The laws of the land

The soundest national advice in the last few years has not come from expensive consultants or jet setting international economists, but from His Majesty the King in important fields from the economy to youth issues and beyond.

Delivered in a subtle manner and gentle tone on rare national occasions, the advice, time and again, has proven to be presciently correct, practical and based on Bhutanese ground realities.

It would do well for anyone to listen and learn as the advice addresses several issues that are for the long term interest of the nation and its people.

One such issue highlighted by His Majesty the King in the opening session of the Parliament, in May 2014 was on taking care in drafting laws and in ensuring that they are well drafted, well implemented and benefit the people.

Based on this advice, the government, this year, created a task force to review existing laws, and what they found was a huge mess in many laws.

A sizeable section of important laws including many drafted in recent years were found to have several conflicting provisions against each other and within themselves.

There were laws that had been drafted and actually gone missing, were redundant and some that are yet to be implemented.

What is more appalling is that the task force has just done a first report and a more in-depth study could show even more flaws in our laws.

With the advent of democracy in 2008 there was a mad rush by the first Parliament to draft a series of laws and in fact Parliamentary pride was taken in drafting as many laws as time permitted.

Some laws were drafted on a populist mood while others lacked adequate research. One such example would be the Tobacco Control Act that unnecessarily criminalized smokers and lead to the imprisonment of dozens of innocent people.

It is good that the government of the day with help from the judiciary and other institutions is looking into the issue as confusion in the laws can lead to several major problems.

The first major impact of poor quality laws is on good governance as most of the important institutions of the state and government functions on the basis of laws. Any lack of clarity and conflicting sections can lead to institutional confusion and hamper effective functioning. It can also lead to institutional conflict.

One example is the ongoing cold war between the RCSC and the ECB over who has the final say on manpower based on conflicting provisions over their Acts. Another issue is on the ACC asking for more independence. A third example is the on and off tussle between the ACC and OAG.

Another major impact is that unclear laws can also lead to the miscarriage of justice as judges cannot help but apply the laws already on the books, no matter how unreasonable it may be at times. In many cases unclear and again conflicting laws can lead to different verdicts based on different interpretations which can weaken the faith of the people in the Judiciary.

One main complaint of not only business people but also ordinary people is on bureaucratic red tape and processes. Infact in many cases the bureaucrats, who themselves could be overloaded are simply following impractical laws and rules. Bad laws create more red tape and barriers giving rise to poor service delivery and more potential for corruption.

Ultimately one key cornerstone of a democracy is faith in laws and the rule of law. If the law themselves are not good and unclear then it can weaken the people’s trust in democracy.

His Majesty had flagged an important national matter and now it is up to the government, judiciary and various other institutions to address the important matter at hand.

“It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.” 

 Calvin Coolidge



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