“Constitution doesn’t imprison and shackle”. With these five words the prime minister argued that the government could raise tshogpa salaries without consulting the Pay Commission.
Indeed, the Constitution does not imprison; the Constitution does not shackle. That is not the purpose of the Constitution. And we know that.
We also know that the purpose of the Constitution is to provide a set of rules outlining how our kingdom must be governed. These rules define the responsibilities of the various institutions of the State – the monarchy, the executive, the legislature, the judiciary, constitutional bodies, local governments, and others – and authorize powers to these institutions so that they can fulfill their respective responsibilities.
But none of the institutions, not a single one of them, enjoys unlimited powers. That’s why the rules also specify checks and balances limiting the scope of their authority. These checks and balances are intended to minimize the risks of mistakes from being made when governing our kingdom. They are also intended to prevent dangerous concentrations of power and authority.
So yes, the Constitution does not “imprison and shackle” the prime minister and the government. But whether they like it or not, the Constitution does subject them to various checks and balances to ensure that our kingdom is governed well.
But it wasn’t just those five words. A story by Bhutan Observer shows that a lot more words were used, and excuses made, to argue that the Pay Commission did not have to be involved to raise salaries. It’s worth reading the entire article again. So I’m reproducing it here, along with my comments which I’ve inserted, in parenthesis and in red, inside the article.
“Constitution doesn’t imprison and shackle”
PM says tshogpa’s salary raise is justified
(Tshospa’s are being paid below the national minimum wage. So, yes, a salary raise is, indeed justified.)
Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley yesterday reasoned why the recent salary raise for the tshogpas is not unconstitutional at the 18th Meet the Press.
The opposition leader last week contested that the raise is unconstitutional because the constitution empowers only the pay commission to revise the salary of public servants.
The prime minister said, “I find it absolutely unconstitutional on the part of people to talk about unconstitutionality of the good actions intended to advance the interest of society.”
(Since when did questioning the government’s conduct of public business become unconstitutional?)
He said the constitution doesn’t say every salary raise and wage increment should be done through the pay commission. But rather, it says that the prime minister may recommend, periodically, the establishment of a pay commission for structural revisions of salaries. “It doesn’t say that every decision should be made through the pay commission.”
(Are salaries being revised? If so, it’s the Pay Commission’s job to recommend the revision to the Government.)
Constitution, Lyonchhen said, was created to enable society to progress, democracy to flourish, and to enable the implementation, translation and the pursuit of the high principles and ideals that should guide the society.
He said the constitution is not a document that will serve as a manual for day-to-day conduct of the business of government and society.
(Article 30 of the Constitution serves as a manual for how to revise salaries of all public servants, including members of the local government.)
Elucidating his point, he said that the constitution doesn’t prescribe how the political parties should be managed on a day-to-day basis and that the prime minister and the minister should wear scarves. And for that matter, there is also no mention in the constitution that there should be a monthly discourse between the media and the cabinet, he said. “Because it’s not mentioned in the constitution, is it unconstitutional?”
(It’s up to the political parties how they manage themselves, but as long as they do not violate Article 15 (Political Parties) of the Constitution, the Election Act and other relevant laws.)
(The Constitution does not prescribe that the prime minister and ministers should wear scarves. So is wearing scarves unconstitutional? No. Would not wearing scarves be unconstitutional? No. It is not a constitutional matter.)
(The Constitution does not mention that the government should meet the press every month. So are the monthly “meet the press” sessions unconstitutional? No. It is not a constitutional matter.)
The prime minister said that if one is truly interested in furthering the interest of society, one should not cite the constitution and say ‘because it is not mentioned in the constitution, it is illegal’.
(Nobody has said that “because it is not mentioned … it is illegal”. On the contrary, because a provision is mentioned in the Constitution, we must abide by that provision. Otherwise we risk violating the Constitution.)
Had the tshogpa’s salary been higher, Bhutan would have got better tshogpas, Lyonchhen said, adding that those interested are not satisfying enough in terms of their capacity and quality. “Therefore, it would have been wrong in terms of the spirit of the constitution for the state to not to have acted,” he said.
(Increase the salaries of tshogpas. I’m all for it. I called for their salaries to be increased too. But, please, do so in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.)
Opposition Leader Tshering Tobgay had quoted the constitution which states that “the pay commission shall recommend to the government revisions in the structure of the salary, allowances, benefits, and other emoluments of the royal civil service, the judiciary, the members of parliament and local governments, the holders and the members of constitutional offices and all other public servants with due regard to the economy of the Kingdom and other provisions of this constitution.”
Finance Minister Wangdi Norbu said since there were no tshogpa candidates coming forward to contest the elections, the government discussed the issue seriously and decided to raise their salary, which is subject to approval by the parliament.
(The finance minister also said, on 27th October, that “an increment in the salary should be approved by the Pay Commission”)
Lyonchhen said not getting good people elected into the local government means the possibility of endangering democracy, undermining the importance of the quality of governance at the grassroots level, and the possibility that wrong decision will be taken and resources will be wasted.
(Local governments are very important. So we must attract the best people to serve in them. The Rule of Law is also important. If laws are ignored, if the Constitution is violated, democracy will certainly be endangered.)
He argued that when there is no specific limitation in the constitution, one should not go back to the constitution and cite it. “The constitution doesn’t block us, imprison us, and shackle us against good things and actions we need to take,” he said.
(Follow the procedure, follow Article 30 of the Constitution, and have their recommendations ready before the Parliament’s next session. Unless that is, the government wants to exercise full authority to revise salaries of public servants as and when they wish.)