RTI Bill in a limbo over a war of procedures between NC and senior bureaucrats

The contention of the nC over a new procedural rule established by the Com­mittee of secreatries could lead to the ‘death’ of the rti Bill

With the third session of the second Parliament scheduled less than a week away, the Right to Information (RTI) Bill has been caught up in the procedural wrangle between the National Council (NC), the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) and the Cabinet Secretariat.

The result is that NC’s Foreign Relation Committee which was tasked to work on the Bill passed by the National Assembly in the previous session has been unable to work on it. The RTI Bill, in short, is caught in a limbo and is not ready to be introduced in a meaningful manner, in its current form, on the floor of the NC for debate. According to the tentative agenda of the NC, the RTI Bill is supposed to be tabled on May 22, 2014 but things are now unsure.

The Foreign Relation Committee head Karma Yezer Raydi said, “We asked the MoIC officials to make a presentation on the RTI more than a month ago so that we could start working on it, but the MoIC officials refused to do so saying that the request has to be routed through the Cabinet Secretariat.”

He said that since the MoIC did not make the presentation, the committee could not carry out other activities such as having a meeting with the National Assembly’s Legislative Committee on the Bill, having a two or three- day stakeholder consultation including a meeting with the media, doing research and suggesting amendments or improvements.

Raydi said that with every passing day, ‘the door is closing on the Bill.’ The NC does not have the option of deferring the Bill to another session as it originated in another house. He said that if there is no presentation then the NC would have to decide what to do. He said there is the option of introducing the Bill in its raw form, bypassing the committee, for individual comments directly in the NC. He said that has never been done before in NC and would be unprofessional.

He also said that around a month ago, in the monthly internal meeting done to get an update, the committee had communicated the problem to the NC and there was a communication made by the NC Chairperson on the issue to the government.

Another member of the NC, who did not want to be quoted, said that the MoIC’s stand was in violation of the National Council’s own rules of procedure as earlier government ministries and agencies would, in fact, be eager to present their sponsored Bills to the NC without having to go through the Cabinet Secretariat.

The member said that if the stalemate continued there is a real possibility that the NC would have to introduce the Bill since not introducing it would mean that it is considered passed and then reject it to be sent for a joint sitting. In such a case, the Bill could then be not passed in the joint sitting and the RTI Bill, in effect, could be killed which would mean that it can be reintroduced only after a gap of one year.

Meanwhile, the MoIC Secretary, Dasho Kinley Dorji, said that sometime back the Director, Department of Information and Media had received a telephone call from the NC asking MoIC to present the Bill. The MoIC had then informed the NC that the procedure is that the request for a presentation must be routed through the Cabinet Secretariat, after which there was no further communication.

The MoIC Secretary said that the ministry was simply following the procedures laid down by the Cabinet Secretariat in such cases. He said that the NC would also have a copy of the RTI Bill passed by the NA in the first session of the second Parliament.

The Cabinet Secretariat procedure or rule on the issue was not drafted by the Cabinet but by a meeting of the Committee of Secretaries (CoS) a few months after the elections. According to the procedure, all requests for presentations to be made to the National Assembly and National Council should be routed through the Cabinet Secretariat, and similarly, all resolutions and questions concerning the executive were to also go through the same process.

The Cabinet Secretary, Dasho Penden Wangchuk, who is also the head of CoS said, “A few months after the elections last year, the Committee of Secretaries met and resolved that all requests and resolutions from the NA and NC concerning the executive were to be routed through the Cabinet Secretariat.”

Dasho Penden Wangchuk said that the logic was to improve coordination, keep the government in the loop and also ensure that the Cabinet Secretariat can do a follow up. He said the Cabinet had been informed of the CoS’s resolution. He also said that even if the NC had its own protocol or rules, the Cabinet Secretariat was not consulted on it.

Dasho Kinley Dorji added that the issue was also as to who the secretaries were accountable as they were already accountable to the ministers and some coordination was required when the NC wanted to summon the executive. He said it was done to keep the Cabinet in the loop when such demands were made.

In this apparent miscommunication and conflict between the NC and the CoS, the political masters are not completely in the picture nor have been issued any definitive instructions.

The MoIC Minister, Lyonpo D.N Dhungyel, said that he was not entirely clear on the matter of procedures between the Cabinet Secretariat and the NC, but if a procedure had been framed by the CoS then the MoIC may have to stand by it. He said that the last he knew was that MoIC had been asked to make a presentation with the NC, but he was not aware of any controversy, especially since he had been travelling at the time.

The Cabinet Secretary said that he had been instructed by the PM to give full cooperation to the NC and he was doing the same already as he said that his understanding was that full cooperation was by following the procedure and ensuring coordination.

Meanwhile, sources say that the NC will be having its usual plenary or internal meeting early next week and will hold discussions on what to do next, in light of the current developments.

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