Even though the second session of the third parliament was largely fruitful given the resolutions, motions and recommendations passed, the need for improvement in the quality of proposed legislations and debates have been felt.
In comparison to the second parliament, observers say debates in the last two sessions were generally issue-based. But debates are expected to heat up as new MPs gain confidence and the Opposition keeps questioning the government’s policies and programmes.
If there were one official who has observed the proceedings more closely than MPs themselves, it would be secretary general Sangay Duba, who said debates in the last two sessions were low-key.
“Debates were there, but with due respect. They did make their points on the issue and issues were taken care of,” he said.
He said he felt that the second parliament debates were more controversial for the public to watch as members from the ruling party and the opposition attacked each other more. But he added time would tell how debates in the current parliament would ensue as the term progresses.
He said that English was used more often in the first session but that there was a drastic improvement in the second session in terms of MPs’ ability to express in Dzongkha. “I think it’s a matter of time because they get used to some of the terms used in the parliament and they will be more articulate.”
The use of Bhutanese proverbs has been one of the features of the present parliament irrespective of one’s fluency in Dzongkha.
Sangay Duba said the prime minister used proverbs almost every time he spoke and that the secretariat had recorded them all. “I didn’t see members using proverbs this often in the second parliament.”
Dewathang Gomdar MP Ugyen Dorji said that there was room for improvement in the conduct of the House although he was satisfied with the outcome. “We withdrew some bills to be deliberated in the next session, which shouldn’t have happened.”
Athang Thedtsho MP Kinley Wangchuk was also satisfied with the outcome of the session. “The second session went exceptionally well.”
Inadequate homework by committees and filibustering
Lack of adequate homework by some committees was reflected in the debates on the proposed local government (LG) amendment Bill and the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) Bill, which the House deferred.
The good governance committee’s proposed amendment makes it necessary for gups, mangmis and thromde thuemis to have a Class X qualification. Local leaders have two more years to go before the next election.
Should the parliament pass amendment in the current form, it would be against the law for many incumbent local leaders to continue serving. This is because the Bill does not specify whether the blanket provisions would be applicable from the next LG election or as soon as it becomes a law.
The human rights committee cited lack of time for review of the proposed RBP Bill, which was on the agenda.
In what was also an indication of lack of homework from relevant committees and ministries, the House spent a significant amount of time pointing out clerical errors and mismatch between Dzongkha texts. Some MPs say they do not get adequate time to read documents distributed to them.
Sangay Duba agreed that committees and ministries needed to dedicate more time in drafting of Bills and recommendations and review of issues.
“There should be exhaustive consultations on Bills so that the committee and the ministry can defend and explain in the House,” he said, adding that things would be better if members invest more time in committee works.
He also said that the secretariat lacks experts to assist committees. “If we have the required experts in the secretariat, the quality of reports would be better.”
Another issue in parliament has been filibustering although some MPs rarely took the floor.
The general secretary said that in the past, long speeches were made beyond time, not necessarily on the issue. “And there are still some members who do the same, but the Speaker has been strict in making sure that they speak on the issue.”
It was observed that some MPs sometimes beat around the bush. The secretary general said the conduct was very smooth in the last two sessions.
An MP said that some of them are disadvantaged not only due lack of command over Dzongkha but also due lack of knowledge and homework on issues.
As in the past parliaments, it was the same MPs who contribute to most of the debates. Some MPs spoke mostly on their constituency issues such as human-wildlife conflict but remained mute on policy and national issues.
Drujegang-Tseza MP at the receiving end
It was Dagana’s Drukjeygang Tseza MP Jurmi Wangchuk, who perhaps stole most of the limelight in the second session. He was at the receiving end as a video clip of his personal attack on Panbang MP went viral.
However, an MP from the ruling party said Panbang MP had made a false allegation, which provoked MP Jurmi Wangchuk but that the former’s comments were not shown on TV and social media.
The Panbang MP is in his third term, while Jurmi Wangchuk is a first time parliamentarian.
Secretary general Sangay Duba said that certain level of freedom should be provided as a democracy. “I think there should be debates,” he said, adding that pointing fingers at someone was considered unacceptable in Bhutanese society.
“All the more, voters and citizens expect that MPs behave properly. That said, the House provides members the space to argue and put their point across but in a decent manner,” the secretary general said.
In the Drujegang Tseza MP’s case, he said it was a bit out of order and that he felt criticisms on social media were in fact harsher than what the Speaker would have decided. MPs, he said, needed to stand up for issues and represent their constituency.
“We must take into account that we are in a democratic era. If they are reprimanded for a little thing, I think we are shutting up them and we will not be representing our voters’ thoughts and feelings,” he said.
The secretary general informed that the Speaker reminded the members about the need to respect the decorum of the House while meeting people’s expectations.
The decision to withdraw the Police Act in the National Assembly one May 31 led to an exchange of personal attacks.