Yearender |  Parliament: The last two sessions of Parliament were largely fruitful both in terms of fostering democratic practices and enactment of laws.

The eighth session of Parliament that concluded on December 9 last year adopted two Bills and as many international conventions. However, consensus could not be reached between the Assembly and the National Council on the Customs Bill of Bhutan and the Motor Vehicle Agreement between Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal (BBIN).

As per the legislative procedure, the agreement and the Bill were submitted to His Majesty The King for Royal Assent for deliberation in a joint sitting.

The National Council refused to adopt the BBIN motor vehicle agreement that was passed by the Assembly. This was a major setback for the government, which is bent on ratifying the agreement.

The BBIN agreement aims to facilitate seamless movement of vehicles across the borders of the four countries.

The Assembly amended the Income Tax Act of 2001 to exempt taxes on fixed deposits and enhance banking services.

To facilitate creation of employment opportunities, the Assembly approved a supplementary budget amounting to Nu 262.808 million (M). The amount for the supplementary budget was generated from interest received on account of the subordinated debt instruments under the Economic Stimulus Plan.

His Majesty The King addressed the seventh joint Parliament session on July 7, 2016.  His Majesty The King said that the main duty of the 72 parliamentarians is to carry out the sacred responsibilities of representing and serving the people.

His Majesty The King expressed appreciation to the parliamentarians for working to the best of their abilities and without failing to serve the people. His Majesty The King further commended the parliamentarians for performing thorough research and review on the issues they deliberated in Parliament.

During its seventh session, the Assembly passed the Customs Bill of Bhutan, the Civil Aviation Bill of Bhutan 2015 and the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement. In addition, a joint sitting of Parliament also adopted the Jabmi (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan and the Companies Act.

The Assembly in October launched its first annual report. The first annual report for 2015-16 was published coinciding with the joyous Birth of His Royal Highness The Gyalsey, Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck.

During the eighth session, the Members of the National Assembly made a three-day official visit to the Mangdechhu and Tangsibji hydroelectric power projects from December 1 to 3, 2016.

The parliamentarians also visited Trongsa Dzong and the Royal Heritage Museum. Since 2008, entrance fees amounting to Nu 910,000 has been collected from visitors visiting the Royal Heritage Museum and has been deposited in the government’s treasury.

During the visit, the parliamentarians examined the progress of the East-West Highway widening works.

National Council recognises media’s role 

The 18th session of the National Council deliberated five bills and five 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.

While the Assembly didn’t accept some of the Council’s recommendations on the customs Bill, four were endorsed by both Houses. The Council also discussed the BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement (MVA) but voted against its ratification.

Most of the recommendations on the civil aviation Bill were accepted by the Assembly and were submitted to His Majesty The Druk Gyalpo for Royal Assent.

In a significant development, the Council on May 26 called its first press conference and announced that the House would interact with the press twice every session – one in the beginning of the session and another at the end.

This was announced in recognition of the media’s role is democracy. The spokesperson said media play a crucial role in information dissemination.

The Council’s initiative to hold at least two press conferences during a Parliament session is one of the means of strengthening the institution. NC members said it was important for them to interact with the media.

The 17th session of the Council that concluded on June 24, 2016 focused on strengthening itself as an institution that is crucial for the success of Bhutanese democracy.

For the first time during the 17th session, Section 137 of the National Council Act, which states: “If the interpellator is not satisfied with the answer, he may, with the permission of the Chairperson call a debate in the Council, in which the appropriate authority of the government shall participate”, was invoked.

As per the Act, economic affairs minister Lekey Dorji was summoned during a re-deliberation on the issues related to mining in the country. This was part of the process of strengthening the institution of the Council.

The 17th session passed resolutions and recommendations on six subjects, including the annual budget, supplementary budget appropriation bill and the tax reform bill.

The session also resolved that the government urgently establishes an Alternative Dispute Resolution Centre as per the Alternative Dispute Resolution Act 2013. The House also passed a resolution calling upon the government to urgently table the Ownership of Assets and Accounts Abroad by Bhutanese Citizens Bill in the next Parliament.

The two Parliament sessions of the Monkey year concluded successfully with the blessings of the Triple Gem, and the noble guidance of His Majesty The King.

MB Subba