The plan charts out objectives and activities to be implemented to achieve the National Council’s vision

NC: Human resource shortage that plagued the National Council (NC) for the past seven years could ease with the launch of the house’s strategic development plan 2015-2019 yesterday.

Against a requirement of seven legal and research officers each, the NC today has only two legal and three research officers.

NC secretary general Tshewang Norbu said the secretariat has been struggling to meet secretarial services support needs of the members and committees in absence of adequate staff.

“Whenever there was a need for extensive research, we outsourced them and that’s how we’ve been able to cope up,” he said. Research works were outsourced to institutions such as the Royal University of Bhutan, Royal Society for Protection of Nature, and others, the general secretary said.

“Besides the legislative mandate, the house needs to review policies and plans which need adequate research support,” Tshewang Norbu. “We’ve been trying to impress on the Royal Civil Service Commission to provide us a legal, research and committee secretary each for the seven standing committees.”

The amended National Council Act 2014 states “to enable the Committees to discharge their functions efficiently and effectively, each committee shall be provided with a committee Secretary, a Legal Assistant and a Draftsperson with adequate equipment and befitting office space.”

The plan identifies five strategic objectives and a host of activities to be implemented to achieve the National Council’s vision. The plan includes building institutional capacity of the secretariat; strengthening the legislative capacity and processes; improving the oversight and review functions; developing the representational and outreach capacity; and strengthening the National Council’s non-partisan character.

Lack of funds has prevented the house from having a fitting office space. The house has acquired four acres of land next to the National Assembly building, but lack of funding has stalled the building plan.

“Although the building construction is listed in the 11th Plan, there is no budget; so we have asked for a bigger structure to house the Council,” he said.

NC would also discuss with finance ministry for financial autonomy within 2016 and implement the amended Council Act 2014.

“The plan was developed based on experiences and challenges faced in the past seven years and is expected to help the National Council grow as an organisation,” the secretary general said.

The secretary general said should an NC member introduce a bill, the secretariat will have difficulty in drafting one.

“We are confident that the government and development partners will continue to support the House in the effort to strengthening its institutional and professional capacity,” he said.

NC also launched the virtual zomdu facility yesterday. In the inaugural session, NC chairperson Dasho (Dr) Sonam Kinga discussed issues and progress of works in various gewogs in Trashigang.

Dasho Sonam Kinga said that conversation or dialogue at the local and national levels are key constituents of democracy. He said there is no substitute for face-to-face conversation.

“Rather than being a substitute for the face-to-face interaction, virtual zomdu will and must compliment and reinforce the level of interaction that we have,” the chairperson said.

He said the facility should not be a reason for the NC members or civil servants to go out to meet the people.

The UNDP Bhutan funded facility would use community centres in 186 locations across the country with 136 connected to a fibre optic network.

Utilising the existing infrastructure, videoconferencing facilities have now been installed in the two houses of parliament, 20 dzongkhags and 41 community centres.

Besides substantial saving in cost and time relative to physical travel, the facility would facilitate more engagement between parliamentarians and constituents or vice versa promoting citizen participation.

Tshering Palden