MB Subba 

The National Assembly yesterday rejected the Ministers’ and Equivalent Post Holders’ Entitlement Bill 2019 on the verbal motion moved by the foreign minister. Only 15 of the 45 MPs present raised their hands in favour of deliberating the bill in National Assembly.

However, the move has raised questions on whether a House of Parliament can reject a Bill that is passed by the other House without deliberating on it.

It was one of the eight Bills that have been tabled in the House. The entitlement Bill was passed by the National Council (NC) and forwarded to the Assembly last year.

Proposing for the withdrawal of the Bill, Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that the Bill sought additional benefits to ministers and equivalent post holders. He added that many articles in the Bill were unclear.

“We also need to ask if we need so many Acts in a small country. A separate law was not required as ministers and equivalent post holders benefits are taken care by various laws including the Pay Commission,” he said.

Bartsham Shongphu MP Passang Dorji (PhD), who spoke in support of the foreign minister’s statement, said that the ministers and equivalent post holders’ entitlements were prescribed by the MPs’ entitlement Act.

“Moreover, the Constitution also clearly states who are ministers and equavalent post holders. There is no need for an additional entitlement Act for them,” he said.

Most of the members agreed that the Bill was not required. But the real issue was on the procedure of passing and withdrawing a Bill that has been passed by the other House.

Opposition leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said that although the Bills were not very important, it was important for the Parliament to follow the rules of procedure. He said that there were no provisions where a House can reject a Bill passed by another without any deliberation.

The National Assembly’s decision, the opposition leader said, may set a wrong precedent. He said that the NC’s decisions and the time spent on the Bill should be respected.

“There is a procedure to return a Bill to the House of its origin with justifications. If the National Assembly passes a Bill in the future and the NC rejects it without deliberations, then issues will arise,” he said.

Drametse Ngatshang MP Ugyen Wangdi said that it was not in keeping with the parliamentary procedure to reject the Bill in such a manner. He said that it was important for the House to deliberate the Bill before taking a decision on whether or not it was needed.

Sections on withdrawal of Bills under Chapter 4 of Legislative Rules of Procedure (LRoP) 2017 state that a Bill passed by one House may be withdrawn by the other House on the grounds of, but not limited to, the legislative proposal covered in the Bill being dropped or a more comprehensive Bill on the same subject being proposed at a later date.

According to the LRoP, where a Bill has been passed by the National Council and is pending before the National Assembly, the Assembly may recommend to the National Council that leave be granted to withdraw the Bill.

“If leave is not granted by the other House for withdrawal of the Bill, the Bill shall then follow the procedures outlined for Disputed Bills,” it states.

The Bill proposes the establishment of a national committee on the entitlements of minister and minister equivalent post holders.

According to the Bill, the members will be nominated by the chief justice, speaker, council chairperson, opposition leader, chairperson of the privy council, cabinet and the finance ministry as non-voting member secretary.

NC’s Deputy Chairperson and spokesperson Jigme Wangchuk said that he would comment only after the National Assembly officially communicates its decision to the NC.