The closing ceremony of the eighth session of the Parliament was simple, but it was a significant session in many ways. The five-year term of the National Council has come to an end. Some members would go back to the voters to start preparing for the next round. Some will retire, and some will join the five political parties that are banking on the NC members.

Beyond the choice of candidates left for the new and old political parties, the eighth session has paved the way for major changes as we prepare for the next government in 2024.

The eighth session, many say, will be remembered for the significant Bills passed, which will become an Act by the time we have a newly elected government. The Gyalsung Act has received the Royal Assent after deliberations in both houses and we will see the first batch of Bhutanese youth join the much-awaited national service programme.

There are both excitement and apprehension.  For those who understand the noble vision of Gyalsung, it is an opportunity to prepare for the future. For many who are scared of the three-month military training and the punishment, which dominated the deliberations rather than the opportunities, some explanation would help. The Gyalsung programme should be presented as an opportunity. It was when the royal vision was shared with clarity accompanied by a sense of urgency.

The eighth session also adopted several Bills that would not go down well with the voters. The Tax Bill and Property Tax Bill, many say would haunt the government and Parliamentarians who “ayed” for it. Taxes are sensitive, especially when it is about increasing. Not many elected governments would revise tax for the fear of backlash from the electorate. Increasing the property tax by 0.01 percent would have huge repercussions on property owners.

But it has to be revised.

There is not enough revenue to meet our capital expenditures. For the last many decades, government spending has been the highest contributor to the Gross Domestic Product. Domestic revenue has just managed to cover the recurrent expenditure. This is not a healthy trend. For an economy to grow we need to invest in the economy and create jobs.

Progressive taxation policy is one way of fulfilling the vision of a just and harmonious society. It is not fair for a jinda on Thimphu’s Norzin Lam to pay the same land or property tax that someone in Zhemgang pays. We know that the one month’s rental income from a small pan shop, (built illegally under the stairs) of a five-storeyed in Norzin Lam is enough to pay the property tax for a year.

If the government wants to improve services and invest in improved infrastructure, they need money. While our people are becoming richer, the government cannot depend on begging or borrowing. As we prepare to graduate to a middle-income level country, there will be not many donors. A government increasing tax will not be popular, but someone has to take the risk for the good of all.

The elected government depends on the bureaucracy, the machinery that implements its plans and policies. There is a reform happening in the bureaucracy and in other agencies responsible for public service delivery. Our systems are transforming with a focus on transparency and fixing accountability. Government agencies including ministries and departments are being streamlined and reshaped. All these should benefit the people.

There are many Bills that need to be ironed out to become an Act. We saw good trends in the eighth session. We expect more as we wait for the fourth elected government. If we have good legislation, governance will become better.