Threatens to sue government for violating the Constitution

Stating that it is ready to sue the government, the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) has called on Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay and Finance Minister Namgay Dorji to resign over what the party calls violation of the Constitution.

DNT said that in the greater interest of the nation and for the future of the young democracy, the government must refrain from setting a wrong precedence by playing with the Constitution.

“The Constitution is the mother of all laws, a sacred gift from the throne and we stand firm in our defense of the Constitution, and if necessary, we are prepared to take the government to court,” said the party in a press release issued on June 16.

DNT President Dr Tandi Dorji said that his party will closely watch things unfold and that the party would sue the government if the party is not satisfied with the government’s corrective measures.

“If necessary, we will take the government to court to ensure that the Constitutional is followed,” he said. “We are 100 percent sure that the government has knowingly violated the Constitution. It’s a serious matter.”

He added that the government imposed the fiscal incentives without the Parliament’s endorsement. When the fiscal incentives granted to the private sector by the former government expired in December 2015, the current government gave continuity to the same from January 1, 2016 without the Parliament’s approval.

Should private businesses refund the tax waivers they received?

“It’s not the private sector’s fault. It’s the government’s fault,” said Dr Tandi Dorji.

The private sector may need to refund to the state’s exchequer if the past precedence is to be followed. Following a landmark Supreme Court verdict of 2011, the government had to refund the excess taxes that were collected as a result of an increase in vehicle taxes that were imposed without Parliament’s approval.

Finance Minister Namgay Dorji said that he takes DNT’s views positively and that such debates were good for democracy.

“But the government has its own stand and policies and we need to move forward,” he said.

Opposition MP Ugyen Wangdi said that there is no issue pending as far as the Fiscal Incentives 2017 is concerned. However, he added that if the tax waivers granted from January 1, 2016 to May 7, 2017 were not refunded, issues would remain.

The Fiscal Incentives 2017 will come into effective retrospectively from May 8, 2017.

The issue came to light during the recent deliberation on Fiscal Incentives 2016, which the government had introduced as a report in the National Assembly.

The Opposition was quick to point out that the fiscal incentives must be presented and passed as a money Bill. Subsequently, the Assembly accepted the Opposition’s argument and decided that the fiscal incentives will be effective from the date it was presented to the House.

DNT cited Article 14.1 of the Constitution, which states: “Taxes, fees and other forms of levies shall not be imposed or altered except by law.”

“The Prime Minister and the Finance Minister should take moral responsibility and step down to prove their allegiance to the Constitution and to the Tsawa-Sum,” said DNT.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, the DNT said, would be remembered as a “double standard politician”, who defended the Constitution as an Opposition Leader and then abusing the same as a Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister, as the Opposition Leader in 2010, sued the former government for increasing tax without Parliament’s approval and won the case. He then called for the resignation of Finance Minister Norbu Wangdi over the tax issue in 2010.

The Supreme Court ruled that the former government’s imposition of taxation measures was unconstitutional and ordered the government to refund all the tax amounts raised resulting from the revision of the taxes.

“What humiliated the nation is that the Prime Minister is the same politician, who as the Opposition Leader back then took the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa government to court on its failure to seek parliamentary approval before imposing vehicle tax,” said DNT’s press release.

The DNT stated that the Supreme Court had made it clear that any revision of taxes must be passed through the Parliament as a law.

“The present government’s intentional failure to apply this to its fiscal incentive policy contravenes the very law that it chose to defend against DPT,” it said.

The press release read further: “We are, therefore, appalled at the serious breach and the grave intent behind continuing to justify this violation. Furthermore, we are astonished at why interpretation is being sought and sacred institutions dragged-in, when the case is clearly a breach of the Constitution.”

Although the Assembly has resolved that fiscal incentives are a money Bill, the government has defended its decision saying that it’s the Cabinet’s prerogative to grant fiscal incentives.

The DNT accused the government of choosing to defend and violate the Constitution to “suit narrow political interests”, which the party described as “egocentric and dangerous”.

“This selective Tha Damtsi to the Constitution is very serious, and when done by the Prime Minister himself, is unacceptable and has brought a national shame to Bhutan’s tryst with democracy,” said the press release.

However, if the issue is followed up seriously even the Opposition is likely to be implicated. The fiscal incentives granted in 2010 by the previous government also formed a part of the first Constitutional case between the government and the Opposition.

The verdict, which came in 2011, ruled that although the fiscal incentives were implemented without Parliament’s endorsement, it should be treated as a one-time incident and that there after the government should pass all fiscal incentives through the Parliament.

However, despite the ruling, the former government, now in the Opposition, granted fiscal incentives to the private sector in 2013 without the Parliament’s approval.

The government has remained firm that the former government, which also granted fiscal incentives without Parliament’s approval, has set that precedence.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said the government will respond this week.

MB Subba