The National Assembly’s House Committee has been reinstated and will be reconstituted by the second week of August. However, issues that have plagued the committee, which led to the dissolution of the apex committee, remain.
One of the issues facing the secretariat is about the request by North Thimphu MP, Tshering, for a full vehicle quota. The secretariat has offered the quota in proportion to the number of years he will be in office.
He was elected through a bye-election in November 2016 following the resignation of Kinga Tshering.
According to the MPs’ Entitlement Act 2014, besides a lump sum amount for purchase of a vehicle, every MP will be provided exemption of customs duty and sales tax on purchase of a vehicle not exceeding 3000 cc. When a new MP comes through a bye-election, he or she shall be entitled to a one-time lump sum amount computed on pro-rata basis for the remaining term.
However, the law is not clear on whether or not the quota (waiver of customs duty and sales tax) should be granted in the way the lump sum is calculated.
MP Tshering said that he received Nu 350,000 early this year on a pro-rata basis but refused to take the quota. He said that he should be provided the quota in full since the three eminent members of the National Council – Kezang Chuki Dorjee, Karma Tshering and Phuntsho Rapten – who took office in December 2015, received their vehicle quota in full.
“I have requested for my quota in full like the three eminent members of the National Council,” he said.
The Assembly’s Secretary General, Sangay Duba, said the secretariat decided to provide the quota on a pro-rate basis as per the recommendation of the Office of Attorney General (OAG). “We sought the opinion of OAG, which said that we could provide the quota proportionate to the duration of the term,” Sangay Duba said.
The Secretary General said that while he has no comment on how the National Council allocated the quota to its eminent members, the Assembly had to go by its own rules.
MP Tshering, however, said that the entitlement Act applies to MPs of both Houses and that all should be given equal treatment. He said that although the entitlement Act is not clear on the vehicle quota, the National Council had set the precedent.
Secretary General Sangay Duba said the secretariat has submitted the North Thimphu MP’s grievances to the Ministry of Finance. The Secretariat is awaiting the ministry’s response on the issue.
The 71st meeting of the house committee held on July 14 identified three major issues that the secretariat has failed to address in time.
The request for individual office spaces for MPs and a proper parking lot has not been resolved. MPs are also unhappy about the secretariat’s failure to provide security personnel at their office. The committee felt that it has little or no say on nomination of members for conferences abroad.
The committee members agreed that the issues remain although the secretariat was informed about these issues several times. The secretariat was informed about the issues both through letters and the committee’s minutes of the meetings.
As per the Rules of Procedure (RoP), the house committee nominates members for both in-country and out-country travels. However, the committee feels that the task of nominating members most of the time comes to the committee with “specific instructions.”
The Secretary General said that while he had no power to nominate members for trainings, the Speaker could nominate some members of his choice depending on the relevance of the event. According to the RoP, the Speaker nominates members for travels on recommendation of the house committee.
“The Speaker has delegated almost 100 percent of the power to nominate members for travel to the house committee,” he said.
One of the committee members, who requested anonymity, said that the committee hopes that the secretariat would address their issues.
He also explained that the members’ decision to dissolve the house committee was not illegal. He said that he felt that the Speaker’s recent notification, which stated that the committee had violated the laws, was the Speaker’s “personal opinion”.
The committee feels let down by the secretariat despite its desire to work for the improvement of the Assembly. This was the reason why the members felt it was irrelevant for them to stay in the committee.
According to members, one of the foremost objectives of the secretariat is to strengthen both the institutional and professional capacity of its secretariat staff to provide efficient and effective support to the Members of Parliament in discharge of their duties.
To improve the security inspection system in the Assembly building, the secretariat has supported the procurement of a set of handheld X-Ray scanner machines and fire- fighting equipment with accessories worth Nu1.694 million. However, the MPs claim that security should be provided at the MP’s office as well.
In the financial year 2015-16, 58 Assembly members travelled for ex-country workshops and conferences in 15 countries. On an average, 31 members travelled around two times each in that financial year.