Tightening the noose on civil servants’ take on media and freedom of speech, the Ministry of Agriculture this week issued an ultimatum ordering RNR officials under the ministry to strictly abide by the civil service values and code of conduct before sharing any materials and views with the media.
The gag order in the ministry comes following a meeting with their Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) counterparts who has, supposedly, told or ordered them to be wary of some existing regulations that bars a civil servant from sharing views and opinions with the mainstream media.
It is also said that the MoAF recently fired some of its senior staffs who had served for decades, on the grounds that they had appeared on media and shared their views in public. Such unhealthy developments are attributes of undemocratic and corrupt nations who view public opinions and criticisms as dangerous elements to their secretive and draconian ways of exercising power and authority.
These developments, rather than being productive, will only be viewed as an act of a secretive government who is snubbing the views of the common and the weak so that the traditional method of inciting fear and being immune to change and appraisal continues unchallenged. This is worrying.
While the overall outcomes and intent of such regulation are many-faceted and debatable, the objectives are obvious – that civil servants do not have the freedom to exercise their freedom of speech and expression, and should be always bound by a set of rigid rules and regulations that will forever gag them in every matter of government policy and decision-making.
This, now completely contradicts with the government’s policy for a robust, vibrant and compact civil service because one of the biggest parameters to learn and keep ourselves abreast of the changing times is through meaningful participation and discourses, while criticisms should always be encouraged if they were to remain a dynamic bunch that is willing to embrace multiple opinions and timely self-evaluation.
Placing such a heavy-handed order on civil servants will only backfire because we are then creating room for manipulation and secretive divide-and-rule policies that are attributes of corrupt and underdeveloped nations. Anywhere across the globe, the most efficient and dynamic governments are those who are willing to embrace opinions and criticisms because it helps one to be fair and competent.
Chapter 3 of Bhutan Civil Service Rules (BCSR), 2018 states that civil servants cannot criticize and undermine the policies, programs and actions of the Royal Government in public or in media (broadcast, print and online). It further states that they cannot communicate or post hate messages or any content with the intent to defame a person or government agencies.
Oppressive legislations like these are the tools of shady and corrupt governments, because a good and open-minded individual will have no fear of repercussions and criticisms because she/he knows that they have the power of truth by their side.
Good luck with that!