The 2019 Pay Revision Act is very clear that Ministers or positions equivalent to them are entitled to one chauffer driven SUV of 3,000 cc each, which means one Toyota Prado for each of them.
However, in contravention to the Act, it has been learnt that the Finance Minister, Foreign Minister, Health Minister, National Assembly Speaker and the National Council Chairman were all allotted a Hybrid Toyota Camry each by the government in early 2020 after ordering it in 2019.
This is in addition to the Toyota Prados already allocated to them.
The cost of each Toyota Camry is around Nu 3.2 million for the government with a 5% green tax taking it to 3.36 mn, but if a private citizen were to buy it it would attract around 30% total tax which would push the car’s cost to Nu 4.1 mn.
With a cost of Nu 3.2 mn per car the total cost of five cars are Nu 16 mn.
A hybrid vehicle can run on both fossil fuel and electricity, and is sought after in the market these days due to the minimal tax on it and possible fuel savings.
At the same time, the Hybrid Toyota Camry given its cost is clearly in a class of luxury vehicles.
This issue may have all started when the DNT government in its manifesto of ‘25 pledges in 120 days’ said, “Cabinet ministers will use electric/hybrid cars for local travels.”
While the pledge is there with an intention of promoting electric and hybrid vehicles, the retention of both the Prados and the Toyota Camry means it is in violation of the Act.
The Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said, “The manifesto pledge is to pave the way for an electric vehicles (EVs) future as the future of transport will be EVs.”
Lyonpo said that they formed in the government in 2018, and in 2019 they started to discuss this and the cabinet decided it is better to pilot this first and see how things will shape up as they cannot afford to buy a whole set for every cabinet member.
“So basically we wanted to try out with five hybrids and the order was placed in 2019 and the car was delivered only in the first quarter of 2020, and by then we already had the pandemic,” said Lyonpo.
Lyonpo said they went for a hybrid vehicle due to the unavailability of EV now since the technology is just evolving, and a hybrid can also substitute for it as it is somewhere between an EV and a fossil fuel car.
He said for the remaining cabinet ministers and Lyonchhen it will be full EVs.
“We are basically using it for the local transport plus travel to Paro, Punakha, Wangdi and Haa. This actually saves a lot of fuel. I ask my driver to maintain a log book everyday just to keep tab of the savings that is made from fuel,” explained Lyonpo.
He said in contrast for the Prado one liter of fuel can hardly take them around 8 km.
He said it was decided that for the individuals who have the EV they will try and pool the Prados and use it only when they travel for longer distances due to the low clearance or rough road issues.
“So as far as I am concerned, all the individuals who are given the hybrid never use Prados for the local transport. I even spare my Prado when there is some important guest visiting the office because pool vehicles are all depleted and we don’t encourage additional pool vehicles to be procured,” said Lyonpo.
He said the five Prados are pooled and kept at a separate identified parking in the Dhensa which is safer, but the minister also admitted that they use the Prados for long distance trips by the same ministers.
While the Finance Minister repeatedly used the term of ‘pool vehicles’ for the five Prados it is not clear how they are ‘pooled vehicles’ when the same Prados are used only by the same ministers for longer trips.
In government parlance, a pool vehicle should actually be one which is kept in a general pool of vehicles at the ministry or agency ready to be used by any officer or staff.
Lyonpo claimed that neither his wife nor others use the Prados as their vehicles. He said they can be questioned if their wives use the stand by Prados.
“After five years we have to give back the Prados, unlike the first government who took it as Kidu, and if we give the cars back in good condition- that will save the coffer,” said Lyonpo.
He said he was even ready to have the log book examined to see how many times his Prado had been used.
A member of the Opposition Party, on the condition of anonymity, said ministers have not only two duty cars but even three or more on their duty. He said apart from the Prado and Toyota Camry there is also the Wagon-R and in addition to that some ministries reserve a ministry vehicle aside for the minister’s exclusive use.
On this the Finance Minister said as far as he is concerned he does not have such arrangements, and for the rest he cannot comment as he is not aware.
When the minister was asked on the violation of the Pay Revision Act he said the Prado is assigned to the minister, but the Camry is registered in the name of the ministry.
An Opposition member said that it is a conflict of interest that the PMO is looking after the EV project and the five Hybrids were issued. He said that even electric scooters have been issued.
Meanwhile, it has been learnt that the Royal Audit Authority is expected to do a review of the entire Pay Revision Act as the agency has seen some violations.
While some ministers have two duty vehicles, it has also been learnt that some Executive Officers in the government who are entitled to get duty vehicles as per the Pay Revision Act are yet to get their duty vehicles.
Interestingly, in January 2019 the government had initiated an austerity drive of sorts when the Ministry of Finance had sent out a circular to government ministries, Dzongkhags and all government agencies to come up with proposals on saving costs, as part of a new austerity drive.
The move was inspired by the ‘Financial Thrift’ report compiled by the officials of the MoF under the Interim Government.
The Finance Minister at the time had said they discussed the issue in the cabinet and the cabinet directed the MoF to come up with guidelines.
The ‘Financial Thrift’ report had outlined several areas where cost can be cut and these are; hospitality and entertainment, TA/DA, computers and stationery, office buildings, ex-country trainings, central schools expenditure and maintenance, among other areas.