MB Subba

The upcoming summer session of Parliament, which will begin on May 27, will deliberate eight new Bills that will have a significant impact in the country.

The Goods and Service Tax (Amendment) Act will be amended even before it has been implemented. The Act, which was passed in February 2020, was supposed to come into effect in July this year.

However, the government needs some time to implement the Act. This means that implementation of the Act has to be deferred by Parliament.

Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said the software could not be readied on time, as consultants could not travel to the country due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

He also said that the GST should be supported by Digital Drukyul, which is being developed.

Lyonpo added that the business community had also requested for deferment of the GST Act. “The economy is down and all these issues are being looked into by the ministries of economic affairs and finance.”

He also said the software could be ready within six months.

The National Assembly’s plenary finalised the agenda on April 13, which was attended by Cabinet members and MPs and joined virtually by Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering from the quarantine in Khasadrapchu, Thimphu.  

Other new Bills are Biodiversity Bill of Bhutan 2021, Royal Bhutan Police (Amendment) Bill 2021, Ratification of Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) between Bhutan and Bangladesh, the Custom (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2021, United Nations Convention Against Corruption Bill, Budget Appropriation Bill for the fiscal year 2021-22 and Supplementary Budget Appropriation Bill 2020-21.

The United Nations Convention Against Corruption Bill is being proposed as Urgent Bill. The Speaker has to discuss the Bill with the National Council chairperson to declare it as an urgent Bill as per the legislative rules of procedure.

Lyonpo Dr Tandi Dorji, who is also the government’s spokesperson, said that the procedure for the submission of the convention to the United Nations was not fulfilled after it was ratified in 2015. He said that the convention had to be ratified as an urgent Bill as the UN would be reviewing whether Bhutan has been going as per the convention.

The country signed the convention in September 2005 during the annual UN Treaty Event in New York on the sidelines of the 60th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

The convention seeks to address global corruption through prevention, criminalization of corruption and law enforcement measures, international cooperation, asset recovery, technical assistance, and information exchange.

The National Assembly will also deliberate the Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2021.

Members of Parliament (MPs), who are pushing for the amendment of the LG Act, feel that it restricts them from exercising their oversight roles, which include monitoring and review of development activities.

The plenary also discussed 10 petitions received from the dzongkhag tshogdus (DTs) of Mongar, Paro, Bumthang, Lhuntse, and Zhemgang.

One of the petitions was to exempt tax on the exchange of land, which came from Paro DT.

The petitions were also received on the issue of semi-temporary shelter for vegetable vendors along the highway in Mongar. It was learnt that the Department of Roads had dismantled some of the roadside shelters for vegetable vendors in the dzongkhag.

Bumthang DT had submitted for proper demarcations of dzongkhag boundaries, lack of which had created confusions among cordyceps collectors of different highland dzongkhags.

Zhemgang DT had submitted issues on lack of proper fuel depots in gewogs, utilisation of government power tillers and the need for regulation of construction of residential quarters by the government.

It was learnt that the government had taken back gewog power tillers, which were supposed to be replaced with smaller ones suitable for sloppy land.

The other submission from the dzongkhag was that the government should not build residential quarters for civil servants in the dzongkhag. The idea was that the residents would earn some income by renting out their houses to civil servants like teachers.

The plenary decided to forward all the issues to relevant ministries through a show of hands. The relevant ministries will present follow-up reports in the next plenary.

The upcoming session will also see the third reading of the Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2020. The session will deliberate on the review report of the Annual Anti-Corruption Commission Report 2019, review report on farm shops.

The Public Accounts Committee will present performance audit reports to a joint sitting on food self-sufficiency, adequacy and affordability of houses, road maintenance works, urban planning and development in Thimphu, and a review report on the judiciary system and practices.

One of the most significant Bills will be the mines and minerals Bill, which is a disputed Bill. The National Assembly is in favour of nationalisation of strategic mines and leaving non-strategic mines open to the private sector while the National Council is pushing for nationalisation of all mines.