His Majesty The King graced the opening ceremony of the ninth session of the second Parliament which started yesterday.

On behalf of members of the Parliament, Speaker Jigme Zangpo welcomed His Majesty The King and members of the Royal Family, representatives of the Central Monastic Body, senior government officials and representatives of the international community.

He said the joint sitting will deliberate five disputed clauses of the Customs Bill and 15 objections against the controversial Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) motor vehicle agreement. The BBIN agreement was designed to facilitate seamless cross-border movement of passenger, personnel and cargo vehicles in the member countries.

National Council (NC) last year passed a 15-point resolution objecting the BBIN agreement, which NC says merits urgent intervention and clarification from the government for NC to support it.

NC’s spokesperson and deputy chairperson, Tshering Dorji, has said that the house is willing to listen to the government’s clarifications. “We are a house with an open mind and are willing to be convinced by new justifications and reasoning in the best interests of the nation and the people.”

The Parliament will also adopt the annual national budget for the financial year 2017-18.

One of the highlights of the session will be the third pay commission report that Finance Minister Namgay Dorji will present to the National Assembly (NA). Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Bill 2017 will be introduced in NA for the first time.

“Similarly, there will be deliberations on multilateral agreement for the establishment of an International Think Tank for Landlocked Countries and implementation of past resolutions,” the Speaker said.

Speaker Jigme Zangpo said NA received several petitions from three dzongkhags to be deliberated during the session. “These petitions have been extensively deliberated in the preliminary meeting held on April 21 and forwarded to the relevant ministries for appropriate actions. It is, therefore, imperative for the ministries to take appropriate actions without further delay,” he said.

Some of the petitions were deliberated in past sessions.

The Speaker said that His Majesty visited to oversee the affected places during the times of natural disasters in the country. “His Majesty The King has recently visited windstorm-affected sites in Punakha and granted invaluable guidance, consolation, and support to the victims,” he said. “The Parliament, therefore, would like to express our deepest gratitude to His Majesty The King.”

He also thanked His Holiness the Je Khenpo, five Venerable Lopens and the Central Monastic Body for conducting prayers for the world peace and dratshangs, dzongs, lhakhangs and goendeys for conducting kurims for the well-being of the people.

“We would like to express our gratitude to Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen who is the patron of the Ability Bhutan Society (ABS) for gracing the inauguration of the International Conference on Autism and Neuro-developmental Disorders in Thimphu last month,” he said. He also expressed gratitude to Her Majesty the Queen Mothers, Royal Highnesses and other members of the Royal Family for taking various initiatives for the welfare of the people.

“Furthermore, we would like to express gratitude to Her Majesty Gyalyum Sangay Choden Wangchuck, the goodwill ambassador of UNFPA, for her high-level advocacy tour in the dzongkhags and promoting awareness on important public health and social issues to the people and youth,” he said.

The Speaker said the government has constantly strived on the economic development and achieved commendable outcomes.

Upon the invitation of His Majesty The King, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, paid a state visit to Bhutan from April 18-20. “The visit is highly significant as it reinforces the tradition of regular high-level exchanges between the two countries and had strengthened the friendship between the two countries,” he said.

Such visits, he said, have not only reaffirmed the relations between the two nations, but also further strengthened the areas of trade and commerce, tourism and education. “Today, the two countries have signed six memoranda of understanding, including two agreements during the last visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.”

The Speaker said that under the wise leadership of His Majesty The King, the armed forces of the nation have been shouldering the responsibility of ensuring security of the people and the country. The members of the armed forces had also been rendering their support in times of natural calamities in the country.

The DeSuups, Speaker Jigme Zangpo said, have voluntarily rendered their service in times of huge public gatherings and disasters.

His Majesty The Third Druk Gyalpo, the Speaker said, provided free education and established numerous schools across the country for the benefit of the people during his reign. “Since then, the quality of education has come a long way in Bhutan,” he said.

On Tuesday, the country paid tribute to His Majesty The Third Druk Gyalpo and to around 9,000 teachers in 600 schools across the country.

National Council

The opening ceremony of the 19th National Council session will be held on May 11. Deliberations at the Council will begin with follow-up reports on the resolutions of the 18th session.

The deputy chairperson said that the current session will deliberate ratification of two international agreements – the Paris Agreement on Environment Protection and Conservation, and the Agreement on Trade, Commerce and Transit between Bhutan and India. The Royal Audit Bill 2017 and the Budget and Appropriation Bill 2017-2018 are also tabled for deliberations.

The house will, among others, deliberate reports on Tax Audit of the Tour Operators, Cultural Heritage and Annual Anti-corruption Report 2016.

MB Subba