The civil service and public servants have had four pay hikes since 2009, but Bhutan’s weak private sector could not keep up and this has now created a parallel economy.
One is for the public servants and the other is for the private sector and farmers.
After the last pay hike the lowest paid public servant in the form of the ESP (gardeners, cleaning staff etc) gets more than Nu 12,000 per month with salary, HRA, PF etc.
In the private sector this is still the entry level pay for graduates in most private sector companies with some being even lower.
For most of our farmers, it is still a hand to mouth subsistence existence.
The term ‘Public servant’ means politicians, civil servants and others who are meant to serve the public but this is not the reality in the case of Bhutan.
The private sector may instead get more enhanced and digitized taxation measures to better collect tax from the private sector in the upcoming Parliament session to help foot the pay hike bill.
It is important to remember that pay hike for public servants also come out of tax revenues of private sector. It also comes out of a hugely bloated current expenditure budget which instead could be used to improve rural and urban infrastructure, medical services, drinking and irrigation water and a host of other activities.
The state continues to corner all main resources and grow fat on it leaving the rest to oblivion.
One rationale of the pay hike is to keep up the morale of the public servants and hence ensure better service delivery, but despite four pay hikes since 2009 there has been no improvement in service delivery.
There are those who feel the private sector should come up on its own, but the private sector functions and works within the government run system and policies in Bhutan. Quite a few of those systems and policies are not only unhelpful but also harmful for the private sector.
It is ironical that the government is giving a hike when the private sector is in the doldrums and cannot afford a hike. Instead, people are being laid off.
The example of a Prado driving Jinda image of the private sector among civil servants applies to only a minuscule few and they too are using their own money.
A great hullabaloo is made about public servants needing a hike to meet inflation, but if one goes to the house of an average private sector employee they would be getting paid around half the wages of a public servant, but doing double the work, and with his or her job hanging entirely by their performance or the health of the company.
Given that average civil services wages are much higher there is even even greater rush to join the government. Other considerations are better work conditions, benefits, job security, authority etc. Given the limited number of government jobs, this trend is unhealthy for Bhutan’s future.
So one question to ask is why are elected governments so afraid of public servants (civil servants and government corporate employees) and don’t give two hoots about the private sector as is visible from above.
The answer is simple. They are involved in public affairs and issues, are vocal in the media and social media (despite a RCSC gag order) and even don’t hesitate to vote as a block to punish governments they see as inimical to their collective interests.
An example would be the former PDP government that won the highest EVM votes in the 2018 primary round but got the least Postal Ballot votes to unceremoniously exit the round.
Public servants were unhappy with PDP over their controversial 2014 pay hike and some took offence to the three secretaries case.
But some here would argue that public servants are the smallest in number when compared to the much bigger private sector and agricultural sector.
This is where the ECB (manned by Civil Servants and Public Servants) comes into play. The ECB deems that public servants are important enough to get the vastly extended Postal Ballot (PB) facility with a very minimal extension of this facility to the private sector.
PB makes it much easier for a civil servant and his or her entire immediate family to vote from their place of residence, meaning a higher voter turnout.
In the case of the private sector, they have to close down their business and travel for days to vote and so quite a few chose to abstain.
Case in point is the 2018 general election round results where of the 313,473 votes cast the EVM votes were 199,553 and the PB votes were a staggering 113,920.
In the 2018 elections while the EVM voters decided the winner in the general round it was the PB voters who decided which two parties would proceed ahead from the primary round.
A note of caution would be on the old theory that civil servants influence their rural relatives. Yes, while there may be some impact, the 2018 elections showed that EVM voters had a mind of their own in both the primary and general round and even voted differently from PB voters.
So if the private sector wants to be taken seriously by any government it will have to start by asking the ECB for the PB facility.
If the ECB refuses then it is clear that Bhutan’s elections and democracy are rigged in the favour of public servants.
The next step is to start voting as a block on private sector issues instead of going by regional, family and local political factors.
The third step is to become more active in the media and social media so that policy makers can hear you.
The other option is to sit quietly in your shop or office and enjoy your second-class citizen status for all times to come.
The result of the above machinations has resulted in a unique political economy for the country.
The Nation will take huge debts in the name of every Bhutanese citizen to build mega hydro projects.
Political parties eager to get the votes of public servants will promise pay hikes and perks during elections.
Once the projects are built, the bulk of their revenue will go into hikes for public servants while the remaining bit will go into TA/DA, hospitality, trainings etc.
There is zero incentive to diversify the economy, strengthen the private sector and create jobs.
By Tenzing Lamsang
The writer is the Editor of the paper.