At the cost of the state

The state had been offering nyendars, granting soelras and tips on behalf of the cabinet ministers and ministerial ranked officials for many years.

This is how people are interpreting the Royal Audit Authority’s report on the expenses made on entertainment and hospitality. Worse. Some are recommending Koeners (caretakers) to issue receipts when ministers visit lhakhangs.

Nu 55 million on just hospitality and entertainment is a lot of money that people started doing the maths. It is worth a dozen dialysis machines, a dozen new garbage compactor trucks. It can repair all the potholes in the capital city or a dozen irrigation channels. It can blacktop a farm road. The list goes on.

There is no disagreement that ministers or high ranked officials should receive some privileges. Our tradition forces officials, for that matter, the gup also to grant soelra when visiting places. Chadi is an integral part of our culture.

But there are limitations. And this is not a new issue. Cutting down on government expenses on entertainment and hospitality, including chadi has been debated even before democracy was born. In the past, people’s representatives (chimis) demanded the state pay for an elected gup’s party after observing the state was wasting resources on chadi and celebrations.

The audit’s observation is talked about because this follows initiatives after initiatives of cost-cutting or austerity measures.

The public is more concerned when elected people or appointed to highest posts are not leading by example. Nyendars are too personal that even if you forget your wallet, you ensure to repay the borrower. There is no benefit if someone is paying your nyendar, so is the belief.

Like the RAA rightly pointed out, there are practical issues in documenting expenditure on changyep (fee), nyendars or semsos. They recommended reviewing rules. Officials will still see practical issues. This is where honesty and integrity comes in. Not many internal auditors or accountants will dare question the minister if the face cream he bought for his wife is to be adjusted.

Expenses on entertainment and hospitality raised some eyebrows in the past. They knew something was wrong in the system. National Council members managed to get their question demanding figures on such expenses to the question hour, but it was brushed aside.

In some dzongkhags, officials are complaining of not getting time to work because they are busy with chadi.

There is appreciation to the RAA for exposing the hypocrisy. There is demand for more. The public cannot digest when Nu 2.8 million is spent on alcohol and adjusted by people involved in framing alcohol control policies.  We have seen people lose jobs for adjusting few thousands while there is no limit for the privileged with discretionary allowance.

The audit report pointed out a lot of loopholes. It cannot be plugged even with the stringent rules. It is a matter of preaching and not practicing. The Pay Commission could relook into the rules. The timing is perfect.

The report is based on past expenses. How the new government deals with the issue will be closely watched.

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