Moral, ethical & legal question over MPs pocketing driver allowance

Something is not brewing right in the Member of Parliaments’ (MP) personal accounts.

Excluding cabinet ministers, Prime Minister, Speaker, Council Chairperson and Opposition Leader, other fifty-eight MPs are entitled to Nu 6,000 every month as allowance for “employment of personal driver” but it appears that not a single MP has employed a driver so far to chauffeur them around. In fact, it has been the case with MPs of the past two parliaments.

This sounds like a petty issue at first, a no brainer, because it depends on an MP how he chooses to use the money he is entitled to rightfully and by law. But then when does the right turn to wrong? And herein we are faced with an ethical, moral and even legal dilemma.

One cannot possibly sweep under the rug the fact that the allowance is specifically given to the parliamentarians so that they can “employ” a personal driver. It also cannot be possibly ignored that MPs are claiming something that is not being used for the targeted or right purpose.

The point is the money is going where it is not supposed to go. Basically, the MPs are pocketing it!

The Speaker feels that the money is inadequate to keep a personal driver. If so, there is no need for MPs to keep it for themselves as well. Simple as that.

Otherwise laws can be changed. Increase the allowance and keep personal drivers. Or just don’t claim the allowance for your own use.

As leaders mandated to make critical decisions in the country, MPs have the responsibility to maintain the highest standards of moral and ethical leadership.

It all boils down to walking the talk.

If you are not responsible with your personal finances and accounts, how do you expect yourself to tackle the bigger challenges in life like corruption and crime? And if you can’t be exemplary with ethics how will you be with morals that everybody seems to take for granted and subjective nowadays?

Simple Math also puts things in perspective: Nu 6,000 per month for 58 MPs means Nu 348,000 per month and Nu 4,176,000 a year. In the MPs’ five-year term, Nu 20.88 mn would be drained from government coffer into the wrong hands.

The writing on the wall is clear: it is in black and white. To take a precedent as case, in 2006, the Anti-Corruption Commission charged some employees of the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Limited (RICBL) for claiming money as travel and medical allowances among others when they did not put it to the rightful use.

Of course, ACC lost the case, but then that was the time when ACC was targeted as draconian and after small fish. Right now, we are speaking for those on the very top. And if we leave the situation without confronting the wrongdoers (no grey here, by the way), we are leaving room for a bad legacy.

The legalities of the case also have to be considered. That is why watchdogs like ACC and the Royal Audit Authority should take the matter into hand and review if the entitlement allowance for a specific purpose is claimed without having fulfilled that purpose. Is it even legal, forget the question of ethical and moral accountability?

The ball lies in the MPs’ court. They can either assume personal responsibility for their failure to use entitlement money responsibly and do the needful – employ personal drivers or just “unclaim” or they can brazenly continue siphoning off government funds (tell it like it is). Not to mention that 58 drivers could have the means to earn a livelihood!