National Assembly’s secretary general, Sangay Duba, yesterday clarified that the secretariat had no intention to report that MPs made “table tours” during the financial year 2015-16.
The secretariat, however, acknowledged the lapses in calculating the number of days each MP was on constituency visit.
Sangay Duba said that the data used in the secretariat’s Annual Report 2015-16 was based on the travel authorisation forms that were approved by the Speaker before making travel. “The itineraries therein were tentative and subject to change,” he said.
He explained that the figure arrived at was the travel figure submitted tentatively by the MPs and approved by the Speaker. “The actual travel can be less or more.”
A review of the figures for travel authorisations against the corresponding actual travel claims carried out by the secretariat found that 18 MPs had cut short their travel. The secretariat also found that 15 MPs had extended their travel upon the approval of the Speaker.
However, the changes were not incorporated in the annual report. As a result, the actual number of travel days and the numbers reflected in the annual report did not match.
The actual number of days Jomotshangkha MP Pelzang Wangchuk was on constituency visit as per the audited books account was 142. The annual report reflected that he had travelled for 273 days during that financial year.
The secretariat also clarified that Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi was on constituency visit for 95 days instead of 202 days as reflected in the annual report.
Deputy Speaker Chhimi Dorji was on constituency visit for 66 days, not 202 days as was reflected in the report.
Sangay Duba said, “Our report’s intent is to recognise that MPs travel to their constituencies. MPs have a representational role besides legislative and oversight. One of the objectives of the annual report is to show how MPs are fulfilling their representational role.”
Sangay Duba said that discrepancy arises when MPs are entitled to more than two months of constituency tour. MPs, he said, apply for a longer duration but return in between for meetings.
Citing Section 50 of the Rules of Procedures (RoP) 2014, Sangay Duba said that a member can visit his or her constituency during visits by VVIPs and VIPs and during national events, dzongkhag tshogdus and gewog tshogdes.
As per Section 52 of the RoP, the Speaker may also grant exemption on the request of the members.
“The secretariat hereby clarifies that there is no limit set for constituency visits,” Sangay Duba said.
The secretariat’s clarification letter stated the objective of providing information in the annual report was to highlight the representational role of the members.
“The annual report neither had any intention nor reported anything on the table tour by MPs. The Royal Audit of Bhutan has audited the financial books of account for the financial year 2015-16 and no memo was issued to the secretariat with regard to MPs’ travel,” the letter stated.
The secretariat, Sangay Duba, said has no mandate to monitor members’ travel, and for that matter, anything over members’ functions.
“It is very sad that the issue has been picked by Kuensel editorial for two consecutive issues. While the secretariat respects the independence of media, the secretariat will appreciate if due diligence is followed in the process of reporting the news,” the clarification stated.