This session of parliament will be recorded as historic as it passed the Gyalsung Act (GA) 2022, the Civil Service Reform Act (CSR) 2022 and the Clean Wage Act (CWA) 2022, among others. These three laws are based on His Majesty’s farsighted vision to restructure the system, rectify the flaws and set the nation’s path in a radical way to bring transparency, inculcate integrity, reform the economy, and fix accountability. The question is whether the legislature will fulfil His Majesty’s vision to bring these radical changes together to make Bhutan a dependable nation.

Public servants expected the Clean Wage Act to set a wage standard—encourage more middle-level career officers, most of whom are not only in the most productive age economically but are also qualified public servants to work in Bhutan instead of opting to go outside. While the government claimed and the legislature agreed that a clean wage is structuring fundamental change in wages in the country, it fell short of achieving His Majesty’s vision as there were only a few cuts and additions with nothing exciting. The government stated that there are huge flaws and too many allowances for public servants. Parliamentarians enjoy the greatest number of allowances (campaign fund, vehicle purchase allowance, driver allowance, fuel allowance, communications allowance, house rent allowance, tax-free vehicle quota to buy luxurious cars, discretionary allowance and other allowances enjoyed by civil servants) and most of these allowances are still retained in the Act.  The CWA should have scraped all the allowances and made the monthly salary with varying income based on categories of public servants and provide food and accommodation during official tours and make it effective after economic recovery. Such steps would have set more certainty and assurance to public servants. For example, today, except for executives including MPs, public servants get Nu 1500 per day as Daily Allowance. With the market rate of accommodation and food, what would one get with Nu 1,500?

The legislature made a significant contribution to a radical overhaul of the system by enacting the Civil Service Act. This law will significantly contribute towards public service delivery in a more coordinated and efficient manner. However, there is a possibility of political abuse, since every agency including all autonomous agencies and regulatory authorities are now under ministry headed by a politician. Further, no attractive retirement benefits are mentioned. Today, a government secretary after retirement even does not get subsidised home ownership. Many systems including that of Singapore and India have much better retirement incentives, including homeownership for public servants. The informal data indicates that if one goes to Australia, in one or two years one can easily buy land and even have a decent home by doing a blue-collar job there.  

Parliament deserves kudos for enacting the GA. However, a minimum of three years imprisonment for violation of this Act is a concern. The reason for inserting a penalty is in anticipation that there will be youth who will violate this law. Parliament should have added just one exception to Penal Code and reduced the penalty.  The basic rule of interpretation of legislation is that specific law (Gyalsung Act) overrides general law (Penal Code) and later law supersedes the earlier law.  The Constitution makes it the prerogative of the legislature to enact any law. The patriotism and protection of our nation must be based on values and volunteerism as envisioned by His Majesty.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.