Speaker says he cannot allow the govt. to withdraw the agreement 

After the government announced that it was withdrawn, the controversial motor vehicle agreement involving Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) is back on the agenda for deliberation in the upcoming Parliament session.

Preempting that the agreement is likely to be trashed in the joint sitting of the parliament given the lack of support for it, the government had informed the plenary session on April 21 that it had decided to withdraw the agreement for deliberation. The plenary session was held to discuss the agenda for the National Assembly.

However, the legislative rules of procedure do not allow withdrawal of a disputed bill that has received royal assent for deliberations. The government had also written to the Speaker about its intention to withdraw the agreement.

“The government has requested for withdrawal of the agreement but the Parliament has its own rules of procedure to follow,” Speaker Jigme Zangpo said. “I can’t allow the government to withdraw the agreement at this moment when it is in the Parliament’s domain.”

Asked whether the government had withdrawn the agreement Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said: “Technically, legislative procedure has to be followed.”

Some members of Parliament also pointed out that the withdrawal violates the Constitution.  Article 13 Section 8 states: “Where the House in which the Bill originated refuses to incorporate such amendments or objections of the other House, it shall submit the Bill to the Druk Gyalpo, who shall then command the Houses to deliberate and vote on the Bill in a joint sitting.” 

A joint parliament committee comprising 12 members – five from the Council, four from the ruling party and three from the opposition – was formed to iron out differences on the agreement among the Opposition, the Council and the government.

The Speaker said that the committee chairperson in a joint sitting must present a report on the disputed bill and propose recommendations. The BBIN agreement will become a dead bill if the joint sitting votes against its ratification.

However, he added: “The joint committee’s report will be submitted only by the committee chairman and a motion for withdrawal can be moved if no consensus is reached at the joint committee level.”

He cited the deferment of the European Investment Bank (EIB) framework agreement as the precedent. The EIB agreement, which the National Assembly had passed but was rejected by the Council, was “deferred” for deliberation in a joint sitting in July 2016.

However, opposition MP Ugyen Wangdi, one of the members in the joint committee said a disputed bill as per legislative procedure must be put to vote once it reaches the joint committee. “It was wise on the government’s part to withdraw the agreement,” he said. “As per the rules of procedure, the bill cannot be withdrawn but must be put to vote.”

The government decided to withdraw the agreement after it failed to take into confidence the Council and the opposition. The Council last year voted against ratifying the agreement.

Council’s spokesperson and deputy chairperson Tshering Dorji said the government’s decision to withdraw the agreement was shocking for the Council members. “It’s too late to withdraw the agreement and the whole parliamentary procedure must be completed,” he said.

He said negotiations are being held and that the Council was open to discussions about its reservations. “But the government can’t withdraw it now just like that,” he said.

Speaker Jigme Zangpo said the government had decided to withdraw the agreement as no consensus was reached. “Council members refused to meet with the prime minister, saying that the issue was already with the joint committee,” he said.

The joint committee had met twice before the plenary session to discuss the agreement but the meetings were inconclusive, the Speaker said. “We have received His Majesty’s assent to deliberate the agreement in the upcoming session,” he said.

Chairman of the joint committee, Ritu Raj Chhetri, said the committee would meet soon to discuss the issue. “The government needs 48 votes to pass the agreement and a failure to secure two-thirds majority will be an embarrassment to the government,” he said.

MB Subba