As the two political parties traverse the country once again to campaign for the general round of election, each candidate will make promises over and above party promises. As long as promises look logically deliverable, the people should welcome them. Promises will help make political leaders accountable to the people. However, in a cash-strapped country, it’s wrong to promise the moon. Instead of making numerous promises that will translate into votes, how about promises that will require some sacrifice from the leaders?
For example, we would like to hear promises on cutting the cost of running public offices. Buying less costly pool vehicles for the ministers could be one of them, to start with. This will no doubt take political will. The ministers settling for less expensive, but equally decent, cars would mean hundreds of public servants, down the line, following suit. This will save millions of public money every year, which can be channeled into development.
Toyota Prado is an outrageously expensive vehicle for a poor country. The cost of one Prado can comfortably buy several power tillers that could transform the lives of hundreds of poor farmers. Now what is our priority? Our priority is obviously to empower the poor, not to lavish first world cars on public servants.
Yet we have a huge fleet of Prados in the system, and we are spending huge amounts on keeping them running. Our public servants could settle for less expensive and smaller – but equally robust – cars and pay themselves better. Senior public servants today are allotted very expensive cars at the cost of a better salary for their colleagues in the lower echelons of the system. The public servants in Bhutan are poorly paid, but we have rarely discussed boosting their salary and benefits by slimming down the bloated vehicle allotment system.
Of course, it’s not going to be easy to wean the system off big and expensive cars, which have come to be associated with power and status. But some look at the idea favourably. In fact, one government secretary is already using a smaller car instead of the expensive Prado that he is entitled to. This shows change is not only possible, but practicable. But the impetus should come from a political government. This could save enough money to make a pay rise for public servants possible and other promises more deliverable. Now, would our political parties promise to do that?