The NC and the opposition have refused to budge from their stand

Agreement: The joint committee of the two houses of Parliament constituted during the sixth session to review the disputed European Investment Bank (EIB) framework agreement and iron out differences has been in deadlock.

Consequently, re-deliberation and vote on the agreement, which was scheduled on May 31, has been deferred to June 27.

The committee has held several rounds of meetings since the conclusion of the last session, but no concrete solution has been found yet.

The National Council (NC) remains convinced on its resolution that the agreement is not in consonance with the country’s external commercial borrowing guidelines and could undermine the country’s sovereignty.

“The disagreement is on the principle (of the agreement) itself,” NC member from Dagana and member of the joint committee, Sonam Dorji, said at a press conference last week. However, he added that the committee still has some time to come up with a solution.

NC Deputy Chairperson and Spokesperson Tshering Dorji said the NC would reciprocate based on the recommendations the committee will draft and present to the joint sitting. “Once the agreement is ratified it will become a law. So, we have to be mindful of its implications,” he said.

The agreement was passed by the National Assembly (NA) during its fifth session, but the NC in its last session forwarded it back to the NA with some recommendations. However, the changes cannot be incorporated as the agreement has been signed.

After works and human settlement minister Dorji Choden presented a revised map of Paro thromde in the joint sitting on Tuesday, Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi took time to express his dissatisfaction on the postponement.

A member of the committee from the NA and Phuentsholing MP, Rinzin Dorji, told Kuensel the postponement was necessary because the opposition MPs and the NC refused to budge from their stand. “They have been raising the same issues although the government has clarified everything,” he said.

The NC and the opposition have demanded copies of similar agreements with other countries for comparison, but the government has not been able to acquire one yet. He said it was difficult for a country to get a copy of such documents from another country and takes time.

“It’s an unreasonable demand. There is a political angle,” Rinzin Dorji said.

The deferment also means that the government at the moment is not confident of the number of MPs on its side. In a joint sitting, a bill can be passed by not less than two-thirds of the total number of members of both houses present and voting.

The issue turned political after the NC raised objections against it. Bhutan’s external debt was one of the main issues in the 2013 general elections, where the current ruling party accused the then government, which is now the opposition, of over-borrowing.

Assuming that all 72 MPs are present and all the ruling MPs support the agreement, the government needs 16 more votes from the opposition and the Council combined to ratify the agreement. The 15-member strong opposition is yet to be satisfied with the government’s assurance and argument for the need to ratify the agreement.

“We are hopeful that we will get the required majority,” Rinzin Dorji said.

Given the fact that the agreement will benefit the opposition as well if they come to power, it would be easier for the government to convince the opposition rather than the NC.

The government on the other hand believes that failure to ratify the agreement would mean missing out on an opportunity. It is of the view that signing the agreement was timely as donor agencies would be phasing out their financial support from the country as the country graduates from a least developed country status.

Rinzin Dorji said Bhutan and Afghanistan are the only two countries that have not ratified the agreement in the SAARC region. He said ratification of the agreement will further strengthen Bhutan’s sovereignity as the EIB signs such agreements with sovereign nations.

Even if there are some reservations on some sections, he said they can be addressed after ratification and before borrowing money for any project. He said the EIB is not a commercial bank but it is a non-profit financial bank.

The agreement is expected to provide Bhutan with additional financing alternatives to support developmental activities.

The framework agreement states that the EIB can enjoy full legal personality in the territory of Bhutan, including in particular the capacity to contract, to acquire and dispose of movable property and to be party to legal proceedings. In particular, the bank will have free access to the national financial market in Bhutan.

The framework agreement also provides that the EIB will enjoy privileges and immunities for the bank’s representatives. For instance, the assets of the Bank shall be exempt from search and all forms of expropriation.

Under the agreement, Bhutan should exempt representatives of the bank, while they are engaged in activities connected with or in implementation of this Agreement, from immigration restrictions and alien registration formalities.

In respect of all matters not specifically contemplated above, representatives of the Bank shall be granted the level of immunities and privileges which is no less favourable than that granted to officials of the most favoured international institution in Bhutan.

The NC’s resolution states that the government must ensure that the operations of the EIB in Bhutan are in line with the relevant laws governing the financial sector. Considering the nascent financial sector and the present macroeconomic and financial sector problems, the NC said opening the entire financial sector to external players could worsen the present problems.

MB Subba