As pay commission members seek feedback and hold rounds of consultations, the government has asked the commission to look into rewarding performance.

While the condition has come at a time when performance appraisals of civil servants continue to remain controversial, instituting a system to reward skills and hard work, if doable, would be good. The government is also right to be wary of paying a flat raise across the board. Every salary revision tends to result in more resentment and hiked prices of goods and services than in boosting the morale and performance of public servants.

So, what is the purpose of a pay revision?

Is it to make the lives of our civil and public servants more comfortable or to make governance more efficient? Is it to fulfil a political pledge or to reward performing public servants while paying higher raises to parliamentarians?

It’s for all these reasons perhaps, even though it is claimed that the raise is to make up for inflation, which has eroded the value of salaries paid today.

The prime minister has said that the government would not hesitate to re-constitute another pay commission if the reforms suggested lack the ‘wow’ factor. With the prime minister demanding interesting questions from the media and wowing recommendations from the bureaucrats, it is hoped that the spectacle do not overwhelm the purpose and sustainability of a pay revision.

It is already a concern that the salary revisions of public servants are now determined by political parties and not so much by the needs of the market or the performance. While a realistic salary revision may be long due and budget already allocated in the plan, the government’s major decisions since it took office has been on spending resources. We have not heard the government’s plans on fulfilling its pledge of recovering Nu10 billion through taxation measures nor the source of scholarship fees it will pay for class XI students.

The pay commission, which will recommend means to recover funds, will also review the vehicle quota system, a significant perk for the privileged.  The government has announced that it may consider providing vehicle quota to each household if found necessary. With Bhutanese importing one car every hour, the implication of implementing such a decision requires thorough review. We cannot ignore the contradictory policies of providing vehicle quota and introducing electric cars. Perhaps, it is time to review all kinds of quotas we have reserved for the privileged.

An important area the pay commission could study and recommend is restructuring the salaries of those who are involved in providing basic services. It is time to address the dearth of vocational skills in the country.

While we may believe that ours is the most important profession, priorities change over time. What is Bhutan’s priority today?