No blank cheque!

Check book

Business Bhutan recently reported that the prime minister had expressed his frustrations over interpretations of the constitution that were undermining the government’s work. The PM was quoted as saying:

I feel very emotional because we are the democratically elected government with a huge majority which means people have placed their trust fully in us but every time we want to do something the book is being thrown at us.

Our PM is correct. 67% of the electorate voted for DPT, and gave them, the ruling party, 45 of the 47 seats in the National Assembly. Yes, the government was elected by a “huge majority.” And yes, that means the “people have placed their trust fully” in the government.

But the people’s trust in the government, while overwhelming, does not give them carte blanche – a blank cheque to do as they please. Instead, the people expect, and the Constitution requires, the government to function in accordance with the laws of the land.

In his first state of the Nation address, 18 months ago, the PM had announced that the Constitution should not be used as a lagdep, i.e., a manual or guidebook. This is how I had responded to the PM’s concerns:

Our Prime Minister expressed concerns that the Constitution is being used as a detailed manual. And that interpreting the Constitution in rigid and narrow terms undermines good governance and weakens the government. He also reported that we should not unnecessarily invoke and test the Constitution.

I disagree. I firmly believe that we should constantly refer to the Constitution. And that, even if we don’t understand any other law, we should study the Constitution thoroughly. After all, the Constitution is the mother of all laws in Bhutan.

If disagreements arise in the interpretation of the Constitution – and they will be many differences – they should be discussed amicably and with the understanding that all parties involved want nothing but what is best for our country and our people. And, naturally, if these disagreements cannot be resolved the option to take the matter to the courts is always there.

If we feel that the government’s actions are in line with the Constitution, we must support them, especially if the actions are good for the country and the people.

But if we feel that the government’s actions may not necessarily be good for the country and the people, we must raise our voices.

And if we feel that the government’s actions are unconstitutional, we must “throw the book” at them.

 

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  1. I absolutely agree with honorable OL that everyone should follow the law whether it is minority or majority government. But, in this case, I am bit confused whether government or RCSC is right in interpreting the constitution. Constitution clearly says that addition or reduction of ministry requires approval from parliament but doesn’t say anything about creating secretariat. Whether separate energy secretariat is necessary or not is altogether a different issue, but is it necessary to get parliamentary approval for creating secretariat? This is, yet, another important issue which will set precedence for the future government. Now the question is, should secretariat be treated like ministry? Or are there some differences? So, in this regard, what is honorable OL’s honest view on whether it is necessary to get approval from parliament or not? Who should have a final authority? Should it be with RCSC or Cabinet or parliament?

  2. Hon’ble OL,

    Yes, I fully agree with you that when people trust any political party to form a government it does not give them carte blanche – a blank cheque to do as they please. If the government actions are unconstitutional, we must “throw the book” at them.

    However, on the tax increase by the DPT, the case that you have filed with highcourt as a constitutional case, I have some clarifications to seek. If the ruling government is not given the authority to govern the national exchequer and manage it through revisions (increase/decrease) of taxes, will our internal revenue collected at present rate sustain our expenditure – consider the high demand of salary increase every year by the civil servants and politicians alike. The import of cars are all done by affordable people. Increase in tax on import of cars will not only benefit the national revenue but also benefit human health, environment and traffic management. To narrow the gap between haves and not haves, to increase inetrnal revenue and to address many human health and environmental health, taxation on vehicle imports, mining/quarry and industrial activities is crucial. Otherwise, how long will Bhutan rely on external donor assistance.

    This I feel is in the interest of broader Bhutanese citizens and the nation building.

    Your clarification would highly boost my backward understanding of the issue.

    Thanking you, YPenjor

  3. Yes majority of the voters voted for the DPT goverment with full trust as rightly mentioned by our honorable PM.

    …”every time we want to do something the book is being thrown at us”. we understand that the constitution was passed by parliament after detail studies and how comes that people are blamed for applying Laws,Acts and Regulations of this country.

    one lesson got to know from above is always include the public views before doing it. After all people are barking with reason.

    Its not a blank cheque as mentioned by honorable OL

  4. Readers should note that the PM was intimately involved along with his Minister colleagues in the drafting of the Constitution. That’s why I fail to understand why he talks of the book being thrown at him when he had the opportunity of influencing what is written in the book that has become our sacred Constitution, that all must respect and comply.

  5. Truth_is_Buddha says:

    Constitution of Bhutan is the mother of all our laws. It is common knowledge that all laws must be followed to the letter and spirit. Hence, whether one likes it or not, the consitution has to be followed to the letter. Call it a manual, handbook, anything but no question of not following it strictly.If flexibility is introduced and accepted, the constitution will be a forgotten edition in the dusty archives.

  6. kinzangchophel says:

    Honourable OL,
    I would entreat you to make short of evry issues you rasied on the website so that the users and lower class can understand

  7. Are you saying that those of you who participate in this discussion represent the views of the people of Bhutan? You are just a handful who think that you know better than any one else and that your interpretation of the Constitution is always the right one. Any way, there is no doubt that the ruling by SC on the tax case is going to be the turining point for democracy in this country – for better or worse!!!!

  8. Empowerment says:

    Democracy gives power to the people and that is the reason we call our government a “mang-tso shung”. That also means that once we have selected whom we trust, we must also allow them to work in peace for five years. In order for government to function, it must have money and authority to make decisions. No government can function well if these two things are not there. Constitution is the mother of all laws. Yes it is true. But are all constitutions in the world not at all being amended after they are are written? Is the constitution of a country going to address all the issues of a country that changes. Will there not be any need to have by-laws and other amendments to be made over time? Could those people who wrote the constitution see thousands of years into the future? If so that is very good. Ours could be the best constitution in the world that will address all issues for centuries to come. But going by the present trends and arguments among different experts, that does not seem to be the case. The government, that means the nation’s decision-making body seems to be increasingly facing problems in implementing the developmental activities. In the midst of many things, we have many constitutional experts coming out from different schools of thought. To people like me, I think the constitution should facilitate good things for the people. If there are problems that means either problems were not foreseen, or the other Acts and Laws must be immediately amended to be aligned with the Constitution. There cannot be contractions between the Mother Law and other Laws. We only hope that one day there will be some agreement between the experts of Constitution.

  9. kinzangchophel says:

    ha ha …

  10. Hon’ble Lyonpo(OL),

    Thanks a lot for writing blog and informing the public regarding the happenings in the country at the highest levels.
    I have read on the topic mentioned above and more or less you have talk about the inpretation and following of the constitution but we the people would like to know your views on forming of energy secretariat to fast track to achieve 10,000MW by 2020.

    Tashi Delek

  11. “He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.” ~Harold Wilson

    And this quote suits our government who we whole heartedly chose, and now we are not even speaking up to support them

    “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” ~Woodrow Wilson

    The tax revision and all the changes the government wants to make, I know it will pinch us because come on, moneys going out of our pocket and no one likes that. But think of the future when the money we pay as taxes is used for the development of the country. Better roads through out the country for the expensive cars we have bought and paid the tax for(quid pro quo), more and better parks for families, better and improved health care facilities, our beautiful natural environment still intact and so on. But the best part is that we will be independent…..No more debts, no more looking for donors. Thats the Bhutan I want to see and our country can do it.

  12. withouth any energy secretariat the govt says the 10,000 mw will suffer.

  13. i am still waiting to hear HOL’s view on constitutionality issue between gov and RCSC regarding energy secretariat. Or HOL has no view on this issue?

  14. Dear OL,
    As the self-proclaimed champion of Constitutional correctness, what is your take on the unilateral decision of the ECB to change the “mitsi” law for local elections? I am referring to Article 23 clause 2 (b) wherein it is explicitly mentioned that a candidate has to be registered in the civil register of the constituency from which he is contesting for at least a year before. Is ECB above the Constitution and can change the provisions as they pleas? OR Do they have a blank cheque?

  15. By winning majority in the votes doesn’t mean that they are the majority. Just conduct a survey today, you would be surprised to find that the majority is PDP not DPT. It was by default that they had voted for DPT. Anyway, majority doesn’t mean total rights to do anything, there is other three arms of the governing system including the media. PM is not the ultimate, His Majesty the 4th King and the current King is there to steer the kingdom above him. We believe in our Kings not PM, he is the devil whose kingdom was demolished by Ugen Guru Rinpochhey, It is a mystery how he escaped to be subdued.

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