The cost of helping hands for MPs

Without clerical support, MPs in both the houses claim to be bogged down with paper work

Parliament: The recently amended National Assembly (NA) and National Council (NC) Acts will open up vacancies for over 190 jobseekers.

A research assistant and a personal assistant each for every member of the NA and NC will be appointed in line with the National Assembly and National Council (amendment) bills that was endorsed during the winter session of the Parliament in December.

Besides, each committee in the two houses will also be provided with a legal assistant, draft person and committee secretary along with adequate office space and equipment. There are 10 committees in the National Assembly and six in the Council.

The additional manpower, office space and equipment, according to members would enable them to discharge their duties efficiently and effectively.

National Assembly’s deputy speaker, Chhimi Dorji said before laws are put up for deliberation in the Parliament, all members and committees have to work extensively, for which adequate research is required.

“We want enough manpower like research officers and support staff for fruitful discussions in the Parliament with well-researched facts,” he said.

Although not immediately, the deputy speaker said they would try to appoint the additional manpower and create office space before the government’s tenure ends.

“If not, we are looking at employing a personal assistant, research assistant and legal assistant for each committee or for four to five parliamentarians if not for each one of them,” he said.

Having to visit constituencies, carry out research and clerical works, Parliamentarians are literally multitasking, the deputy speaker said. Although the government is yet to discuss this with the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC), the recruitment has to be done through the RCSC.

Considering the cost implications of recruiting over 190 people, some sections of the society wonder whether it was necessary at all. Observers believe that the workload of parliamentarians in Bhutan is not too much to handle while some feel it’s another privilege for parliamentarians.

The additional manpower and infrastructure comes with a huge cost implication. For instance, if research assistants and committee secretaries, which members are looking at university graduates, are appointed in S1 level, the salary starts from Nu 13,305 a month. This means for 88 of them, the monthly salary would amount to Nu 1.17M besides allowances and annual increment.

Similarly, for 72 personal assistants and 16 draft persons, who are usually appointed in S5 level, the salary is Nu 9,045 a month for which the government will have to spend a total amount of Nu 795,960 a month as their salaries. For legal assistants, in S2 level, the starting salary is Nu 12,055, which amounts to Nu 192,880 for 16 of them every month.

Council’s deputy chairperson Tshering Dorji said additional manpower and infrastructure would help them function efficiently and that it was essential for law or policy making.

The infrastructure and manpower, according to Tshering Dorji, is not for members to take after their term is over. “It’s not a privilege if that’s how people perceive,” Tshering Dorji said.

On when the recruitment and office set up would be done, the deputy chairperson said it depends on the government although the requirement is immediate.

Tashicholing representative Ritu Raj Chetri said the requirement for additional manpower such as research, personal and legal assistants was felt based on their experience to date in the Parliament.

Citing an example of the winter session, during the deliberation of the Enterprise Registration bill, Ritu Raj Chetri said some members of Parliament (MPs) suggested that the bill be merged with the Companies Act, which was totally irrelevant.

“This happened because the members didn’t have legal background,” he said, adding personal assistants were required to assist MPs during constituency visits. “Without anyone helping us, MPs have been carrying out clerical works themselves.”

Opposition leader (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho, however, says that such provisions are available for Parliamentarians in other countries but for Bhutan, there were many things to take into consideration.

“We must look into the affordability and relevance in the context of the present responsibilities of MPs, which still need further clarity vis-a-vis other institutions such as the local governments,” (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said.

(Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said there was room for rationalisation of the provisions but it appeared that the government did not do enough homework and took the Parliament and it’s MPs for granted.

“The government should have reached out to the MPs (including their own members) before the joint committee’s recommendations were finalised and convinced them on the cost implications if they feel that it is not financially viable,” he said, adding this however didn’t happen.

“We assumed the government has enough resources to cover the additional cost which is likely to be substantial,” he added.

Meanwhile, RCSC officials were not available for comment.

By Kinga Dema

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