Even though it is the third Parliament, there are confusion and lack of clarity on what construes a Money Bill and a Financial Bill.
For instance, the National Assembly on June 27 passed the Goods and Services (GST) Bill amid confusion about whether it is a Money Bill or a Financial Bill.
Finance Minister Namgay Tshering said that there was not much difference between the two.
However, the issue is that if a Bill is passed as a Money Bill, it has to be implemented retrospectively from the date it was introduced in the National Assembly, according to the Public Finance Act. The GST Bill, according to the National Assembly’s decision, will be implemented whenever the GST software is ready.
Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi said the issue arose because of the Speaker’s decision to introduce it as a Money Bill.
He said that it should have been introduced as a Financial Bill to avoid the legal issues and set a precedent.
Dorji Wangdi said a Financial Bill and a Money Bill have similar but different components.
He said that while a Money Bill would prescribe specific dates for implementation and withdrawal of the Bill, the implementation period of a Financial Bill could be indefinite.
He said that the annual budget and Fiscal Incentives Bills could be treated as Money Bills. “Such Bills have specific deadlines for implementation.”
According to the opposition leader, the GST Bill, however, would be implemented until it is amended by Parliament.
He added that Bills dealing with Corporate Income Tax and Personal Income Tax, which are also implemented until they are amended, could be treated as Financial Bills.
Some officials said that the Public Finance Act lacked clarity when it came to the differences between the two Bills.
According to the Public Finance Act, Money or Financial Bill is a Bill that contains only provisions dealing with all or any of the following matters imposition or increase of any tax or abolition, reduction or remission of any existing tax and government spending, appropriation (of budget) or payment of money out of the consolidated fund.
However, Article 13(2) of the Constitution differentiates Money Bill and a Financial Bill.
The chairman of the Constitution drafting committee, Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, in his book “The Constitution of Bhutan – principles and Philosophies” explains that a Bill is considered a Money Bill if it contains provisions dealing with the imposition of, abolition, remission, alteration or regulation of tax.
The book also states a Money Bill also deals with the regulation of money borrowed or any guarantee given by the government and the custody and the payment of money into or the appropriation of money from the consolidated fund.
According to the book, Financial Bills are those Bills relating to the revenue or expenditure of the government. “Not all Financial Bills are Money Bills, but a Financial Bill is considered to be a Money Bill when it contains matters specified for a Money Bill.”
However, Athang-Thedtsho MP Kinley Wangchuk said that a Financial Bill and a Money Bill were similar and that different countries interpreted them in their own contexts.
Financial Bill deals with all provisions of revenue and expenditures. “Our definition of Financial Bill and Money Bill should be in line with the Public Finance Act.”
However, the opposition leader said that a Financial Bill, unlike Money Bill, need not be an urgent Bill. “Money Bills, including annual budgets are sealed in a suitcase until they are introduced in Parliament, which is not the case with Financial Bills.”
The Public Finance Act also states that if any question arises whether a bill is a Money Bill or not, the decision of the Speaker thereon shall be final.
The National Council had recommended the National Assembly to withdraw the GST Bill due to the legal issues surrounding the Bill.
Bartsham-Shongphu MP Passang Dorji (PhD) said that passing the Bill without an implementation date would be in violation of the Public Finance Act.
He said that it would be a threat to the rule of law and legislative norms to pass the Bill. He expressed his support for the NC’s recommendation to withdraw the Bill.
The GST Bill is the only Bill that has been amended twice even before its implementation.