Assembly: In what appeared to be the first deliberation uniting the government and the opposition, the National Assembly (NA) decided to deliberate the Red Cross Society bill in the winter session after its legislative committee presented the bill to the house yesterday.

While the opposition and government always seem to lock horns over issues, both the parties in an exceptional case agreed to urgently table the Red Cross Society bill yesterday.

Even though some representatives scrutinised the way the bill was introduced to the Assembly, members from both the opposition and government agreed that the bill is too important for the country to be dropped for irregular procedures.

When the speaker asked for a vote, most of the representatives raised their hands supporting the introduction of the bill despite some questioning the process to present the bill. “The legislative committee, after thoroughly discoursing the bill with relevant stakeholders, will present it in the winter session,” NA deputy speaker Chimi Dorji said.

“The bill must be properly studied within these months to ensure that it is in harmony with other Acts such as the Civil Society and Disaster Management Acts,” the deputy speaker said.

The Red Cross bill was introduced in the National Assembly after the National Council passed it earlier this month. The legislative committee introduced the bill yesterday to seek  the members’ approval for it to be introduced and deliberated in the next session.

“As warned by a number of experts, Bhutan being on the seismic active zone is prone to glacial lake outburst floods and landslides, and it is only timely that such a bill is introduced,” the legislative committee’s chairperson, Ritu Raj Chhetri said. He added that having such an Act in place would enable Bhutan to get international aid from the Red Cross at times of large scale natural disasters.

“Should there be natural disasters like earthquakes, glacial lake outbursts and outbreak of diseases of scales larger than what the country can cope with, such an Act would enable us to get international aid,” he said.

Remote communities should also be able to benefit from such humanitarian aid.

When Chumey-Ura representative Tshewang Jurmi asked why the bill is being rushed since it could have been introduced in the winter session, Ritu Raj Chhetri reasoned that the uncertainty of nature calls for the bill to be tabled at the earliest. “Since none of us can know when disasters can strike, we thought it best to be presented at the earliest,” he said.

Upon Tshewang Jurmi’s question on why the Red Cross is chosen over the International Federation of Red Crescent Societies, the Opposition Leader (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said that such details should not be of concern since the cross sign is also used for hospitals and veterinary hospitals. “Formation of such a society would enable us to avail medical professionals at times of disasters, which our country lacks at present,” he said.

Responding to Panbang representative, Dorji Wangdi and Tshewang Jurmi’s concern over the bill being passed as a private bill, the Opposition Leader said that the Red Cross Society should not be a problem since it is a non-governmental organisation and not a business.

Economic affairs minister Lekey Dorji said that it is timely to be deliberating the bill. “When we have the Royal Audit Authority reporting that we’re ill-prepared for natural disasters, the National Red Cross Society can help us prepare,” Lyonpo Lekey Dorji said.

Home minister Dawa Gyaltshen said that the country isn’t fully prepared for natural disasters. “Coming of the National Red Cross Society should help us prepare and be better equipped,” Lyonpo added.

Health minister Tandin Wangchuk said that the Red Cross will be of tremendous help especially during the outbreak of epidemics. “After visiting Nepal when it was struck by the devastating quake, we came to know that Red Cross made a huge impact in relief efforts especially when the disasters are of a magnitude larger than a country can cope with,” he said.

Tempa Wangdi