After the Cabinet Secretary wrote to the Secretary of the Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) on 24th July, 2019, regarding the decision of the Prime Minister to include Sarpang as one of the four focus dzongkhags in the tourism development flagship program in the 12th plan in place of Zhemgang, the National Council (NC) expressed its concerns on the decision.
The NC’s letter addressed to the Prime Minister on 15th July states both the National Assembly and the National Council passed the Budget Appropriation Bill for the financial year 2019 to 2020 of Nu 64.826 bn on 14th June 2019. As per the Schedule in the Budget Appropriation Bill, the approved appropriation for the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) is a total of Nu 258.540 mn.
The letter says, the detailed budget allocations for the FY 2019-20 are presented in Chapter 4 of the National Budget Report for FY 2019-20 in which, Nu 11 million each is allocated to four focus Dzongkhags such as Zhemgang, Lhuentse, Dagana and Gasa for specific interventions to develop tourism.
Since the National Budget Report for the Financial Year 2019-20 is an integral part of the Budget Appropriation Bill for the Financial Year 2019-20, it is deemed legally binding on the government to ensure implementation of activities or programs as per the allocations, the letter says.
Two days later, the Opposition also wrote letter to the Speaker of National Assembly on the same issue on 17th July requesting the Speaker to revoke the government’s decision and maintain the tourism flagship program for Zhemgang as approved by the Budget appropriation Bill as they consider it as an unlawful and discriminatory decision made by the government.
In the letter, the opposition shared deep concern on what is said is the unlawful decision of the Government in violation of the Budget Appropriation Bill which was passed by the Parliament.
The Opposition Leader said in the letter that once the Bill is passed by both the Houses and granted Royal Assent by His Majesty The King, the Government has no legitimacy to make any amendment to it and it has to be implemented as approved.
Quoting Section 2 and 3 of Article 14 and Section 8 of Article 20 of the Constitution, the OL said that the provisions clearly specify that public money shall be allocated to specific purposes only by law and that it shall be drawn from the consolidated fund only in accordance with the law. Therefore, the Opposition said the budget provision of Nu 11 million allocated for Zhemgang Dzongkhag can neither be changed nor reappropriated to Sarpang as decided by the government.
The Opposition also questioned the legitimacy of the government’s action in relation to the provisions of the Public Finance Act. The OL in the letter also quoted Section 62, 57, 58, 59, 60 and 61 of the Public Finance Act.
According to these sections, no budgetary body should carry out activities for which there is no provision in the budget and appropriation act or other lawful authority, revisions of the budget and appropriations shall be considered only when circumstances have changed significantly such as shortfalls in revenues and other resources threatening macro fiscal sustainability or significant changes in costs of approved programmes and no budgetary body shall make commitments or shall incur expenditure against supplementary budget proposals in anticipation of the approval of the proposal until the revised Budget and Appropriations Bill has been passed by the Parliament.
The OL said, it is abundantly clear that the government has neither respected the supremacy of the Parliament nor the provisions of the Constitution and the Public Finance Act and has deliberately gone ahead with their decision to alter an approved provision of the Budget Appropriation Bill.
“Such a practice would set a very unhealthy precedence whereby the very foundation of our parliamentary procedures and processes and values, principles and spirit of democracy would be shaken,” said the letter.
Opposition Spokesperson, MP Dorji Wangdi said that though the government has mentioned that the decision to remove Zhemgang was made upon a proposal submitted by the TCB, the government has not consulted TCB and the decision was made unanimously by the Chairman of the council alone. The Foreign Minister is the Chairman of the TCB.
Dorji Wangdi said, “We recognize that the Government has full authority to make changes to the plans and programmes as well as set priorities before the bill is being submitted to the Parliament for approval but they do not have any authority to amend the bill except in certain circumstances as per the provisions of the bill.”
He said, “As Lyonpo mentioned, development of Sarpang dzongkhag would benefit Zhemgang and other dzongkhags like Trongsa and Tsirang and we agree on this but we are deeply concerned by the unlawful decision made by the government by violating relevant laws.”
Lyonpo Tandi Dorji said that according to the opposition’s letter on Zhemgang, the government’s decision to remove Zhemgang was illegal because government has made changes after the bill was passed by the parliament.
Lyonpo said, “I don’t know why opposition is clamoring so much on this issue because though parliament has already approved the Budget bill we haven’t used the money or started work on the flagship program.
We are saying that the government is consulting lawyers and studying on the legality and if it is deemed illegal he will keep the plan on hold and re-appropriate it in the next session and only if it is found to be legal, government will implement it.”
“While government has always welcomed discussion and dialogue with the opposition, opposition has not come to us to discuss on the matter if they spotted certain issues. I feel that they should have come to me because I am ready to talk or discuss on this,” Lyonpo said.
Regarding opposition’s claim on making the decision without consulting TCB, Lyonpo said that TCB was consulted and Director General of TCB approved the decision which was then submitted to GNHC.