MB Subba

The upcoming session of Parliament, which was supposed to be the summer session of 2020, is being postponed further to November due to Covid-19, the Speaker has indicated.

Earlier, National Assembly Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel had said that the upcoming session could be held in September so that the winter session would be held towards the end of the year.

The rationale was that the last session, which was held from June 1 to 17 to pass the annual budget 2020-21, was considered as the continuation of the third session.

However, speaking to Members of Parliament at the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB) on July 30, the Speaker said that discussions were being held with the National Council on the possibility of calling the session in November.

This means that the last budget session should be considered as the fourth session although it did not meet the constitutional requirement to be called a separate session. Should Parliament consider the budget session as the fourth session, then the upcoming session that is expected to commence in November will be considered as the winter session of 2020.

The National Assembly had officially said that the budget session was a continuation of the third session. Should the budget session be considered as the continuation of the third session, Parliament has not had any session in 2020.

Speaking in the RUB hall, Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that the two houses of Parliament were in a regular discussion on the upcoming session.

“The NC Thrizin and I had a meeting and we discussed the possibility of having the session in November,” he said.

The Speaker said that he was mindful about the constitutional requirement to hold two sessions in a year. But he added that some members were of the view that the recent session, which passed the budget, could be considered as one of the two sessions for 2020.

At the post-session plenary held in June, however, most members had agreed that the budget session should not be considered as a separate session. The Parliament should have two sessions in a year as per the Constitution.

The Constitution states that the Druk Gyalpo shall be received in a joint sitting of Parliament with chibdrel ceremony at the commencement of each session of Parliament. Each session shall be opened with a zhugdrel phunsumtshogpai tendrel and each session shall conclude with the tashi moenlam.

Normally, winter sessions begin in November while the summer sessions begin in May. However, some members said it was an extraordinary situation and that they had no issue with the session being delayed.

“The nation is going through an unusual situation because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It is important to be as cautious as possible. The Speaker’s proposal to reschedule the National Assembly session to a later date is a good idea,” Bartsham-Shongphu MP Passang Dorji (PhD) said.

He added, “As things stand, how the pandemic situation would shape up in the coming days appears as unpredictable as it is worrying. Convening parliament sessions during such dire times will pose risks for we might not be able to observe required preventive health protocols.”

The delay of the session comes at a time when the crucial bills and issues are awaiting Parliament approval.

For instance, the National Council (NC) would have completed discussions on the Mines and Minerals Bill 2020, which was passed by the NA in January this year. In the absence of a new Mines and Minerals Bill, a debate has been raging over whether the state or the private sector should operate the mines and minerals businesses.

Similarly, the NA would have concluded deliberations on the Lhengye Zhungtshog Bill and Entitlement and Service Conditions (amendment) Bill for the Holders, Members and Commissioners of Constitutional Offices, which were passed by NC in the last winter session.