Bills passed by NA and NC become Acts only after Royal’s Assent 

Yangchen C Rinzin

Following the Royal Assent, six additional Acts came into effect in July this year. The National Assembly (NA) passed six Acts during the 5th session of Parliament in June.

Budget Appropriation and Supplementary Budget Appropriation Acts for the financial year 2020-2021, Tobacco Control (Amendment) Act 2021, Tax Act 2021, Goods and Services Tax (Amendment) Act 2021, and Custom Duty Act 2021 were enacted in the recent session.

The House also approved an Agreement between the government and Green Climate Fund on the privileges and immunities of the fund.

Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that Bills endorsed in the National Assembly must have Royal Assent to become an Act and that many do not understand the procedure.

The Bill once passed by National Assembly and National Council or at the joint sitting should be submitted to the Druk Gyalpo for Assent within 15 days from the day of passing the Bill. Then the Act would come into effect.

“Probably this is why there were a lot of questions on when would the Tobacco (Amendment) Act come into effect,” the Speaker said. “Once enacted and granted Royal Assent, the government should not take time to implement the Act including the rules and regulations.”

What is Bill and the  process?

A legal officer with the NA, Sonam Delek said that while a Bill introduced by a minister is called a government Bill, the private member’s Bill can be introduced by any member and can originate from either NA or National Council (NC).

As per the Constitution, he said, if a Bill has been introduced and passed in one House, it must present the Bill to the other House within 30 days from the date of passing.

“If either House objects and does not incorporate the amendments in the Bill from where it originated, the Bill is then submitted to the Druk Gyalpo for a joint sitting,” the legal officer said. “The Speaker should write to His Majesty for the command to conduct joint sitting as per Article 13 of the Constitution.”

As per the Section 2 of Article 13 of the Constitution, Money Bills and Financial Bills can only originate in the National Assembly. The prerogative to declare a Money Bill or not is only with the Speaker.

“From the day the Money Bill is introduced, deliberated and submitted to the National Council for deliberation, the House must discuss send back to NA within five days from the date of introduction,” the legal officer said.

A Bill is also declared as an urgent Bill when it is required to prevent or address threats to the security and sovereignty of the country or respond instantly to the effects and impacts of unforeseen natural or man-made calamities.

Sonam Delek said that any member can propose the urgent Bill and if it is the government then the Prime Minister needs to write to the Speaker seeking to present an urgent Bill.

“One unique characteristic of an urgent bill is that the Bill must be introduced, deliberate, re-deliberate, discussed, and passed in the same session,” the official said.

This year the Tobacco Act was amended in the summer session as an urgent Bill in view of the continued smuggling of tobacco products through the porous border in the south. It was identified as one of the main reasons for the spread of the Covid-19 virus in the country.

Bills once passed?

Once the Bill is passed and granted Royal Assent, it must come into effect on the day the Assent was signed, which is why the Bills passed this year come into effect on July 2. So, technically the Tobacco (Amendment) Act 2010 comes into effect on July 2.

The legal officer said that it was also important to know that as per the Constitution His Majesty can also send back the Bill for re-discussion or with recommendations.

As per Article 13(10) of the Constitution, where the Druk Gyalpo does not grant Assent to the Bill, He shall return the Bill with amendments or objections to deliberate and vote on the Bill in a joint sitting.

Once the deliberation is complete and the Bill is passed in a joint sitting, the Bill would be resubmitted for the Royal Assent and the Assent shall be granted.

While the Constitution talks about the passing of Bills, there is no hard rule when the rules and regulations should be enacted, the Sonam Delek said. The rules and regulations are usually delegated to the respective agencies. “This is to ensure that the ministries, agencies or boards get the power to make rules and regulations.”

In some cases, while the rules and regulations come with Bills to make it easier for implementation of the Act, some prepare the rules and regulations only once the Act is granted Assent. “This is why the rules and regulations for the Tobacco Act are not yet implemented.”

Once the Bill is granted Assent, it comes back to the National Assembly, the implementation order should be signed by the Speaker and incorporate the enforcement date – the date on which the Royal grants the Assent. The Acts after that are sent to the implementing agencies.

“Sometimes it takes time to sign and distribute the Acts to the agencies, which is probably why police weren’t aware of the effective date. For instance, people brought in tobacco and were arrested this time,” the official said. “The implementation of Acts also depends on how proactive the respective agencies are.”

The official said that there was usually poor coherence between implementing agencies to inform which Acts are coming into effect and lack of consultation to implement the Act on the same enforcement date.

Edited by Tshering Palden