NC: The National Council introduced and deliberated the second non-governmental bill, the Bhutan Red Cross Society bill yesterday.

The house has however asked the steering committee of the Bhutan Red Cross Society bill to make some minor corrections in eight of its articles as recommended by some of its members.

“The steering committee will present the bill for final deliberation after consultation on the recommendations on eight articles from the members,” National Council chairperson, Dasho (PhD) Sonam Kinga said. The bill will be presented for final deliberation on June 10.

The National Council had initiated the Bhutan Red Cross Society following a Royal Command from His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Queen.

The Good Governance Committee has thoroughly studied and conducted consultative meetings on the bill with relevant stakeholders like the disaster management department, health ministry, civil society organisations and dzongdags, among others.

The Bhutan Red Cross Society will be a non-profit organisation that will work closely with the government and other stakeholders in the humanitarian field. Its functions will include disaster management, health promotion and social services. The organisation’s operation will largely be based on volunteerism and membership of individuals.

Funds for its activities will be mobilised from international and national organisations, individuals and through fund raising activities.

One of its chief objectives and functions will be to build a safer, resilient and harmonious society. Prevention and alleviation of human sufferings at the time of disasters and improving livelihoods and well-being of the vulnerable will be some of the other objectives and functions of the Bhutan Red Cross Society.

Good Governance Committee chairperson, Tashi Wangmo said that the Red Cross movement is not new to Bhutan since Bhutan has been a signatory to the Geneva Conventions since 1991. Article 2 of the statutes of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Movement says that states that are party to the Geneva Conventions have among others, the obligation to promote on its territory the establishment of a national society and to encourage its development.

For Bhutan, its vulnerability to natural disasters such as earthquake, flash floods, glacial lake outburst floods, windstorm, fire and landslide entails for the formation of a national Red Cross Movement. “Increasing instances of natural disasters like flash floods and landslides makes it important to introduce the national Red Cross Society,” Tashi Wangmo said.

“Moreover, should there be a devastating earthquake larger than what the country can handle, the Red Cross Society is one such international agency we can approach for assistance,” she added.

Dasho (PhD) Sonam Kinga said that one of the chief reasons for introduction of the bill is the country’s inability to implement the Disaster Management Act. “The Bhutan Red Cross Society is also formed after learning, during the question and answer session earlier, from the government that the country is unprepared for disasters,” Dasho (PhD) Sonam Kinga said.

According to the steering committee’s presentation, much needs to done to strengthen the disaster management system despite establishing of a National Disaster Management Authority and the Disaster Management Committee.

“While the organisations like National Disaster Management Authority and the Disaster Management Committee will be core bodies for policy and decision making, Red Cross Society will work like the arms and legs of these organisations at the time of natural disasters,” Tashi Wangmo said.

National Council member of Samtse, Sangay Khandu also raised a question on if formulating of so many acts is necessary or if the Civil Society Act already doesn’t cover the Red Cross Society. “I feel the Civil Society Act should be covering every non-governmental organisation including Red Cross Society,” he said.

But Tashi Wangmo said that provisions in Civil Society Act are limited only for non-governmental organisations. “Most of the articles in the Red Cross Society Bill isn’t covered by Civil Society Act,” Tashi Wangmo said, adding unlike other non-governmental organisations, which can enter the country depending on its interests, Red Cross Society is a component of international movement bound by the Geneva conventions.

Meanwhile, Samdrupjongkhar National Council Member, Jigme Wangchuk pointed out that the biggest hurdle in any plans and programmes has been inadequate coordination among the stakeholders. Therefore, he asked for proper plans and provisions in the bill to ensure efficient coordination with other natural disaster management institutions.

The members have proposed changes on finance, assets and accounts tax exemption, offences and penalties, among others.

Tempa Wangdi