Opposite Effect: Pay Commission’s recommendation to widen the gap

The financial implication of the pay revision is estimated at Nu 17.9bn over the next four years

The Fourth Pay Commission’s recommendations, if implemented as it is, are likely to further deepen income disparity in the country instead of narrowing the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

The Pay Commission has recommended 29% to 14% salary raise, with higher percentage to the lower level. However, in actual terms, those in the higher positions stand to benefit with substantial increase in their salaries.

The actual salary raise for Elementary Service Personnel (ESP), the lowest level public servants, is mere Nu 2,000. With 29% raise, their salary comes to Nu 9,000 a month. In contrast, for the Cabinet Secretary, the highest position holder in civil service, 14% raise actually translates into Nu 10,525 and a bulky monthly paycheck of Nu 85,685.

The gap further widens when the figures are compared against those of the elected leaders. For the Prime Minister, 14% raise translates into Nu 25,200, taking the gross salary to Nu 205,000 from the current minimum of Nu 180,000.

The income disparity becomes even more evident when other benefits such as house rent allowance (HRA), Performance Based Incentives (PBI) and other benefits are taken into account. The difference in the increase in HRA is particularly stark. The HRA for ESP level civil servant is a measly Nu 1,800 while the Cabinet Secretary gets Nu 25,710 which is a staggering 71% increase.

Business Bhutan talked to many civil servants from different quarters. A strong and common opinion was that the salary raise has been top heavy, with people already getting higher pays receiving higher raise.

A civil servant said there is hardly any structure or dwelling especially in Thimphu that comes at Nu 1,800 per month. “Even for a dilapidated or ramshackle structure, the rent charged is somewhere between Nu 3,000 to Nu 5,000,” said one of the civil servants. “This is almost 100% more than what we will receive as HRA.”

Mid level civil servants are also disgruntled with the recommendations of the Pay Commission. “We are the group, who received less with their formula of regressive percentage raise,” said one civil servant who is in the SSC category.

She said if the pay is fixed based on the value of work, they are the most important group. “While civil servants in PMC are mostly engaged in desk job, sitting on easy chair, in front of laptop, it is the people in SSC category, who are out in the field, rain or shine.”

 “We are mostly placed in the field,” said another SSC category civil servants. “We are the section of civil servants who are out rendering public service at the people’s doorstep. Yet, the salary raise has not been fair or commensurate to our roles and responsibilities.”

The Vice President of Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP), SonamTobgay, said the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers and all Members of Parliament (MPs) should forgo a pay revision in order to restore peoples’ faith in politicians and also keeping in line with Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa’s pledges of narrowing the gap. “This provides the government of the day a golden opportunity to lead with example while walking the talk in meaning what they say and practicing what they preach,” he said. 

He also said that in pursuit of narrowing the gap pledge by the government, the vehicle quota for all MPs (including Prime Minister, Opposition Leader, House Speaker, National Council Chairperson, and Cabinet Ministers) must be pegged to the existing quota exemption ceiling of Nu 0.8mn of civil servants and monetized at current market value. “This is the most realistic and affordable benefit that the country can afford at this stage of development,” said SonamTobgay.

The Pay Commission has recommended monetization of the vehicle import quota for the public servants with a ceiling of Nu 0.800mn at Nu 0.250mn and the same to be extended to the Gups and Thrompons as well. However, the Pay Commission recommended monetization at Nu 1.5mn for vehicle import quota of MPs, Cabinet Ministers and equivalent position holders.

The former Speaker JigmeZangpo, who is currently the General Secretary of People’s Democratic Party, said providing incentives to one section of civil servants would create division among the civil servants. “In previous parliament discussions, we have done away with the incentives to treat all the civil servants as equal.”

He also questioned that Pay Commission’s report did not specifically mention the different segments and percentage of people consulted during the course of review.

Opposition Member of Parliament from Panbang, Dorji Wangdi, said this is only the recommendation of the Pay Commission to the cabinet and the cabinet will come up with its own report. “There is nothing to worry about the report. It is not final and binding,” he said.

He also said that cabinet has one month to review the report.

The net annual financial implication of the revision of pay, allowances and benefits is estimated at Nu 4.238bn every year, which is an increase of about 30% from the existing pay and allowances expenditure. The financial implications over the next four years will be Nu 17.913bn.

Dechen Dolkar from Thimphu