Constitution matters

“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.

[Continue Reading…]

Tshogpa salaries

The government needs to understand what they can do and what they cannot do.

Last month, on October 27, during a press conference the finance minister announced that, “… while tshogpas deserve a raise, there is not enough money to raise their salary.” Furthermore, he clarified that, “an increment in the salary should be approved by the Pay Commission.”

So basically, we were told that the government can’t increase tshogpa salaries because (1) they don’t have enough money; and (2) the Pay Commission would have to approve any increase.

But last week, on November 16, the government announced that they had increased the salary of tshogpas to Nu 5,000 per month. And that that increase was decided by the cabinet.

So basically, now we are made to understand that (1) the government has enough money to increase tshogpa salaries; and (2) the Pay Commission does not have to approve that increase.

In fact, here’s what the government can do: increase tshogpa salaries. Why? Because tshogpas were being paid below the national minimum wage. So whether tshogpas deserved a raise or not, and whether the government had enough money or not, their salaries had to be increased to at least equal the national minimum wage level.

But here’s what the government cannot do: increase tshogpa salaries unilaterally. Why? Because only the Pay Commission has the authority to recommend increases in the salaries of public servants, including tshogpas who are members of the local government.

That’s why I called for tshogpa salaries to be increased, but objected that the government does not have the authority to do so unilaterally.

In order to ensure that the increased salaries of the tshogpas are lawful, the government should constitute a Pay Commission immediately to recommend revisions to the tshogpa salaries. There’s enough time for their recommendations to be approved by the government, and submitted to the next session of the Parliament.

Paying for support

Dasho Nima Wangdi, director general of finance, justifying the government’s decision to increase the allowances and benefits of gups, was quoted as saying that:

The pay commission, which was not a full time committee, could be instituted by the government only for major systemic changes in pay and allowance structures. “In the gups’ case, the government has the full authority to decide.”

He’s right: the Pay Commission is not a full time committee.

And he’s wrong: the government does not have any authority to revise the pay and allowances of public servants, including gups, independently. It can do so only at the Pay Commission’s recommendation, and subject to the endorsement of the Parliament.

Article 30.2 of the Constitution:

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.

Article 30.3 of the Constitution:

The recommendations of the Commission shall be implemented only on the approval of the Lhengye Zhungtshog and subject to such conditions and modifications as may be made by Parliament.

The government’s decision to increase the allowances and benefits of the gups is arbitrary. It may also be illegal. And Dasho Nima’s support for the decision is misguided.

Increasing the travel allowances of the gups and providing them with mobile phone vouchers is no small matter. The decision is expensive. The decision affects other public servants. And the decision could be politically motivated.

But, it’s not just the gups who are benefiting from our government’s disregard for procedure. Last year, ACC employees were also granted an allowance arbitrarily. And the National Assembly approved pay increases for members of parliament without the recommendation of the Pay Commission.

The rule of law is important. Especially during these early years of our democracy. And especially so, when we’re dealing with money.

Granted, there may be a need to revise the salaries, allowances and benefits of the public service. If so, reconstitute the Pay Commission. Let them do their job. But take their recommendations seriously.

And follow the law. Then civil servants won’t have to cover for the government.