National Council to have an extraordinary session 

MB Subba 

Parliament will resume on June 1 after more than a two-month break to pass the annual budget for the fiscal year 2020-21 and the supplementary budget of the ongoing fiscal year.

It will be the continuation of the winter session for the National Assembly.

For the National Council, however, it will be a new session as it has closed its winter session.

The session will not consider any other Bills besides the budget Bill, according to National Assembly officials. Earlier, the National Assembly had asked the government not to submit any Bills besides the budget.

Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that the session was expected to conclude on June 17.

“This will be the continuation of the winter session called to pass the budget, not a new session,” he said.

This will be the longest sitting for the National Assembly but the shortest one for National Council. The House of review will have three sessions for the year.

The brief session is necessary to pass the budget as the ongoing fiscal year expires on June 30.

Director of National Assembly, Duba, said that there would be no joint session and that members of the two Houses will assemble only for the closing ceremony.

The winter session was scheduled to close on March 6. But the closing ceremony was postponed after the detection of the first Covid-19 case on the day.

“The present situation is like an adjournment as the session is not closed. The same session will pass the annual budget for the new fiscal year,” he said.

Deputy Chairperson of National Council, Jigme Wangchuk, said that the House would review the annual budget and the supplementary budget. “This will be an extraordinary session for National Council,” he said.

The Constitution mandates at least two sessions in a year. The next session, Duba said, could be held sometime in September or October.

According to him, the prime minister is expected to present his Annual Report on the state of the nation, including legislative plans and the annual plans and priorities of the government, in the next session as no joint session is planned.

The state of the nation report is normally presented in the summer session. Last year, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering had presented the report in June.

The National Assembly secretariat is looking at the sitting arrangements in the House by keeping a chair empty between two members due to social distancing rules.

According to Duba, there are 101 seats in the National Assembly hall and leaving a chair each empty after every member means that the present capacity will accommodate 52 members.

The secretariat is looking at accommodating members for the closing ceremony.

The two Houses constitute 72 members, but given that the Speaker’s seat is not on the floor and one of the eminent member’s post is vacant, the hall must accommodate seats for additional 18 members.

“There will be social distancing in the House. There will no public invited for this session,” Duba said.

Officials said both the Houses of Parliament have enough space to hold sessions as per the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, according to which a distance of one metre should be maintained between two persons to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The secretariat has called a plenary for May 29 where the agenda will be discussed and endorsed.

MPs have not taken any constituency visits to divert the TA/DA budgets to the Covid-19 fund and because of the social distancing rules.

According to the parliamentary rules, a member should visit his or her constituency at least once after every session.

Parliament committees, except for the joint committee on Covid-19 preparedness, have not met.