The recently approved pay revision has caused discrepancies and disgruntlements among civil servants due to the government’s decision to provide high allowances for a select section of professionals, the Opposition said yesterday.

“That’s why the disgruntlements have increased. In trying to motivate one segment of the civil service, they would have probably ended up creating disgruntlement among a large segment of the civil service,” opposition leader (OL) Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said at a press conference.

He was referring to the government’s decision to provide the highest share of allowances to clinical health professionals and teachers.

The OL said that lack of such allowances in other sectors have affected many civil servants who felt that their works were not recognised. He cited the examples of engineers and those working in the forestry and agriculture sectors in remote places.

The Opposition agrees that teachers and health professionals deserve more. However, it added that there were no indicators to see how the increased pay would result in better quality health care services.

“We would expect a drastic improvement in healthcare services and the attitude of the health officials and personnel,” the OL said.

Pema Gyamtsho also said the quality of education would not improve by providing a blanket allowance for teachers. He was of the view that salaries and allowances for teachers must be paid based on their competence and quality.

Given the government’s motto of narrowing the gap and the country’s economic situation, it was questionable for people in high positions to take the salary hike. He said that the gap between the rich and poor would be narrowed only if the civil servants at the lowest rungs were given an adequate raise.

The impact of the pay revision, he said, would be felt in the private sector. “The overall impact on the society and the economy must be considered.”

The Opposition maintained total silence amid widespread public criticisms against the recommendations of the Fourth Pay Commission. The report was released for public viewing in April.

However, the Opposition defended its silence yesterday saying that it was against provisions of the law to comment on a pay commission report before the Cabinet endorsed it. He questioned whether the role and function of the independent institution of the Pay Commission has been undermined.

Did the government undermine the Pay  Commission?

The Opposition said that it was inappropriate for the government to upload the Pay Commission’s report on social media, saying that doing so would allow different lobby groups to pressurise for increased allowances on various pretexts.

“The government was expected to give the overall direction to the Pay Commission in terms of affordability and the categories of civil servants as per their manifesto,” he said, adding that the commission would have presented its report accordingly.

Pema Gyamtsho said changes in the pay revision report must be within the scope of the Pay Commission’s report. “The Pay Commission’s report being changed completely will indicate that the Cabinet either did not give a proper direction to the commission or the decision was influenced by pressure groups through social media,” he said.

He said that the purpose of establishing a Pay Commission would be questioned if its report were to be changed almost completely. He said that the government should avoid making major changes in the Pay Commission’s report, while minor changes and amendments were acceptable.

Should the government make changes in the Pay Commission’s report as per its whims, the opposition leader said they would turn into populist measures.

“There is a danger that such decisions will be politically motivated. So you are questioning the independence of the Pay Commission,” he said.

The Pay Commission’s report was first revised by the Cabinet taking into consideration feedback from the party office, its MPs, political parties outside the parliament and comments on social media. The report was further scrutinised and amended by the economic and finance committee of the National Assembly, the National Assembly and the National Council, some of whose recommendations were also incorporated.

“In the process, the work done by the Pay Commission gets diluted. Are we setting a good precedence?” he said, adding that process itself may have been undermined.

Pema Gyamtsho said that future governments would not be able to come up with a proper pay revision without a right precedence in place for them to follow and that such precedence should be in respect of the Pay Commission as an independent body. He said there was no guarantee of the increased pay and allowances for teachers and health professionals resulting in quality education and better services.

Citing the weak state of the economy, the opposition leader said that it was not the most appropriate time to provide the pay raise. “All the economic indicators, such as the budget deficit of Nu 40 billion in the 12th Plan. Where do we get this money from?”

He also expressed concerns on the increasing trade deficit, and the public debt, which is more than Nu 200 billion. “From where we will get the money for the pay raise itself is a big question,” he said, adding that the government has identified the area of spending even before the revenue from the Mangdechhu hydroelectric project was received.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering at a press conference on June 30 said that the government gave the highest allowances to teachers and doctors to attract the best academic students to enter the professions. He also said that the government’s decision was aimed at recognising and retaining experienced teachers and doctors. 

MB Subba