“Safety first, all others second”

MB Subba

The novel coronavirus or Covid-19 is on the agenda of parliamentarians, informally or voluntarily.

While members of Parliament should be in their constituencies after the conclusion of every session to discuss the issues faced by the people and to inform them about the government’s plans and activities, MPs are preoccupied with the novel coronavirus issues as the Parliament has put safety first.

Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that the formation of a joint parliamentary committee on Covid-19 preparedness and response was one of the major initiatives. The committee, which comprises seven members, three from National Council (NC) and four from National Assembly (NA) advises and supports the government.

To connect with the constituents, MPs are making best use of social media platforms. “There are no constituency visits. I and other members are using social media like WhatsApp and WeChat to convey information and strategy about Covid-19 and other issues,” he said.

Most of the MPs are Desuups and are volunteering in various places, including at quarantine centres.

The Speaker and the NC Chairperson are among the few MPs who are going to office. “As there is no contact, I come to office and clear papers and other works,” the Speaker said.

NC Deputy Chairperson Jigme Wangchuk said that members would visit their constituencies on their own expenses if some urgency arises. He added that a member would not call a public meeting even if he or she visits his constituency.

Besides one month’s salary, Parliamentarians earlier decided to contribute members’ travel budget to the Covid-19 response fund.

According to the Deputy Chairperson, about 95 percent of the NC members are Desuups, and most them are on quarantine duty. He said members were passing information from the health ministry to local leaders, who then relay them to the people.

Athang Thedtsho MP Kinley Wangchuk is perhaps the only one who is currently quarantined on his return from India, while his colleagues are on voluntary duty.

He said that he was managing a total of 27 groups exclusively for his constituency. His WeChat groups include that with gups and “gups and tshogpas” of all eight gewogs of his constituency and residents of Bajo town.

“I treat these groups as formal working groups. Then I have eight general groups. I clarify doubts, suspicions and disseminate correct information on Covid-19,” Kinley Wangchuk said

The constituency, he said, also have appointed a religious person to take care of the spiritual matter as a measure to boost psychological immunity.

The joint parliamentary committee is working full time on Covid-19 while some of them are squeezing some time for Desuung as well. The committee met 16 times as of yesterday and came up with numerous recommendations.

When it came to connecting with the constituents, chairperson of the joint parliamentary committee, Dorji Wangdi, said, “I’m in constant dialogue with my dzongkhag, drungkhag and gewog officials as well as constituents over various Covid-19 measures.”

He said that he was advising people on various issues including food and agriculture matters through social networks groups.

Dewathang Gomdar MP Ugyen Dorji also has a constituency WeChat group, through which he keeps the constituents abreast of the latest issues and Covid-19 situations.

“Sometimes, I call the local leaders. And they call me if they want to clarify on certain matters,” he said.

For the last one month, he said he has been sharing information on the Covid-19 situation, which involved demystifying mysteries surrounding this pandemic.

Some members said that some people were not welcoming of their MPs’ visit during the pandemic. Some villages are reportedly concerned about people from towns bringing the virus to their villages.

The summer session, which passes annual budgets, commence by May during normal times and there are concerns about the Covid-19 affecting preparations for the upcoming session. But the winter session itself has not been closed.

Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that he was analysing the situation and how to go about the summer session.

He added that parliament committees were expected to use social media as each committee had their own social media groups. He also said that videoconferences could be explored.

On the upcoming session, Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said that members were totally preoccupied with Covid-19 issues. “Safety first, all others second,” he said.