MB Subba

Iron Female Ox Year-Parliament: Even though Parliament saw relatively less activities due to the pandemic, it passed a number of important Bills in the two session of the past year.

However, Parliament remained indecisive on what was considered one of the most important legislative issues – the Mines and Minerals Bill.

Parliament had spent a significant amount of time and resources to table the Bill. However, the Bill did not come to fruition.

The National Assembly Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel’s decision to defer the Bill indefinitely from the joint sitting in the summer session of 2021 left many members disappointed.

The main disagreement between the two houses of Parliament was on whether or not to allow private participation in the operation of mines.

The National Assembly wanted strategic mines to be operated by the state and non-strategic mines auctioned to the private sector. The National Council wanted mines to be operated by the state.

As the Mines Bill got deferred with no hint of when it would be reintroduced and passed, years of discussions on the Bill had gone in vain. Members, especially of the National Council and the Opposition, expressed disappointment.

The government a few months back told a media house that the Bill will be reintroduced. But Parliament lacks clarity on the procedure to reintroduce a Bill that has been withdrawn or deferred from a joint sitting.

In one of the highlights of the winter session, the prime minister did not present the State of the Nation (STAN) report in a manner it was done in the previous years.

Deviating from the past practice, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering distributed the texts of the report to members but did not read it out in the joint sitting.

The prime minister, drawing from His Majesty’s National Day address pledged accountability in his short statement when introducing the STAN. He said that as the head of the government, the ‘golden yoke’ is upon him to deliver the highest level of accountability and be ready for consequences.

This self-styled reporting of the STAN drew criticisms from various quarters as the Constitution states that the head of the government shall present the STAN highlighting the government’s legislative plans and the annual plans and priorities, once a year.

Although some MPs said the prime minister had violated the Constitution, the Opposition maintained silence on the issue.

In the past year, the Covid-19 pandemic limited MPs activities outside of Parliament such as constituency visits.

One of the significant laws passed was the Customs Act 2021, which reduces the customs duty, an indirect tax levied on third-country imports, to a uniform rate of 10 percent.

The Customs Act covers more than 500 goods including medical equipment, agriculture and education-related products. The customs duty on vehicles, alcohol, tobacco, gold and silver, however, remains unchanged.

Other important Bill passed during the year include the Lhuengye Zhungtshog Bill, which clarifies the executive powers and functions of the Cabinet.

However, the two Houses did not come to an agreement in some of the clauses of the Civil Society Organization Bill, Anti-Corruption Bill, and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. They issues will be deliberated in a joint sitting of the upcoming session.

New faces in Parliament

In the past year, Parliament welcomed three new members.

The ruling party’s Karma Gyeltshen won the Khamdang-Ramjar bye-election in Trashiyangtse in February this year and the current labour minister, Karma Dorji, won the Nganglam bye-election in Pemagatshel in June last year.

Karma Lhamo from the ruling party also won the Mongar bye-election last year. 

The Opposition was reduced to 14 MPs.

The past year did not see controversial remarks by individual MPs. Members said that the past year was successful for Parliament.