The decision was prompted mainly by the plight of those availing institutional quarters

HRA: The Cabinet last week approved the decision to pay full 20 percent house rent allowance to civil servants starting July 2015.

Finance minister Namgay Dorji said the decision couldn’t be implemented sooner because it was not budgeted for this fiscal year. “It’s costing us an additional Nu 85M annually, that’s why it will be effective from July this year,” lyonpo said.

This means civil servants, especially those occupying institutional houses, will be paid the difference that’s left from the housing allowance after paying their house rents.

The government started reviewing the 20 percent house rent allowance last August, following anomalies that arose in its implementation a month after the allowances and benefits for civil and public servants came into effect.

One of the conditions the finance ministry had set was that civil servants mandated to stay in institutional houses would not be eligible for the house rent allowance.  However, this did not go down well with school principals, because no matter how poor their housing may be, they are by policy mandated to stay in institutional houses in the campus.

With most school principals being senior and their 20 percent housing allowance being quite substantial, they had raised that it was unfair to deduct the whole allowance when their houses were not even worth Nu 1,000.

“The earlier decision affected teachers and principals in remote parts of the country and, with this, there may be pressure on government housing,” lyonpo said.

“But we had to take a decision and we hope it’ll encourage teachers and principals to stay in the campus.”

While the impact on government housing is yet to be seen, the decision has addressed the grievances that school principals from remote parts of the country had raised.

On August 7 last year, Mongar dzongda had submitted to the finance minister an appeal from school principals in the dzongkhag to review the payment of house rent allowance.

Mongar schools’ principals had stated that the principal quarters in remote schools weren’t decent enough to compensate the amount of allowance they were entitled to and had suggested refunding the balance housing allowance, after deducting the carpet area rent of the quarters they were occupying.

“We’d request you to accord approval to reimburse the balance amount, as this would avoid teachers from moving out from the existing teachers’ quarters,” the appeal had stated.

Trongsa and Lhuentse dzongdas also raised this issue at the dzongda’s conference.  They said teachers have informed them that they wouldn’t mind moving out of their quarters on campus to live in huts nearby.

Finance ministry’s joint secretary, Nim Dorji, had earlier said that the main contention with the housing allowance was that civil servants, especially principals and teachers, and those staying in institutional housing, felt that the supposed surplus of 20 percent housing allowance be paid to them.

According to finance ministry officials, the review took time because they had to study more than 2,000 government housing rents, for which were based on rates fixed in 2000, even though the market rates were different.

By Sonam Pelden