Tshering Palden 

A dedicated secretariat office adequately staffed and assisted by term-based advisors could be established if what the National Assembly proposes materialises.

The secretariat office was much needed, members of the House said as they deliberated the Lhengye Zhungtshog Bill yesterday.

National Assembly’s Human Rights and Foreign Relations Committee (HRFRC) recommended to insert a new chapter in the Bill to cover the establishment of the secretariat office for the Prime Minister.

Members said that in the absence of legislation the recruitment of staff to assist the Prime Minister had brewed controversy for the past two governments.

Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji echoing similar concerns from members of the House said that this was an opportune time to address the issue.

Since there was no such office, the Cabinet Secretariat officials are overwhelmed and cannot provide timely responses to queries from the MPs, he said.

The National Assembly proposes that the office of the Prime Minister be headed by a principal secretary supported by term-based advisors and specialised professionals either from the civil service or outside of it. The Prime Minister shall determine the remuneration for these officials in consultation with the finance ministry.

Lyonchhen in consultation with the Cabinet can nominate officials in the regional and international offices.  The Cabinet will prescribe the procedures for the nomination, the Bill states.

Members said that most of the provisions in the Bill, that originated as a private member Bill from the National Council, were copy-pasted from the Constitution.

This was why the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader initially opposed to the idea of deliberating on the Bill since the Constitution covers the issues anyway.

So as the House continued to deliberate on the Bill, HRFR committee and the other members rose to object numerous provisions in the Bill as they were repeating the Constitution and thus, redundant.

The HRFR committee proposed 11 changes to the Bill including the chapter on the establishment of the new PM office.

The committee’s chairperson, MP Jurmi Wangchuk, in his submissions peppered with English words and phrases, said that the members need to be farsighted and not give in to petty party politics.

“The recommendations the committee has made after thorough review and consultations will ensure that the Bill can serve for decades,” he said.

The committee recommended a major change in section 37 under the Chapter on Sessions.

The section in the Bill states: “Every decision of the Lhengye Zhungtshog shall be based on consensus. Where there is no consensus, the chairperson shall require Members to vote by show of hands and the will of the simple majority of the total numbers of the Members shall prevail.”

The NA’s nine-member HRFR committee, which has 4 members from the Opposition Party, recommended altering as: “Every decision of the Lhengye Zhungtshog shall be based on consensus”.

Some members opposed the recommendation. Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji supported the committee’s proposal. He said if there was no consensus then there was no need for ministers to vote and that the Prime Minister could decide.   “The Prime Minister as the head of the government and the Cabinet should have the final say if there was no consensus,” he said.

Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi picked on the statement and said that Prime Minister taking decisions single-handedly raised doubts on how ably the Cabinet was functioning.

This prompted long responses from foreign minister, and the prime minister, the latter even alleging the OL of attempting to create rifts between the two parties.

“Such statements will undermine the progress and harmony that the two parties have enjoyed while working in the Parliament,” Lyonchhen said.

The OL said that the Cabinet has a collective responsibility and that the decision making power cannot be left to the Prime Minister alone. “Even the vote of no confidence is done against the entire Cabinet not against a member alone,” he said.

Lyonchhen clarified that the Cabinet decided on consensus and it rigorously adhered to strict protocols in place. “Sometimes decisions are deferred and additional research is done until there is a consensus on the matter in question,” he said.

Despite the efforts of the Speaker to keep the discussions focused on Bill, the bitter spat went back and forth. Some members from the ruling party clearly wanted to ride on but Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel’s discouraged it.

He cautioned members to the refrain from referring to individuals or a party. 

The deliberations end  today.

The HRFR committee will table the Bill endorsement tomorrow. The Bill will then be returned to National Council for deliberation on the changes that the NA made to the Bill.