Cost-cutting measures

Press Release

23 August 2013

Bearing in mind the current state of the economy faced with a growing public debt, INR dearth and ever increasing current expenditure, the Fourth sitting of the Cabinet decided on adopting austerity measures to rein in unnecessary and excessive spending. As such, the Cabinet has decided to implement the following cost cutting measures until economic situation improves in the country:

 1. Pay: As per recommendation of the National Assembly conveyed vide NAB-SP/2010/74, dated 16/12/2010, the pay scales for the Ministers of the Second Parliament was to be increased from Nu.78,000 – 1,560 – 85,800 to Nu.1,80,000 – 3,600 – 1,98,000 for the Prime Minister and Nu.1,30,000 – 2,600 – 1,43,000 for Cabinet Ministers and equivalent posts.

The Cabinet has decided not to adopt the new pay scales as recommended above. The existing pay scale of Nu.78,000 – 1,560 – 85,800 will be applied for the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Ministers with effect from 27th July 2013, the day His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo granted Dakyen to the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers. The next Pay Commission may review and suggest otherwise if necessary and recommend to the Government later.     

2. Accommodation: Prime Minister has decided to live in his private residence and spare the official residence for continued use as a State Guesthouse. Cabinet Ministers will mandatorily occupy official residences at Lhengye Densa as it would involve payment of housing rent allowance otherwise.

3. Security: Security personnel for the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers shall be reduced to bare minimum and no pilot escort will be used for movements within Thimphu and Paro. The Ministry of Home & Cultural Affairs has been directed to revise the Security Protocol for VVIPs/VIPs, 2013 accordingly.

4. Ex-country Travel: Ex-country travel by the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers shall be kept to bare necessity. The Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers will travel abroad only when it is absolutely necessary and that too with a bare minimum delegation even if financed by host countries or organizers. There should be no formal reception or see-off line up at the airport.   

5. Chadri Arrangements: Chadri arrangements should be confined to events involving Royal Family Members, Zhung Dratshang and that are of national significance only. Pitching of tents, hoisting flags, arrangements of dancers, serving food, etc. during other events must be stopped. During visits of Cabinet Ministers to places outside Thimphu, there should be no elaborate chadri at the place of stay, whether hotel or guest house. Packed lunches for mid-way meals and tea to be arranged by the visiting team. The practice of Dzongkhag officials coming half-way to receive the officials should be discontinued. This applies to the visit of the Prime Minister as well. The Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs is directed to revise the Chadri Protocol accordingly.

6. Hospitality and Entertainment: No excessive expenditure shall be incurred for extending hospitality and entertaining guests by the Cabinet Ministers. Government entertainment for official purposes should be reduced to bare essential. Wherever possible, lunches should be hosted instead of dinners, and number of government invitees should not exceed twice the number of guests. Food items containing local products should be promoted, instead of imported stuff. The Ministry of Finance is directed to revise the existing circulars/guidelines on government entertainments and hospitality and further streamline it.

 

7. Transport/Vehicle: The Prime Minister is entitled to one Land Cruiser and Cabinet Ministers to one Toyota Prado as exclusive duty vehicles with drivers and operation/maintenance costs. One Maruti WagonR car is provided for secretarial duty of the Ministers.

  1. Notwithstanding the above entitlements, the Prime Minister has decided to use the old vehicle (Toyota Prado) on his duty. The Cabinet Ministers will use one of the pool vehicles available with the ministries. No new vehicle will be procured by the Government until the economic situation improves.
  2. Maruti Wagon_R cars provided for secretarial duty of the Ministers will be returned for pool use in the ministries.

8. Domestic Staff: Prime Minister was provided five and Cabinet Ministers two domestic staff at residences. The Cabinet has decided not to avail this facility. The Pay Commission may study the need and suggest otherwise later. The DNP’s Maintenance Unit will look after the flower gardens and general cleaning of premises on regular basis.

9. Cabinet Secretariat: Cabinet Secretariat currently has 41 staff (2 Executive, 13 Officers, 2 Contract, 11 Support, 9 Operator and 4 GSP) as against some 52 approved posts. In addition, there were 4 political appointees and one Photographer on contract basis.

The Cabinet decided that there will be no political appointments made in the Cabinet Secretariat. Instead, Prime Minister will look into re-organizing and down-sizing the Cabinet Secretariat. Excess staff, if any, could be relieved off on transfer to agencies facing shortage of HRs.

 

The Cabinet hereby pledges to abide by all relevant laws of the land and consciously work hard towards curtailment of wasteful public expenditure. In doing so, the Government earnestly hope that all ministries, autonomous bodies, corporate agencies and also the private sector understand the gravity of the economic situation and encourage them to voluntarily come up with their own austerity measures. The Government and the people must collectively aspire to revive the economic situation through collective efforts and sacrifices.

Contrast and compare

Express job

Express job

Have you travelled on the Thimphu – Chunzom higway recently? Is so, you would have noticed a frenzy of construction activity at “Charkilo”. What’s being constructed is the road to the controversial Education City.

For all the controversy surrounding the Education City, the government has made sure that the project has not suffered for want of attention or support. The cabinet has earmarked and approved the lease of 1000 acres of land as the government’s equity for the project.  A new company, DHI-Infra, was established two years ago to spearhead the project. A full board, with the works and human settlement minister as the chairman, has been set up. Numerous road shows have been conducted. The cabinet “further ratified” the Education City project bid, and awarded the bid to a consortium of bidders. A law was passed specifically for the Education City. The government has allocated a subsidy to the Education City in their 2012-13 budget. The construction of the Nu 133 million road and bridge has taken off. Someone has lobbied hard enough for the IFC to recognize the project as an outstanding public-private-partnership venture. All this while the detailed project report is still being prepared.

The Education City project is going ahead. It is being bulldozed ahead by the government.

What’s not going ahead, and what deserves our attention, are the proposals to establish three private colleges. These colleges will be established by Bhutanese people, using Bhutanese money, and for Bhutanese students. So we should render them our full support. Instead, they’ve been left on their own, without any government support. And the proposals, all three of them, are lost, mired in the government’s infamous red tape.

 

Message on Happiness Day

Today is a big day for Bhutan … and the world.

Today, people all over the world will come together to observe the first International Day of Happiness. My family and I join the people of Bhutan in celebrating the first ever global happiness day.

I thank the prime minister and the government for their hard work and perseverance in advocating Gross National Happiness at home and abroad. I congratulate them for for successfully promoting happiness in the international agenda, and for pushing the United Nations to adopt the resolution on happiness. Their efforts have led to the adoption of the International Day of Happiness.

Today is a good time to think about our priorities – to ask ourselves what is important and what we aspire to do with our lives. It is also a good time to take a deliberate break from regular work; to spend time with family, friends and loved ones; to be true to oneself, free of material ambitions and insatiable desires.

Today is also a good time to reflect on Gross National Happiness and how it was born. It is a time, a proud time for all Bhutanese, to remember that His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, gave the world a new idea, a new calling. So today is a time to offer thanks to the Fourth Druk Gyalpo for gifting GNH to Bhutan and to the whole world. On this happy day, I urge all Bhutanese to offer prayers for our beloved Kings.

Tashi delek!

 

Entitlement urgency

Most of you sided with the government’s proposal to force early elections that I wrote about in Dissolving the government. Thank you for your comments. (For the record, PDP would benefit from early elections too. Unlike the three new parties, we already have a presence in all 20 dzongkhags. And that means that early elections would almost assure us of getting past the primary round.)

By law, the government can recommend the premature dissolution of the National Assembly. So I have no problem with the legality of the government’s proposal. It’s the principle that concerns me. If the government’s proposal to dissolve the National Assembly before the completion of its term is motivated by the national good, I’m all for it. If, on the other hand, the government is motivated by narrow political interests, I’m concerned.

I happen to believe that it’s the latter. I believe that the government is forcing early elections to prevent the new parties from establishing themselves and taking away votes from the ruling party. I believe that the government wants to sweep the elections with little or no opposition. I believe that the government is intent on clinging on to power.

But let’s move on.

In his inaugural address, the speaker also announced that the Parliamentary Entitlement Act would be introduced for amendment during this session.

Now here, we run into trouble, both by law and by principle.

Section 30 of the Parliamentary Entitlement Act states that, “A member of Parliament upon retirement on completion of his term of five years shall be entitled to such amount of gratuity as may be provided for under this Act.”  And according to Section 31, “… No gratuity shall be payable if a member retires before the completion of his term or if his services are terminated.”

If the National Assembly is dissolved before the completion of its term, we, MPs, will not have completed our term of five years, and, as such, will not be entitled to collect gratuity. Hence, the urgency to revise the Parliamentary Entitlement Act.

Amending the Parliamentary Entitlement Act just to benefit ourselves is questionable, on principle. But it is also questionable, again on principle, because the the National Assembly  rejected the Parliamentary Entitlement (Amendment) Bill which was passed by the National Council less than a year ago, in the last session of the Parliament.

And that’s where amending the Parliamentary Entitlement Act in this session could run into trouble with the law.

According to Section 193 of the National Assembly Act, “When a Bill has been passed or has been rejected during a session in any year, no Bill of the same substance may be introduced in the Assembly in that year except by leave of the Assembly.” The Parliamentary Entitlement (Amendment) Act was rejected in the 9th Session, so we should not be allowed to discuss it in the 10th Session. Unless, that is, the Assembly considers this a serious enough matter to merit discussion even though a year has not passed since rejecting the Bill.

But even if the National Assembly goes ahead and amends the Parliamentary Entitlement Act in this session, the amended bill can only be considered by the National Council in the next session of the Parliament. That won’t be possible, as this session is the last session of this Parliament.

If any amendment to the Parliamentary Entitlement Act is to be passed in this session itself, the amendment bill must be introduced as an “urgent bill”. But for that, the question we will need to ask ourselves is this: does the entitlement of members of Parliament amount to a national urgency?

 

Dissolving the government

In his inaugural address last Friday, the Speaker announced that the government has proposed for the early dissolution of the National Assembly.

According to Article 10, Section 24 of the Constitution:

“… While the National Council shall complete its five-year term, premature dissolution of the National Assembly may take place on the recommendation of the Prime Minister to the Druk Gyalpo …”

So yes, the government can recommend the dissolution of the National Assembly before the completion of its term.

The government can do so. But they should not. Why? Because, the government is forcing early elections for their own narrow interests, not for the greater interests of the nation. And that is a bad precedent.

The government’s main excuse for forcing early elections – that, otherwise, the monsoons would interfere with the elections – is nonsense. That’s for ECB to decide, not the government. And the ECB has not even hinted that the monsoons could compromise their ability to conduct this year’s elections.

The government’s other excuse for forcing early elections – that, otherwise, the 11th Five Year Plan would suffer – is absurd. Surely, forcing early elections by 4 to 5 weeks cannot affect a whole five-year plan. Besides, an interim government along with the entire civil service will continue working on the 11th Plan during the three months leading up to the elections.

The government should be honest. They should admit that they want to dissolve the National Assembly before the completion of its term to force early elections. And that they want to force early elections to ensure an easy, perhaps even complete, victory in the upcoming elections.

The ruling party is ready for the elections. During the past six months, the government and their MPs have used their powers of incumbency to prepare for the elections. On the other hand, the new parties have only just received permission to “introduce” themselves to the people. To make matters worse, all the other parties, including the opposition, are still scrambling to finalize their candidates for the elections.

Early elections would favour the ruling party disproportionately. If they want to use that advantage, that’s their business. But they should not pull the wool over our eyes, they should not mislead the nation.

One more thing, the ruling party should remember that the people elected them to serve a five-year term. By dissolving the National Assembly ahead of its term, for their immediate electoral gain and not for the overall national good, they are essentially defaulting on their mandate to serve the people for five complete years. And that is a terrible precedent.

Ill conceived and misguided policy

My statement to the press yesterday:

Yesterday the UN General Assembly voted to elect non-permanent members to the UN Security Council. Bhutan, along with Cambodia and South Korea, competed for a single vacancy for the Asia Pacific Group of countries.

Bhutan secured only 20 of the 192 votes cast and was eliminated in the first round of elections itself. South Korea beat Cambodia in the second round of voting, and was elected to the Security Council.

The Government has expended considerable time and resources trying to secure a non-permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. Our Mission to the UN at New York has been enlarged; Special Envoys of the Prime Minister have traveled far and wide; Ministers have traveled extensively and held bilateral meetings at the sidelines of the many multilateral conferences that they attended; and the Prime Minister himself has spent a disproportionate amount of time outside the country, campaigning for a berth in the UN Security Council.  It also appears that Bhutan may have established diplomatic relations with several countries solely for the purpose of securing their vote for our Security Council candidature.

The Opposition Party has always believed that the Government’s bid for Security Council membership was ill conceived and misguided. Moreover, we believed that even if we were somehow elected to the Security Council, we would have exposed our country to more harm than to good. As a young democracy, our focus should be at home, within the country, addressing issues of national importance, rather than craving for the international limelight.

The Opposition Party, however, chose to remain silent until now as we believe that in important foreign policy matters, we must present a united front to the international community, and Bhutan’s bid to join the Security Council was this government’s most significant foreign policy initiative. With the elections having concluded, however, we would be failing in our duty, as the Opposition Party, if we did not express our concern over the current government’s misguided attempt to secure a UN Security Council seat. Our concerns do not stem from the fact that we lost the election, but from having contested for the seat in the first place.

We also feel compelled to voice our deep concern over the overall direction of Bhutan’s foreign policy under the current government. Bhutan has always followed a prudent and far-sighted foreign policy befitting a small country located in a geo-politically sensitive region. The current government’s international priorities can be described as irresponsible at best, and undermine a foreign policy that has served Bhutan well over that last century.

As such, the Opposition Party calls on the Government to reconsider its foreign policy priorities, and devote its attention and scarce resources to pressing issues within the country.

The Opposition Party also calls on the Government to provide a complete and public account of the expenses incurred to campaign for the UN Security Council seat, and to explain why so much resources were allocated to an undertaking that we had no chance of winning in the first place.

19 October 2012

Hejo vs Denchi

Denchi: relatively expensive

About two years ago, I’d written about a group of residents in Hejo, Thimphu. Their land had been taken over by the government. But they had not accepted the government’s compensation for their land. They claimed that the government’s compensation rate – set by the Property Assessment and Valuation Agency, PAVA – was too low. They protested that their land, located adjacent to Thimphu’s dzong and close to the capital’s business center, fetched much higher prices in the market. And they pointed out that even PAVA’s rates were considerably higher for land that is located further away from the center of Thimphu.

The residents of Hejo have still not been able to resolve their case. They agree that the government can acquire their land for “public purpose”. But they know that the Constitution says that the government can do so only “on payment of fair compensation”. And since the current compensation not “fair”, they have been fighting for a better compensation rate.

Further afield, in Denchi, Pema Gatshel, the government has acquired land to develop a new township. But in this case, the government – the cabinet, no less – has granted compensation rates in excess of PAVA’s rates. The cabinet’s approved rate of Nu 9,000 per decimal more than doubles PAVA’s rate, calculated at Nu 3,952.42 per decimal for Denchi. In fact, the cabinet’s rate is 128% more than PAVA’s rate.

It’s obvious that the landowners in Denchi stand to benefit. And what has now become obvious is that a certain Aum Dechen, who happens to be the prime minister’s aunty, stands to benefit the most. She gets a cool Nu 21.60 million for her land. That’s a whopping Nu 12.12 million above PAVA’s rate of Nu 9.48 million.

The residents of Hejo are still fighting for”fair compensation”for their land. But those in distant Denchi have been given more than their fair share – thanks to the cabinet’s intervention.

To resolve the Hejo case, PAVA should revise the compensation rates, as they must, once every three years.

And to resolve the Denchi case, ACC should investigate the cabinet’s involvement for possible corruption.

Photo credit: The Bhutanese

Public resources control media?

About four months ago, on 28 April, The Bhutanese complained in their editorial that the government was increasingly “using their advertisement revenue to ‘fix’ critical papers …”

Last Saturday, Business Bhutan published a copy of a circular, marked “confidential”, directing all departments within the Ministry of Information and Communication “not to provide any advertisement, announcement, notification, circular, etc” to The Bhutanese. The letter, dated 2 April, was issued at the instruction of the Minister.

Lyonpo Nandalal Rai, the minister of information and communications, has clarified that the circular was a result of miscommunication; that he had meant “Bhutanese media”, not “The Bhutanese”; and that he had withdrawn the circular as soon as he had seen the error.

Lyonpo Nandalal Rai’s clarification is welcome. But it seems unlikely. And, anyway, it is not sufficient. He should answer why he would have wanted to issue a blanket ban on all advertisements, announcements, notifications and circulars in all the media houses – print, radio and television – in the first place.

He should produce the office order withdrawing the circular in question.

And he should explain why government advertisements, announcements, notifications and circulars in The Bhutanese have fallen, and fallen drastically, since April.

The latest issue of The Bhutanese, for example, printed on Saturday, 11 August, carried just three notifications (two by Bank of Bhutan; one by Bhutan Power Corporation) and one message (by DHI). There was nothing – no advertisement, no announcement, no notification, no circular – by any of the government agencies.

Compare that with the Saturday, 11 August issue of Kuensel which carried more than 10 notifications (by National Assembly, ECB, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, RBP, Ministry of Agriculture, Tsirang Dzongkhang Administration, Wangduephodrang Dzongkhag Administration, Samdrupjongkhar Thromde and STCB) and more than 10 announcements (by Druk Air, RAA, BNB, DGPC, NPPF, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance, Mangdechhu Hydropower Project and RBP). Most of these notifications and announcements were made by government agencies.

In terms of content, The Bhutanese wrote 15 articles and, for comparison, Kuensel wrote 17 articles in their 11 August issues.

But Kuensel enjoys a wider and bigger reader base – yes. Plus Kuensel is older, more established and would have a better marketing division – yes, yes and yes. Yet, the huge difference in advertisements between the two newspapers is too big to be explained just by these factors, especially since The Bhutanese also enjoyed much bigger government advertisements only a few months ago.

Is the government misusing public resources to control the media? It certainly looks like it. And if that is the case, we cannot allow it. But what can we do? To start with, we can take a closer look at the newspapers. We can study the contents of the newspapers, and scrutinize all government advertisements, announcements, notifications and circulars.

That way, the government will know that we know if and when they misuse public resources to control the media.

Here’s a copy of the MOIC circular that appeared in Business Bhutan:

Studying pedestrian day

On pedestrian day, the number of vehicles driven is halved, and the number of people walking is doubled. At least, that’s what a study by the National Environment Commission says. Good.

But what would be better, essential in fact, is for the government to study the impact that pedestrian day has on the quality of our lives. And the impact that it has on doing business in Bhutan.

About relief

Consider this: His Majesty the King issued a Kasho yesterday granting Nu 200 million towards the reconstruction of the Wangduephodrang Dzong. Nu 100 million was granted from the armed forces, and Nu 100 million from His Majesty’s Kidu Foundation.

Now consider this: The government has allocated Nu 20 million per year to the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Fund until the balance reaches a ceiling of Nu 100 million. The Relief Fund was passed by the Parliament in the last session. Nu 20 million per year is woefully inadequate. I said so in the Parliament. And I wrote about it.

How much is Nu 20 million? It works out to under 0.06% percent of the government’s annual budget estimated at Nu 34,515.549 million for 2012-13.