Benefits: The opposition party has urged the government to implement the Local Government (LG) Members’ Entitlement Act “as soon as possible” and ensure that the members of LG are paid their retirement benefits.

The incumbent LG members are four months away from completing their tenure. However, there is no clarity on whether the local leaders will reap retirement benefits they are entitled to as per the entitlement Act.

Issuing a statement yesterday, opposition Member of Parliament, Ugyen Wangdi, said the issue of the entitlement Act was one of the pledges of the government. According to the opposition, the objective of the pledge and the Act was to ensure equal pay and benefits for equal work performed by the members of the local government like any other elected positions.

The entitlement Act came into force on July 20 last year. It believes that the Act has to be implemented with effect from the enforcement date.

“The Act applies to the members of the Dzongkhag Tshogdu, Gewog Tshogde and Thromde Tshogde and any member serving at the time of the enactment of the Act is legally entitled to the benefits and allowances including retirement benefits,” he said. The law, he added, grants allowances and benefits, and it should be implementable even without rules and regulations.

The opposition party states that the implementing agency should have drafted the rules and regulations along with the entitlement Bill so that it could be finalized soon after the enactment of the Act. “If implementation is left to the mercy of the implementing agency and if the government is not in favour of paying entitlements and benefits, implementation could be deferred indefinitely for want of its rules and regulation,” he said.

Non-payment of retirement benefits, the opposition states, will amount to violation of the provisions of the Act and set a bad precedent.

Ugyen Wangdi said the members at the end of their term should be entitled to receive retirement benefits including PF and gratuity with effect from the day of the enactment of the Act.

Once the Act is passed, the opposition says, the implementing agency is required to initiate necessary process including the deduction of PF from their monthly salaries. For instance, he said the PF deductions were made from the salaries of the members of the first Parliament in 2008 even without the entitlement Act in place. “How can the government refuse entitlements to the members which are granted by the law?”

In the recent Meet the Press session, foreign minister Damcho Dorji said elected members of the local governments would be entitled to benefits as the entitlement Act has been passed. “They are entitled even without the rules and regulations (since the Act is already in place),” he said.

He said the rules and regulations of the entitlement Act need not pass through the Cabinet or the Parliament.

On the other hand, home minister Dawa Gyaltshen, in an earlier interview told that members would not be entitled to all the benefits that are prescribed in the Act as the deductions were not made.

The opposition says, “Such a statement from the government is not in line with the objectives and intentions of the entitlement Act.” “The two contradictory statements made by the same government have concerned us,” Ugyen Wangdi added.

On the issue of LG members having to resign before the completion of the term, the opposition party believes that the issue does not rise as Article 22, section 21 of the Constitution states: “The Dzongkhag Tshogdu, the Gewog Tshogde and the Thromde Tshogde, unless sooner dissolved, shall continue for five years from the date of the first sitting of the respective bodies.” “No law can take away the rights granted by the Constitution,” Ugyen Wangdi said.

He said any law that is not in conformity with the Constitution is null and void. “Therefore, any member made to resign before five year term shall be unlawful.”

MB Subba