Assembly: The National Assembly yesterday couldn’t come to a consensus on whether supplementary budgets should be treated as separate money bills.

If so, they should be voted and approved separately, not together with the annual budget.

While the MPs of the opposition argued that they must be treated as separate bills, the government maintained that the two are one money bill.

When the Assembly on June 13 passed the annual budget 2016-17, the Supplementary Budget Appropriation Bill for the financial year 2015-16 was also assumed to have been passed. The National Council (NC) accordingly reviewed both the bills and returned them to the Assembly.

However, during the re-deliberation on the Council’s recommendations on the annual budget on Wednesday, opposition MPs said Parliament should pass it separately again as per the Public Finance Act. The Supplementary Budget Appropriation Bill, to the tune of Nu 3.4 billion, is a separate booklet.

Following the opposition’s proposal, the house had asked the finance committee to study the issue and come up with recommendations.

The committee yesterday emerged with the view that there was no need for Parliament to approve the supplementary budget as a separate bill, and that it is clubbed with the annual budget.

In case the house felt that some changes in the procedure for passing budgets were required, the committee recommended that they could be incorporated in future budgets.

The committee’s chairman Karma Tenzin said the Public Finance Act only states that the supplementary budget should be passed by Parliament. “Those with dissenting views should have voiced their concerns earlier during the budget presentation by the finance minister,” he said.

The government eventually prevailed when the Deputy Speaker Chimi Dorji, who presided over the session, put the issue to vote. Only 14 MPs voted in favour of the opposition’s proposal, while 25 voted against and one abstained.

The resolution, hence, was that the two budgets are one bill and that the supplementary budget is deemed to have been passed.

Lamgong-Wangchang MP Khandu Wangchuk said it was necessary to streamline the procedure by voting the supplementary bill separately. “We are not for blocking the budget, but for streamlining the procedure,” he said.

Drametse-Ngatshang MP Ugyen Wangdi said they had earlier voted only for the annual budget, and not for the supplementary budget. Khar-Yurung MP Zanglay Dukpa said that the Speaker had announced that the vote was for both the bills only after the voting result was announced.

In his effort to validate the opposition’s argument, Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi cited Section 57 of the public finance Act, which states that any supplementary budgets beyond the total approved amount can only be approved by Parliament. It also states that the finance minister should submit these to Parliament as a “supplementary budget appropriation bill”.

He also cited section 56 of the Act, which states, “The Minister of Finance may present to Parliament Supplementary Budget Appropriation Bills, outlining changes in appropriations and resource estimates with full justifications for the revisions.”

However, the opposition’s proposal was not without a problem, as it would have created confusion in the Council as well. If the Assembly is to pass the budget again, it will have to go back to the Council.

Foreign minister Damcho Dorji said: “If we pass the supplementary budget again, we will have to send it back to the NC again. That will aggravate the problems,” he said.

MB Subba