However, the Speaker and the Council chair will discuss the govt’s proposal when it reaches them

The government’s proposal to amend laws in the upcoming winter parliament session as urgent bills so as to empower the parliament to grant fiscal incentives could hit legal hurdles in the parliament.

The Cabinet believes that some provisions of the Customs Act, the Sales Tax and Excise Act and the Income Tax Act that allow the government to grant fiscal incentives have been superseded by the decision of 9th parliament session to treat fiscal incentives as money bill. Based on this, the government proposed these provisions to be amended.

However, opposition MP Ugyen Wangdi said that the proposal to amend would not qualify as urgent bills as there was no urgency to amend them. “It is up to the government to bring the proposals in the parliament. But I think they cannot be treated as urgent bills,” he said.

Ugyen Wangdi said that the amendments could be proposed as ordinary bills. A Member of Parliament requesting anonymity said the proposals do not qualify as urgent bills. “There is no reason to treat them as urgent bills and I am not supportive of them as urgent bills,” he said.

Lawmakers also said that the government’s amendment proposal do not meet the criteria for urgent bills as prescribed in the Legislative Rules of Procedure (LRoP).  According to LRoP, upon fulfillment of the conditions and criteria of an urgent bill, the Speaker of the National Assembly shall declare a bill as “urgent.”

The LRoP states that a bill shall be declared as urgent when it is required to prevent or address threats to the security and sovereignty of the country. RoP explains that the term security used in the LRoP shall cover national political security, economic security and social security.

It also states that an urgent bill may also be declared when the government is required to respond instantly to the effects and impacts of unforeseen natural or manmade calamities.

The proposal shall provide justifications for declaring a bill as urgent, and also clarify the legislative intent, purpose, scope and specific provisions of the concerned bill. An urgent bill must be passed in the same session.

LRoP states that the Speaker shall consult the NC Chairperson on the proposal. Also, the Speaker and the Chairperson shall consult the legislative committees or other relevant committees of the respective Houses to determine the urgency of the proposed legislation.

In a recent press release, the government stated that with the resolution to process fiscal incentives as money bill, the Cabinet decided to review all legal provisions which empowers the government to grant fiscal incentives. “In this connection, the Cabinet had decided to submit the proposal for amending the laws to the upcoming session of the parliament as urgent bills,” it stated.

The chairman of the National Assembly’s legislative committee, Ritu Raj Chhetri, said that the government could bring the amendment proposals either as urgent or ordinary bills. However, he added that it would depend on the Speaker and the consensus of the parliament to whether or not accept them as urgent bills.

“The Speaker will also have to see the parameters based on which he will have to decide whether the proposals qualify as urgent bills,” he said.

Speaker Jigme Zangpo said that both the Houses of Parliament would see whether they qualify as urgent bills once the proposal reaches them. “The National Council Chairperson and I have to discuss,” he said.

He said that he had not received the amendment proposals from the government as of yesterday.

The chairman of NC’s legislative committee, Sangay Khandu, said the House would review whether or not they qualify as urgent bills. “So far we have not received any proposal. There are criteria to be fulfilled for the proposals to qualify as urgent bills,” he said.

Along the amendment proposal, the Cabinet had also requested Speaker Jigme Zangpo to consider seeking the Supreme Court’s interpretation with respect to the issue of fiscal incentives granted prior to May 8, 2017.

However, the Speaker said that the matter is sub-judice since a case over the legality of the fiscal incentives has been registered in the court of law.

MB Subba