Price increases

A civil servant tells me that the recent salary increase has made him poorer!

How? Because his pay increase barely covers the corresponding increase in the cost of rent, fuel and groceries. This is his statement of expenditure:

We can’t do much about the increase in the cost of fuel and onions. They reflect price hikes in India and have nothing to do with salary increases here.

But we can’t allow rents and the prices of other goods to shoot up every time civil servants get a pay hike. This undermines the whole purpose of a pay increase. And it makes life for employees in the private sector that much more difficult.

Are you a civil servant? If so, has the recent salary increase made you richer or poorer?

Salary fixing

How on Earth could an Honourable Member of Parliament claim that: “From our point of view, the MP’s pay was never fixed and the 20 percent hike was only a hike on an interim and not the fixed pay.”

And, how on Earth could another Honourable Member of Parliament point to the finance secretary’s letter of April 2008 as proof that salaries of MPs were never fixed?

Yes, the finance secretary’s letter outlined salaries and allowances for MPs as an “interim arrangement”. But, interim only till the salaries were finalized. And, those salaries were finalized when we, Members of Parliament, increased them by 20% less that a year ago, on 19th January 2009, during the 2nd Session of the Parliament.

To claim that the 20% pay hike for MPs was also an interim measure, and that another increase is needed to finalise their salaries is outrageous. Their logic is both devious and shameless.

For those of us who have forgotten, the National Assembly’s resolution on the pay increase for MPs reads:

Members of Parliament

Pay increase for the Members of Parliament has been fixed at 20 % of their current pay and the allowance and other entitlements are as presented in the table below.

 

Sl.

Description Existing Revision

1

Basic Pay Nu. 30,000 20%

2

House Rent 30% of basic pay 30% of basic pay

3

Transportation charges of personal effects on initial appointment and on retirement

As Applicable to EX level in the civil service

4

DSA for official travel within Bhutan Actual lodging in one room plus Nu. 500 or lumpsum of Nu. 800 As Applicable to EX level in the civil service

5

DSA for official travel in India and abroad In accordance with applicable rules As Applicable to EX level in the civil service

6

Transport (vehicle purchase allowance) Nu. 700,000 for one term Nu. 700,000 for one term

7

Fuel/maintenance allowance Nu. 6000 per month Nu. 7000 per month

8

Driver allowance

Nu. 6000 per month

9

Mobile phone voucher allowance

Nu. 2000 per month

10

Gratuity

1.5 times last monthly salary into number of years

11

Provident Fund 8% each by Governmentand member 11% each by government and member

12

Travel expense on retirement

One month’s last pay

13

Discretionary grant Nu. 100,000 per annum Nu. 100,000 per annum

 

It’s actually quite straightforward. We increased the salaries of MPs during the 2nd Session of the Parliament. And, along with that, we also increased the allowances, and awarded new allowances to MPs.

Quite straightforward. Unless, that is, we want to shamelessly, and, perhaps, illegally, bulldoze another pay increase for ourselves. That, unfortunately, seems to be the idea.

Rewarding work

Pay masters

Pay masters

Last December, I suggested that we should greet the Pay Commission’s recommendation to give politicians a big raise with surprise and suspicion.

Less than three weeks later, we were given the Government’s pay revision report. The Government had revised the Pay Commission’s report substantially. In fact, the Government modified the Commission’s report beyond recognition. But, I was happy. And, I had registered my satisfaction at the Government’s decision to stick with more reasonable pay increases to politicians.

This is what I had written:

For now, I am happy – happy and proud – that our government has decided against hefty pay increases for politicians. Good job.

I take back my words.

What was a “good job” then, has now, barely 10 months later, been totally undone. Yesterday, the National Assembly endorsed a pay increase for members of parliament.

Parliament does not have the powers to consider or grant pay increases unilaterally. Instead, according to the Constitution, it’s the Pay Commission’s job to recommend increases in the salaries and allowances of public servants. And that includes us, politicians.

But several ministers argued that last year’s Pay Commission had indeed recommended salary increases, and that yesterday’s discussions were based on those recommendations. Rubbish. The Government had already overhauled the Pay Commission’s report. And, the Parliament had discussed and approved the Government’s pay increase proposal. The Pay Commission’s original report was never debated in Parliament.

If it’s time to revise the salaries of politicians, go for it. But go by the book – the Constitution.

And, it goes without saying, that if it’s time to revise the salaries of politicians, it must also be time to revise the salaries of all public servants.

Photo credit: BBS

Effectively changed

The BBS reported today that the finance ministry has issued an office order announcing that the pay revision for MPs will be effective from 1st January 2009 and not 1st April 2008 as notified earlier.

Good.

Effectively different

Our finance minister issued two notices on 13th February.

The first notice announced that “Upon approval of the Parliament, the Ministry of Finance is pleased to announce the revision of pay and allowances of the public servants with effect from 1st January 2009…”

Good. This is consistent with the Parliament’s resolution and the government’s Pay Revision Proposal which states that “In order to reduce the magnitude of the costs, the Government has decided to implement the pay revision from January 2009” (see Pay Revision).

The second notice, addressed to the Hon’ble Speaker and Hon’ble Chairman of the NA and NC respectively, states that “…the pay raise and revised benefits of the MPs shall be effective from 1st April 2008…”

Not good. This is not consistent with the Parliament’s resolution, which was that the pay revision would be effective from January 2009. Parliament did not discuss or decide to apply the pay raise for MPs retroactively.

A continuing saga

“A week after the National Assembly approved the civil servant pay hike, the cabinet has revised the scarcity allowance system for teachers and doctors…” ran Kuensel’s main story yesterday (read article).

The cabinet’s decision will bring a little relief to a few civil servants. But it will be a source of growing anxiety to many more. The message, after all, is that the pay revision can still be negotiated; that it is not final.

As a matter of fact, the pay revision has been finalized. It has been debated in parliament. And it has been approved by the National Assembly. Any modifications made to it now will amount to overriding the National Assembly’s resolutions. And that would be illegal.

So if the approved pay revision package must, for whatever reason, be modified, do it during parliament’s next session. And, if needed, propose to apply the modifications retroactively.

Otherwise we risk ignoring the democratic process. And undermining the authority of the legislature.

Pay increase broadcast


A lot of people followed the pay revision debate today. According to BBS, people throughout the country watched it live.

Well I saw this group of people right outside the National Assembly following the proceedings on live TV. The group was gathered around BBS’s OB Van – outdoor broadcasting van – to keep track of how their representatives were serving them. They didn’t look too excited.

Assemble in the Assembly

A lot of people called me today. They were mainly civil servants expressing their frustration over the government’s pay revision report. They must be really frustrated. After all, by now they would know that a two-member opposition can hardly influence important discussions.

So I hope they’re calling the DPT MPs too.

And I hope they turn up to watch the debate. The visitors’ gallery is normally empty – it would be good to have it packed once in a while. At the least, it would remind us, politicians, to serve our masters, the people of Bhutan.

Pay expectations

We were given the government’s pay revision report today. Finally. And the speaker announced that we would debate it this Monday. Good.

I am happy that the government has decided not to increase the salaries of the prime minister, cabinet ministers and other ranks equivalent to ministers. The pay commission had recommended salary increases of 130% for the PM and 66% for cabinet ministers.

And I’m satisfied, more or less, that the government has decided to increase the salaries of MPs by only 20%. The pay commission had recommended a 100% increase.

But I’m left wondering why the government has decided to increase civil service salaries by only 35%.

For now, I am happy – happy and proud – that our government has decided against hefty pay increases for politicians. Good job.

Pay lip service?

Do you know why the government has published the pay commission’s proposal? I don’t.

The pay commission’s proposal is already outdated – the ministry of finance’s proposal being based on it. So why not publish the MOF proposal? In fact, why not publish whichever proposal the government has approved?

Article 30.3 of our Constitution, “The recommendation of the (Pay) 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”, can be interpreted in at least two ways:

One, that the government has the authority to approve and implement pay revisions. That parliament’s approval to do so is not necessary. But that the parliament could, if it so chooses, discuss the pay revision before or after it is implemented.

Two, that the government can approve a pay revision, but that it must go through parliament before it is implemented (which is to say, the government cannot really approve pay revision).

I favour the first interpretation. After all, if we hold the government responsible for its performance, then we must give it the authority to perform as it deems fit.

But regardless of the interpretation, pay revision will be discussed by the national assembly on 19th January. So this must mean that the government has already approved some version of the pay revision proposals.

Now the PM has been quoted as saying that he released the pay commission’s full report to “…allow lawmakers to receive public opinion before debating on the pay issue.” I take this to mean that the government has approved the pay commission’s report in full. And that this report will be discussed in the national assembly

But it seems that the government is still unsure – according to Kuensel, the ministry of finance’s proposal is being discussed even now, and the cabinet has not yet reached a decision.

So which “pay revision” will the parliament discuss? I don’t know.

And why has the government published the pay commission’s proposal? I really don’t know.