Call it a poor decision, or putting the cart before the horse, the decision to increase the daily sustenance allowance by 100 percent, without increasing the budget, has not gone well for civil servants.
If the idea of increasing the allowance was to meet the cost of being away from home on official duty, it has served the purpose. Cost of living has increased. With Nu 500, one cannot even rent a decent hotel in almost all the towns in the country. It would be difficult for an official on tour to meet his daily expenses, get a decent place to sleep and three meals even with the increased amount.
But if the idea is to motivate people to travel and enhance service delivery, it has not helped. Government agencies have started cutting down on travel as they run out of budget. Some, who feel travel is important for their job, are dipping into other budgets. With or without budget, if a duty involves travelling, like the forester who has to patrol the forest to contain illegal logging, their presence in the jungle is important.
But the decision to improve the raise before the increase in budget, even if not intended, has shaken officials, especially those who have control over travel and allowance. They are forced to manage with whatever they have.
From a positive perspective, tightening the kera for the lack of budget has come as a good test for government agencies. Can we manage? The bigger test is can we control unnecessary travel and therefore unnecessary cost to government coffers?
What’s sure is that there won’t be many table tours this financial year. Travel will be scrutinised and prioritised. The little budget they have will have to be spent on travel that cannot be compromised. Some are already doing it.
It is an open secret that a lot of money is wasted on tours and travels that can be avoided without hampering services. When an agency has budget in excess, tours are created so that the budget is not reflected as unspent and returned to the government.
There is also a misconception that the so-called TA/DA is an opportunity to save money. It is to cover basic cost while on official duty from the place of work. The amount should be able to cover this, because the implication is not so much the travel but the necessity. The wrong people should not make the wrong trips for the wrong reasons.
What we can take from the current paradox is that we can actually cut cost. We need not sacrifice porter and pony claims totally, like one dzongkhag did, but can scrutinise the claims. Travel distance has become shorter, with almost every gewog now connected with roads. Why should we pay separate mileage for four officials travelling in one car? Why has the official days of travelling from Thimphu to Gasa not changed, when the latter is connected by road and takes only one day to reach.
As agencies adjust the limited budget, it could lead to something good for the cash-strapped government, if looked at from a positive angle.