MB Subba  

The pre-session plenary of the National Assembly which concluded yesterday saw intense discussions on 31 petitions from Dzongkhag Tshogdus (DT), and dropped all except two to be deliberated in the upcoming winter session.

The submissions were not accommodated in the National Assembly agenda on the grounds that they did not merit deliberation in the Parliament. They will be referred to relevant ministries for action.

The eight DTs of Thimphu, Gasa, Mongar, Pemagatshel, Dagana, Tsirang, Haa, and Zhemgang had submitted petitions.

Among the issues submitted to the National Assembly were proposals for establishment of an agriculture college and a medical college in Zhemgang and Tsirang respectively. It was learnt that the government has agreed to look into proposal from Zhemgang, while the health minister is said to have told the plenary that a medical college in Tsirang was infeasible.

The two issues the plenary picked were the need to streamline the operations and management of farm shops; and to include Small Development Projects (SDP) and Common Minimum Infrastructure (CMI) flagship programme budgets directly with gewog budgets.

Both these issues came from Zhemgang DT.

Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that the issues related to farm shops; and SDP and CMI were prevalent beyond Zhemgang. “That’s why the two petitions merit discussions in the Parliament,” he said.

According to the Speaker, farm shops seemed to have come up as a competitor to local shops and there were confusions regarding CMI and SDP programmes.

Zhemgang’s Panbang MP, Dorji Wangdi, said that some farm shops were operated on rented houses and some in temporary shelters. “They are supposed to sell only farm equipment but they are selling groceries also,” he said.

He said that gewogs faced challenges in implementation of SDP and CMI schemes as planning and implementation were not within the jurisdiction of gewogs.

Lhuentse had also submitted two issues but the secretariat did not receive them on time. Gangzur-Minjey  MP Kinga Penjor expressed his disappointment to the Speaker as the dzongkhag’s petitions, one of which included the proposed Shingkhar-Gorgan road, was not deliberated and included in the agenda.

However, the Speaker said that certain rules had to be followed and the petitions were not accepted as per the Rules of Procedure.

Kinga Penjor said that he was told the DT had emailed the petitions to the secretariat on November 30, which was the last date. “But the petitions were not included in the agenda for the plenary, saying that the secretariat did not receive them on time.”

Pemagatshel DT’s petition to blacktop the Durungri to Khothakpa road was also not accommodated in the agenda. This is said to be the only dzongkhag road that does not have blacktop while most of the gewog centre roads are blacktopped.

Pemagatshel DT chairperson, Pema Dorji, said that his dzongkhag had submitted four petitions. “We had also submitted petitions on the need to upgrade the Yurung BHU and lack of a gynecologist in the dzongkhag,” he said.

One of the reasons relevant ministers cited was that there would be endless lists of petitions in the future from local governments.

Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that exhaustive discussions were held and that most of the petitions were of administrative nature that could be addressed by ministries.

He said that the plenary selects issues based on whether they merit discussion in the Parliament. The relevant ministry, he said, will give written responses to the concerned DT and that a copy of which will be available to the National Assembly.

“While the plenary in the past used to last just half a day, we held discussions for two days. We held thorough discussions and concerned ministers were asked to respond to the issues before deciding on the petition,” he said.

According to the Speaker, concerned MPs were also asked if they were satisfied with the response from the ministers on each issue. He said unsatisfied MPs were also given the opportunity to put forward their arguments.

Some members said they were unsatisfied with the plenery’s inability to approve the petitions from their dzongkhag as agenda.

A gup told Kuensel that proposals of same nature could be combined together and discussed in the parliament as one item. The Parliament, he said, could come to a decision if multiple dzongkhags have similar proposals.

Opposition MP Dorji Wangdi said the fact that most of the petitions were not accommodated in the agenda indicated that the government was not appreciative of local governments submitting petitions.

He said the non-acceptance of the petitions would discourage local governments from submitting genuine petitions in the future.

He said that the Parliament under the leadership should be able to select the petitions independently as the oversight body of the government. According to him, the Speaker picked the petitions based on the opinions provided by the minister.

According to the National Assembly’s annual report released in February this year, the House had deliberated two of the 22 petitions it had received.