The past week saw heated discussions on the Fiscal Incentives 2016 in the on-going session of the Parliament.
From its status as a money bill or a report to whether the government had the prerogative to grant fiscal incentives, the parliamentarians deliberated much to give the discussion clarity.
The National Assembly endorsed the Fiscal Incentives 2016 as a money bill, which was earlier tabled as a report. The government insists that it has the prerogative to grant fiscal incentives. But confusions persisted on what happens to the tax incentives the private sector has already received before May 8, the day it was tabled in the Parliament. The Speaker said the House would seek the Supreme Court’s direction to resolve the issue.
This decision of the Speaker and the National Assembly is not in line with the Constitution. Article 21, Section 8 of the Constitution which states: “Where a question of law or fact is of such a nature and of such public importance that it is expedient to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court, the Druk Gyalpo may refer the question to the Supreme Court for its consideration, which shall hear the reference and submit its opinion to Him.”
Druk Gyalpo being bestowed the power to obtain the opinion of the Supreme Court, the decision of the National Assembly and Speaker to seek such a directive becomes unconstitutional. In doing so, the legislative, the highest decision making body of the country, also violates the principle of separation of powers that is enshrined in the Constitution. Article 1, Section 13 states: “There shall be separation of the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary and no encroachment of each other’s powers is permissible except to the extent provided for by this Constitution.”
Seeking advisory opinion of the Supreme Court is not difficult so long as the procedure is followed; the first Constitutional case was as much an issue of procedural lapses when a case was filed with the High Court. There is also a Supreme Court’s verdict for the Assembly to refer to. Should the Assembly still require further clarification, it, as law markers, must follow the procedure.
The government may have the prerogative to grant fiscal incentives. But the power to grant incentives needs the National Assembly’s endorsement. The Speaker was right to call Fiscal Incentives 2016 a money bill and. If it is so, the National Assembly must abide by the norms of a money bill.
The National Council has questioned the intent of the fiscal incentives and, even if its recommendations are valid, they are not binding on the National Assembly because it is a money bill.
As lawmakers, these lapses must be corrected. Our legislature must be exemplary in respecting the rule of law because it is in the national interest.