MB Subba

With the normalisation of Covid protocols and only one and a half years remaining for their term to expire, ministers and Members of Parliament (MPs) are moving out of Thimphu for dzongkhag tours and constituency visits.

However, improving the oversight functions of parliament, which include monitoring quality of works and reporting it to relevant agencies for action, is one of the main areas of focus for members during the visit.

Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that normal activities had resumed although parliament was cautious about the risk of the pandemic.

He said that besides briefing the constituents about new laws made by parliament, members would visit the sites to assess the quality of the activities as part of the assessment of the 12th Plan status.

This, according to parliamentarians, is expected to not only enhance the oversight function of members but also foster a platform for better co-ordination and collaboration between parliament and the government.

However, MPs acknowledge that some of them are hesitant to take their oversight function seriously “for fear of losing votes”. They said that Parliament as a whole had also not been able to fulfil its oversight role as mandated by the law.

The National Assembly Act 2008 and the Oversight Manual mandate members to take up the oversight roles and responsibilities.

Parliament’s Oversight Manual 2017 states: “During the visits, members do not only interact with the electorate and share information but also conduct oversight on the implementation status and public benefits of laws as well as government policies, plans and programs by asking questions to local government members as well as the bureaucracy.”

Athang-Thedtsho MP Kinley Wangchuk said that MPs are the “governance police” and that they are in a better position than any other institution to “uphold Ngar.”

The review committees of both the Houses, he said, should travel to the dzongkhag and gewog levels to conduct budget scrutiny and development reviews. “We need to conduct public hearings as frequently as possible to bring those accountable to task.”

“For the good of the nation, MPs shouldn’t practise appeasement policy with implementing agencies and be brave enough to pinpoint loops and lapses. If it is for the nation, we must risk losing. The nation is more important than ensuing electability,” Kinley Wangchuk said.

Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi said that although the Opposition had fulfilled its oversight mandate, parliament and MPs as a whole had not.

Citing an example, he said the gaydrung post was discontinued despite the National Assembly having passed a resolution to retain the post.

“But the government is trampling it, and neither Speaker nor ruling MPs are saying anything. The Opposition is going to stand up on it,” he said, adding that parliament had failed to uphold its oversight roles.

The opposition leader said that it is “discharging a bulk of oversight responsibilities”, not the parliament or National Assembly.

Dewathang Gomdar MP Ugyen Dorji said that he would oversee the functioning of the local governments and provide an assessment on the progress of activities that have bearing on the well-being of the people.

Some local leaders, however, are of the view that MPs should mind their jurisdiction while exercising the MPs’ oversight role.

The Speaker said that while more than 50 percent of the members had completed their constituency visits, the rest would complete before the finalisation of the agenda for the summer session.

Dzongkhags and gewogs saw fewer visits by their representatives and the Cabinet members in the past two years.

Lyonpo Dorji Tshering and Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo are among the MPs on tour in various dzongkhags after the relaxation of the protocols.

The Speaker said that work was on track for the summer session, which would begin on June 2.

The National Assembly has notified all agencies to submit agendas to the secretariat by May 15.