Could we have saved six months?

The latest development on the Rupee shortage simmered to a scuffle between one House of Parliament and the central bank over how much and how to share information.

The Economic Affairs Committee of the National Council (NC) was mandated to carry out a study of the Rupee shortage as a review exercise and present their findings in the 9th session. This did not happen and instead it was reported to the House the Committee had an incomplete report. Several meetings had already been conducted. However, the Royal Monetary Authority’s (RMA) repetitive refusal to share relevant information for instance the minutes from the board meetings and the Governor’s failure to appear before the Committee to assist with necessary information had hindered the Committee’s work.

The Committee’s efforts in obtaining relevant information draws from a provision in the National Council Act of Bhutan 2008 under section 39 as follows:

“A member shall have the right to be provided with information by the Government and to inspect any official document on any matter of relevance in the exercise of his parliamentary mandates.”

Therefore, when any member or committee of the NC is seeking information, it does so by invoking this clause. Seeking information from the RMA in discharge of parliamentary function by a parliamentary committee is normal procedure.

On the other hand, the RMA’s reluctance to share information, besides the head of the institution failing to appear before the committee, according to their statements seems to be based on norms of central banks elsewhere.  However, section 84 of the RMA Act of Bhutan 2010 concerning secrecy provides a clear need for the Authority to provide information if required by any other law of the country. Therefore, invoking section 39 of the NC Act, it becomes clear that there was never any legal stand for RMA to refuse sharing of information with the Committee.

Following submission of the Committee to the House on their failure to present their findings as a result of incomplete information, a few members proposed that the provision under section 59 of the NC Act 2008 be invoked and the Governor be summoned to proceedings of the House. Following that the officiating Governor appeared before the House, submitted a set of token documents and offered commitment to cooperate with the Committee in completing the study for presentation to the 10th session.

Many may have perceived this occurrence differently and in addition to re-constructing the developments rather simplistically, I present my case for the need to streamline the information sharing regime in our system. The same session failed to consider adopting the draft Right to Information Bill for debate. A week before the Economic Affairs Committee failed to present its findings to the House, a motion calling the attention of the Government to enact a RTI law failed to garner enough support. The same session, however, supported the need to further disseminate awareness on RTI throughout the country.

Existing laws that require information sharing are spread across several laws but institutions failing to understand and respect it are a definite sign for the need to bring them up to speed. A comprehensive RTI law on the other hand could have made it easier for everyone to understand information sharing better. Perhaps then the Committee would have completed its study. A timely debate on it could have saved us another six months in the light of the fact that the value of information decreases with time. Perhaps nothing can put it as aptly as the old adage ‘a stitch in time saves nine’.

 

The writer is the NC from Gasa

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