NA’s Entitlement Bill may run into NC wall with its newfound ordinary Bill status

The Bill which was portrayed as a money bill earlier has now been found to be an ordinary Bill giving the NC a say while reviewing it in the Winter Session

A key moment in the passing of the Parliamentary Entitlement (Amendment) Bill in the National Assembly was when the Home Minister Lyonpo Damcho Dorji clarified to the apparent acceptance of the house that it was a Money Bill.

The Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho had asked about the status of the Bill to the presiding Deputy Speaker Chimi Dorji who remained silent, but his query was instead answered by the Home Minister. The Entitlement Bill was also reported and understood widely as being a money Bill in the media.

This was significant because it was popularly thought then that even if the Bill went to NC for discussions in the winter session, NC’s recommendations, which were anticipated to be hostile, would not be binding on the Entitlement Bill due to its money bill status.

However, this paper has now found that the Parliamentary Entitlement Bill is not a money bill but rather an ordinary Bill over which the NC will have as much legal say as the NA.

The NA Speaker Jigme Zangpo confirmed this to the paper and said that there had been a mistake during the NA deliberations when he was not chairing the NA session.

“As soon as I heard the Home Minister saying that it was a money Bill I sent an sms to the Home Minister and later also personally clarified with him that the Parliamentary Entitlement Bill is not a money Bill but rather an ordinary Bill,” said the Speaker.

The Speaker as per the National Assembly Act has the final say on what is a money bill. His stand was also supported by some legal experts and senior government officials that the paper talked to who all pointed to other provisions in the Constitution (30.2), NA Act (section 235), Public Finance Act (section 46 a,b,c,d,e) and the Entitlement Act itself (section 7) to show that it is an ordinary Bill.

Moreover the Bill in 2008 was passed as an ordinary Bill by both houses which even included a joint sitting after some disagreements.

The Entitlement Bill had become controversial because even after the government’s  21 percent pay revision gave MPs a higher basic pay of Nu 65,190, the NA came up with an Entitlements Bill which further increased this to Nu 75,160 by equating their pay to Constitutional post holders.

Moreover, both the Pay Commission report and the cabinet’s final Pay Revision report had recommended doing away with tax free vehicle quotas for both civil servants and MPs and instead giving a lump sum Nu 160,000 in place of the quotas. This became especially relevant after vehicle taxes were hiked from 100 percent to 180 percent.

However, the NA contrary to the Pay Revision report went ahead and amended the Entitlements Act whereby MPs in addition to getting a lump sum (Nu 1 mn) to buy a car could import it free of customs duty, sales tax and any other tax. It is interesting to note that even the earlier version of the Entitlement Act did not exempt MPs from sales tax and other taxes except for customs duty.

In addition to the existing driver and phone allowance the NA MPs also added a monthly fuel allowance in the Entitlements Bill.

Given the new reality that the Entitlement Bill is an ordinary Bill and with around 11 NA MPs voting against it in the NA the NC is in a strong position to influence the fate of the Bill.

A NC member on the condition of anonymity said, “Going by our current resolution most NC MPs could not support an Entitlement Bill that is not in keeping with that resolution.” Unlike the pay revision report which was treated as a money Bill and the NC’s suggestions largely ignored it will be a different matter with the Entitlement Bill.

With the NC’s already public and tough stand on deferring the pay hike and entitlements for ministers, MPs and senior officials, the NC MPs in the winter session could choose to decline to pass the Parliamentary Entitlement Bill and vote against it after which there would be a joint sitting.

If the NC is united the 25 members of the NC combined with the 11 of the NA who voted against the Bill would form 36 out of the 72 MPs ensuring that the Bill would not get the two-thirds majority or 48 MPs required to pass the bill in a joint sitting. This would in effect make it a dead bill.

The NC in its resolution has already asked for deferring the current hike of Nu 65,190 until the revenue generation and cost-cutting measures are implemented a stand by which it has not budged and instead going ahead to defer the hike for themselves.

The NC in its resolution has also categorically stated that hike of the MPs pay should be kept at Nu 65,190 as per the pay revision report and not the new Nu 75,160 proposed by the Entitlement Bill.

The NC in its own independent resolution on the Pay Revision’s report of monetizing vehicle quotas for all public servants including civil servants and politicians asked the government to review the decision to monetize the tax free vehicle quota and submit a report.

This would mean that the Entitlement Bill’s amendment allowing vehicle quota or tax free imports for only MPs may not cut much ice with the NC.

It is also not clear if the NC will stand for the new amendment of the Entitlement Bill whereby the NA’s Speaker’s salary becomes slightly higher than that of the NC Chairperson, as currently both are eligible to salaries equivalent to a Cabinet Minister.

The NC Deputy Speaker Tshering Dorji said, “My own personal understanding is that the salary structure and entitlements are recommended by the Pay Commission and we need to see if it should be there in the Parliamentary Entitlements Bill. The wisdom of the House will make a final decision in the winter session.”  He also clarified that the house was yet to discus and deliberate on the Bill.

Though the NC questioning the pay revision report being a money Bill or not may be too late or not pass much muster, but it will be on much firmer ground with the Entitlement Bill which is an ordinary Bill.

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