… would appear to go against the grain the govt’s much vaunted austerity measures
Salary: Over three months after government announced to continue with the salary the previous prime minister and ministers collected, it has asked the pay commission to “review” pay scales for the posts.
Through a government order issued on November 13, government has asked the pay commission to “review recommendations of the first Parliament on revising pay scale for the prime minister and ministers”.
However, as a part of several austerity measures government adopted soon after taking office, to cut cost in the backdrop of deteriorating economic situation, government issued a press release, stating prime minister and ministers will “not adopt the new pay scales the previous government recommended”.
But the press release, issued on August 23, also stated “pay commission could review and suggest otherwise, if necessary, and recommend to the government later”.
Upon asking why government felt the need to review the pay scale, home minister Damcho Dorji said it was left for the pay commission to decide.
For now, the prime minister and ministers receive a salary of Nu 78,000 basic amount.
During the sixth session of the first Parliament in 2010, when a pay revision was carried out in all sectors, the pay commission had proposed a raise to Nu 180,000 for the prime minister and Nu 130,000 to other ministers.
However, the government then had “decided not to benefit from the raise”, and continue receiving within previous pay scale.
The first Parliament then left it up to the “next government” to propose new salary raise for the prime minister and ministers, when it took over.
Opposition leader Dr Pema Gyamtsho said it was a prerogative of the government to ask the pay commission to look into it.
He said, while it was alright for the pay commission to review and present it to the government, it was up to the government to present it to Parliament that will deliberate on it.
However, if a raise was being considered, opposition leader said there was question of affordability.
“On one hand, the government has been taking austerity measures and on the other hand, all the initiatives are counter productive to saving resources,” he said.
But is there really a need to revise pay scale for prime minister and minister?
National Council chairperson Dasho Sonam Kinga said to move towards a more equal society, income gap, which has been increasing over the years, should be narrowed.
“Important means of achieving this is to increase pay and allowances for people in lower income brackets, and make a more meaningful increment in the minimum wage,” he said. “Moreover, we need to work on controlling prices and rent escalation as alternatives.”
One possible argument for the raise that is afloat is that the ministers earn lesser than the rest of the Parliament members. Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay was also reported to have made the statement.
Council’s deputy chairperson Tshering Dorji said that was not true in terms of both the basic amount and allowances.
“That way, I don’t think there’s pressure on them to increase their salary,” he said, adding he did not also see the need to revise, particularly in the context of country’s economic situation.
He said government was taking austerity measures, and had decided that they are not going to revise their salary.
“If at all they want to change that, they have to prove that economy is improving and doing much better,” he said. “Then there’s a basis for them to change the stand.”
However, he said, in such short span of time, it is evident that economy has not improved.
Other Parliament members preferring anonymity also said that ideas of cutting cost to address economic issues and then proposing salary revision at this time was contradictory.
Some, however, said, given the stature and responsibilities associated with the positions, prime minister and ministers should be paid “substantial” amount.
“There’s a possibility that they overdid it by announcing to not take the raise from day one, while we realise that those positions have to be made attractive,” one said.
Meanwhile, in drawing up recommendations, government has informed the pay commission that any raise should be to “attract, retain and motivate the best and brightest”.
Among others, they should consider fiscal position and economy of the country.
According to the Constitution, the recommendations of the commission will be implemented only upon approval of the Cabinet, and subject to conditions and modifications made by Parliament.
The pay commission has three months to come out with the recommendations starting November 13.
By Kesang Dema | Thimphu