In the recent Civil Service Pay Restructure Bill discussions in the Parliament, the National Assembly (NA) first inserted duty vehicles for MPs equivalent to Secretaries (Toyota Fortuner) mainly in response to their Nu 1.5 million (mn) Prado quota being removed.
In return, they gave up their claim to the Nu 1 mn to buy vehicles which was prorated and the Nu 10,000 allowance for drivers and another Nu 10,000 allowance for fuel and maintenance.
After the public backlash, the NC added an option in the Bill of the government either giving a duty vehicle or a lumpsum amount to buy a vehicle with and the Nu 10,000 allowance for drivers and Nu 10,000 for fuel. The NA passed this option along with the entire Bill on Friday.
However, if the MPs knew the reality of the reforms being discussed for government duty and pool vehicles, then they may have taken a pause.
The Prime Minister Dasho Dr Lotay Tshering said, in Parliament, that the government pool and duty vehicle system is undergoing reforms, whereby the government will decide who will get big and small cars, and it will be need-based, as in those who drive on rough roads will get bigger vehicles.
An official said, “It was better for the MPs to stick to the NC option, as if the vehicles are rationalized and vehicles are pooled then there will be no duty vehicles for each person, and at that time the MPs will be at a loss.”
The earlier Bill passed by the NA had a clause which said that the government could ‘review and rationalize’ vehicles.
“When you talk about rationalization, it means I will not have a vehicle everyday to come to office. I will manage myself, but when I need a vehicle then we will pick from the pool,” said the official.
The official said the NC realized that which is why they put the lumpsum back, as the MPs were in danger of losing both the amount and allowances and the vehicle.
The NC’s new clause approved in the final passed Bill by the NA is a very clever one. It says, ‘Each Member of Parliament shall be provided a designated duty vehicle, OR a one-time lumpsum grant for the purchase of vehicle along with the rriver, and fuel and maintenance allowances.’
It does not mention the lumpsum amount though the minimum will be the current Nu 1 mn, and by not mentioning the amount, it gives the flexibility to the government to give more.
The new section also avoids the words ‘review and rationalize’ which means that if duty vehicles are given to MPs, they can avoid the pool vehicle reforms.
The Finance Minister earlier made it clear that new SUV Duty vehicles will not be issued for MPs at least in this term.
The official said, “The government is trying to reduce the numbers of duty vehicles, in terms of people who need and do not need. For example, Dzongdas need SUV duty vehicles as they have to move. The question is if the judges in Thimphu need it?”
“Does a government secretary need a big SUV car, as the secretary can do with a small car and use a four-wheel vehicle only while moving outside Thimphu. Which secretaries need bigger SUV cars as not all secretaries have the same responsibility in terms of moving around,” said the official.
The duty vehicles of the executives will come under the rationalization, which is why the Bill says designated vehicles are to be rationalized.
“So, while a senior civil servant deserves a car due to their post, they might, say, take an Alto vehicle or a EV vehicle or take an allowance, like the MPs and drive on their own,” said the official.
There was concern when the MPs lumped themselves with the executives, as it would have been difficult to handle that under rationalization.
With the MPs excluded for now, it is easier to implement among the civil servants compared to public servants.
Giving an example of public servants, the official said, “In the Judiciary, in the High Court and Supreme Court, they do not travel out but all have big duty SUV vehicles.”
Under the reforms, one option could be that a civil servant or public servant does not use a duty vehicle, but can take an allowance instead.
However, after that, the next big question is that there needs to be a plan in place on what to do with the drivers and vehicles.
The reforms would like to avoid a situation where the duty vehicles are pooled and the drivers have no work to do but are collecting pay.
‘It will not do if civil servants get money for fuel allowance and drivers are also basking in the sun,” said the official.
One option is outsourcing of vehicle hiring. Taxis currently use the DrukRide App right now and so the reform can look at enhancing the DrukRide service even for the government drivers.
An enhanced DrukRide like service would ensure that when people are having to move, they can easily get the vehicle without having to do quotations.
An idea is to help the government drivers in schemes similar to the subsidized EV taxis.
The official said that forming a government corporation for the drivers is not a good idea, and a better idea is to let individual drivers do an Uber drive. The drivers should be encouraged to go into that modality.
One question would be on what to do with the cars, in terms of either selling it or how to sell it to drivers and at what cost they can pay back, like the EV vehicles supported by the government.
There are different options being looked at as some drivers can pool and come, or if the cars are auctioned, then the drivers will have to find their own ways of employment.
The government, as part of the reforms, will have to come up with some brainstorming with the drivers on how to go about it.
The fact is that the drivers can’t all be employed by the government as they will have to employ themselves. The government could come up with schemes for the drivers as the government will need pool vehicles too.
Senior officials can hire the SUVs through a hiring system while going out, and in Thimphu they may not want to take the government vehicle but the allowance instead.
SUVs might be given to other civil servants who need the heavy duty vehicle due to the nature of their work. The newer ones can be kept as a pool for travel out of Thimphu.
The reforms may also apply a mixed model, but it is not finalized and currently being worked on.