The 17th NC session concluded on June 24

Parliament: The National Council (NC) is focused on strengthening itself as an institution that is crucial for the success of Bhutanese democracy. This was the message of the Council’s second press conference held in Thimphu yesterday.

NC’s spokesperson and deputy chairperson Tshering Dorji said that the Council’s initiative to hold at least two press conferences during one parliament session is one of the means of strengthening the institution. He said it is important for Parliament to interact with the press to reach out to the people.

Tshering Dorji said the Question Hour and the follow-up reports on the recommendations were also part of the process of strengthening the NC as an institution, adding that NC is preparing a checklist to see how many of their recommendations have been implemented by the relevant agencies and the government.

For the first time during the 17th session of the house, Section 137 of the National Council Act, which states: “If the interpellator is not satisfied with the answer, he may, with the permission of the Chairperson call a debate in the Council, in which the appropriate authority of the government shall participate”, was invoked.

As per the Act, economic affairs minister Lekey Dorji was summoned during a re-deliberation on the issues related to mining in the country. “These are part of the process of strengthening the institution of NC,” said Tshering Dorji.

Now that the formal session is over, Tshering Dorji said that members will reflect on the past sessions. “Our members will be busy on committee works.”

Chairperson of economic affairs committee, Sonam Dorji, said that although NC’s recommendations on money bills are not binding, the house is serious about offering recommendations. “We feel that our recommendations will benefit the people.”

The 17th session passed resolutions and recommendations on six subjects, including the annual budget, supplementary budget appropriation bill and the tax reform bill.

Chairperson of the legislative committee and member from Samtse, Sangay Khandu, highlighted the work achieved by the session, and said that the people should be informed about the laws passed by Parliament. “Some Acts are in name only. We can’t find them,” he said. He added that some Acts have not been implemented after their enactment.

It was found that agencies have taken up to six years to frame and adopt rules and regulations following an enactment of a law. This has resulted in undue delay and discrepancies in the implementation of the clauses that require subordinate legislations.

Citing Article 13 (1) of the Constitution, which says that a bill passed by Parliament shall come into force upon Assent of The Druk Gyalpo, the NC recommended that the Acts should be immediately implemented.

NC resolved that the government simultaneously draft required rules and regulations when the bill is being tabled in Parliament to allow immediate and uniform implementation of the law upon Royal Ascent.

The NC also resolved that the government urgently establish the Alternative Dispute Resolution Centre as per the Alternative Dispute Resolution Act 2013.

The NC also passed a resolution calling upon the government to urgently table the Ownership of Assets and Accounts Abroad by Bhutanese Citizens bill in the next Parliament.

Sonam Dorji said that enactment of the law will enhance transparency, curb tax evasion and facilitate legitimate business transactions. He added that the need for such a law was recognised by the National Assembly in 1980 and 1993. He warned of the negative consequences of Bhutanese citizens illegally moving and holding their wealth outside Bhutan.

The house called upon the government to amend the Minerals and Mines Act 1995 to enhance transparency, curb corruption and prevent tax evasion, among others. It also called upon the government to urgently review the ceiling of foreign workers by taking into consideration all the ongoing and planned major hydropower projects, as well as other major infrastructure development activities. The house recommended that such a measure must be accompanied by a pragmatic plan to gradually reduce and replace foreign workers by Bhutanese.

There are about 20,000 day workers without work permits in the borders towns, according to the NC. The house recommended that the government strictly enforce the prevailing laws on illegal immigrants.

According to the house, the current ceiling is ignored as the number of foreign workers in the country exceeded the approved ceiling. The ceiling of foreign workers in the country varies between 30,000 and 45,000.

The NC also called upon the government to urgently address the issue of much-needed additional manpower and infrastructure at the existing checkpoints and newly opened roads along the border on a priority basis in the interest of national and personal security.

On the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) report of 2015, the NC resolved that an IT-based information sharing system among the oversight institutions, tax authorities, and property registration authorities would enable the ACC to have direct access to records of individual properties, liabilities and tax contributions.

Eminent Member and chairperson of the good governance committee, Tashi Wangmo, said that such a system can be programmed in a way that will automatically red-flag any irregularities detected on an individual’s asset holdings, rather than seeking information based on complaints.

The house also recognised the need to ensure adequate financial provision for the ACC at all times for effective functioning. The NC also called upon the government to urgently implement all pending court judgments on corruption cases.

The house will conduct an in-depth study on the financial security strategies for the ACC.

MB Subba