In what is a reminder of the party’s motto of Narrowing the Gap, founding members and candidates of Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) recently wrote to all its elected members, including the prime minister and ministers, suggesting them not to take the pay raise.
The party office decided to send the letter on April 19 after a review of the Fourth Pay Commission report.
Signed by the party’s general secretary, Phurba, the letter expresses members’ concerns about the possible ramifications of some of the recommendations in their current form on the image of the party as an institution.
The party office has suggested seven changes in the report, while asking members of the Cabinet and MPs not to deviate from the from the party’s vision. Non-elected members are of the view that the elected members, including those in the Cabinet, should work in line with the party’s vision.
The letter states that people voted for DNT on “Narrowing the Gap” and that the party office was obliged to protect the party’s core value.
“Ever since the Pay Commission report on civil service pay revision was released, Narrowing the Gap is attacked and criticized by mainstream media, social media and public at large. In short, DNT’s core is being attacked. Hence, the institution of DNT as the Party is under threat,” it stated.
The party office stated the pay revision worth Nu 18.285 billion (B) for the 12th Plan has to be economically sound, politically correct and nationally prudent.
“Moreover, our public narrative of “Narrowing the Gap” has to be protected as it is DNT’s core and nation’s priority,” it stated.
The letter states, “In other words, when huge amount of Nu 18. 285 billion is pocketed in certain section of society, other large sections of society would have to forgo that amount and bear the brunt. For example, spending on salary increase is low quality spending because it is pure consumption spending, not productive spending.”
The party office also stated that the pay revision must be politically correct. It explains that an election outcome is the aggregate preference of the people and that the collective choice of the people or preference aggregation should be upheld and respected in democracy.
“Elected representatives also have moral responsibility and mandate to uphold Narrowing the Gap as entrusted by the people of Bhutan.”
The proposed monthly basic salary for MPs is Nu 75,165, an increase from Nu 65,930 (existing). The total monthly allowances, including the house rent allowance, comes to about Nu 56,500.
As per a rough calculation based on the Pay Commission’s recommendations, an MP’s gross salary would be about Nu 131,000. The existing gross salary of MPs is about Nu 116,000.
The biggest beneficiary of the raise is the prime minister, whose basic salary is raised from Nu 180,000 to 205,200. The salary of Cabinet ministers and equivalent positions is proposed to be increased from Nu 130,000 to Nu 148,000.
A founding member of DNT, Tenzin Lekphel, told Kuensel that the party as a credible democratic institution was compelled to convey its suggestions and concerns like any other responsible citizen.
“For our party, we always fought on the slogan of narrowing the gap. So we felt it was timely to remind government to consider this element as they reviewed the report,” he said, adding that a political party is not just there to contest elections.
The party office says it wrote to the elected members to fulfill its duty of keeping government of the day on track. He was of the view that maintaining check and balance was crucial.
Tenzin Lekphel said DNT was voted as a government because people related to its pledges. The founding member said he had trust in the elected members that they would work in line with the party’s vision.
“So, yes, priorities have to be along that line. However, once a government, there would be many factors to consider from resources to other priorities. We have to weigh things out,” he said.
Asked why their suggestions matter, the party’s general secretary, Phurba, said DNT always believed in collective decision-making.
However, Kuensel learnt that most MPs want the raise despite the public outcry. They are of the view that MPs incur more expenses than civil servants and ordinary citizens including those on social services.
DNT members outside the parliament reject the argument saying that MPs cannot draw money from the state exchequer for their social service.
Tashichhoeling MP Dil Maya Rai said that pay revision alone would not make much difference. She was of the view that the government must put in place conducive policies for creation of economic opportunities. “People only see our income, not the expenses.”
Athang-Thedtsho MP Kinely Wangchuk in a Facebook post said people expected MPs to do social services. “Nonetheless, we will carefully review and do justice to the Pay Commission’s recommendations.”
Tsirangtoe MP Garja Man Rai, however, said that he would not mind forgoing the raise so long people in the low-income group benefit. He said he preferred the raise in lump sum amounts.
While some party members fear that the party’s election prospects in the next election would be affected if the elected members’ decide to take the raise, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering says he would not mind losing an election by doing what is right for the country. Speaking at the fifth meet the press on April 26, the prime minister said senior executives should be well-paid.
He said the Pay Commission report is being reviewed by the cabinet. But despite the widespread criticism of the Pay Commission recommending big raises for top-rung civil executives and politicians, he did not provide any hint of reducing any of the recommended figures.
He said the government would work on economic policies, such as on mines and taxation, to narrow the gap.
Opposition leader (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said that his party was reviewing the Pay Commission report and that the party would come up with its view. Earlier, the party issued a press release saying that it would reserve its views on the Pay Commission report until the Cabinet comes up with a final report.
Suggestions from the party office
The party office has suggested the government to revise the pay based on absolute amounts more towards the lower group. It is of the view that the percentage-based raise is distortionary and misleading from the perspective of narrowing the gap.
The pay commission has recommended a revision between 14 and 29 percent for public servants with higher revision at the lowest position.
The letter also suggests the government not to increase the red kabney allowance, saying that increasing the allowance would attach monetary value to the sacred lifetime achievement honor. The pay Commission recommended the allowance be increased from Nu 100 to Nu 10,000.
The party’s suggestions include fixing the minimum salary for any civil servant at Nu 16,700 Nu (or Nu 13,500 based on the proposed minimum wage of Nu 450 per day). This, the party feels, will make every civil servant a PIT paying person.
The proposed basic salary of elementary service personnel (ESP) is Nu 9,000, an increase from Nu 7,000.
The party office has asked the government to make the mileage uniform at Nu 16 per kilometre for everyone. The party is also in favour of keeping the DSA increase uniform for all civil servants.
The report has recommended reducing the mileage from Nu 16 to Nu 10.
Foreign minister and the government’s spokesperson, Dr Tandi Dorji, said that the government was collecting views.
“We welcome suggestions, but whether all will be implemented will depend. It does not mean that whatever the party is saying will be implemented,” Dr Tandi Dorji said.
The report, which is being reviewed by the Cabinet, will be deliberated in the upcoming parliament session, which will begin from May 23.