The wait is almost over for the most generous salary revisions. Going by the discussions in the National Assembly, everyone “ayed” for the proposed revision, between 55 to 74 percent across the civil service.

The revision is aimed at ensuring public servants maintain a reasonable standard of living, motivate and retain talented people in the public service. While the latter will be seen when the new pay is paid out, the former seems a little complex, as a large number of Bhutanese outside the civil service are wondering about the impact of the revision.

Will the salary revision raise the cost of living? This is the question on the minds of those outside the civil service. The answer depends on other sectors. The Druk Holding and Investments Ltd. already announced a better revision and state-owned enterprises will follow suit if they have the funds or if the finance ministry revises it through a circular.

A more relevant question is would the cost of living remain unchanged if there was no salary revision? Bhutanese, unfortunately do not have control over the cost of living, as it depends on what happens elsewhere, especially in India, from where we import everything from salt to cooking oil to furniture and luxurious items. Or, of late, from Bangkok, China and South Korea.

The truth is that the standard of living in Bhutan is directly proportional to our imports. And all of us, whether in the civil service, state-owned enterprises, monastic bodies, armed forces, or farmers depend on imports. A temporary ban on rice or cooking oil could spell trouble for us. We can grow, but not enough to offset the impact beyond our borders. The policy of self-sufficiency that we talked about for decades only exists on paper, gathering dust or discarded long ago.

While we wait for the revision, we should take some time for introspection.  The civil service salary raise has an impact on other sectors, particularly the private sector, which has long been identified as the engine of economic growth but hasn’t received the fuel to drive growth. The private sector, after decades, consists of only a handful of big businesses and a few startups. Ironically, it is the least preferred sector when it comes to employment.

The salary raise is, obviously, necessary. But it has not come with clear policies to encourage private sector growth. The civil service has lost a significant number of people, including those in critical sectors like health and education, creating a shortage. If the cost of living becomes dearer for those without a revision, the destination is Australia or Canada. It does not bode well for a country championing happiness as a development philosophy.

Those in the private sector fear salary revision because it drives cost of living. While there are certain factors we can control, such as inflation driven by assumptions, we seem to struggle with them. For example, the cost of housing and transportation are the main drivers of inflation in Bhutan. Can we exert control over these factors?

The infrastructure and transport ministry has notified landlords to follow the Tenancy Act when revising house rents, but what about essential items that are not covered by legislation? The larger population should not suffer the consequences of a salary revision.