Council: The 18th session of the National Council (NC) that concluded yesterday deliberated five bills and as many policy issues and endorsed recommendations.

The bills are the Red Cross Bill, the customs Bill, the civil aviation Bill, supplementary budget and the tax (amendment) Bill.

The House reviewed and suggested recommendations on agriculture, education, teenage pregnancy and sexual harassment, public procurement and regulation of foreigners.

While the National Assembly (NA) didn’t accept some of the NC’s recommendations on the customs Bill, four have been endorsed by both Houses. NC also discussed the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA) but voted against its ratification.

Speaking at the post-session press conference, NC’s Spokesperson and Deputy Chairperson Tshering Dorji said the Council had a fruitful session. He said that most of the recommendations on the civil aviation bill were accepted by NA and will be submitted to His Majesty The Druk Gyalpo.

Eminent Member Phuntsho Rabten said the NC recognises the inadequate working environment of teachers in schools.  Teachers work in congested space with poor furniture and limited computers and poor Internet connectivity.

He said the overall national education policy is in a draft stage and added that the House acknowledges the importance of such a policy to provide a broad framework and strategic direction for the future of education.

Phuntsho Rabten said the NC has made eight recommendations to improve the education system. The government has been asked to expedite the approval of the draft National Education Policy to provide strategic direction and effective implementation of education programmes.

Eminent Member Kesang Chuki Dorjee said NC recognises that the government and stakeholders in laying the policy foundation to address social issues related to teenage pregnancy, sexual abuse against children, and sexual harassment. She said that there are also adequate laws and policies in place on all the three issues.

However, she said that the key challenge in addressing these issues is rooted in implementation gaps due to resource constraints. She added that there is a detrimental impact on these issues on the society and said that the House recommends the government should set up nationwide advocacy efforts in tandem with stakeholder agencies for preventive actions and behavioral change to combat teenage pregnancies and health risks and sexual abuse.

NC has recommended the health ministry to collaborate with the education ministry to educate out-of-school youths on sex education, sexual health, sexual abuse and harassment through the existing programmes.

Member from Pemagatshel, Jigmi Rinzin, said agriculture, which is the primary source of livelihood for 70 percent of the population, had experienced insignificant growth to be able to adequately address rural poverty, attain food security and sustain the overall economic growth as indicated by its GDP share, which reduced from 24 percent in 2004 to 16.67 percent in 2015.

He said that NC is concerned about the number of gungtongs and fallowing of land in the country. The House recommended the government to advocate the Food and Nutrition Security Policy of Bhutan 2014 for greater awareness and common ownership amongst the agriculture sector and relevant stakeholders.

NC has also recommended the government to revisit the existing policy instruments to ensure maximum food availability through domestic production and integrate the agriculture policy into the Economic Development Policy and the Fiscal Incentive Policy.

Chairperson of Economic Development Committee, Sonam Dorji, said the NC has asked the government through its recommendations to enact a law for ownership of assets and accounts abroad by Bhutanese citizens to enhance transparency, curb corruption and prevent tax evasion.

Member from Trongsa, Tharchen, said 17.6 percent of the country’s GDP is spent on procurement annually excluding national level budget allocation for mega projects such as hydropower and widening of Northern east-west highway for double lane traffic. Otherwise, the procurement would push the spending beyond 30 percent of the GDP.

NC has asked the government to consider enacting a separate law for public procurement that will ensure good governance and integrity in public procurement resulting in judicious and efficient utilisation of public accounts.

Gasa’s NC member Sangay Khandu said the civil aviation Bill has been endorsed by both Houses. “It does not have to go to a joint sitting as the Assembly has accepted our recommendations,” he said.

He said that the civil aviation Bill is important because of the increase in the number of aircrafts and helicopters.

MB Subba