Cabinet adopts austerity measures to ease economic situation

Following the country’s current economic situation, particularly the severe Indian Rupee (INR) shortfall, growing public debt and ever increasing current expenditure, the new government has decided to adopt a host of austerity measures, especially concerning the cabinet members, to curb unnecessary and excessive spending.

Setting an example, the fourth sitting of the cabinet earlier this week decided to adopt the cost cutting measures, which include recommendations on the cabinet ministers’ entitlements such as accommodation, salary, security, ex-country travels, duty vehicles and allowance for domestic staffs among others.

The cabinet pledged to abide by all relevant laws of the land, and to consciously work hard towards curtailment of wasteful public expenditure.

“ In doing so, the government earnestly hope that all ministries, autonomous bodies, corporate agencies and also the private sector understand the gravity of the economic situation and encourage them to voluntarily come up with their own austerity measures. The government and the people must collectively aspire to revive the economic situation through collective efforts and sacrifices,” a press release from the PM’s office stated.

As per recommendation of the National Assembly (NA), the pay scales for ministers of the current Parliament was to be increased from Nu 78,000 – 1,560 – 85,800 to Nu 1,80,000 – 3,600 – 1,98,000 for the PM and Nu 1,30,000 – 2,600 – 1,43,000 for cabinet ministers and equivalent posts.

However, the cabinet during its last sitting has decided not to adopt the new pay scale which means the existing pay scale of Nu 78,000 – 1,560 – 85,800 will be applied for the PM and the cabinet ministers with effect from July 27, 2013, the day His Majesty granted Dakyen to the members. The next pay commission may review and suggest otherwise if necessary and submit a recommendation to the government later.

The PM was provided five domestic staff and cabinet ministers were allowed two domestic staff at their residences. “The cabinet has decided not to avail this facility. The pay commission may study the need and suggest otherwise later. The DNP’s maintenance unit will look after the flower gardens and general cleaning of premises on regular basis,” the press release stated.

While, the PM has already decided to not move into the luxurious Raven House, the PM’s official residence in the ministerial enclave and live at his relatively simple house in Taba, cabinet ministers will mandatorily occupy official residences at the ministerial enclave as it would involve payment of housing rent allowance otherwise. The Raven House will continue to be a state guest house for state guests.

Security personnel for the PM and cabinet ministers shall be reduced to bare minimum and no pilot escort will be used for movements within Thimphu and Paro.

The Lyonchhen has already rejected the 36 police personnel that were allocated for his personal security as the PM, and has instead opted to retain two security personnel at his home and one personal security officer (PSO) with him, which he already had earlier as the Opposition Leader. They would be changed on a rotation basis. He has also declined to accept the appointment of two RBP officers as his personal ADC’s.

Chadri arrangements will be confined to events involving the Royal Family members, Zhung Dratshang and events of national significance only. Pitching of tents, hoisting flags, arrangements of dancers and serving food during other events is to be stopped. During visits of cabinet ministers to places outside the capital, there will be no elaborate chadri at the place of stay, whether hotel or guest house. “Packed lunches for mid-way meals and tea are to be arranged by the visiting team. The practice of dzongkhag officials coming half-way to receive the officials should be discontinued. This applies to the visit of the PM as well.

The home ministry has been directed to revise the Chadri Protocol and the Security Protocol for VVIPs/VIPs 2013 accordingly.

The cabinet also decided that ex-country travel by Lyonchhen and cabinet ministers shall be kept to a bare necessity and will travel abroad only when it is absolutely necessary, with a bare minimum delegation even if financed by host countries or organizers. “There should be no formal reception or see-off line up at the airport,” the press release stated.

Excessive expenditure shall not be incurred for extending hospitality and entertaining guests by the ministers. Wherever possible, lunches are to be hosted instead of dinners and the number of government invitees shall not exceed twice the number of guests. Food items containing local products will be promoted, instead of imported items. The finance ministry has been directed to revise the existing circulars or guidelines on government entertainments and hospitality and further streamline it.

The PM is entitled to one Land Cruiser and cabinet ministers to one Toyota Prado as exclusive duty vehicles with drivers and maintenance costs. One Maruti Wagon R car is provided for secretarial duty of the ministers.

However, the PM has already decided to use the old Toyota Prado on his duty while cabinet ministers will use one of the pool vehicles available with the ministries and no new vehicles will be procured by the government until the economic situation improves.

The Maruti WagonR cars provided for secretarial duty of the ministers has also been returned for pool use in the ministries.

The cabinet also decided there will be no political appointments made in the cabinet secretariat and instead, Lyonchhen “will look into re-organizing and down-sizing the cabinet secretariat.”

The cabinet secretariat currently has 41 staff as against some 52 approved posts. In addition, there were four political appointees and one photographer on contract basis.

The excess staff, if any, could be relieved off on transfer to agencies facing shortage of human resources.

Minjur Dorji 

 

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