Major amendments were made to clauses coming in contradiction with existing national laws including slashing the lease period from 90 years to 30 years.
The National Council yesterday endorsed the “Bhutan Education City Bill” with 17 members, unanimously voting to adopt it. The bill however has undergone seven important amendments including a clause cutting down the lease period from 90 years to 30 years.
Of the 22 members present at the Assembly, two voted against the bill while three members abstained from voting. The council needed 13 votes to pass the bill. The two who voted against the bill was Bumthang NC MP, Tshewang Jurmey and eminent member Dr. Sonam Kinga.
The house debated at length on the provisions in the bill that were in contradiction with other Acts such as the Land Act, the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code, and on the immunity the Bill granted to Board members.
One of the major amendments was made to Section 42 (1) & (2) of the bill which according to the draft allowed the government to lease land to the developer for a maximum period of 90 years and the developer to sublease any part of the land.
This, the chairman of the NC’s economic affairs committee, Lhuentse NC member Rinzin Rinzin said is in direct contradiction to the Land Act 2007 which states that government land will be leased on 30 yrs term but is renewable. He also said that subleasing is not allowed in normal government procedures.
Therefore, the house resorted to amend the section stating that land lease will be executed as per the Land Act 2007 with a 30 year term and no sub leasing allowed.
The house also concluded that no project specific bills or Acts shall supersede existing national laws. Hence, Section 5 of the draft bill which allows it to override any other law has been deleted.
Section 34 that allowed the education city board to propose to the government for exemption from laws, policies and taxes were also amended. Wangduephodrang NC member, Sonam Yangchen who raised the question said government has the powers to change policies but not laws.
The house concluded that the word ‘laws’ shall be removed, thereby making it clear that government will have no authority to exempt the board from applicable laws. Exemption from fiscal incentive any tax, levy or likes has been rephrased as ‘provision of fiscal incentives’
The house also amended section 12 which illustrates the composition of the education city board. A sub-clause has been added to the bill to allow Gups of relevant Gewogs as board membersAmong other changes to the bill, a few words were replaced while some clauses were retained as per draft after much deliberation.
Earlier, talking to The Bhutanese, Trongsa NC MP Dr Jagar Dorji said he has no idea about the level of impact the project would make on the economy or education system.
He doubted if the project could fetch reasonable returns for the government. “I think the project is going to take minimum 10 years and another 10 years of tax holiday. So, by that time I don’t know what will be the condition of Bhutan,” he said.
Those against the bill
The two NC MPs who voted against the bill mainly feared that the project may not be economically viable as expected to be.
Dr Sonam Kinga justified it stating that the project failed to attract prominent builders in the region. “Some significant potential bidders such as Tata which expressed interest earlier however, did not even participate in the bid. This is one reason why I have reservations about the attractiveness of our Education City”, he blogged on his social network site.
He also raised concerns about the desired impact of the project on improving the education system. “The government could help promote and the Board of Education City can ensure that institutes and colleges setting up campuses in the City are really ‘high quality.’ But what if the ‘high quality’ institutes and colleges are not interested”, he wrote.
This he feels might result in considering colleges and institutes whose quality in any sense would not match what the education city bill envisages.
“Certainly, we do not want academic institutions that are only business entities”, he added.
In his earlier posts, Dr Sonam Kinga justified his stand by stating that the “quality of education is an issue in our country but improving the quality of our education system requires us to revisit our education policy in terms of teaching-learning system, facilities, addressing teacher shortages, revising our curriculum etc. Our focus has to be right from community and primary schools to tertiary institutes. I do not think that the Education City will help us to do that”.
DHI Infra optimistic
In an email Interview, CEO of DHI Infra Kinga Tshering said the education city is a public private partnership model where government will have to create the necessary enabling environment for the project to succeed.
“A specific policy intervention by the government as in the case of hydropower projects will unleash the true potential of this very noble sector”, he said.
Asked if there was a need for the bill, he said the bill is necessary both to comply with government policy and also to attract investors and educational investors in the hub. “It also lends to transparency process through public debate, public wisdom and ultimately public reasoning”, he added.
Kinga Tshering said there is no dearth of market with over 100,000 students in the domestic market and over millions more in the region. He also referred to studies conducted such as the one carried out by Ernst &Young which shows that the project is viable.
The DHI Infra CEO cited market conditions, logistic problems, lack of clear regulations, untested market, extremely difficult and long-term project among others as reasons for failing to attract maximum builders for the project.
He said DHI has carried out the bidding process as per the rules.
The National Assembly had passed the Bill during the eight session of the parliament last winter with DPT Zhemgang parliament member Tshering Dorji and the two members of the opposition who voted against it citing an example of the failed IT park project.
The two houses is total have made 36 various amendments to the draft bill. 21 amendments made by NA members in the 8th parliamentary session were accepted by the NC. If the 15 additional amendments made by NC are approved next week by the NA, the bill need not go for joint sitting in the 10th session of parliament this winter.
The house also passed the ‘contract bill’ and ‘alternative dispute resolution bill’ unanimously, yesterday morning with all 22 members.