Hardly a dull moment

Yearender/Parliament: There was drama, suspense and action at Parliament in June 2014.  In fact, the third session of the second parliament session will be remembered for the heated debate, more than on democracy, on the salary revision.

The pay revision was mainly for civil servants, but the actual raise fell below the 25 percent for the highest raise, while cabinet ministers and the prime minister took the highest amount of revision at 131 and 67 percent respectively.  They were followed by the deputy speaker, the deputy chairperson, constitutional post holders, cabinet secretary and justices of the Supreme Court.

The revision was finally endorsed, but after rigorous debate and thorough confusion.  The prime minister, at one point, even refused to accept any raise.  As discussions heated up,, lyonchhoen declined the 131 percent revision on his salary, and asked for pay equal to that of cabinet ministers.  When members insisted, he accepted Nu 1 over the minister’s salary as a token.

The National Council joined the fray, calling the revision unconstitutional.  They refused the revision. The council recommended deferring the raise for senior public servants, including lyonchhoen, ministers and others, and to raise civil servants pay by 20 percent, after merging the lump sump salary allowance, they were already receiving, to the basic salary.

The National Assembly shot down the recommendation, after which the pay revision was finally endorsed, a decision met with criticism even today.  With the revision came the housing allowance that was also not without issues.  Discrepancies in implementation followed. Housing allowance was not available to those residing in government houses, while matrons and wardens in schools were entitled 50 percent as house rent.

By the end of the summer session, Parliament also lifted the ban on import on vehicle, but with a revised taxation that didn’t deter people from buying new vehicles.

The winter session of Parliament was more pleasant.  Three new bills were introduced in the upper house.  They were the enterprise registration, jabmi and the Office of the Attorney General bills.  The said bills will be up for discussion and endorsement in the upcoming parliamentary session.

In all, the horse year saw 13 bills deliberated on, of which there were new bills, while the rest were continuation of previous sessions. The national council, national assembly, parliamentary entitlement, tenancy, biosafety, local government entitlement , narcotics, drugs, psychotropic substances and substance abuse and tobacco control bills were all endorsed.

In doing so, some of the significant decisions the two houses arrived at were NC as a continuous house, while the 10-year experience requirement for NC members to contest elections was removed.   With the amendment of the Tobacco Act, the quantity on import was increased and penalties slightly reduced.   Creating thromdes in all 20 dzongkhags, followed by another 20 yenlag thromdes were also some of the significant decisions of the two houses.

The proposed changes will, however, have to be endorsed by the other house in the summer session, and receive His Majesty’s assent before becoming a law.

However, the long overdue, Right to Information bill 2014 still remains a disputed bill after both houses refused to accept the other’s recommendations.

Another significant event to the horse year was the visit of the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, who also addressed the summer session of the joint parliament.  During his address, in Hindi, the Indian prime minister also referred to Bhutan as ‘Nepal’, a gaffe that immediately caught the attention of Indian media; the Bhutanese media, on the other hand, perhaps in their role as hosts, turned a deaf ear.

Prime Minister Modi said only a strong and prosperous India could help alleviate the problems that its neighbours faced, while lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay said that, if India prospers, Bhutan should prosper.

By Kinga Dema

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