A key ingredient of a good democracy is the ability to make good compromises and take decisions based on the common consensus for the larger national interest.
In that sense the decision of the National Assembly to not deliberate on the Land Bill 2012 during the tenure of this Parliament is a commendable one and a good one.
The decision in this case demonstrates the maturity and wisdom of the DPT party leadership which realized the need to incorporate not only the Royal Kasho but also respect the sentiments and wishes of the people.
As pointed out by some members there was a lot of public opposition against introducing a controversial land bill. This is true given the fact that ordinary citizens, local government leaders, National Council MPs, Political parties, civil servants and even a few DPT MPs publicly expressed their strong reservations on various aspects of the Land Bill 2012.
As per the views of the above the Land Bill 2012 had two main controversial clauses. One was the bill giving ‘land resettlement powers’ to the cabinet. This was interpreted by many as the bill giving the cabinet ‘Land Kidu powers’ under a different name. Under the current Land Act 2007 only the Druk Gyalpo can give resettlement land. This is in line with the Constitution and earlier Royal Kasho’s that gives the prerogative of Land Kidu only to His Majesty the King.
The current Land Act 2007 according to them already has clear provisions for the government to provide substitute land for project affected families. Resettlement powers they say is not required.
The second controversial clause was on the entire Land Commission’s current membership of government secretaries and the Gyalpoi Zimpon being replaced with cabinet ministers. Many critics felt this would lead to the politicization of the National Land Commission if not under this government then definitely under some other government in the future.
The National Land Commission is already accountable to the government of the day. For that reason the commission is comprised largely of government secretaries who in turn are accountable to their ministers. The NLC staff also comprises of civil servants who are bound by the Civil Service code to serve the government and Ts-Wa-Sum faithfully. The NLC Secretary himself is a civil servant whose future career prospects also depend largely on the cabinet’s assessment of his performance.
Criticism by some MPs of the media’s coverage on the Land Bill is perfectly okay in a democratic setting, as long as it does not translate into punitive action. However, criticism here is yet another case of the messenger being blamed for the message. The media’s prime responsibility in any democracy is to convey popular messages and views of the people to the government and in some cases the message may not be what the government is expecting or is prepared for.
One core issue that emerged during the short discussion is some MP’s highlighting the need to amend the land bill at some point due to land problems faced by ordinary citizens.
Their concerns as the elected representatives are genuine but the solution is not in changing the laws but in ensuring that the existing laws are implemented properly and fully.
The National Land Commission today is probably one of the most overburdened, understaffed and under-budgeted government organizations. There is a need for more specialists, more transparency, more customer friendly services and a gradual system improvement.
All of the above can be done under the current provisions of the Land Act 2007. The resolution of the above infrastructural and systemic problems will provide a much more comprehensive solution to the many land problems than any new laws.
The government can also strengthen the capacity of agencies like the ACC, RAA and the media so that they can play their own roles independently and efficiently to look into issues of systemic or individual injustice in land administration.
It is good that the Parliament is giving the Royal Kasho its due importance. The Kasho should not only be read for its words but also for its generous spirit, its huge self-sacrifice, its wisdom and the vision of a great leader, His Majesty the King leading by example and moral conviction.