Customs Bill and the BBIN motor vehicle agreement will be deliberated in a joint sitting

Besides bills, the ninth session of the National Assembly, which begins tomorrow will also deliberate on the third pay commission report.

Finance Minister Namgay Dorji will present the pay commission report on May 9 during the budget session. The commission has reviewed and proposed changes in local leaders’ salaries, allowances and other benefits.

The pay commission was constituted on February 21 this year, coinciding with the 37th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty The King. The commission was formed after His Majesty The King conferred patangs (ceremonial sword) to the Dzongkhag Tshogdu chairpersons in Trongsa on December 17 last year.

Chairman of the legislative committee, MP Ritu Raj Chhetri, said issues related to local leaders’ salaries, allowances and other benefits would be addressed in the report. “The salaries and other perks of diplomats have also been reviewed,” he said.

However, he said that civil servants might not see a raise this time. “Their salaries were increased recently and we don’t have an immediate plan for civil servants,” Ritu Raj Chhetri said.

The salary raise for those in the local government, officials said, is also part of the government’s efforts to empower local governments and grassroots leaders.

Local leaders’ salaries were last revised in July 2014 along with that of thrompons and MPs. However, local leaders have now realised that while thrompons and MPs receive annual increments, elected members of a gewog do not.

This Parliament session is expected to address these issues. Thrompons receive a monthly salary of Nu 45,785 and an annual increment of Nu 915.

Gups today receive Nu 20,000, mangmis Nu 15,000, geydrungs Nu 13,000 and tshogpas Nu 7,000. But unlike thrompons and MPs, gewog leaders do not get annual increments, which make a significant difference in retirement benefits.

A gup from Tsirang said he was looking forward to the Pay Commission’s recommendations. “We deserve better perks as our responsibilities have increased by folds,” he said.

Local leaders say that they are disappointed with the government for not addressing their concerns regarding the salaries. Unlike LG leaders, an MP’s salary is calculated from the day the results are declared by the election commission. However, a local leader starts getting his salary only from the day he takes the oath of office.

Meanwhile, the session will see deliberations on the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Bill 2017.

The Customs Bill of Bhutan 2016 and the controversial Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) motor vehicle agreement are up for deliberation in a joint sitting.

A separate Customs Act will be enacted as part of the government’s commitment to reform and modernise customs administration. This will mean the separation of the Customs portion from the Sales Tax, Customs and Excise Act 2000.

The joint sitting will deliberate the National Council’s objections against the BBIN agreement, the aim of which is to facilitate cross-border seamless movement of cargo and passenger vehicles within the four countries. A joint parliamentary committee has been formed to resolve the differences between the two houses of Parliament.

The session will also introduce the 2017-18 budget on May 8.

The prime minister will present the annual report on the State of the Nation on June 15. He is expected to outline the government’s legislative plans and development priorities.

Besides the two international agreements – the European Investment Bank agreement and the BBIN agreement, the National Assembly will introduce yet another international agreement. The lower house will deliberate the Multilateral Agreement for the Establishment of an International Think Tank for Landlocked Countries.

A report on review of laws to encourage the private sector and corporations to increase maternity leave will also be presented in this session. The good governance committee will present the annual Anti-Corruption Report 2016 on May 18.

The Information, Communications and Media Bill 2016, is also up for deliberation this session. The bill was introduced in the National Assembly last year but was referred to a committee without deliberating after the opposition asked the bill to guarantee right to information.

The Marriage Bill 2016 is also expected to be passed in this session. The bill was introduced in the last session.

Relevant committees will present reports on Punatshangchu hydropower project I, Gewog Development Grants, Disaster Management, System Audit of Hydroelectric Energy and IT Audit of Public Expenditure Management Systems.

MB Subba