It was inappropriate for the National Council (NC) to “reject” Fiscal Incentives Bill 2016 in totality. The upper House of Parliament can only propose recommendations in case of a money bill.

Assembly members pointed out this out while deliberating the Council’s resolution on the fiscal incentives, which is a money bill. The NC, in an unprecedented move last week, rejected the money bill reasoning that the fiscal incentives lacked proper objectives.

The Council, MPs said, has no authority over a money bill and that the decision was a matter of concern.

Chumey-Ura MP Tshewang Jurmi cited the Supreme Court’s verdict of 2011 on the first constitutional case between the government and the opposition, which stated that the NC’s recommendations on money bills are not binding. All money bills, he said, are the prerogative of the Assembly and that it does not make sense for the House of Review to reject the fiscal incentives bill.

“The Council can only raise objections and propose recommendations to the Assembly. It’s a matter of concern that Council rejected the fiscal incentives bill,” said Tshewang Jurmi, who is a former Council member.

Khar-Yurung MP Zanglay Dukpa also said that he was concerned about the Council’s decision regarding the fiscal incentives.

Wamrong MP and chairperson of the finance committee, Karma Tenzin, said the Council’s views should come as recommendations. He said that the fiscal incentives are aimed at enhancing the economy.

Lamgong-wangchang MP Khandu Wangchuk said that it was important for the Assembly to deliberate not only on the Council’s recommendations but also the bill itself. “I was told that adequate consultations on the fiscal incentives were held.”

Opposition Leader Dr Pema Gyamtsho said that the fact that both the Council and the Opposition have major concerns about the bill should be a matter of concern for the government.

“The bill was rushed through without deliberation in the House. Some members didn’t even get time to press their vote button,” he said.

Dr Pema Gyamtsho explained that the Opposition didn’t support the bill as it was put to vote without deliberation.

“Fiscal incentives bill is very important. But it was passed without following due process,” he said.

Finance Minister, however, said that four Opposition MPs had supported the Bill.

Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said, “Some MPs have said that the Council’s rejection of the bill is a “vote of no confidence” against the government…We didn’t deliberate the bill. We should vote only after deliberation as it is a bill like any other money bill.”

MP Karma Tenzin, however, said that the Council’s decision cannot be treated as a vote of no confidence. “Only if a majority of members in the Assembly don’t support the bill, then we may look at that situation as a vote of no confidence,” he said.

Education Minister Norbu Wangchuk said that the fiscal incentives will benefit small businesses and the private sector and enhance the economy.

“The fiscal incentives will benefit the country in the long run,” he said.

The Assembly by a show of hands resolved that the bill would be accepted as passed by the Assembly and that it would come into force from May 8, 2017.

The incentives are a comprehensive fiscal package proposed based on the revised Economic Development Policy 2016. The government says that the fiscal incentives proposed mainly to stimulate economic growth, foster private sector development and to generate employment.

The Opposition members remain unsatisfied that passing of the bill without deliberation on its provisions, however, could mean that Assembly has little or no say on it.

MP Dorji Wangdi earlier had said that since it was introduced as a bill, the House should read and deliberate the bill.

Despite MP Dorji Wangdi’s objections, Speaker Jigme Zangpo had asked the House to cast their votes. Thirty-one out of the 42 MPs present in the House voted “Yes” for the bill, while 10 voted “No” and one abstained.

The Assembly used to pass both legislative and money bills only after a thorough deliberation. The issue came up since it was for the first time that fiscal incentives were treated as a money bill.

However, Speaker Jigme Zangpo said that the deliberation was held when the fiscal incentives were introduced as a money bill. The fiscal incentives were initially presented as a report but the House decided to reintroduce it as a money bill after some members said that anything alterations with regard to taxes should be introduced as a money bill.

MB Subba