MPs pocket driver allowance without employing drivers

Parliamentarians claim Nu 6,000 allowance for personal driver every month. In five years, 58 MPs entitled to the allowance would altogether take a whopping Nu 20.88 mn.

Parliamentarians are entitled to a monthly allowance of Nu 6,000 for employment of personal drivers but none of them have a driver on payroll. Yet this allowance is clubbed in their take-home salary.

The Parliamentary Entitlements Rules and Regulations 2009 states that a Member of Parliament (MP) is entitled to a monthly allowance for “employment of a personal driver” at the rate approved by the Parliament from time to time.

A total of 58 MPs are entitled to the driver’s allowance, excluding Prime Minister, cabinet ministers, Speaker, National Council Chairperson, and Opposition Leader. 

Currently, the driver’s allowance is Nu 6,000 a month. In addition, MPs are also entitled to Nu 7,000 monthly fuel and vehicle maintenance allowance. The MPs also get a one-time vehicle purchase allowance of Nu one Million.

The driver allowance has raised issues of moral, ethical and legal accountability on part of elected leaders. Many observers are of the view that it is morally wrong on the part of MPs to claim the amount without employing a driver.

“If it is written in black and white that the money is for the employment of a driver, it has to be spent thus. Otherwise, the truth is, it is corruption, morally as well as ethically,” said a former journalist. “It could be even construed as a coordinated cheating by the Members of Parliament.”

He also said that if MPs choose to drive themselves, they should forgo the allowance. “Because only when they employ a driver, should they be entitled to the allowance.”

Kunga Tenzin Dorji, a media specialist, said that morally it is a question of whether it is right for an MP to do that or not. “It is up to them, how they feel about it. I, for one, feel uncomfortable with the idea that they could encash and claim it when they are actually not using (a driver),” he said.  

Gopilal Acharya, a former senior journalist, said that the Parliament could amend the entitlement to a government paid driver instead of personal driver and do away with the allowance. “That way the government can add up a few thousands on the existing allowance and employ drivers,” he said.

He said that it is important to make sure that they (MPs) do not claim it as an entitlement but as an employment of a driver. “We must give them a choice and that is the best solution so that the money is not misused and MPs do not get the sense of entitlement whether they employ a driver or not. They should not get the sense that’s their money,” he said.

In substantial terms, the 58 MPs would claim Nu 348,000 per month and Nu 4,176,000 a year. In five-years, the government would spend Nu 20.88 mn on driver allowance.

Speaking to Business Bhutan, Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that the allowance is in fact not adequate to hire full-fledged drivers. “The current allowance is just the half of the salary that government drivers get. So it is extremely difficult to meet the expenses,” said Tshogpon. “We hope the current Pay Commission would do something to solve this genuine problem.”

The National Assembly Secretary General, Sangay Duba, said that it is up to the MPs to decide since it is given as minimal allowance and some of them cannot afford to keep a standing employed driver. “As per our interpretation of law, it is not mandatory.”

He said that only if it is government purchased vehicle, then it warrants full time driver. He added that in fact MPs deserve more. “Since the Pay Commission has been established, the Assembly is also trying, as per the Parliamentary Entitlements Act, to have a national committee to review not only the driver allowance but others as well. “We will make the recommendation to the Pay Commission, so it will be up to the Pay Commission to decide,” said the Secretary General.

The Opposition Leader, Dr. Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said that MPs have to pay much higher rates when they go on tours.  “It is a cost saving measure where the government does not have to employ full time drivers and MPs still have the means to employ drivers when they are on tours,” he said.

The National Council Chairperson, Tashi Dorji, said though the concern was there earlier, MPs never raised the issue. “There is a recruitment issue with the allowance MPs are entitled to. Recruiting a full time driver is expensive,” said the Chairperson.

He said that during his previous term, he used to hire a driver when he went for constituency visits. “It takes almost one and half months to cover my constituency and I visit twice a year. The total driver allowance I get in a year is spent during the constituency visit by hiring a driver to accompany me for the whole visit,” said the Council Chairperson. “With the amount you get, it is not enough to employ a driver. We will wait for the Pay Commission for further recommendation and it depends on them.”

Most MPs from both the houses said that the driver allowance is not sufficient to employ drivers. 

Oposition MP Ugyen Dorji from Dewathang-Gomdar Constituency in SamdrupJongkhar said that employing a driver is not compulsory and even if some of them want to employ a driver, it is difficult with the allowance. “Who wants to get employed as a driver for Nu 6,000 these days?”

He also said that since 2008 some MPs have been trying to employ a driver but they have not been able to because of low driver allowance.

MP UgyenTshering from Lamgong-Wangchang Constituency in Paro said that the allowance is not enough to employ a driver and it does not serve the purpose. “In fact we are deprived of drivers and it is a compromised solution from the government’s side,” he said.

A Council member seeking anonymity said that he hires a driver only during constituency visits otherwise employing a driver is not possible with the amount received.

Chencho Dema from Thimphu