The High Court has rendered judgment on Bhutan’s first constitutional case. The esteemed Court ruled that the taxes imposed by the government earlier this year are unlawful, and ordered the government to refund those taxes. The Court also issued an injunction preventing the government from raising taxes without the Parliament’s approval.
The High Court’s landmark verdict has been hailed as a victory for the opposition party. And the opposition has received numerous congratulatory messages.
We are duly humbled. And grateful for the good wishes.
But, the felicitations are misguided.
The Court’s verdict, in fact, is not a victory for the opposition party. Nor is it a loss for the government. We must see the verdict for what it is: the High Court’s interpretation (through considerable hard work and expertise, no doubt) of the Constitution. And that interpretation is not yet binding – it can still be appealed to the Supreme Court.
But regardless of whether the High Court’s verdict is eventually upheld, revised or reversed, and regardless of whether existing laws are amended or not, what will now emerge is a clear understanding of how taxes can be raised. And that understanding will be good for all the parties involved – the government, the ruling party, the opposition, the National Council, and, most importantly, the taxpayer.
At a broader level, the High Court’s verdict is being applauded as evidence of the Judiciary’s independence and, therefore, a healthy democracy. Obviously, the verdict is important for the case. But what’s much more important are the democratic checks and balances that were set in motion almost three months ago when the High Court accepted and started considering the Constitutional Case.
So regardless of the eventual verdict, felicitations are really due to the Judiciary.