NA retains 21-day annual leave for civil servants

Thukten Zangpo 

The National Assembly of Bhutan passed the Pay Revision Bill 2023 yesterday, paving the way for public servants to enjoy a salary increase ranging from 55 to 74 percent starting this month.

The unanimous decision saw all 44 MPs present voting in favour of the Bill, which will now be submitted to the Druk Gyalpo for Royal Assent.

While considering proposed amendments, the National Assembly chose to retain the entitlement of civil servants to 21 working days of annual leave per year, rejecting the National Council’s suggestion to reduce it to 12 days.

However, it is important to note that civil servants who already receive annual vacations were exempted from this provision. Notably, the approved annual leave provision does not allow for the carryover of unused days to subsequent years.

Chairperson of the Economic and Finance Committee, Kinga Penjor, defended the decision to maintain 21 days of annual leave for civil servants, emphasising its viability given their responsibilities.

According to Kinga Penjor, a reduced leave period of 12 days would not be adequate for the civil servants, particularly for purposes such as pilgrimage or other holiday activities.

Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi raised concerns about the limited entitlement of civil servants to only 10 days of casual leave after exhausting their earned leave, which was prorated monthly under the variable pay system introduced with the pay revision.

Furthermore, both houses of Parliament concurred on provisions related to leave encashment, with one month’s minimum pay scale being designated as the compensation for the financial year 2022-23.

Additionally, it was agreed that any earned leave balance accumulated until June 30 of this year should be paid within five years from the enactment of the Act.

Regarding duty-free privileges, the National Assembly did not support the National Council’s amendment that granted MPs access to duty-free shops as determined by the Ministry of Finance.

Kinga Penjor clarified that the duty-free provisions were not explicitly outlined in the tax or salary revision and were instead governed by the government’s executive order.

However, the National Assembly did support the National Council’s amendment concerning utility expenses for the heads of missions, embassies, or consulate generals, allowing for reimbursement based on actual figures.

Another noteworthy agreement reached between the houses was the provision to offer a salary linked to primary responsibility, along with an additional responsibility allowance of Nu 6,000 and Nu 3,000 per month for the chairperson and deputy chairperson of the dzongkhag tshogdu, respectively.

The houses also approved the provision allowing foreign service members who were transferred from headquarters to missions, embassies, or consulate generals on or before June 30, 2023, to be eligible for the carriage of personal effects when transferred back to headquarters.

In terms of financial implications, both houses agreed to include the provision that states to allocate Nu 6.05 billion from the consolidated fund to cover the annual costs of pay revision, allowances, and benefits.