A few days after the National Council wrote to the Prime Minister asking the government to reconsider its decision to replace Zhemgang with Sarpang in the tourism flagship programme, the Leader of Opposition has written to the Speaker to revoke the government’s decision.

The letter, which was signed by the opposition leader and dispatched yesterday, states that the government had taken the decision in spite of the opposition having explained about possible violation of laws and its impact on the budgetary procedures.

“You may kindly recollect that I have taken the floor to express my concern on the issue after learning that the Cabinet was likely to make this change. I also clearly highlighted the possible implications such a move will have on the planning and budgeting procedures besides violation of relevant laws,” the opposition wrote.

He stated that the government has no legitimacy to make any amendment to the Bill once both Houses of parliament passed it and granted assent by the Druk Gyalpo.

“The opposition party is deeply concerned by this unlawful decision of the government in violation of the Budget Appropriation Bill which was passed by the parliament,” he stated.

The National Assembly on June 14 passed the National Budget Report 2019-20, which allocated Nu 11 million each for Zhemgang, Lhuentse, Dagana and Gasa for the tourism flagship programme.

The Budget Appropriation Bill for the 2019-20 was adopted by the National Assembly after incorporating recommendations from the NC.

The opposition leader stated that as the budget was allocated to specific dzongkhags and approved as part of the Budget Appropriation Bill, the government has no authority make changes to the plans and programmes as well as set priorities before being submitted to parliament for approval.

The opposition has drawn the government’s attention to Sections 2 and 3 of Article 14 and questioned the constitutionality of the government’s action.

The opposition also cited Section 8 of Article 20 of the Constitution, which states “The Executive shall not issue any executive order, circular, rule or notification which is inconsistent with or shall have the effect of modifying, varying or superseding any provision of a law made by Parliament or a law in force.”

The opposition also quoted sections 62, 57, 58, 59, 60 and 61 of the Public Finance Act, which deal with revision of budget and appropriations.

Section 62 states, “No budgetary body shall carry out activities for which there is no provision in the budget and appropriation Act or other lawful authority.” This according to the opposition mandates that the government cannot propose activities, which are not there in the budget and appropriation bill and hence is unlawful.

“It is abundantly clear that the government has neither respected the supremacy of the Parliament nor the provisions of the Constitution and the Public Finance Act and has deliberately gone ahead with their decision to alter an approved provision of the Budget Appropriation Bill 2019-20,” the opposition stated.

It added that such a practice would set a very unhealthy precedence whereby the very foundation of the parliamentary procedures and processes and values, principles and spirit of democracy would be shaken.

The opposition spokesperson Dorji Wangdi said that the party had decided to write to the Speaker as it was the most amicable option the opposition had felt.

Opposition members comprising both elected and non-elected had recently met in Thimphu to discuss the issue. “It was decided that this was the most amicable option to resolve the issue,” he said.

However, foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji, who is the chair of the TCB maintained that the government felt that its decision was not unlawful unless it oversteps the total budget.

He said that if the legal arm of the government feels it’s not a right decision and the opposition feels it’s unlawful, the government would keep the implementation of the proposed change pending and put it in the next budget.

He said that although the use of the budget is debated, the change in dzongkhag was not illegal. He said activities in the dzongkhag would continue. 

The foreign minister said the government was open to discussion with the opposition, but that it had not come for discussion. “We appreciate discussion and dialogue,” he said, adding that the opposition should come forward to discuss the matter.

MB Subba