The National Assembly’s recent decision to increase the salary of the Speaker above that of the National Council (NC) Chairperson has raised questions about who is the head of the legislative body.
The NC in its recently held post-session press conference said that it wouldn’t be in keeping with the Constitution to recognise the Speaker as the head of the bicameral legislative body. The NC is of the view that such a decision would invite differences even between MPs of two Houses about who is above whom.
The National Assembly’s decision not only elevated the Speaker above the National Council Chairperson but also Cabinet Ministers in the hierarchy. The decision implied that the Speaker was the head of the legislative body, while the Supreme Court Chief Justice was the head of the Judiciary.
Chairman of the committee, which reviewed the pay revision report, Nima, said at the press conference that the National Assembly’s economic and finance committee had come up with the recommendation based on its view that the Speaker was the head of the legislative body.
“In case of a unicameral legislature, there wouldn’t be any problem if the Speaker is the head of the legislature. Ours is a bicameral legislature,” Nima said.
The member from Bumthang argued that Bhutan’s Constitution does not place either House of Parliament above the other. The Constitution, he said, also provides equal power to both the NA and the NC.
“That’s why there is no such thing as upper house or lower house, and, accordingly, we have two heads for the legislature,” he said.
Should the Speaker be elevated above the NC Chairperson, Nima said, issues regarding about the hierarchy between the MPs of two houses would arise. He said that some people might claim that National Assembly members are above NC members.
He also cited the Parliamentary Entitlement Act, which places the Speaker, the NC Chairperson, the Chief Justice of Bhutan and ministers at par in terms of their entitlements. “The National Assembly has accepted our recommendation that the Speaker and the NC Chairperson should be equal, which is good,” he said.
The National Assembly had accepted its economic and finance committee’s recommendation to increase the salaries of the Speaker and the Supreme Court Chief Justice by 13 percent, 7 percent above that of the NC Chairperson.
Even though the House later reversed the resolution and kept salaries of the Speaker and the Supreme Court Chief Justices at par with the NC Chairperson and cabinet ministers, members of the committee remain firm on their stance after objections from the NC.
Some members of the committee argue the Speaker is the head given that he presides over all joint sittings, which are held in the National Assembly hall. It was also learnt that the committee wanted to give more power to the Speaker.
The committee’s members justified that the salaries of the heads of the three arms of government – executive, legislative and judiciary must be higher than the ministers.
However, although the Constitution clearly prescribes the Prime Minister as the head of the Cabinet, it does not identify either the head of the legislative body or the Judiciary.
Both the Houses have their own Rules of Procedure. As for the legislative procedure, a Bill passed by Parliament shall come into force only upon the Assent of the Druk Gyalpo.
Further, Article 10(1) of the Constitution states that all legislative powers are vested with the Druk Gyalpo, the National Council and the National Assembly. Article 10(12) states, that the Speaker and the Chairperson shall convene an extraordinary sitting of Parliament on the command of the Druk Gyalpo if the exigencies of the situation so demand.