Has the country economic situation improved? Yes, at least going by the government’s decision to purchase four new Toyota land cruiser Prados as duty cars for cabinet ministers.
Four new land cruisers, each costing not less than Nu 3 million, have left Phuentsholing recently. The luxurious and expensive vehicle spells social status in Bhutan. Quite often, the type of car we drive is the yardstick by which we judge our social standing. The bigger the car, the higher you are on the social ladder, or so it is interpreted, unfortunately.
As cabinet ministers, and elected by the people, they are the highest ranked public officials. They are entitled to drive Toyota Prados. It was decided in Parliament. With a generous quota system, members of parliament are also after one of the most expensive acquisitions in the country.
It is not so much about the highest paid public servants buying expensive cars, but about cost implications. The government announced that they wouldn’t procure new vehicles until the economic situation improves. With this decision, we can only surmise that the situation has improved.
It was also announced that the government would not buy vehicles for ‘pool vehicle’ unless a proper policy was put into place, including a strategy on procurement of vehicles by the government and cost implication for replacing and hiring of vehicles. In the meantime, in 2014 alone, 167 new vehicles were purchased for the government and government-owned or linked corporations.
The then second pay commission recommended the government do away with the pool vehicle system in its entirety and create a corporate entity to manage these pool vehicles. This was suggested as one of the many ideas to fund the salary revision. Five months have passed, but we hear no more of any such policy.
The pool vehicle is an old issue. Framing a policy without hampering service delivery and cutting misuse perhaps is becoming a challenge. It has always been easier said than done. To the credit of the government, they have done away with the Toyota Prados system to the wives of ministers, the Assembly Speaker and the Chief Justice, which was at the expense of the government.
Given the not-so-good economic situation, a lot of austerity measures were put in place after the government took over in 2013. It generated some debate. But many felt that unnecessary cost had to be curtailed. One such measure was controlling chadi (preparations).
The home ministry was directed to revise the chadi protocol and the security measures for VVIPs and VIPs. The prime minister, on his part, has slashed security personnel to cut cost, for instance. While a new chadi protocol is up in the air, chadi is as elaborate as ever.
A variety of food items, dancers, pitching of tents and hoisting of flags at events have not decreased. Arranging a makeshift stage for one night cost one ministry at least Nu 200,000.
The country has not recovered fully from the economic downturn, and everybody has to be frugal in spending the scarce resources at hand. How well we do it is another question.