The agenda setting plenary of the National Assembly held on May 9 referred all 23 petitions from local governments to relevant ministries.

Most petitions were on the need to blacktop farm roads and requirement of security guards for community lhakhangs. However, the plenary which was attended by 39 members from both ruling and opposition parties, decided that the issues did not merit deliberation in Parliament.

Deputy Speaker Tshencho Wangdi said the petitions also included issues related to community centres and gaydrungs. “These were already discussed in the past. So we referred them to ministries,” he said, adding that parliament had pressing issues in hand.

However, Opposition spokesperson and Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said the petition on blacktopping of roads and the one from Tsirang Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT) to establish a college in the dzongkhag deserved deliberations in Parliament.

He said that the need to blacktop roads was a national issue, while there was a precedence of deliberating a petition to establish a new college in a dzongkhag. “We deliberated a petition from Zhemgang for establishment of a college there,” he said, citing an example.

Dorji Wangdi said that Parliament as the oversight body of the government can discuss any important issues.

A DT member from Tsirang said some of them wanted a medical college established, while others were content with any college. He said people would be least aware of the people’s aspirations if Parliament did not deliberate such matters.

DT members from Lhuentse said that they had sent a petition on the need to implement the proposed Shingkhar-Gorgon bypass to Parliament recently. However, MPs who attended the plenery said the petition did not feature at the meeting.

Khoma gup and Lhuentse’s deputy DT thrizin, Sithar Tshering, said the present government is their last hope in realising their long pending request. He said they were informed that Nu 3 million has been kept in the 12th Plan for the road.

In what would be a change in the current parliament, ministries would report to the Parliament on the status of issues referred to them.


Agenda for the session 

The session from May 23 to June 26 will be the first where the government presents its first annual budget, which is likely to shed some light into its fiscal policies. It will also serve as a platform to set the tone for the remaining years of its term through formulation of legislations such as the Mines and Mineral Bill.

The Bill, which seeks to repeal the Mines and Minerals Management Act 1995, is in favour of allowing private participation in a more regulated and well defined manner with a clear set of obligations on the owners. The National Council has in the past called for nationalisation of minerals and mines.

Deputy Speaker Tshencho Wangdi said this will be the only new Bill for the session. Most discussions on legislative issues are expected to be on the recommendations of the National Law review Task Force (NLRTF), which found provisions of seven laws in conflict with the Constitution.

One of the laws recommended for amendment is the Royal Bhutan Police Act. But it was learnt that some MPs feel that Parliament is ill prepared to amend the Police Act in view of lack of discussion within relevant committees.

Tshencho Wangdi said the committees would work on the inconsistencies pointed out by the taskforce. The bills are yet to be reviewed by relevant committees even as there are less than two weeks for the session to commence.

Some members said the committees would not take time to review the Bills since the law review taskforce has pointed out most of the inconsistencies. 

However, opposition spokesperson Dorji Wangdi said Parliament must look beyond the provisions pointed out by the taskforce. “We have to look at those laws from the top to the bottom.”

The fourth Pay Commission report is expected to be the most anticipated deliberation. The DNT party office has written to MPs to not take the raise while the opposition is expected to comment after the cabinet introduces the report to Parliament.

Another closely followed issue will be the 2019-20 budget. Some of the local government petitions pertained to lack of adequate funds for proposed projects and those petitions have been forwarded to ministries.

The government is not expected to table tax related bills in the upcoming session.

Finance Minister Namgay Tshering told Kuensel that the proposed tax measures will be tabled in the winter session. “These reforms will come as one package but not in this session,” he said.

Doing away with the 5 percent voucher tax was one of the 25 pledges the government had promised to implement within the first 120 days after taking office. 

The government has also pledged to increase PIT ceiling to Nu 300,000 and exempt BIT for businesses and firms that have less than Nu 200,000 turn over.

At the plenary on May 9, members reminded themselves about the role of the third Parliament.

Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel earlier said that the first session of the third Parliament was exemplary in terms of the conduct of members with both the ruling party and opposition working as a team.

MB Subba