The House Committee of the National Assembly, which was earlier dissolved, has been reinstated following the Speaker’s pronouncement that it was a continuous committee, which should only dissolve with the House.
A meeting of the committee held on July 21 acknowledged the Speaker’s statement on the decision to dissolve the committee was not in conformity with the law.
One of the committee members, Ritu Raj Chhetri, said the meeting decided that various committees would nominate a member by August 8 so that a new house committee is reconstituted by August 10.
On July 20, Speaker Jigme Zangpo issued a letter to the house committee members stating that they had violated the National Assembly Act and the Rules of Procedure (RoP) by dissolving the committee.
The Speaker has asked the members wishing to resign to inform him by August 10. Accordingly, the positions of those who resigned will be filled.
“A new house committee will probably be constituted on August 10,” Ritu Raj Chhetri said. Although the past practice was to nominate the chairperson of individual committees, the nominee to the house committee need not be necessarily the chairperson.
MP Karma Tenzin, the committee’s chairperson who has already submitted his resignation, said that although the members have offered to resign, the committee would remain as a continuous committee.
“Only members have resigned but the house committee as a committee of continuity will remain,” he said.
The decision to dissolve the committee, Ritu Raj Chhetri said, was revoked, as the minutes of the meeting were not endorsed.
Some members, however, argue that the committee’s earlier decision to dissolve the committee should remain even if the minutes were not endorsed. The committee was reinstated following the Speaker’s instruction to give continuity to the committee.
On July 14, the house committee decided to dissolve the committee following grievances by the members against the Speaker and the Secretary General. The members alleged that the Assembly secretariat has been ignoring the committee’s decisions on administrative and other matters related to the welfare of MPs.
MP Karma Tenzin, who did not attend the meeting, denied that the members had any grievances against the Speaker or the General Secretary. However, other members who attended the meeting confirmed the grievances.
Ritu Raj Chhetri said that some members during the meeting said they were frustrated with the secretariat’s treatment of the house committee. “Some of the decisions of the house committee have been totally ignored,” he said.
MPs say they need individual office rooms to accommodate visitors and support staff of the secretariat. Except for the offices of the Prime Minister, Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Leader of Opposition and ministers, all MPs’ offices are housed in one building. Besides legislative functions, the house committee is also mandated to look after the welfare of MPs.
In the current setup, two MPs occupy a room at the MPs’ office at Langjophakha, Thimphu. MPs say that if a visitor comes to see his or her MP, one of the two MPs has to leave his office room.
Initially, only two members had submitted their resignation. But more members said they wanted to resign as discussion on the secretariat’s disregard to the committee’s decisions, is claimed to have fueled the members’ emotions.
“Everyone became emotional at the meeting. They felt that it was useless having committee meetings as the committee’s decisions were ignored. That’s how the members decided to dissolve the committee,” MP Ritu Raj Chhetri said.
Lack of security for MPs while they are in office has been also one of the concerns. He said that although no unfortunate incidents have happened, the country couldn’t be complacent on the safety of MPs, as democracy gets older.
Other grievances are related to nomination of members for conferences and study tours. An MP said that he was never nominated for a conference abroad.
According to the Assembly’s RoP, the Speaker designates MPs and other officials in appropriate numbers for delegations to represent the House at parliamentary conferences, seminars, and study tours abroad, on the recommendation of the house committee. The Speaker is responsible for setting the overall policy and acts as guidance for the management and general administration of the House.
As for the secretariat, RoP states that the Secretary General ensures the safekeeping of records of decisions and proceedings of the House and of the committees. The secretariat shall keep proper record of proposals and their date of receipt.
Secretary General Sangay Duba said that while the issues are being addressed, the committee will function as per the Speaker’s instruction. He said that some members have expressed dissatisfaction, while others are satisfied with the work being done by the secretariat.
He said that the secretariat is working on the proposals submitted by the committee. For instance, he said the secretariat and the government are looking for a space to shift the foreign ministry from the Gyalyong tshogkhang to make space for members.
“We understand that the current office is not adequate. But it can’t be done immediately,” he said.
Sangay Duba said that the Prime Minister has asked the GNH Commission to allocate budget for a new office for the foreign ministry.