The government’s decision to replace Zhemgang with Sarpang for the tourism flagship programme is in contravention of the Budget and Appropriation Act and must be reconsidered.

This is what NC has conveyed to the government through a letter addressed to the prime minister with copies to the Speaker, the foreign minister and the opposition leader a few days ago. The stand was taken at a recently held plenary.

The National Assembly on June 14 passed the National Budget Report 2019-20, which allocated Nu 11 million each for Zhemgang, Lhuentse, Dagana and Gasa for the tourism flagship programme.

However, 10 days later, the cabinet secretary on June 24 wrote to the GNHC secretary announcing the Prime Minister’s approval of the Tourism Council of Bhutan’s (TCB) proposal to replace Zhemgang with Sarpang. The prime minister chairs the GNHC, while the foreign minister chairs the TCB.

The prime minister’s decision came after both Houses of parliament had passed the Budget and Appropriation Bill.

The NC stated that the National Budget Report 2019-20 is “deemed legally binding” on the government to ensure implementation of the activities and programmes as per the allocation. 

This implies that the tourism flagship programme should be implemented as decided in the budget.

The NC reasoned that the budget report is an integral part of the Budget Appropriation Bill 2019-20, which becomes a law after the royal assent.

According to the NC, the government’s decision is viewed as not in line with the Budget Appropriation Bill 2019-20 and the National Budget Report 2019-20.

Expressing its concern, the NC called upon the government to review the decision and take appropriate action. Both the National Assembly and the National Council passed the Budget Appropriation Bill 2019-20 of Nu 64,826 million.

NC’s Deputy Chairperson and spokesperson, Jigme Wangchuk, said,” We don’t know what action the government will take. We have expressed our concern.”

An official from the Prime Minister’s Office told Kuensel that it is reviewing the NC’s concern.

The cabinet secretary’s letter had stated that the decision was taken to ensure regional distribution in selection of the focus dzongkhags. However, as per the letter, it is not clear if the matter was discussed and endorsed by the cabinet.

Cabinet Secretary Kesang Wangdi wrote, “I am pleased to convey the approval of the Hon’ble Prime Minister on the proposal from the TCB to include Sarpang as one of the four focus dzongkhags in the Tourism Development Flagship Program of the 12th Plan, in place of Zhemgang.”

At a recent press conference, foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji said the Constitution, National Assembly Act and the Public Finance Act gave full authority to the executive to decide on plans and programmes of the country. He said that the flagship programme that has been passed by the parliament was a policy decision where the executive has full authority.

However, MPs who are not in support of the government’s decision say the Budget Appropriation Act is a law unlike other resolutions of parliament and is binding.

Article 14(10) of the Constitution states that any expenditure not included in the budget, or in excess of the budget appropriation, as well as the transfer of any fund from one part of the budget to another, shall be made in accordance with the law. 

Section 10 of the Public Finance (amendment) Act states that money shall be appropriated for the requirement of the state through the annual Budget Appropriation Bill approved by Parliament.

Section 56, on revision of budget and appropriations, states, “The Minister of Finance may present to Parliament Supplementary Budget Appropriation Bills, outlining changes in appropriations and resource estimates with full justifications for the revisions. Such Bill shall be introduced to Parliament at the earliest sitting of Parliament after the last sitting.”

However, section 57 adds that such revisions in the Budget Appropriations may be considered only when circumstances have changed significantly such as in the case of shortfalls in revenues and other resources threatening macro-fiscal sustainability and substantial increase in costs of programmes as approved by the Cabinet among other specified reasons.

It was also learnt that the economic and finance committee of the National Assembly at its meeting held on July 15 decided to discuss the issue with the Speaker. A member, who attended the meeting, said the committee agreed that the decision was unlawful.

The 13-member committee comprises seven members from the ruling party and six from the opposition.

MB Subba