l Tashi Wangmo, Thimphu
The cause is good, but is this necessary?
This is the question most civil servants that this paper talked to said, about the policy of annual checkups of civil servants, which is spearheaded jointly by the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC). The strength of the Civil Service is currently 28,302. This means checking the health of almost 30,000 people.
In the words of a senior civil servant, the announcement can be construed as a message that due to poor health and awareness, the efficiency of civil servants is affected. “But has a study been done to find out if civil servants are not performing as they should or ought to, due to health reasons?” When asked about making the civil servants health conscious, he said that it is an individual’s duty towards “himself, herself and the family” to be health conscious.
“It is mentioned in the papers about diabetes, which cannot be cured, but prevented. Does it mean that all civil servants will be engaged in a workshop or training about preventing diabetes?” he questioned.
A planning officer said that the move is good, but would be a waste of resources, time and drain on the national exchequer. Though, Bhutanese do not feel the burden of costs as all tests are free, he said the MoH and RCSC should consider the costs of conducting tests like ultrasound and others. “In Thimphu, it will lead to more congestion in the hospital, while civil servants from other districts where facilities are not there, but who need to undergo certain tests will have to come all the way to Thimphu. Who will bear the costs of travelling and daily allowances?”?
Speaking about non communicable diseases (NCDs), which have been highlighted as an area that the medical tests would have an effect on, another officer said that NCDs are lifestyle related.
“Liver cirrhosis kills. Yes! An early intervention can save lives, but everyone, especially civil servants know about it. The new policy could be viewed at as creating a gulf between the haves and have-nots,” he said, suggesting that “such” interventions should be done for the illiterate, especially those living in villages. “If liver cirrhosis has killed, most will be from rural areas,” he noted.
A government employee from Mongaar mentioned that the MoH and the RCSC’s “generosity is welcomed.” “But I think the policy makers ought to be more generous in other areas. Of all, I am concerned about confidentiality, especially if someone is detected with HIV/AIDs”, she said. While it is not mentioned that civil servants will be screened for HIV/AIDs, she said that this will happen. “Once your blood is taken, tests for HIV/AIDs are done. Everyone knows this and as per law only voluntarily can HIV/AIDs tests be done,” she said.
While the detection is good for the employee (s), the dangers of information being leaked out and stigmatization are very high. “And we have not seen anything about policies on confidentiality yet,” she added.
Similarly, another public servant from Lhuntse said that there is a need to come up with clear cut policies of the “aftermath.”
“If I am detected with a disease, will I be provided a special treatment? From what has appeared in the media, it looks like the RCSC is even infringing on our fundamental rights,” he said, highlighting that it should be left to civil servants, whether they want to be checked or not. According to him, none of the sections of the Constitution’s Article 26, mentions that the RCSC should check civil servants. “It has been announced that graduates joining the civil service will need to undergo tests for substance abuse, which I feel is fine. Now, another policy comes up and I do not know what more there is in store,” he mentioned.
On this initiative helping the MoH in devising preventive measures, a civil servant said that they are not “guinea pigs.” “Moreover, how can civil servants are taken as the baseline for studies. We are just a drop in the ocean,” he said.
In its Annual Report 2017, the RCSC has highlighted eight focus in the next five years, comprising of the following Agency Key Result Areas: Enhancement of public service delivery; Right-Sizing of Civil Service; Promotion of leadership in Civil Service; Improvement in efficiency & effectiveness of Civil Service; Strengthening meritocracy in the Civil Service; Adequate deployment of civil servants in the LGs; Enhancement in the decentralisation of HR functions; and Ensuring transparency, accountability and integrity.
When asked where the medical tests fits in, a civil servant mentioned that the nearest is improvement in efficiency and effectiveness of Civil Service. But he had the same question that many asked. “Have we been under-performing due to health reasons? Will we perform better after becoming health conscious?”
Only time would say!