Impact of COVID-19 on Bhutanese legislature

The fourth session of the Bhutanese National Assembly (NA), which otherwise would have been concluded by now, is expected to be convened right after summer to meet the constitutional mandate of having two sessions a year

Jun 26, 2020
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Thimphu: The fourth session of the Bhutanese National Assembly (NA), which otherwise would have been concluded by now, is expected to be convened right after summer to meet the constitutional mandate of having two sessions a year.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected not only regular activities of parliamentarians but has also delayed the passing of important Bills.

For instance, the National Council (NC) would have completed discussions on the Mines and Minerals Bill 2020, which was passed by the NA in January this year. In absence of a new Mines and Minerals Bill, debate has been raging over whether the state or the private sector should operate the mines and minerals businesses.

Similarly, the NA would have concluded deliberations on the Lhengye Zhungtshog Bill and Entitlement and Service Conditions (amendment) Bill for the Holders, Members and Commissioners of Constitutional Offices, which were passed by NC in the last winter session.

To take stock of such issues, the NA convened a post-session plenary on June 19. Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel, who chaired the plenary, said that he was expecting to have a session before the winter session, which will be held after a break.

The decision, however, would be made later keeping in consideration the COVID-19 situation, he added. Normally, winter sessions begin in November while the summer sessions begin in May.

“Parliament has not had any session in 2020 if the recently concluded session is considered to the continuation of the third session. Now we must have two sessions as the recently concluded third session was considered as that of last year,” he said.

The NA earlier officially stated that the recently concluded session was not a new session but a continuation of the winter session, which was supposed to conclude on March 6.

The Speaker, however, added that since the annual budget 2020-21 was passed some members were of the view that the session, which was held from June 1 to 17, was the fourth session.

But he cited the Constitution, which states that the Druk Gyalpo shall be received in a joint sitting of Parliament with Chibdrel Ceremony at the commencement of each session of Parliament. Each session shall be opened with a Zhugdrel Phunsumtshogpai Tendrel and each session shall conclude with the Tashi Moenlam.

Wangchuk Namgyel said that most members, however, agreed that the 17-day session would not be considered as a separate session. He said, “More or less, we agreed that it was the third session.”

Had the situation been normal, Parliament would have already held a joint session on disputed Bills, including the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan 2019.

For the NC, the 25th session, which concluded on June 16, was a new session unlike in the case of the NA. The House of review would have deliberated the Bills passed by the NA had the conclusion of the NA’s third session happened in March.

However, the delay in passing of the bills can be minimised if Parliament calls a session before the winter session. For instance, the NC would be able to deliberate the Mines and Minerals Bill in its 26th session and a joint session on it can be held in the winter session if it becomes a disputed Bill.

According to the Speaker, Parliament is also reviewing and amending the laws that are recommended by the law review taskforce.

The task force found that the Civil Service Act of Bhutan 2010, the Mines and Minerals Management Act 1995, the Medicines Act of Kingdom of Bhutan 2003, Immigration Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2007, Royal Bhutan Police Act 2009, the Pesticides Act 2000 and the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code of Bhutan 2001 were not in conformity with the Constitution.

The Speaker said that Parliament had worked on the recommendations of the law review task force except for a few laws like the Local Government Act and the Royal Bhutan Police Act. “We are mindful about the COVID-19 situation, the Constitution and what is left to be done,” he said.

The task force has also recommended the enactment of seven news laws—Law of Limitation, Interpretation Act, Insolvency Act, Administrative Tribunal Act, Right to Information Act, Impeachment Act and Official Secrets Act.

The NC has also held its post-session plenary and discussed several issues including those related to foreign matters. An NC member said that the plenary discussed the use of social media platforms to carry out works.

https://kuenselonline.com/impact-of-COVID-19-on-legislature/

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