In line with the LG member’s entitlement bill endorsed yesterday

Parliament: The government will spend about Nu 20M (million) more annually, as mobile voucher allowances and earned leave encashment for local government (LG) members, as per the LG members’ entitlement bill that the joint sitting of Parliament endorsed yesterday.

The bill was passed with 66 ‘yes’ votes, while one member voted against it.

Of the 33 clauses in the bill, the two houses couldn’t come to terms on five, following which a 12-member joint committee comprising members from both houses was formed.  The joint committee’s recommendations were presented to the House yesterday.

The bill states that all LG members are entitled to a monthly salary, as determined by the government in line with the provision of the Constitution.  Besides, mobile phone voucher allowances, all members are entitled to causal, earned, maternity, paternity and medical leave like civil servants.

The bill applies to all elected members of the LG.  The bill is expected to attract quality candidates and provide financial security to LG members, besides preventing corruption, by making it responsive to economic needs of members, and ensure efficient delivery of services through motivation.

The bill states that all elected members shall be entitled daily subsistence allowance (DSA) at rates determined by the government for approved official travel.

A member is also entitled to a sitting fee, besides the DSA.  Like civil servants, all members are entitled to gratuity, provident fund and other retirement benefits approved by the government on the recommendation of the Pay Commission from time to time.

The bill also mandates the government to operate a gratuity scheme for all LG members and gyadrung.  The government will also determine the amount of gratuity on recommendation of the Pay Commission for members and gyadrung, who have served one term of office.

Presenting the bill, the joint committee chairman and Chumed-Ura representative, Tshewang Jurmi, urged the members to support the bill, considering the importance of the LG and roles of LG members. “The entitlement Act will enable members to perform their duties effectively and enhance their commitment to serve the LG,” he said.

Tshewang Jurmi said, although the budget implication was huge on the government, the entitlement Act would boost the morale of all elected LG members.

Home minister Damcho Dorji said, as the entitlement bill was long overdue, the government had given it attention since it joined office. Although the LG Act was endorsed in 2009, the entitlement bill was not drafted. “Without the entitlement bill, there was no fixed allowance for LG members, and all allowances depended on the government,” lyonpo said. “A stronger LG is essential for a stronger democracy.”

Finance minister Namgay Dorji said that, while the earned leave encashment alone would cost the government over Nu 16M annually, the bill was necessary for a vibrant LG. “In the past session, we couldn’t support considering the economic situation of the country, and also the second Pay Commission didn’t approve it,” lyonpo said. “Given the need for a strong LG and wangtse chriphel, we’re in favour of the decision passed by the joint committee.”

Calling it a comprehensive bill, local leaders said they were happy that the joint sitting had finally endorsed the much awaited entitlement bill.  Until now, gups said they just received DSA when travelling to the dzongkhag or dungkhag and not within the gewog.  Gups said it took more than a day to reach far-flung gewogs despite which LG members were not entitled to DSAs or any other allowances.

Lauri gup Pema Dhendup, who attended the session yesterday with a few other gups, said all entitlements were specified in the bill. “So far, we weren’t entitled to pension, PF, and gratuity, while the leave system was complicated,” he said. “Now we have a bill in place which will help all LG members and encourage more participation in LG elections.”

There are 1,044 elected LG members today.  Currently, gups earn a DSA of Nu 750, while tshogpas earn Nu 300.

By Kinga Dema