The outcome could affect the legislative powers of both houses
There is fresh controversy brewing between members of the National Council (NC) and the National Assembly (NA) over the procedure for passing the private members bill.
The controversy which includes the National Flag Bill and the failed draft Right to Information (RTI) Bill could impact the legislative powers of both houses but the stakes are higher for the NC.
A private member bill is one that is introduced by an individual or a group of MPs like RTI and National Flag Bill. This is especially important for NC MPs as it allows them to bring in non-governmental bills of their own thus enhancing their legislative powers.
The controversy stems from the fact that two private member bills namely the National Flag Bill proposed by NC MP Rinzin Rinzin and the failed RTI Bill proposed by NC MP Sangay Khandu received the cold shoulder from the NA over procedures on passing such Bills.
During the debate on whether to introduce the RTI Bill in the NC a letter from the NA Speaker Jigme Tshultim partly sealed the RTI Bill’s fate. The letter said there was need for proper procedures to pass a private member bills which contributed partly to the RTI Bill’s non-acceptance in the NC.
After the RTI Bill’s death, the National Flag Bill of the NC is now in trouble as it has been put up for discussion only toward the end of the NA session. There is a strong possibility that the NA will reject the Bill on the grounds that there are no clear procedures to introduce a private member Bill.
NC MPs who sponsored the National Flag Bill and other NC MPs who realize the impact such a move will have on the legislative ability of the NC to introduce independent bills are seeing red over the NHA stand. They say procedures already exist to pass a private members bill and there is no need for additional procedures.
Some NC MPs see it as a ploy by the NA to curtail its legislative powers
The first private members bill in Bhutan endorsed by the NC is the National Flag Bill sponsored and drafted by Lhuntse Dzongkhag NC member Rinzin Rinzin and NC Sonam Yangchen. The bill was passed by NC during the eighth parliamentary session last winter and is now with the NA. However, one of the proponents of the bill, Rinzin Rinzin alleged that it has been deliberately put away toward the end of the current session by NA with an intention to reject it without much debate.
Recently, NC’s request to NA to further the date for discussions on the National Flag bill was declined. Since NA needs to deliberate and pass the bill before it is debated again in the NC, the NC session planned for discussing the National Flag Bill on June26 was suspended.
“Actually we were supposed to discuss this bill, but because this bill didn’t come back from NA we had to cancel the session”, said MP Rinzin Rinzin.
He said, “I think what they are up to is, they will introduce the bill in the house and then reject it with whatever excuses. But even if they reject it, we will still put it up to His Majesty for assent anyway”.
The NA’s legislative committee chairperson Ugyen Wangdi said he had no idea if the bill may be discussed as per the agenda. “As of now, there is no clear-cut information. It may be discussed and passed or it may be returned with the message that we need a proper procedure for enacting private member bills. Anything can happen”, he said.
Asked if there was a need for the National Flag bill at the moment, he said, We have managed till now without a law. “Generally, I do not really think we need the law. I don’t see any urgency with this bill” he said.
The NA’s cultural committee Chairperson MP Rinchen Dorji said his committee hasn’t really reviewed the draft bill since the assembly hasn’t referred it formally to the committee.
He, however, acknowledged the draft bill which he said was drafted very well. He said the bill has undergone all the procedures but there is a need to look into certain aspects of a private member bill like in the case of national flag, it looked more like the responsibility of the government. “The bill should have been forwarded to the cabinet,” he said.
“We have only two options that are to pass it or keep it for discussions in the next session. Anyway, there is no emergency as such,” he added.
The second private member bill which is the RTI bill was killed partly due to the Speakers letter on procedures. It was thought that the RTI Bill even if it did get through NC would not be put on the NA agenda.
However, later in the NA’s agenda, the National Flag Bill was included and discussions scheduled towards the last few days of the session after the RTI Bill was long dead.
Rinzin Rinzin said citing lack of proper guidelines is a “lame excuse” by the NA. He said both the houses had discussed at length in the past on procedures to introduce, discuss, deliberate and pass bills. “In that, it is clearly mentioned that the process for passing a private members bill will be the same as a government bill”, he added.