Deviating from past practice, five of the nine National Assembly committees have elected their chairpersons from the Opposition party, while three have elected from the ruling party.
The committees chaired by members from the Opposition are the house committee; good governance; environment and climate change; women, children and youth; and the social and cultural committees. National Council eminent member Phuntsho Rapten is chairing the public accounts committee.
The committees chaired by ruling members are the human rights and foreign relations; economic and finance; and legislative.
Parliamentary committees, which function like mini-parliaments, scrutinise government activities and draw attention of the Speaker and the House to matters of national importance. The committees also review bills referred to them by the Speaker for consistency with the Constitution, other laws and policies and submit its finding to the House.
This is the first time committee Chairs have been divided between the ruling party and the Opposition. This has raised questions about whether or not conflict-of-interest would arise in situations where the Opposition is opposed to a bill that falls in the jurisdiction of a committee that is chaired by a member of the Opposition.
Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel told Kuensel that although most of the committee chairpersons belong to the Opposition, the House would not encounter problems as long as the committee follows the terms of reference. He said that he had no objections to chairpersons being elected from the Opposition.
“Parliament has to be role model as the premier institute of democracy. We should put the country’s interest first as Members of Parliament and work as a team,” he said.
Wangchuk Namgyel said the Opposition should not be sidelined and that the election of chairpersons from the Opposition would make democracy inclusive. He said the Members of Parliament should work as a team with trust and faith in each other.
Opposition leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said that having a chairman from the Opposition would ensure a better check and balance. “We will provide good support whole ensuring that the government does not overstep boundaries,” he said.
Some members, however, say that some of the chairpersons needed to be from the Opposition since the number of members from the government and the Opposition is almost equal.
Excluding the Cabinet members, the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, the ruling party has 18 members while the Opposition has 17.
Bongo-Chapchha MP Tshewang Lhamo has been elected as the chairperson of the legislative committee, one of the most important committees. Drukjeygang Tseza MP Jurmi Wangchuk is elected as the chair of the human rights and foreign relations committee, which consists of nine members.
The economic and finance committee elected Kinley Wangchuk as the chairman of the committee, which has 13 members.
The chairpersons from the opposition are opposition leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) for environment and climate change; Tshering Choden for women, children and youth; Choki Gyaltshen for social and cultural committee; Dorji Wangdi for house committee and Ugyen Wangdi for good governance.
No opposition leader was elected as a committee chairman before. Cabinet members, the Speaker and Deputy Speaker have not taken membership of any committee.
The chairperson of the public accounts committee can come from any of the Houses, as it is a joint committee appointed as per Article 25 (6) of the Constitution and has the mandate to review and report on the Annual Audit Report and others reports to the Parliament.
The National Assembly recently reduced the number of committees to nine from 11. The house will have to endorse the decision when the National Assembly commences on January 2.
The finance and economic development and private sector committees have been merged to form a new committee. Similarly, foreign relations and human rights committees have also been merged.
The reduction in the number of committees is aimed at strengthening the membership in each committee. It was felt that the current number of committees was adequate to serve the purpose of discharging parliamentary duties.
The legislative and public accounts committees were established in 2003 and 2004, respectively. The other committees were reconstituted at the first session of the second National Assembly after the introduction of parliamentary democracy.