The proposal by the National Assembly to amend the Parliamentary Entitlement Act has been shelved.
“The entitlement bill has been shelved because we could not reach an agreement,” said the Speaker, Jigme Tshultim.
National Assembly MPs until recently had been discussing with National Council MPs on the possibility of amending the Act.
However, cooperation on this front became a closed chapter with the NC having its concluding session on 26 February 2013. For any Act to be amended in the Parliament the Act has to go to both houses and changes should be endorsed by both the NA and NC.
Hinting at the procedural difficulty as well as the lack of time for Amending the Act the Speaker said that this was the last ‘Joint Sitting’ for this Parliamentary term.
The immediate consequence of this now is that National Assembly MPs each stand to lose around Nu 600,000 in gratuity and other benefits if the lower house is dissolved by the first week of March for early elections as originally proposed.
According to sources given such a dire financial predicament for NA MPs the question of dissolving the NA early could now be relooked at.
Given the new financial realities many MPs are also now ‘apprehensive’ about the early dissolution of the government as recommended by the Prime Minister to His Majesty the King.
“There is no possibility this time around for the bill to be deliberated. In the future, the new parliament might deliberate it,” said Pemagatshel NC MP Jigme Rinzin and member of the Public Accounts Committee.
Gasa NA MP, Damcho Dorji said: “I am glad the Speaker decided to shelve the entitlement act as it should not be discussed at this state when our economy is in doldrums, it is also inappropriate to talk about it.”
Section 30 of the Parliamentary Entitlement Act states that, “A member of Parliament upon retirement on completion of his term of five years shall be entitled to such amount of gratuity as may be provided for under this Act.” And according to Section 31, “No gratuity shall be payable if a member retires before the completion of his term or if his services are terminated.”
It was these key sections that the NA wanted to amend which would have allowed them to dissolve the house early and also be eligible for their gratuity and benefits.
Earlier it was the National Council who first brought up the need to amend the Act as it would have allowed them to resign before their tenure got over and take part in the campaigning process. This was especially important as one interpretation of the NC’s 5 year term was that a new house would have to take over the day after the old house finished its term.
Without the amendment NC MPs would have had to give up their gratuity and benefits to resign and re-contest.
However, in the last or 9th session the National Assembly rejected the Bill. The National Council also subsequently withdrew the bill due to lack of support from NA and also growing public outcry.
Earlier the Opposition leader had already objected to the Bill saying, “According to Section 193 of the National Assembly Act, “When a Bill has been passed or has been rejected during a session in any year, no Bill of the same substance may be introduced in the Assembly in that year except by leave of the Assembly. The Parliamentary Entitlement (Amendment) Act was rejected in the 9th Session, so we should not be allowed to discuss it in the 10th Session. Unless, that is, the Assembly considers this a serious enough matter to merit discussion even though a year has not passed since rejecting the Bill.”
He also said, “If any amendment to the Parliamentary Entitlement Act is to be passed in this session itself, the amendment bill must be introduced as an “urgent bill”. But for that, the question we will need to ask ourselves is this: does the entitlement of members of Parliament amount to a national urgency?”
Puran Gurung / Thimphu