.  She went through the papers and told me that everything was in order and that my submission would be put up to the contents committee. She said that it would be a few days but that she would get back to me ASAP.

Next day (today) - at about 11.45AM, she called me to say that my Individual Publishing License as well as the Certificate of Registration were ready for collection. I was hugely impressed! Is it possible that a government department and its committee actually cleared my papers within a day of submission? Preposterous! Anyway, I went down to the lady’s office to find that she had the papers all signed and ready to be handed to me. She said the total fee amounted to Nu.1,500.00. She said I could give her the money and that she would deposit the money with the Accounts and bring back the money Receipt for me. Another shocker! - the officer did not ask me to go to the Accounts and pay the money and show her the Receipt - she actually volunteered to do the leg work on my behalf!

She came back to tell me that the Accountant was not at her desk. I said; “fine, you can give me the change and I will take the licenses and go.”

She said; “that is the thing --- I don't have the change and no one else in the office has it either."

I said; “OK no worry --- I can come back for it."

She said; “But one thing I can do - I can transfer it into your account."


“I can MBoB it”.

“From your personal account?"

“Yes. Please give me your bank account #"

So I gave her my account number. Within seconds she showed me the confirmation of the transfer of the sum of Nu.500.00 into my account.

Have you ever experienced this level of service any time in your dealings with the civil service, ever in your life? What do you call this category of extremely uncommon officer?

A public servant as well as a civil servant! And a SERVICE HERO. My Hero!


  1. The best part is you haven't fallen for her. I am too eager to have your book on my list. Wish you all the luck. Control your emotion anyway for your service lady!luck

  2. It is a good sign that work ethics of civil servants are beginning to change. I myself felt in some offices in thimphu & at paro airport. Largely, specially in remote areas, it is a never ending ordeal for commoners to process one application. I strongly feel the govt should focus on efficiency of civil servants rather than showcasing things that are of least benefit to the mass. For example, a property transaction applied in dungkhag office in 1995 can be traced up to dzongkhag, but has not reached thimphu yet. Like Ms Younten Dolma, civil servants should inform the applicants on the status of the applications.

  3. This surely opens up an opportunity for the RCSC to acknowledge one of its own who has evidently gone beyond her call of duty.

    Carpe diem!

    The widespread apathy in the civil service is also because they get no recognition for walking that extra mile.

  4. Such stories of service delivery is very heart warming and I wrote a couple of blogs on the ineffective service delivery in the civil service in the past. If this could only be the case with other offices...

  5. Lucky you! You have come across one in a hundred thousand people.