The National Council (NC) decided that it cannot deliberate on the RTI Bill in the 13th session and voted unanimously asking the NA to withdraw the Bill from this session of NC. The NC while saying that they supported the RTI Bill stated there since the Bill was not presented to them on time they could not consult and work on the bill. The Foreign Relation Committee (FRC) of NC was directed to study and hold public consultations on the RTI Bill before tabling it in the house for adoption.
The Chairperson of Committee, NC, Eminent Member, Dasho Karma Yezer Raydi said the committee requested Department of Information and Media (DoIM) for a presentation on the RTI Bill well before time but the department stated such requested has to be routed through the Cabinet Secretary based on a procedure established by the Committee of Secretaries (CoS).
This deadlock could only be broken by the PM at the last moment but according to NC members it came too late.
Dasho said it was impossible to review and hold public consultations on the Bill as they received a letter just a day before session started asking for a convenient time to present the Bill in the National Council. He said that the committee and NC required more time to study the Bill, consult stakeholders and look at the various sections.
NC Eminent member Kuenley Tshering pointed out various constitutional provisions and also provisions of the NC Act showing why the CoS resolution was not in keeping with them.
NC members said it was ironic that issues such as the RTI Bill that has been publicized widely by the ministry for public consultations, public awareness and feedback with 32 agencies and the National council, which is the actual institution that is required to deliberate and adopt the Bill is denied a simple presentation and special permission was required.
The Deputy Chairperson of NC, Tshering Dorji said they need time for discussion. “The rule of house requires a Bill to be submitted at least 3 months before beginning of the session to study and review.” He said due to the lack of time to deliberate on the Bill, there will be no good result.
The Gasa NC member, Sangay Khandu said in the National Assembly they had been given one year for the public consultations and for NC, they were provided one month time for consultations and discussion. He said the NC appreciates the intent of RTI Bill. “We support the Bill but we cannot support to discuss the bill in NC at the moment,” he added.
The Samtse NC member, Sangay Khandu said it is an important Bill that needs more time, information and deliberation before enacting it as it will affect all the people in the future.
Some members of NC said that the RTI was not an isolated issue as NC was not getting information from government officials and agencies on other issues like the trade agreement with Thailand and the issues surrounding the hike in prices of Gas Cylinders and Kerosene on account of non cooperation by the Committee of Secretaries (CoS).
A total of around 16 NC MPs got up to speak all expressing that while they supported RTI they could not discuss a Bill which had not been presented or worked on.
The Mongar NC questioned if the CoS being older was underestimating the NC and taking it for granted.
The Thimphu NC pointedly raised a doubt asking if the government was serious about presenting the Bill at all.
The Samdrup Jongkhar NC questioned who was in really in control and asked if the ministers were under the secretaries rather than the other way round.
In response to a question and expressing a similar sentiment the NC Chairperson Dasho Sonam Kinga said, ““This issue seems to suggest that the executive needs to exercise better and legitimate control over senior bureaucrats who are implementers of the decisions of the government.”
The Chairperson also summed up the overall discussion and points raised by the NC members. A note circulated to reporters showed that the NC had raised the issue of providing information to the NC including the RTI presentation issue on three occasions but there was no satisfactory follow up.
Members said unless the issue is resolved once and for all, such situations could recur with all government bills, policy matters and issues that NC would have to review.
It was decided that if the NC did not support the Bill it could become a dead Bill which means it cannot be reintroduced for another year. The NC instead opted to ask the NA to withdraw the Bill.
The NC also passed a resolution asking the government to withdraw any order issued by the cabinet or CoS concerning the correspondences of the National Council that violates the Constitution and other laws. It also reminded the government that providing information and answers to questions asked by the NC is required by law.
The resolution also called upon the RCSC to ensure that every civil servant performs his duties and upholds the Constitutions of Bhutan and other relevant laws. The NC also asked the RCSC to remind all civil servants that appearing before and providing information to the NC is required by law.