With agencies entering budget control mode, belts are liable to be tightened

TA/DA: Civil servants returning from tours could see their travel and daily allowance (TA/DA) claims slashed by half.  Some are already living with this, with agencies entering a budget control or adjustment mode.

There are four months left for the next fiscal year, but some government agencies have run out of the TA/DA budget, while some are adjusting with the little they have.  Others are adjusting with budgets meant for other purposes.

While the TA/DA rates were increased, daily allowance by more than 100 percent and mileage by Nu 2 a kilometre, the actual budget has not increased.  The TA/DA budget was finalised based on the previous rates.

Agencies that have to have their men out in the fields, like the forestry department, are the hardest hit.  To ensure that the budget is not exhausted,  sometimes, the department pays half the amount.  District forest officer of Thimphu, Phento Tshering, said some of his staff spend 15 to 18 days a month in the field, for work such as marking and patrolling. “We were able to pay only for seven to eight days, so that the budget doesn’t finish in the middle of the year,” he said.

In-country DA for civil servants from S1 to S4 level increased from Nu 300 to Nu 750.  Those from P5 to P1 level saw their allowances increase from Nu 500 to Nu 1,000 a day.

The regional office of revenue and customs in Thimphu in September last year asked its department heads to strictly monitor travel and approve them within the limited budget.  This was because the department saw almost half the total  of Nu 2.367M allocated utilised in the first quarter of the year, which, a notification the department issued stated, was a major concern and alarming.

“We have three quarters to go. As past experience shows, a major portion of budget is used at the last quarter, tax collection and PIT collection season,” stated the notification.

The election commission of Bhutan has finished  a major portion of the current year’s budget. “Travel budget is completely finished,” said an official, adding that they would face problems in the coming months.  However, he said, important events were not compromised because of the shortage. “But now we might have to. We’ll have to refrain from travelling  in the coming months,” he said.

Dzongkhag administrations, where staff are involved in a lot of travel, are also adjusting.  Trongsa dzongkhag has sacrificed porter and pony charges.  Dzongrab Kinley Gyeltshen said the dzongkhag called a meeting of sector heads to discuss what they could sacrifice. “We also decided that we’ll tie up two to three works in one travel, so that expenses on the TA/DA are minimised.”

However, officials said this problem could remain only for the current financial year.  Wangduephodrang DFO Kencho Wangdi said the new rates would be considered while proposing the budget for the next fiscal year. “I think there’ll be no problem from next year.”

A dzongkhag official described the increment in TA/DA as giving “a half full plate”. “We have to provide adequate allowances to motivate people. But the budget isn’t enough due to the revised rates,” he said. “This is a common problem for all agencies and dzongkhags.”

He said some dzongkhags are adjusting TA/DA from “work charge”.  This means that, if an engineer visits a farm road construction site, the TA/DA for the engineer will be adjusted from the cost of the project.

However, some feel that a lot will be solved if agencies prioritise their travel plans. “We have to prioritise work plans if the budget is to be sufficient. If you make unnecessary travels, then the budget won’t be sufficient,” trade director, Dophu Tshering said.

Finance minister Namgay Dorji said he was not able to comment without a proper study on the issue.

According to the pay commission report, the government expenditure towards travel has averaged Nu 1.38B a year during the last four years.  It constituted over 18 percent of the total budget outlay for salary and allowances.

In the 2012-13 fiscal year, travel expenditure of agriculture and forest ministry was the highest at Nu 252M, which constituted 38 percent of their pay and allowances.  They were followed by the home and cultural affairs ministry.

This excluded travel expenditures of the same sectors at the dzongkhag and regional levels.  At the dzongkhag level, travel budget on an average constituted about 20 percent of pay and allowances.

Meanwhile, the pay commission report stated most of the gewogs and villages were today connected by motorable roads.  However, while there was very limited need to use the porter and pony system for transportation, civil servants continued to claim porter and pony charges, the report added.

It recommended that expenditures on travel must be controlled, and overall travel budget for the government be kept within a maximum ceiling of 15 percent of the budget for pay and allowances.

By MB Subba