I. The Special Lean Season Thai Tourist Package
It has been my long term belief that tourism stands to be one of the chief resources for Bhutan. And it should be carefully and steadily exploited to meet the demands for employment, market for local produces, hard currencies income and airline expansion.
The high and low impact terminology actually causes Bhutan to have fewer dollar paying tourists and therefore, low impact on the national economy. And at the same time, Bhutan is an easy access destination to the 1.2 billion people of India as it is for the 0.6 million Bhutanese to access India. Therefore, the Brand Bhutan is actually a myth than a reality. Direct flights to major metropolitan centers of India will encourage Indian tourists which also bring in economic benefits at its own level. Apart from tourists from India, Bhutan needs to tap developing economics of certain standards like that of Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. These countries are quite near to Bhutan and the people there can afford to travel in greater number on tours of US Dollar 130-to-165 per day packages. Bhutan’s lean summer temperate season is an ideal climate change for these South East Asian nations with sultry summers.
Personally, I shall remain highly indebted to the Kingdom of Thailand for permitting Bangkok to be the international gateway for the Kingdom of Bhutan. I hope more Thai citizens visit Bhutan and thereby strengthen the relationship. Access to the outside world through Bangkok is a sovereign boon to Bhutan. The two airlines of Bhutan must further expand their wings to direct flights to Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore in addition to Bangkok. Bhutan has to exploit tourists from Hong Kong, Mainland China, Western Europe, America and Japan for its high end markets. A direct flight between Hong Kong and Paro would do wonders for tourists arrivals from China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan and even West Coast of America. Bhutan would be on the right track if both high end and low end markets are exploited to increase tourists arrival during both high and lean seasons of Bhutan.
Hydro-projects demand huge investments and in terms of employment generation, it is quite small when compared to tourism industry. Tourism is a manpower intensive industry and absorbs all class of employees from highly educated professionals to dedicated illiterates. It consumes whatever food locally produced and provides markets for cottage and handicraft industries. It brings in foreign currencies without the need to actually undergo the hassles of exporting goods. It is an industry that creates wide and equal opportunities across the social and economic classes from rural farmers to urban dwellers and airlines.
The first democratic government formed by DPT made its hallmark on future economy with the planned 10,000 MW hydro-projects. Now maybe the second democratic government formed by PDP could concentrate on expanding dollar paying tourists through expansion of direct flights to Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Singapore along with Bangkok and promote its policy of equal emphasis on high end and low end markets for both high and lean tourist seasons. Such an achievement would lead to a very secure economic future for Bhutan. Just as it will take time to achieve the goal of 10,000 MW, it will also take time and effort of over 15 years to gradually bring in half a million tourists every year. What is crucial is laying the foundation for a proper growth of dollar paying tourists. The present Thai tourist package is a sensible way to tap potentials of lean seasons of Bhutan without compromising the standard of service to package tourists groups. Maintaining a high standard of quality service and efficiency should be the hallmark of Brand Bhutan.
I wish the government every success in this endeavour to expand the tourism industry. It is a very reliable economic asset for a landlocked nation like Bhutan with rich natural and cultural resources crowned with GNH philosophy.
II. Money Bill Becomes Law
According to print media, the Money Bill which includes the pay revision has received the necessary Royal Assent on 9th July, 2014 to become Law. So voices raised for better deal for civil servants will not generate any immediate fruit from the government. Some people may have hoped that the National Council decision to defer the pay raise for its own members and if possible for the upper hierarchy, would extract a better deal for the civil servants. However, the deferment decision of NC was not a rejection of the pay revision and by extension it was not directed to bargain for civil servants. However, even if the pay raise was deferred for a period of 6 months for the upper echelon under the NC proposal, there would have been moral merits for the top leaderships.
The NC did not submit its opinion to the one authority that could have given necessary weight. Rather the NC chose to forward its decision to defer to the Prime Minister who very wisely did not respond in any manner until the Royal Assent on the Money Bill was granted. In publicizing its decision and informing the government, the NC may have hoped that more members from the same hierarchy would offer support to the proposal. However, there was no expression for such support in public. The reason would be that many of the constitutional post holders and government secretaries are nearing the completion of their tenure and deferring would mean never receiving the pay hike before retirement. And this was too high a price in terms of life impacting pension scale. However, in-spite of their silence, it does not mean that they have no sympathy for the civil servants who never got their promised full 20% pay raise.
Now what would the NC do? The NC most probably now will reconsider its deferment decision. It had not rejected outright the pay revision and moreover there were other important components in the Money Bill so NC must have expected Royal Assent for the Bill. So now with the Bill becoming Law, the National Council may have to fall in line. Whatever happens now still Kudos to NC for its initial moral stand against National Assembly. The call now is not to complicate further the delicate situation.
The Cabinet has got what it wanted, ‘the Royal Assent’ to the Money Bill that had sailed through National Assembly. However, it seems that it was ill prepared for the criticisms and oppositions to its pay revision. Several key Cabinet members went all out to defend the pay revision to an extent of even implying that the recipients i.e. the civil servants were being ungrateful. A bit harsh, I feel, though ofcourse the Cabinet has the right to defend itself and express its own views publicly.
True the present Cabinet and the MPs have reasons to expect the same salary level that would have been automatically taken if DPT party had returned to power. I also personally feel that the salary hike of the upper hierarchy is justifiable because there already is in existence similar pay scale for the executives in several national agencies.
The immorality lies in the PDP formed Cabinet hijacking the prevailing 20% allowance of civil servants given by DPT government in 2010 as inflationary adjustment. True 20% fixed house rent allowance has been given and a nominal increment starting with 4% in monthly salary is incorporated for civil servants under the pay revision. For most civil servants the pay revision is comparable to a VIP visitor who plucks apples off the host apple tree and gifts the same to the host wrapped in a basket. So do not accuse the civil servants for being ungrateful because there isn’t much basis to joyfully celebrate gratitude. When the campaign promise of 20% house rent and 20% pay raise was made, these commitments had to be against the backdrop of already approved pay hike for the upper hierarchy by the 1st Parliament. So naturally even though the civil servants are financially in better position with the pay revision, the feeling of being let down exist.
What I can say is that it is just the beginning of the 2nd year for PDP Cabinet. Therefore, there is still adequate time and opportunity to restore the 2010 inflationary adjustment allowance of 20% or make good its campaign promise of full 20% pay hike for the civil servants. Under the prevailing political circumstances, there is a possibility that the carefully crafted constitutional equation and balance may be affected in future. The Parliament consists of 3 constitutional bodies. However, when it comes down to the welfare of the civil servants, this pay revision has demonstrated that it is the ruling party that reigns supreme. So in future, the supposed to be politically neutral institution of civil service maybe compelled to choose sides to protect its own welfare. And that could very well offset the political cart.