The National Assembly yesterday endorsed the government’s proposed revision in pay scale for all public servants with revised hike for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Speaker.
The economic and finance and committee’s recommendation was to hike the pay for Chief Justice and Speaker by 13 percent, against the government’s proposal of 6 percent and pay commission’s proposal of 14 percent. The house endorsed the 13 percent hike.
The committee’s recommendation takes the salary of the Speaker and Chief Justice above the cabinet ministers and equivalent post holders’ such as the National Council (NC) Chairperson and Opposition Leader and is about Nu 43,900 less than the Prime Minister.
Currently, the minimum starting salary of the Speaker and Chief Justice is Nu 130,000, which is maintained at par with Cabinet ministers, Oppositional Leader and the NC Chair. With the 13 percent revision, the minimum salaries of the two posts increase to Nu 146,900. With the government’s proposed revision, the ministers’ and equivalent post holders’ salary is now Nu 137,800.
The committee members justified that the salaries of the head of the three arms of government – executive, legislative and judiciary must be higher than the ministers.
OL denies the raise
Opposition Leader, Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said that salaries of the minister and equivalent post holders were almost doubled, from Nu 78,000 to Nu 130,000 in 2014. He clarified that he didn’t mean that the PM, Cabinet ministers and other equivalents do not deserve the raise but that the time to revise has not yet come.
Panbang MP, Dorji Wangdi added that during the first government’s tenure, two salary revisions took place, effectively resulting in 55 percent hike for public servants. “But the ministers didn’t take the raise,” he said.
During the second government’s tenure, he said PM’s salary was increased to Nu 180,000 and Nu 130,000 for ministers, almost a tenfold increase. This, he said has created a tremendous difference in salaries of ministers and Constitutional post holders, who are next in the hierarchy.
“If this gap is further widened, it is not in keeping with the slogan of narrowing the gap,” he said.
Further down, he said the gap among other public servant is even, with a difference of Nu 3,000 to Nu 5,000.
Other members of the Opposition suggested not taking the raise to gain people’s trust and confidence in government.
Prime Minister, Dr Lotay Tshering said that, he neither supported nor denied the raise. He said that he had suggested the Cabinet considering a three percent for him or a lumpsum of Nu 3,000, the lowest amount among the public servants. “I have no grievances if the house decides not to give the raise. I have worked without pay for years after 2008. But I will definitely take the raise if the house endorses,” he said adding that he has many avenues to spend. “But I will also work hard to serve the nation. If we are to gain people’s trust, we must deliver.”
However, he pleaded the house not to drop the raise for Cabinet Ministers and members of Parliament. Given the amount of work and dedication of the ministers and members, he said they deserve more than what the Pay Commission has recommended should there be room in the coffer.
Unlike the past ministers, he said the current ministers are from humble background. “In Lhengye Dhensa, I have seen them study like a school children until midnight and beyond. They have delivered their task without fail,” he said.
Lyonchhen said that DNT party has also asked its serving MPs and ministers to forego the raise. The MPs, he said were fine with the Cabinet’s decision, even if it entails foregoing the raise.
“On the condition that they deliver and work with dedication, without favouritism and resorting to corrupt practices, I took the responsibility to give them a small raise, which is lower than the Pay Commission’s proposal,” the Prime Minister said.
However, Lyonchhen said that if anyone feels that they don’t deserve the raise or even decides not to take, one could give their names to the finance ministry. This practice, he said exists in other countries.
The Speaker also clarified that he will respect the decision of the majority, should the members feel that he must not take the raise.
This was just the beginning of the discussion that went on until 8:30pm yesterday. Having discussed all 65 sections one by one, the Opposition Leader volunteered to forego the raise.
The OL was responding to PM’s statement that those interested could register with the finance ministry to forego the raise. “I don’t want to take the raise. Please register my name.”
He said that he expected the PM to justify the raise on the ground of economy, financing for the raise and appropriateness of the past revisions to the current situation. “But it appears that the Prime Minister was challenging,” he said.
The Speaker, unable to decide asked the finance minister to clarify. Finance Minister, Namgay Tshering said the Bill once passed would become a law. “If the OL chose to forego the raise, it could appear that there is no regard for the law.”
Lyonchhen clarified he meant that those volunteering to forego the raise may do so, if there is a procedure and regulation that allows it.
What about NC chair?
As the discussion ended in the National Assembly, the NC chair, Tashi Dorji posted on his Facebook page stating that a serious concern now is regarding the treatment of head of legislative branch.
He cited the Constitution, which states that the National Assembly and National Council are vested with equal power on legislative functions. In addition, Article 11(2) further mandates the National Council to be the House of Review. “Therefore, the Speaker of National Assembly is not the only head of the legislative branch. By the same logic, if the pay revision is passed as discussed in the National Assembly today, the question arises as to whether the National Council is sub-ordinate to the National Assembly?”
Tashi Dorji also wrote that such decision of the National Assembly directly contravenes Section 10 of the Parliamentary Entitlement Act 2008, that states, “the salary, allowances, benefits and other emoluments of the Speaker of the National Assembly, Chairperson of the National Council and the Leader of the Opposition shall be equivalent to that of a Cabinet Minister.”
This statement, he clarified has nothing to do with vested interest but to uphold the provisions of the Constitution and the prevailing law passed by the Parliament.
“Even in the event the National Assembly passes the recommendation as proposed by its finance and economic committee, I shall not accept any salary difference that may result from pegging the chairperson’s salary to that of the Speaker’s during my current term.”
The house will adopt the pay revision Bill today and forward it to the National Council for recommendation.