Misgivings about legitimacy of govt. decision have not been adequately allayed

NC: The National Council still sticks to its earlier stand that the establishment of the Business Opportunity and Information Centre (BOiC) contravenes the existing laws.

During the 14th session last December, the council had recommended the government to urgently take measures to legitimise BOiC and Agency for Promotion of Indigenous Crafts (APIC) so that such agencies are established only after authorisation by Parliament in future.  Besides, the council had also recommended the government to ensure that its public policy decisions are backed by an Act.

Presenting the follow up report on the resolutions yesterday, council’s special committee chairman, Haa’s council member Tshering Dorji, said they were informed that the government sought legal opinion from the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).  Upon receiving the legal opinion, if a bill were required, the government would draft a bill and submit to Parliament.

The council questioned the prime minister on the legality of BOiC last June, during a question hour session.  The prime minister then responded that, if BOiC was illegal, he was ready to shut it down; but in defence he referred to the creation of APIC, Royal Education Council and Royal University of Bhutan under an executive order during the previous government’s tenure.

The prime minister had also asked the council to justify how the government had breached existing legislations in establishing BOiC.

Tshering Dorji said, as per the executive order, BOiC was supposed to function under the economic affairs ministry, but it was an autonomous agency with the mandate of a financial institution. “BOiC has been established breaching several laws,” he said. “This would set a precedence with every new government creating a new institution to create jobs for its supporters.”

Council members said the Constitution and the civil service Act mandated Parliament’s approval to de-link any component from the civil service, and that government’s authority was limited to create or abolish divisions and departments under the ministries.  They said creation of a new institution outside the civil service naturally required Parliament’s approval, since the same was required to separate an agency from the civil service.

As BOiC provides funds and loans to people, members said it has to obtain a license and that eligibility and interest rates should be dictated by the monetary policy of the central bank, not the government.  The centre should be governed by the financial service Act.

Eminent member, Dasho Karma Yezer Raydi, said it had been almost a year since they haven’t heard of the OAG’s opinion on BoiC’s establishment from the government. “If it was a case, it would take time, having to collect evidences and gather witnesses, but a legal opinion shouldn’t take this long,” he said. “It looks like the government doesn’t take our recommendations seriously.”

Dasho Karma Yezer Raydi also said that they heard that the government was planning to set up another agency like BOiC. “While we wait to hear from the government, if more agencies are created without following due process of law, it is futile discussing the issues,” he said.

Besides the legality issues, Punakha’s council member, Rinzin Dorji, said it needed to be studied how BOiC had effectively fulfilled its mandate.  He said when councillors visited their dzongkhags, a common complaint was on the formalities involved in availing loan from BOiC and their applications getting rejected. “We need to find out how many people have actually benefited and how many didn’t,” he said.

However, Trongsa’s council member Tharchen, like in the past sessions, implied that the establishment of BOiC was not illegal, as it was part of the government’s economic stimulus plan (ESP) in the budget that the National Council endorsed. “It is legal,” he said.

In response, Council’s chairperson Dasho Sonam Kinga reminded that the council only reviews the budget and appropriation bill. “Merely passing the budget and appropriation bill doesn’t make the establishment of BOiC legal,” Dasho Sonam Kinga said.

BOiC was established following an executive order the government issued in December 2013 to implement Nu 1.9B of the ESP, by providing concessional loans to entrepreneurs to create employment, generate exports and substitute imports.

The council resolved that the special committee would meet with the concerned members to work on the recommendations provided and present a report on May 28 for final deliberation.

By Kinga Dema