Prime Minister (Dr) Lotay Tshering

PM justifies political appointee in PMO based on DPT’s own track record

PM hired the DNT media adviser as its press secretary

Questions were asked on the appointment of the Press Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) during the Question Hour session of the National Assembly (NA) yesterday.

The Member of Parliament (MP) of Pangbang Constituency, Dorji Wangdi, stated that press freedom is fundamental to good governance which builds a vibrant democracy. Therefore, a Press Secretary in the PMO is tasked to monitor the media and work with the journalists. He said that newly appointed Press Secretary was then working with Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) as the media person during its party campaign in 2017.

MP Dorji Wangdi said that there are hundreds of capable civil servants who can be appointed as the Press Secretary. He questioned the Prime Minister (PM) on how the Press Secretary was not selected from amongst the civil servants. And he further questioned the basis on which the Press Secretary was appointed and how the generous pay and allowances more than a government secretary were fixed.

In response the questions, the Prime Minister (Dr) Lotay Tshering said when he took over the office on 7 November 2018, the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) stated that the government can have four media persons but the PMO had only one media focal person.

“Not having a good media focal person would only lead to problems, and it will be loss for the government. So I thought, the government needs a strong media focal person. I also announced the vacancy for the post of Press Secretary in Kuensel twice,” said the PM.

PM said the vacancy calls were announced on 11 December 2018 and 2 January 2019. There were no responses to the vacancy announcement-both times.

“Then the Royal Civil Service Commission permitted the government to have the media person from the private sector as well, if there is no one coming forward for the post announced by the government,” said the PM.

“We have discussed with the RCSC about this matter and also with the Finance Ministry. They said there is no problem if we hire someone with capabilities on contract basis. So, they did not have any problem with the decision,” said the PM.

With their permission, the government appointed the Press Secretary. PM said it is not because the Press Secretary worked with DNT during the party campaigning, but the selection was made based on the right qualification, work experience and capabilities.

“There will be more talented and capable candidates for the post but we are not getting them. By looking at her experiences in the media field, we thought she would be best for the post announced,” said the PM. He further claimed the Press Secretary comes highly recommended by journalists in the country. He added that no rules and regulations were broken.

About the salary, PM said that Section 77 under RCSC Rules and Regulations gives the PM the right to appoint and decide the salary and allowances.

“In 2010, there was an order from the Cabinet that the media is important and media focal person working with the PM should be a strong one,” said the PM, adding that the order is still active.

Lyonchhen (Dr) Lotay Tshering said that the Press Secretary’s salary was Nu 60,000 in 2010 while a cabinet secretary’s salary was Nu 50,000 then.  He said the Press Secretary’s pay should be more by now as per the rules and regulations.  “We have fixed her salary at Nu 75,000 by looking at her potential, experience and the responsibilities,” added the PM.

The Pangbang MP was not convinced with the PM’s response that no one came forward for the post that was announced. The MP said there are around 30,000 to 40,000 public servants in the country.

“I did not say that no civil servants turned up for the post. I floated the vacancy two times in Kuensel but no one applied for the post,” responded the PM.

The Panbang MP said that while the DPT did have political appointees they were removed later. He said there was discussion and acceptance in the Parliament at one time to not have any more political appointees in the PM’s office.

The PM said that during Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s (DPT) tenure, they hired four media persons in P1 and P3 level but they were paid much higher salaries of Nu 50,000 to Nu 60,000. He said that DPT made several more political appointments in the PM’s office.

The PM also said if there is any such law that the Prime Minister cannot appoint someone by himself then he would ask for forgiveness, and he would release the Press Secretary from the post immediately.

Meanwhile, MP Dorji Wangdi also said he was informed of the PMO allegedly harassing the media. He said two or three journalists have been harassed and they have come to the Opposition party with the the voice recordings as proof.

“I am surprised,” said the PM Lotay Tshering.  He stated that he did not hear of any such issues. “I have always said that the media plays a big role in developing the nation,” he further added.

The PM questioned why some members of the media was going to the opposition party against the government.

PM said if any mistake was made it may have happened unintentionally, and if there are any problems with the government then the media can directly contact the government, Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA) and Bhutan Media Foundation (BMF) to lodge any complaints or grievances.

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