Mind the gap

The DNT government achieved a significant milestone yesterday. And they did not commemorate it with any fanfare. In fact, the opposition party and the media and all of social media have also been quiet.

What’s the milestone? Six months: our third elected government completed their first six months on the job yesterday. For those who may have forgotten, His Majesty the King conferred dakyen to the incoming prime minister, ministers and opposition leader on the 7th of November last year.

But it’s only six months? Yes. Now, look at it another way. Six months means 10% of the government’s term in office. In other words, this government has already spent 10% of their tenure. That’s a significant portion of their time. Yet, I do not see anything significant in terms of narrowing the gap.

Yes, the government removed the cut-off mark after class X allowing all students to move to high school. But at what cost? Removing the cut-off mark has single-handedly done more to undermine the quality of education than anything else in the history of modern education in Bhutan. So all students can count on making it through high school, but because of the decline in the quality of education, students from poorer families will now be placed at a greater disadvantage.

Doing away with the cut-off mark was easy. It was also reckless. Now it is incumbent on the government to compliment that one reckless policy with a string of good policies, some of which will be difficult, to ensure that the quality of education is not compromised.

Otherwise, the gap will increase.

Yes, the government also instituted the 4th Pay Commission and they are currently studying their report. But why did the government make the report public? Matters concerning money – that includes taxes and budgets, but especially pay and salaries – cannot be discussed in the public for one simple reason: you cannot please all the people all the time!

But you must fulfill your promises. You must narrow the gap.

Elementary support personnel will receive an increase of Nu 2,000 (from Nu 7000 to Nu 9000). That’s hardly going to narrow the gap, especially when the PM, ministers and MPs can expect increases of Nu 25200, Nu 18200 and Nu 9235 respectively. An increase of Nu 2000 for ESP is a pittance. That’s what they received way back in 2014 when their salary was increased from Nu 5000 to Nu 7000.

But General support personnel fare even worse. GSP I staff can expect a pay increase of Nu 1769 while GSP I can expect just Nu 1385! Similarly, O4, O3, and O2 can expect increases of just Nu 1790, Nu 1965 and Nu 2120 respectively.

And local government officials fare the worst. Elected local government officials will not receive any increase in their salaries! True, LG officials received two pay increases during 2013 to 2018. But that’s mainly because their original salary base was unacceptably lower than their counterparts in the government.

The Pay Commission’s report is not going to narrow any gap. In fact, it will widen the existing gap. So to narrow the gap among public officials, the government must narrow the pay gap – in absolute terms, not by percentages and compression ratios.

Otherwise the gap will increase.

Then there’s the gap between public servants and the rest of the country, especially our rural folk. Here, the government has done precious little. I can say that with confidence simply because I hardly see any new development work being implemented. With development work throughout the country at a virtual standstill, no gap is being narrowed, not between the public and private sectors, and certainly not between our rural folk and the rest of the country.

It’s been six months since the DNT formed the government. And they have already spent 10% of their tenure. But there’s been no new development work, not in our towns and not in our villages. And without development we cannot narrow the gap.

I voted for DNT. I voted to narrow the gap. It now becomes my responsibility to hold them accountable to fulfill their promise.

So as the government completes a significant milestone, and while the opposition party and the media and all of social media are (complicity?) quiet, I would like to respectfully caution the government: Mind the gap!