Talk of rights

Yesterday, the ministry of economic affairs announced in Kuensel that today, 15th March, is World Consumer Rights Day.

According to their announcement, the annual event is “a time for promoting the basic rights of all consumers, for demanding that those rights are respected and protected, and for protesting the market abuses and social injustices which undermine them.”

And according to the announcement, the ministry of economic affairs has drafted the Consumer Protection Act which will be submitted to the Parliament soon.

This is good news. Our government seems serious about promoting consumer welfare and protecting consumer rights.

But is it really serious? Consider this: the Tenancy Act, which came into force almost five years ago, was designed to protect the rights of tenants – the consumers of “rental units”. But the Act has hardly been enforced, leading Kuensel to question if the “Act was being violated in spirit and letter.”

Yes, our rights, as consumers, need to be understood, respected and protected. So yes, a Consumer Protection Act may be required.

But let’s first enforce the Tenancy Act. Let’s demand that our rights, as tenants, “are respected and protected.” And let’s protest the “market abuses and social injustices” which undermine these rights.

If we can’t protect the rights of tenants, the government’s talk of protecting consumer rights will remain just that … talk.

Interpreting our Constitution

“WE, the people of Bhutan … do hereby ordain and adopt this Constitution for the Kingdom of Bhutan …” proclaims the preamble of our constitution.

And Article 1 declares that “This Constitution is the supreme law of the State.” And that “The Supreme Court shall be the guardian of this Constitution and the final authority on its interpretation”.

If legal interpretation of the Constitution was needed it should have been provided by the Royal Courts of Justice which includes the Supreme Court, the High Court, Dzongkhag Courts and Dungkhag Courts. The Supreme Court has the final authority on the interpretation of the Constitution, but that does not mean that legal interpretation of the Constitution cannot be provided by other courts.

So I’m surprised that the National Assembly asked a foreign legal expert to interpret our Constitution (read Indian advocate interprets constitution). And even more surprised that the foreigner’s opinion, which is of no legal consequence, has been made public.

How (not) to lift the meat ban

Well done, Bhutan Observer, for continuing the debate on the proposed amendment the Livestock Act 2001 (read their articles Meat ban debate and Killing ceases when eating stops).

I say “proposed amendment” because the proposal to lift the ban on selling meat products during the 1st and 4th months of our traditional calendar has not completed the constitutional process. So it is not yet law.

To become law, Article 13.1 of the Constitution requires that “A Bill passed by Parliament shall come into force upon Assent of the Druk Gyalpo”. And Royal Assent has not been granted so far. In fact, as far as I know, the amendment, as approved by the National Assembly, has not even been submitted to His Majesty the King.

So the government would be well advised not to lift the prevailing ban on selling meat during the 1st month the Year of the Female Earth Ox. Unless, of course, Royal Assent is granted within the next two weeks leading to Losar, our new year.

And the proponents against the amendment would be well advised to submit their grievances to His Majesty the King; not the agriculture minister or H.H the Je Khenpo – one will not listen and the other cannot listen.

But why approach His Majesty the King? Because according to Article 13.10 of our Constitution: “Where the Druk Gyalpo does not grant Assent to the Bill, He shall return the Bill with amendments or objections to deliberate and vote on the Bill in a joint sitting”.

My position? I’d voiced it in the Assembly and in “Consulting democracy”

Consulting democracy

The National Assembly has decided to amend the Livestock Act (2001) to remove the ban on the slaughter of animals and the sale of meat during the first and fourth months of our calendar.

I did not support the proposal to amend this Act. I did not support the proposal for a very simple reason – none of us had bothered to consult the monk body. And there are about 15,000 monks. That’s a lot of them. Enough to be taken seriously especially on issues concerning religious matters.

For a vibrant democracy: consult. And consult widely.

Parliament’s second session

The second session of the Parliament started yesterday.

His Majesty the King, in His Royal Address, commanded that democracy has started off well in our country, but that a lot of work also remains to be done. His Majesty the King reminded the nation that the main purpose of democracy is to further strengthen our country, and to realize the aspirations of the people. And that to achieve these goals, we must work together, as one family.

On behalf of the opposition, I proposed a vote of thanks to offer our deep gratitude to His Majesty the King for gracing Parliament and for continuing to guide the parliamentarians; to congratulation His Majesty on the coronation; to thank all persons and agencies involved organizing the successful celebrations; and to congratulate the people of Bhutan on 100 years of monarchy.

In addition, I shared the following observations with my fellow parliamentarians: (i) that, during the last two years, His Majesty the King has devolved power to the people and introduced democracy most successfully; (ii) that His Majesty the King has gifted an excellent Constitution to the people; (iii) that, for democracy to succeed, we must protect, nurture and cherish our institution of monarchy; and (iv) that the Constitution must be defended by all people.

Parked Constitution?

On 12 December the prime minister inaugurated the Wangchuck Centennial Park. This is good news and bad news.

The good news is that Wangchuck Centennial Park, our country’s second largest, covering 3736 sq km across four dzongkhags, connects the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park in the west with Bomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary in the east. The entire northern belt of our country is now protected, allowing for even better management of our rich biodiversity. The park will also protect our water systems, essential for hydropower, and provide ecotourism opportunities for our farmers.

The bad news is that the park is illegal. According to our Constitution, only Parliament has the authority to declare parts of the country as protected areas. And Parliament has not discussed the establishment of the park or enacted legislation proclaiming the area as a park. The government’s recent announcement, therefore, violates Article 5 Section 5 of our Constitution which reads: “Parliament may, by law, declare any part of the country to be a National Park, Wildlife Reserve, Nature Reserve, Protected Forest, Biosphere Reserve, Critical Watershed and such other categories meriting protection.”

The government either does not understand our Constitution or is disregarding it. I’m not sure which is worse.

……………………………………
photo from www.moa.gov.bt