The recent case of an MP resigning after being denied study leave has also sparked debate on whether MPs should pursue such activities while in service

Parliament: The recent incident of a Member of Parliament (MP) resigning after being denied study leave has sparked debate on whether an MP is entitled to such long-term leave while still serving.

The absence of provisions in the law on whether a serving member can go on such leave is leading to different interpretations.

“The very reason he has to leave is because there is no rule on whether a serving member can be on study leave,” National Assembly Speaker Jigme Zangpo said.

He added that the Constitution, National Assembly Act and rules of procedure do not permit a serving MP to go on long-term study leave. “Study leave is not enshrined in any of the existing parliamentary laws,” the Speaker said.

Opposition leader (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said that the MP had to resign because of lack of clarity in the law.

The National Assembly Act, rules of procedure and Parliamentary Entitlement Act,

and the Constitution do not specify if a serving MP can go on long-term study leave or not. The law is silent on the issue.

As per section 304 of the rules of procedure, an MP shall be entitled to casual, earned, maternity, paternity and medical leave. Section 305 states that a member shall obtain the leave of the House for absence through an application in writing addressed to the Speaker specifying the period and grounds thereof.

Similarly, section 22 of the National Assembly Act covers only casual, earned, medical, paternity and maternity leave.

However, the Speaker rejected the application for long-term study leave because it was impermissible, and because of the several responsibilities of an elected member.

The issue emerged in June, when the now former MP applied for a six-month study leave. Until the acceptance of the MP’s resignation on August 22, Parliament has been attempting to negotiate with the member.

When the MP applied for the leave, the Speaker handed over the issue to a House committee to determine if a serving MP can avail such leave in purview of the provisions of the Constitution, National Assembly Act and rules of procedure.

The committee however rejected the application for leave after finding that six months is too long a duration for a serving MP.

“Moreover, the member should attend two parliamentary sessions, visit the constituency and (attend to) committee works,” the then committee’s chairperson, Ritu Raj Chhetri said.

The committee also deduced that allowing the MP go on a six-month leave risked the member missing the eight session of Parliament. “The house committee therefore based on these reasons unanimously agreed not to send him,” Ritu Raj Chhetri said.

Following the rejection of the leave, the MP later applied for three months leave after negotiating the course’s duration with the university. The Speaker once again forwarded the issue to the committee.

The committee however left the decision to the Speaker since it did not have the mandate and authority to grant leave. The committee recommended that the Speaker make a decision.

“The Speaker was also informed that the house committee does not have any issue even if he granted the study leave,” Ritu Raj Chhetri said. But the Speaker was informed that he should be mindful of the laws and the Election Act while making the decision.

The Speaker considering the recommendations of the committee informed the former MP that the leave applied for could not be granted. “I could not give him the study leave because there is no law on whether a serving member can go on long-term study leave,” Speaker Jigme Zangpo reiterated.

Parliament then decided to send the member to the university to negotiate a deferment of the course. The member was given a month-long leave, starting June 26. At the end of the leave, the MP sought an extension which was denied by the Speaker.

Following this, the member submitted his resignation on August 11.

According to the Speaker, a serving MP cannot be granted long-term study leave because by virtue of being an elected member of Parliament, the MP has an obligation to represent their constituency and visit it at least twice a year.

“A member has to always attend the National Assembly twice a year, one in summer and winter,” the Speaker said, adding that an MP also has to attend to committee assignments.

“Unless the laws are in place, it is impossible for any of the MPs to go on long-term study leave,” Speaker Jigme Zangpo said.

Meanwhile, the issue has also highlighted whether an MP should pursue studies at all while still serving. While some MPs were in favour of allowing study leave, observers from other political quarters questioned the intention of running for the post despite knowing that an MP is elected for five years.

The question also goes beyond the ethics of an MP as the post would have to be filled again through bye-election which will cost the government.

Besides the remuneration, perks, and benefits the country has provided to a member, each candidate contesting in the primary and general rounds were also given Nu 260,000 for campaigning. Similarly, same amount of funds will have to be mobilised for the bye-election.

As per some political parties, once an MP is elected, it is the responsibility of a member to serve for the full term. “Once elected, it is the duty of a member to serve for the next five years so the question of study leave does not even arise,” Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa president, Dr Tandi Dorji said.

He said that even if a law is framed or enacted in future on the issue, legislators must keep in mind the larger interest of an MP is to serve the people. “If someone is planning to go on study leave they should never in the first place contest in the election,” Dr Tandi Dorji said.

Tempa Wangdi