The stability of a healthy democracy depends on the amount of public trust and participation in the decision making process. The democracies around the world are failing due to loss of public trust in unaccountable governments.

To avoid the same fate in a young democracy, about 30 MPs attended a two-day training on public hearing in Thimphu yesterday. The training is expected to enhance participants’ knowledge on public hearing as an effective mechanism for increased public participation in the country.

Public hearing is a formal consultation between the public and the government or different stakeholders in the presence of media. “Public hearing will enhance public engagement, inclusiveness, and the quality of law making process,” said the UNDP Resident Representative, Azusa Kubota.

“Globally, public hearing is proved to be an effective tool for the committees to gather information on issues that have direct implications for the livelihoods of community and the wider population,” she added.

Facilitated by an expert on parliamentary development from UNDP Bangkok regional hub, Doina Ghimici, the training is expected to help Bhutan’s MPs develop skills in the planning, preparation and conduct of public hearings, among others.

She said that the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan and the rules of procedure of National Assembly and the National Council authorise a committee to conduct public hearings.

Article 10.2 of the Constitution imposes an obligation on the Parliament to conduct public review of policies and issues, bills and other legislations and scrutinise the State’s functions. Article 10.11 requires both NA and NC to establish committees to implement the mandates of the Parliament and gives both the Houses the power to determine their rules of procedures.

Azusa Kubota said the public hearing opens dialogue and progressive debates with the public.

As a connecting link between the people and state institutions, the parliamentarians have the opportunity to support and oversee the implementation of sustainable development goals. “Goal 16 of SDGs 2030 recognises the essential role of national parliaments through enactment of legislation and adoption of budgets, and their role in ensuring accountability for effective implementation of commitments.”

Once the members are trained, they would be able to gather information, access expertise, hear stakeholder perspectives, empower and educate the public through the public hearing process.

A typical public hearing process involves an agenda, key components for discussion such as title, date, time, venue, purpose, and background, list of committee members, presenters, question periods and contact information, among others.

An effective public hearing should be guided by legislative agenda, budget cycle, and development plans.

National Assembly Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that people had access to government decisions only after the decision reached the parliamentary sessions. With public hearing, public participation in decision-making regarding laws and resolutions is expected to increase.

“Through public consultation and hearing before the decisions are passed, development needs of the public would be placed at the forefront,” Wangchuk Namgyel said.

As the Speaker, he would ensure all committees have one public hearing besides field visits, consultative meetings, and closed hearings. “Public access in decision making would improve.”

The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament conducted its first public hearing with the Ministry of Health in 2016 on unresolved audit irregularities.

The public hearing manual guide was published in 2016 with support from UNDP.

Choki Wangmo