In passing the pay revision Bill, the Assembly yesterday endorsed 12 of the 19 recommendations the National Council provided on the pay revision Bill while rejecting the proposal of 13 percent pay hike for the Chief Justice of Supreme Court and the Speaker.
The economic and finance committee of the Assembly initially proposed a 13 percent hike for the two posts to distinguish the head of three branches of the government. The proposal was endorsed but later found in contravention of the Parliamentary entitlement Act.
However, this was justified by the ‘repeal’ section in the pay revision Bill, which states that pay revision Act shall supersede all Acts, notifications, circulars, rules and regulations on pay revision that are inconsistent with the provisions of this Act. This means, if this section was endorsed, the clause in the Parliamentary entitlement Act that equates the remuneration of Speaker and Chief Justice remains null and void.
The National Council, however, justified that repealing provisions of other Acts that are inconsistent with the pay revision Bill poses risk of destroying the intent and purpose of entitlement Acts for various institutions. It’s recommendation was to repeal the earlier pay revision Acts of 2014 and 2017 only.
Drametse-Ngatshang MP, Ugyen Wangdi said that the Bill is not only inconsistent with the entitlement Act but also the civil service, local government and public finance Acts among others. “This could create problems in future,” he said.
“The pay revision Bill should only comprise of revision of pay and allowances. The debate of who is who and who gets what should be guided by the entitlement Act,” Ugyen Wangdi said.
Finance minister Namgay Tshering also pointed out that it is not a good precedence to repeal other Acts for the sake of making the implementation of one Act convenient.
Then the concern was on the repealing the earlier pay revision Acts of 2014 and 2017 since this is the first time that a repeal section was inserted in a pay revision Bill. Repealing the earlier pay revision Act meant declaring null and void the revised pay and allowances that was not included in the new Bill.
While other members suggested on making changes to the Council’s recommendations, the Speaker gave only two options – to adopt the Council’s recommendations or to go ahead with the Assembly’s endorsement citing the National Assembly Act that specifies the procedures and reasoning that the house has already deliberated on the issue at length.
Opposition leader, Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) asked the Speaker to allow the changes to be made on the Council’s recommendations since it was a money Bill and the Assembly had the prerogative. “If we remain rigid, we are showing a way for the two houses to land up in court,” he said.
On the Speaker’s approval, the house resolved to repeal only the inconsistent provisions of the earlier pay revision Acts instead of the whole Act.
While this new proposal was endorsed with a show of hands, the committee chairperson, Athang-Thedtsho MP, Kinley Wangchuk said that one Act repealing provisions of the other happened in the past. For instance, he said, the narcotic drugs, psychotropic substance and substance abuse Act 2015 has repealed five provisions of the Penal Code.
He also said that the same members who endorsed the earlier proposal are now changing stands.
Then came the proposal of 13 percent pay hike for the Chief Justice and Speaker, which automatically got vetoed due to the change in the repeal section. The Speaker asked the members to be candid in sharing their opinions and that there is no need to hesitate. “Wangchuk Namgyel is temporarily holding the seat, which would remain forever,” he said.
With a majority in favor of Council’s recommendation, the pay hike for the Chief Justice and Speaker is maintain at par with ministers, NC chairperson and Opposition Leader.
The pay hike for the rest of the public servants remains unchanged from the one the government proposed.
Allowances and benefits
The Council’s recommendation to grant 20 percent allowance for ambulance drivers could not garner support of the members. With increase in daily sustenance allowance, Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said ambulance drivers would also benefit.
Council’s proposal to increase the stipend for trainees of technical training institutes and zorig chusum from Nu 1,500 to Nu 3,000 also got rejected as labour minister Ugyen Dorji justified that a reformation plan is underway and that a hike in stipend would come as a package.
Hike in communication allowance for tshogpas from Nu 100 a month to Nu 200 and leave encashment for Gaydrungs was not approved.
While some members proposed further hikes pointing out that communication allowance for tshogpas is too small an amount to cover for the responsibilities, the Speaker reminded the house that members did not raise the concern when the pay revision was first deliberated. “Now that the NC recommended it, everyone wants to push a further hike,” the tshogpon said reminding the members to refrain from swaying along political lines.
A new insertion on the daily allowance of Nu 1,500 for Gaydrung was also proposed by the Council. However, the Assembly decided to bring it down to Nu 1,000 stating that Nu 1,500 was equivalent to Gups’.
Council’s recommendation to do away with utility bill of up to Nu 3,000 and domestic help for heads of constitutional post, attorney general (residing in Lhyengye Densa) got rejected.
While the Council also recommended a vehicle import quota or an option to monetise Nu 1.5M for the Privy Council chairman along with the Prime Minister, Chief Justice, ministers, Speaker, NC chair and Opposition Leader, the Assembly did not support it.
Foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji argued that the current chairperson of the Privy Council was holding a ministerial rank before and that it is logical. However, he said that it is highly uncertain as who may succeed the current chairperson. Panbang MP, Dorji Wangdi also said that all posts eligible for quota are term based, whereas the term for Privy Council chairman is uncertain. The quota is provided for one term.
Another recommendation of the Council to base the 40 percent pension payout of lowest position in civil service (O4) on their maximum revised pay instead of minimum also got unanimous support.
However, the NC’s recommendation to maintain status quo on the gratuity ceiling could not garner support of the Assembly and the ceiling is now removed.