Minister’s Entitlement Bill suggests check and balance

The Minister and Minister Equivalent Post Holder’s Entitlement Bill of Bhutan 2019 was introduced by the Legislative Committee in the National Council (NC) for deliberation on 5 June. The committee was directed by NC to re-deliberate on the issues even after an in-depth deliberation on 6 June.

The Chairperson of the Legislative Committee, Karma Tshering, presented an overview on the background of the Bill to the NC. The Chairperson said that the Legislative Committee was assigned the task to draft the Bill from the National Council’s Work Planning Workshop held in Paro from 29 to 31 July 2018.

The House considers the Bill as Private Member Bill because the government was only established just over half a year ago, and they have many important priorities including other important BIlls to work on. And as the members of Lhengye Zhungtshog are directly affected by this Bill, there will be a conflict of interest.

He said, “As it was strongly recommended by the National Law Review Taskforce, the Bill was drafted to enact a separate legislation to cover entitlements of minister and minister equivalent post holders in the country as they occupy the highest public offices with important functions and responsibilities, and they are the ultimate decision-makers on key policy issues.”

He further said, “It is also desirable to adequately reward them to enable them to perform their functions and discharge their responsibilities in an efficient, fair and transparent manner with accountability and integrity.”

Deputy Chairperson of the Committee, Choining Dorji, while presenting the principal elements of the Bill said, “The objective of the Bill was not only to provide a legal framework on the entitlement of a minister and minister equivalent post holder, but also to establish a National Committee on the Entitlement of a Minister and Minister Equivalent Post Holders, and to provide for any matter, which is consequential, ancillary or incidental to subsection 1 and 2 of the Section 5 of the Bill.”

The National Committee, as per the Bill, will consists of five members nominated by the Chief Justice of Bhutan, the Speaker of the National Assembly, the Chairperson of the National Council,  the Opposition Leader and  the Cabinet that also act as a voting Member Secretary.

The National Committee shall review and recommend to the Pay Commission on the entitlement of a Minister and Minister equivalent post holder and the Committee may make its own rules of procedures, including the election of its chair.

During an in-depth deliberation of the Bill, while adopting most of the provisions of the Bill, the members shared their concerns on few provisions such as the prospect of changing the nominations of the members of the National Committee and while the members agreed that there is a need to spend and use the hospitality and entertainment budget, they also shared that the clarity on what includes as an official business need to be defined.

The members also discussed on the provision of vehicle quota, extension of period without payment of rent of the official residence on the demised minister or minister equivalent post holder’s family among others.

In-depth deliberation took place on a few provisions of the Bill, especially with regard to the definitions such as the definition for Entertainment, Entitlement, Hospitality and Minister. While members agreed that hospitality and entitlement allowances are needed, they shared that there should be sound policy and guideline in place to ensure that hospitality and entertainment budget is nor misused or spent properly.

Minister or minister equivalent post holders can claim entertainment allowance only for attending any social, cultural or sporting events with officials, or people who have or who may facilitate the active conduct of official business and similarly hospitality allowances can be claimed only for meals, local beverages, tea and snacks given to or received from officials or people who have or who may facilitate the active conduct of official business. It excludes donation, rewards and offering of a personal nature by whatever names called.

However, a minister or minister equivalent post holder is subject to production of original bills, invoices or receipts, entitled to be paid actual expenses incurred for hospitality and entertainments directly related to the active conduct of official business.

The House informed the committee to re-deliberate on these issues during the in-house meeting.

Member from Gasa Dorji Khandu said, “There should be proper records of the accounts regarding the use of hospitality and entertainment allowances because as per the Audit Report, millions were spend as hospitality and entertainment expenses in the 10th and 11th Plans.”

Member from Trashigang, Lhatu, said, ‘A proper policy should be put in place to ensure ministers did not spend too much on such headings and there should be proper guidelines for the use of such allowances.”

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