Joint sitting endorsed Lhengye Zhungtshog 2020 Bill 

Yangchen C Rinzin

Despite concerns shared by many members on the dilution in the functioning of Cabinet Secretariat, the Joint Sitting yesterday endorsed the Lhengye Zhungtshog Bill 2020 with the new Chapter on the Cabinet Secretariat.

According to the new Chapter recommended by the Joint Committee, the government may establish Office of the Prime Minister (PMO), but within the Cabinet Secretariat. This is in contradiction with the National Assembly’s recommendations to have PMO headed by the principal secretary.

The new Chapter also requires PMO to be adequately staffed with specialised professions.

However, the Joint Committee recommended that the Royal Civil Service Commission shall provide specialised professions from the civil service. The Bill also states that in an event, if certain professionals are not available within the civil service, such professionals could be recruited on contract.

“But the contract recruitment should be as per the Civil Service Act of Bhutan.”

This means the PMO cannot politically appoint staff according to the vice-chairperson of the Joint Committee and National Council member from Haa, Ugyen Namgay. 

“In absence of legislation the recruitment of staff to PMO during past two governments brewed controversy. Keeping this in mind the Committee came up with the Chapter to strengthen the manpower.”

He added that in the event of absence of certain specialised professionals are not available within civil service, the PMO can recruit such professionals on contract, but as per the Civil Service Act.

The Bill states that the remunerations, allowances and service conditions of these employees will be governed by the Civil Service Act and other relevant laws and not determined by the Prime Minister like past experiences.

In addition to existing Chapter 3 of the Lhengye Zhungtshog Bill, the Joint Sitting also endorsed that the Prime Minister in consultation with the Lhengye Zhuntshog shall nominate officials in the regional and international offices.

“For this, the Lhengye Zhungtshog shall prescribe procedures for nomination,” the Bill states.

National Council eminent member, Phuntsho Rapten, said that it was important to ensure that allowing such chapter to have PMO within the Cabinet Secretariat would not cause dilution in the functioning of the Cabinet Secretariat or concentration of power in the PMO.

However, the Joint Sitting endorsed all the recommendations from the Joint Committee and adopted the Lhengye Zhungtshog Bill of Bhutan 2020 with 55 “YES” votes.

With this, the 1999 Lhengye Zhungtshog becomes obsolete.

Although some members opined that there was a need for clear definition of disaster or kinds of emergency specified, the House also endorsed that as per the Bill the quorum for sessions shall be at least two-thirds of its ministers’ members. However, an exception may be made in the event of natural calamities.

It was also proposed that a member of the Lhengye Zhungtshog shall respect the apolitical nature of public service servants.

It was also endorsed that the Lhengye Zhungtshog shall be dissolved following the completion of the five-year term of the National Assembly in accordance with Article 10 (24) of the Constitution.

However, the Lhengye Zhungtshog shall continue office until the appointment of the interim government in accordance with Article 19(3) of the Constitution.

“But the Lhengye Zhungtshog during that period shall not be entitled to take any policy decisions or enter into any agreement with foreign government or organizations,” the Bill stated.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk