Joint sitting gets bogged down in details

The discussion on the rules of procedure of the PAC did not lead to any resolution

Parliament: The discussion on the rules of procedure of the public accounts committee (PAC) digressed to a political argument of sorts, yesterday at the joint sitting of Parliament.

The discussion focused more on the chairmanship of the committee and quorum for the meetings.

Until the session broke for lunch, the house had an extensive debate on these two sections of the rules of procedure, which comprise 15 chapters and 50 sections.  The house had to conclude the discussion half way through chapter six.

As per the draft, the committee proposed that a member nominated by the opposition party in the assembly should be chair of the PAC.

Chumey-Ura representative Tshewang Jurmi said that the chair from opposition would impede the only member from the opposition in decision-making since it was the votes that decided the committee’s decision.  The chairperson is not allowed to vote except to break a tie.

The PAC comprises five members- two each from the ruling party and the National Council, and a member from the opposition.

However, the eminent council and PAC member, Karma Damchoe Nidup, said that this recommendation was made as it was done in several successful democracies.

Most members said that, be it PAC or any other committee, members must set aside their political differences and a person known for integrity would be elected as the chair.

Few suggested that either a member of the opposition or the council be given the chairmanship, for reasons affiliated with conflict of interest.  Some suggested that the decision be left to the committee.

The speaker, Jigme Zangpo, decided to go for a vote and 32 voted “no” for opposition’s assumption of the chairmanship, while 55 voted “yes” in favour of the committee’s authority to elect its own chair.

On the quorum for the committee meeting, the draft rules of procedure states that presence of three members shall constitute a quorum.

While some members suggested the quorum be brought to four, eminent member Dasho Karma Y Raydi proposed that presence of a member each from ruling party, opposition and National Council be considered as the quorum for committee meetings.

Although the session resolved that presence of three members should constitute a quorum, members were divided on having a member each from the three institutions.

The home minister Damcho Dorji said that, for instance, if the only opposition member chose not to attend the meeting for some reasons, the committee would not be able to decide because the quorum was not maintained.

The house went on vote again on whether three members from each of the institution should constitute a quorum.  The suggestion received 24 “yes” and 23 “no” votes, while the remaining 11 abstained.

Speaker Jigme Zangpo endorsed this recommendation only to call it off after the home minister argued that a half majority was needed to endorse it.

Opposition member from Panbang, Dorji Wangdi, then questioned the speaker’s varying decision.

According to the Constitution, a Bill shall be passed by a simple majority of the total number of members of the respective house or, in case of joint sitting, by not less than two-thirds of the total number of members.

This means that at least 43 votes were required in favour of the recommendation Dasho Karma Y Raydi made for it to be endorsed, of the 84 present.

But this was not even a Bill, argued some members.

Dorji Wangdi also said votes should not be held on separate sections or articles of a Bill, which has been resolved by the joint committee(s). “Abstainers simply meant as good as sitting outside the house,” he said.

But, as per the rules for procedure of the Assembly, members who cast ‘abstain’ votes shall be considered as present to constitute the quorum for voting.

On the leader of the opposition’s plea, the speaker asked for another vote on the same, and made it clear that all provisions of laws would be adhered to.  He also reminded the house that it would enter Guinness Book of World Records for actually backtracking a decision for the third time.

This time, 33 voted “yes” to have the quorum maintained, with one member each from ruling, opposition and the council, while 27 voted “no” and four abstained.

The speaker did not interpret the result this time, and instead asked the law experts in the house to interpret.

Pemagatshel’s council member, Jigme Rinzin, stood to interpret that, should two-third majority be considered, 43 “yes” votes were required to endorse the recommendation.

The speaker agreed and concluded the discussion for the day.  It would continue on May 17.

By Tshering Dorji

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