The first session of the third National Assembly, which will begin on January 2, will see deliberations on the Air Service Agreement between Bhutan and the United Arab Emirates, and the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

The main highlights of the session, however, will be 12th Five-Year Plan and the annual budget 2018-19 as the government is expected to roll out some of its election pledges as part of its fiscal programmes. The government has said it has incorporated its election pledges in the 12th Plan, a draft of which has been approved by the Cabinet.

The six-month interim budget passed by the 11th parliament session to ensure economic stability and maintain continuity will expire on December 31. This raises the urgency to table a new budget.

The preceding Parliament had passed the interim budget assuming that the session would be held in November as soon as the new government assumes office.

The agenda was finalised in a plenary held on December 13. Chaired by Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel, the meeting also discussed 16 petitions from local governments, 14 of which have been referred to relevant ministries while two would be tabled for discussion during the session.

Deputy Chairman of the Legislative Committee, Kuenga Loday, said one of the issues comes from the Zhemgang Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT), which according to him pertains to Chamkharchu hydroelectric project. He said the Zhemgang DT has asked if the government would start the project.

The other issue, he said, came from the Wangdue DT, which wants the services related to timber to be taken to the gewog level. He said the House is expected to deliberate on the use of national resources as a broad issue.

“We have no new Bills up for discussion in the first session as of now,” Kuenga Loday said.

The session will also deliberate the Annual Audit Report (AAR), 2017 and the Public Accounts Committee’s review report of Annual Audit Report 2010-16.

The Royal Audit Authority on December 7 presented the AAR 2017, which highlights unresolved irregularities amounting to Nu 407 million (M) as on March 31 this year, to members of the National Assembly. The report states that compared to the irregularities of Nu 588.78M reported in the AAR 2016, the irregularities decreased by 30.86 percent last year.

The Air Service Agreement between Bhutan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was signed in February last year and is awaiting ratification. The agreement, which establishes a legal framework for Bhutanese airlines to operate to the UAE, is expected to benefit Bhutanese airlines and travellers alike.

The new air route is also expected to cater to flight demand of passengers travelling from Europe to Bhutan and also for Bhutanese working in the Gulf region. The government estimates that the number of Bhutanese youth travelling to Gulf countries for employment would increase.

The Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was done in October 2016. The aim of the amendment was to incorporate hydrofluorocarbons – powerful greenhouse gases used mainly in refrigeration and air conditioning – into the Montreal Protocol.

MB Subba