A Parliamentary joint session in 2014, to the visible shock of the Finance Minister and the government, amended the National Assembly Act allowing a budget committee comprising of National Assembly MPs to review the Budget and suggest changes to the Finance Minister.
Now, in keeping with that law the National Assembly speaker Tshogpon Jigme Zangpo, after a process of consultation, has proposed a nine member ‘Finance Committee’ to review the budget. This nine member committee would consist of six members from the ruling party and three members from the opposition.
This was presented as part of ‘Guidelines for Budget Process and Finance Committee’ in the plenary session of the National Assembly held recently. The draft guidelines are to be finalized by May 12th 2015 along with members to the committee appointed by the respective parties.
The guideline says that the Finance Minister will introduce the Budget and Tax Bills to the House as money Bills and on that day there will be no discussion. Then the Annual Budget, Budget Appropriation Bill and Supplementary Budget Bill and any Tax Bills will be referred to the Finance Committee by the speaker.
The committee will then have five working days to review the Bills during which it will deliberate, review, recommend and draw attention to any matter of importance in the money bill.
It can also ask for additional information and clarification from the Ministry of Finance and any other government agency.
The draft guideline says that while the committee shall not propose any increase in the budget limits indicated in the Budget Bill to maintain fiscal sustainability, the National Assembly may review and reallocate existing budget for balanced development.
The committee has to confine its functions to matters relating to the budget, finance and taxation measures. It, however, can also study the debt ratio to ensure a healthy economy for the country.
After five working days the chair of the committee will report its findings and recommendations to the house. After that the speaker will allot three days for discussion and voting on the budget.
The National Council’s recommendations will also be reviewed by the committee before submission to the NA.
The committee will answer any queries that may arise in the house during the discussion of the budget. The National Assembly secretariat will provide secretarial support to the committee.
The speaker Tshogpon Jigme Zangpo said that the main aim of the committee should be to ensure balanced development and resource allocation between various regions and sectors. “For example if there are three central schools in one Dzongkhag, than maybe the committee could recommend one to be shifted to another Dzongkhag,” said the speaker.
He said it would be good if the committee was used positively to mill through the budget to ensure the people’s aspirations are met, but it would harm the system if members put on political caps and party banners to look at issues.
The Tshogpon said that it would be crucial to respect the budget ceiling and not demand more money to ensure fiscal responsibility.
He said that the bottom line was to stay within the 11th five year plan otherwise the feedback of the Dzongkhag Yargay Tshogdu (DYT), Gewog Yargay Tshogde (GYT) and detailed consultation with sectors would become useless.
While a majority of MPs support the Finance Committee arguing that it would be a good democratic tool, present in other Parliaments, there is growing apprehension in the government.
There is fear in the government that incase of sharp differences there would be the possibility of the budget not being passed by the NA which would be equivalent to the Parliament losing faith in the government. Another is of the budget not being passed on time which could delay developmental activities.
An attempt to amend the NA Bill with a similar amendment in 2008 could not pass muster. Even in the summer session of 2014 the NA with a narrow majority avoided the amendment but then the NC passed it and finally was passed in the joint sitting with even many ruling party MPs supporting it.