Tshering Palden

National Council may not have any powers on approving money Bills but its recommendation on the Supplementary Budget Appropriation for FY 2019-2020 split the National Assembly yesterday, almost forcing it to revert a decision it took a fortnight ago.

On February 11, National Assembly (NA) adopted the Bill with 44 Yes and 1 Abstain out of 45 members present and voting. Yesterday, almost close to half the members present supported overturning its decision on the supplementary appropriation for the NA’s Parliamentary Committees and Secretariat Services. 

The National Assembly re-deliberated on the amendment recommendations received from the National Council on the Bill. The House supported all of NA’s recommendations on the Bill except the recommendation to provide Nu 5 million (M) as supplementary appropriation for the NA.

The National Council recommended repealing the supplementary appropriation for the parliamentary committees and secretariat services citing procedural lapse and conflict of interest.

“As per existing procedures, supplementary budget is proposed by an agency to the Ministry of Finance which presents it to the Parliament. Most agencies of the government have a budgetary shortage, however, supplementary budget is never granted directly by the Parliament without routing through the finance ministry, the NC stated.

“There is a direct conflict of interest when an approving body such as a house of Parliament also proposes such supplementary budget by circumventing the established procedures,” the NC wrote to NA.

Finance Minister Namgay Tshering, who presented the NC’s recommendations, asked the House to drop the provision.

He said that the provision would contravene section 58 of the Public Finance Act 2011.

“There is no denying the need for the budget but it is about if this is the way to approve it,” he said, adding that local governments and other institutions too need a supplementary budget but have to follow due process. “How can we make this exception for the House?”

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji and a few other MPs supported the minister’s argument in support of the NC’s recommendation.

Lyonchhen said that many heads of institutions turn up at the finance ministry and the Prime Minister’s offices asking for more budget.

The ministers said sometimes referral of patients is delayed for months due to lack of budget. “If we allow a supplementary budget to be approved this way, then it would create a questionable venue for them to approve their budgets,” Lyonchhen said.

Members opposing the recommendation said that not approving the budget would greatly curtail the efficiency and professionalism of the NA.

The NA secretariat prevented research officers from travelling on official tours owing to lack of budget. Members said the summer session is a longer session with more Bills to deliberate there was a lot of leg work to do which needs budget.

Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said that the budget was initially proposed but dropped with the understanding that it could be appropriated later.

“Of the Nu 12M required, considering the budget constraints that the country is facing, the committee had proposed only Nu 5M,” he said.

The Speaker intervened to rule out any conflict of interest on the part of NA in approving the budget. He called for a vote on the provision and more than half the members present were against NC’s recommendation.

“This has sadly set a wrong precedent,” Lyonchhen said. “It is an ambush by the NA.”

The House adopted the Bill for the Financial Year 2019-2020 for a sum not exceeding Nu 903.277M with 29 Yes, two No and five Abstain out of 36 Members present and voting. The revised budget with supplementary appropriation is estimated at Nu 65.730 billion.

The Assembly also passed the Pay Revision (Amendment) Bill 2019.