… parameters of leadership assessment are irrelevant and unfair
The former Director General (DG) of Bhutan Narcotic Control Authority (BNCA), Sonam Dorji was managed out without a single audit memo three years earlier before his superannuation after working for more than three decades.
He served four government autonomous agencies and held seven key positions until the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) managed him out earlier this year.
He claimed that he is stripped of all the achievements and positions delegated during the years of his service. He said, “31 years of my life as a dedicated civil servant delivering critical performances is all over in that three hours of leadership assessment.”
He stated that the criteria for managing out the civil servants is unfair. He pointed out that the Singaporean leadership assessment tool is irrelevant to Bhutanese civil servants.
He said, “Managing out is a cruel reality of foreigners’ assessment tool on Bhutanese brain.”
“The parameters of leadership assessment are irrelevant and unfair. Singapore is a capitalist country, their leadership is one-directional. Whereas Bhutan is guided by Gross National Happiness (GNH) philosophy and we ought to look from many different aspects to assess leadership capabilities,” he added.
Unlike in Singapore, once a Bhutanese civil servant resigns, they can’t join the work even after having acquired their doctoral degree; Doctor in Philosophy (PhD). Individuals’ qualifications and capabilities are put to rest once they retire.
Sonam Dorji is one among 47 executives who did not meet the RCSC’s expectations during senior civil service (SCS) leadership assessments. He is also amongst the 44 executives who took up the special retirement offer.
He attended RCSC’s assessment virtually during the containment period while serving as National COVID-19 Task Force’s (NC19TF) team leader for National Inspection Team.
As a team leader, he took up the responsibilities of monitoring the isolation and quarantine facilities. He was also responsible for implementing and correcting the loopholes in NC19TF’s protocols to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission among the frontline workers and the public.
“Not a single frontline worker; the health workers and De-Suups in duty got infected with COVID-19 under my leadership,” he said.
Sonam Dorji is a veracious person by blood and he is not afraid to call a spade a spade. “Since, I am a blunt and honest person. Maybe RCSC didn’t like my interrogation. If something is wrong, I can’t stay quiet,” he said.
He said that there were three director generals (DGs) during the assessment; the DG of road and the DG of youth and sports.
He tried explaining to RCSC’s panellists that different DGs work differently. He said that the DG of road and DG of youth and sports work under secretaries. “As a DG of BNCA, I don’t work under any secretary. It is an autonomous agent. My role is equivalent to that of a secretary as I take all the immediate risk and responsibilities.”
Since he works as a regulatory DG and others as administrative executives, he stated that their functions are different. He asked, “Don’t they have a different set of tools for assessing leadership quality of different sectors?”
“Although we share the umbrella term ‘DG’, different DG has different roles and functions,” he added.
He still questions, why RCSC appointed him to the post of Interim President of Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) if his leadership is poor?
He was actively working as DG of BNCA when he was appointed as the Interim President on December 20, 2020.
“If I am not a competent leader, how and why was I appointed as JDWNRH’s Interim President?” He asked.
He served as Interim President for 11 months. Usually, Interim Presidents only fill the position for six months.
He said he was appointed because of his past experience in the health system.
“RCSC must have evaluated my experiences. I was a medical professional executive serving as DG of BNCA at that time. I served as a Registrar General of Bhutan Medical and Health Council (BHMC), as a drug controller of the Drug Regulatory Authority (DRA), as a Chief Planning Officer of the Ministry of Health (MoH), as a Programme Director of Quality Assurance and Standardization Division(QASD) of MoH, as a National Coordinator of Bhutan Essential Drugs Programme (EDP) under MoH and also for being Bhutan’s first qualified pharmacist,” he said.
He was transferred urgently to fill up the emergency management of the COVID-19 pandemic at JDWNRH.
He claimed that he strengthened the hospital’s protocol during the second lockdown and improved the containment protocols for medical staff and its functions.
He also conducted the first-ever basic health screening for civil servants in collaboration with the Civil Service’s Wellbeing division.
He said,” Though health screening was in the provision of the Civil Service Act and BCSR, it was not started until 2021.”
Over a thousand civil servants from the offices around Trashichhoedzong was screened and many were referred for further checkup.
He introduced a shift system in availing dental services to ease both health workers and patients. It helped to decongest the crowd. People were able to avail dental services from 9 am through 9 pm.
He also mobilised two satellite clinics in Motithang and Hejo and introduced blood testing services along with medical services and a pharmacy dispensary for the convenience and health of Thimphu people, particularly the elderly.
As an Interim President, he submitted a report on Radiotherapy services through MoH to the cabinet.
He said, “The outcome of the radiotherapy service which started in 2016 was found to be poor after taking patients’ review and consulting the oncologists. We collected data to justify radiation treatment, which was not helpful in carcinoma conditions for surgical operations.”
He proposed to either upgrade the service or suspend it to save the valuable public money paid to the vendor care in Australia.
He was reverted back to BNCA on November 3, 2021, after 11 months. He then started working on improving and enhancing the quality of the compulsory rehabilitation center.
BNCA aimed at including substance abusers from low-income families, families of armed forces and students in collaboration with the Bhutan Institute of Wellbeing under the Youth Development Fund(YDF).
“BNCA and YDF had extensive bilateral meetings for the cause,” he said.
BNCA does drug tests for employment and recruitment of government or corporate agencies. It also does drug tests on suspects referred by Royal Bhutan Police(RBP) and Judiciaries.
BNCA’s former DG said, “The workload increased when we started doing drug tests of foreign workers as a part of health screening for the department of immigration under the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs (MoHCA).”
BNCA also proposed providing drug testing service training to private diagnostic centres and hospital laboratory technicians.
RBP and BNCA started working on a project proposal for the establishment of a female rehabilitation centre and drug treatment and rehabilitation with counselling in the existing prisons in the country.
He said, “There’s none in the prisons currently. Female substance abusers and traffickers in the country are in difficult situations. We wanted to address it.”
While working from home during the lockdown, Sonam Dorji claimed that he supported his colleagues to enhance virtual counselling and counselling over the phone for alcoholics and substance abusers.
When he joined BNCA in July 2020, he faced challenges related to illegal smuggling and trafficking of tobacco products due to the pandemic.
And the government allowed the sale of tobacco products through Duty-Free Corporation Limited (DFCL) and their authorized dealers which was strictly monitored by BNCA.
He cleared that BNCA didn’t initiate the sale of tobacco products against the law of the country.
“How can we, without an executive order, go against the law? Unless the laws are amended in parliamentary sitting or amnesty is granted from the throne to repeal the law. We can’t break it,” he said.
“What kind of leadership is that when the government involved didn’t invite BNCA’s DG when legalizing the sale of tobacco products?” he asked.
Instead, he stated that his team took initiative to provide choice and opportunity to tobacco products consumers by implementing the ‘Tobacco Cessation Programme.’
His office distributed free nicotine chewing gums and patches to the people after managing to get a budget from the World Health Organization (WHO).
BNCA carried out sensitization on standardized drug addiction, prevention and rehabilitation programme for relocated students from Phuentsholing. The drug prevention framework policy was developed. School counsellors were trained.
He said, “The policies and guidelines were lying idle on MoH’s shelf until my office took the chance to give people choice. Can we be punitive?”
The managing out process left a bitter memoir of the tarred reputation and dignity of the senior civil servants. “I lost it in a few hours with the panellists. It seems like three hours of performances is enough to eclipse three decades of performances,” he said.
Let alone his accomplishments, awards, appreciation and recognitions speak for his leadership qualities.
Sonam Dorji is a recipient of the Druk Thuksey medal for health workers for COVID-19 prevention in the country, 2020. And also the Druk Thuksey medal for De-Suung, 2020.
He was awarded the certificate of Best-3 of RCSC at the Royal Institute of Governance and Strategic Studies(RIGSS).
He was one of the most active De-Suup from the 17th batch of De-Suung training for executives in the country.
He was also recognised as the national technical member’s health system expert for the national immunization technical advisory group of Bhutan by the executive members of the High-Level Committee in the national health sector.
Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) and MoH awarded him an appreciation certificate for the dedicated service provided during the ULFA-Bodo insurgency and flush-out operation.
He was also noticed for coordinating national medical supplies in the country during the ULFA-Bodo emergency period.
He stated that all these awards and medals were not awarded for sitting on the rotating and reclining chairs for the requisite number of years. He said, “Druk Thuksey medal was awarded for extraordinary services rendered to the people and nation, beyond daily civil servant’s responsibility.”
Such medals awarded by His Majesty should not be made insignificant or valueless,” he added.
The former DG of BNCA started his career in January 1991 as the first national pharmacist.
He was then appointed as a national coordinator of Bhutan’s Essential drugs programme in 1996.
He also acquired his master’s degree in Science in Pharmaceutical Services and Medicines Control from Bradford, Manchester, United Kingdom.
In 2003, he worked as a programme director of QASD.
And then he was transferred to the policy and planning division as a chief planning officer.
On September 3, 2009, he was transferred to the Health Trust Fund due to a misunderstanding with the secretary. Since he was from a medical background, he faced problems in handling commerce and finance.
He said, “I took earned leave as I was placed in the commerce and finance department and I lacked fundraising and resource mobilization experience.”
And he added, “We need people, the right person in the right job but RCSC does the recruitment.”
He is looking forward to creating employment opportunities, particularly for the disadvantaged youth who unlike others couldn’t continue their studies or go to ex-countries.
He said, “As a managed out DG, I am planning to give training to unemployed youth on store management, staff management, business management or whatever in my capability.”
The paper also approached other secretaries and DGs, however, they declined to talk.
Many on the social media platforms insinuated RCSC’s assessment tools as a one-size-fits-all approach, and also, that at such a position and age, it is meaningless to sort the odds.
People also say it triggered bitter emotions to have managed out senior-level officials that they thought were better implementers at ground zero.