Dissolving the government

In his inaugural address last Friday, the Speaker announced that the government has proposed for the early dissolution of the National Assembly.

According to Article 10, Section 24 of the Constitution:

“… While the National Council shall complete its five-year term, premature dissolution of the National Assembly may take place on the recommendation of the Prime Minister to the Druk Gyalpo …”

So yes, the government can recommend the dissolution of the National Assembly before the completion of its term.

The government can do so. But they should not. Why? Because, the government is forcing early elections for their own narrow interests, not for the greater interests of the nation. And that is a bad precedent.

The government’s main excuse for forcing early elections – that, otherwise, the monsoons would interfere with the elections – is nonsense. That’s for ECB to decide, not the government. And the ECB has not even hinted that the monsoons could compromise their ability to conduct this year’s elections.

The government’s other excuse for forcing early elections – that, otherwise, the 11th Five Year Plan would suffer – is absurd. Surely, forcing early elections by 4 to 5 weeks cannot affect a whole five-year plan. Besides, an interim government along with the entire civil service will continue working on the 11th Plan during the three months leading up to the elections.

The government should be honest. They should admit that they want to dissolve the National Assembly before the completion of its term to force early elections. And that they want to force early elections to ensure an easy, perhaps even complete, victory in the upcoming elections.

The ruling party is ready for the elections. During the past six months, the government and their MPs have used their powers of incumbency to prepare for the elections. On the other hand, the new parties have only just received permission to “introduce” themselves to the people. To make matters worse, all the other parties, including the opposition, are still scrambling to finalize their candidates for the elections.

Early elections would favour the ruling party disproportionately. If they want to use that advantage, that’s their business. But they should not pull the wool over our eyes, they should not mislead the nation.

One more thing, the ruling party should remember that the people elected them to serve a five-year term. By dissolving the National Assembly ahead of its term, for their immediate electoral gain and not for the overall national good, they are essentially defaulting on their mandate to serve the people for five complete years. And that is a terrible precedent.

Parliament’s fifth session

The National Assembly has announced that the fifth session of the Parliament will begin on 28th May. That’s in about three weeks.

But, I still don’t know what will be discussed. And I still haven’t received the bills, if any, that will be introduced in the fifth session. So I’m at a loss about how to prepare for the Parliament’s imminent session.

It appears that the government has recently submitted four bills to the National Assembly. They are the Childcare and Protection Bill; the Child Adoption Bill; Water Bill; and the Financial Services Bill. The first three are on the National Assembly’s website.

I’m assuming that these bills will be introduced in the National Assembly’s fifth session. So please send me your comments.

Wanted: live TV

The poll on the National Assembly’s decision to ban live TV coverage for most of its proceedings attracted considerable interest. But with 292 of the 315 participants (that’s 90% of them) disagreeing on the National Assembly’s recent decision, our readers’ views are clear. Only 23 voters (7%) supported the ban. And 10 people admitted that they really didn’t care.

The public outcry against the National Assembly’s decision is obvious. And I’m not just referring to our poll. BBS has shown many people, from various walks of life, all denouncing the restrictions imposed on BBS TV’s live broadcast. Yet, the National Assembly shows no sign of reconsidering its decision.

This is a very serious matter. And we cannot just ignore it. But what can be done? To begin with, write to your member of the National Assembly. Tell them that the ban is not good for democracy. And that you expect them to reconsider their decision.

The media also needs to do something. If they feel that the ban undermines free media, and that it is illegitimate, then they must demand that BBS be allowed to continue with the live telecast. And if their demands are not met, they should be ready to take the matter to the courts.

I’ll meet with the media to seek their views.

Our next poll is on the performance of our government. On the first day of the Parliament’s third session, our PM spoke extensively on the successes of the government. I wish to know what you think.

Inaugural session

speaking up

speaking up

I’m posting the speech I delivered in Parliament today. I’d proposed a vote of thanks for His Majesty the King’s gracious presence during the inaugural ceremony of the third session of the Parliament.

The original speech was delivered in Dzongkha. And I spoke from points I had prepared earlier. But I’ve tried my best to translate what I presented into English as accurately as possible.

The photograph shows Tshering Tobgay addressing the National Assembly’s second session in January 2009

Vote of Thanks to His Majesty the King

Welcome His Majesty the King

On this most auspicious day, I, on behalf of the opposition party and with the deepest of respect, offer my heart felt gratitude to Your Majesty, for gracing today’s inaugural ceremony and opening the third session of the First Parliament of Bhutan.

The fact that Your Majesty has put aside all other important work of the State and chosen to attend the inaugural ceremony in person, is a real indication of Your Majesty’s support to Bhutan’s Parliament and, in particular, to the democratic process.

Thank our deities

It has been more than a year since democracy was introduced in the Kingdom of Bhutan. During this period, no untoward harm or misfortune has befallen on our two beloved monarchs, our country, and our people. This is because we continue to enjoy the benedictions of the triple gem, the support of our protecting deities, the combined good fortune of the Bhutanese people, and, most importantly, the supreme powers of our beloved monarchs.

State of democracy

Barely 15 months have passed since democracy was introduced in our country. And already many people, Bhutanese and foreigners, are amazed at how democracy was introduced – gifted from the Golden Throne to the people of Bhutan. And many people sincerely believe that democracy has got off to a good start and that it has already become a vibrant system of governance in Bhutan.

Our people acknowledge that the successes of democracy in Bhutan are solely because of His Majesty the King’s hard work and good results.

We must also accept, however, that not all the people are satisfied with the performance of democracy, our new form of government. This is mainly because the hopes and aspirations that our people have of democracy have still not been realized. And, to a large extent, they are correct.

So, it is our sacred responsibility to fulfill their dreams. But, in order to do so all of us must think and act as one, and work together. When I say “us” I mean the National Council and the National Assembly, the ruling party and the opposition party, civil servants and the private sector, and all other people. Only if we work together will we be able to achieve His Majesty’s vision of a robust and vibrant democracy that will deliver the hopes and aspirations of the people.

His Majesty’s work

Now, when we consider His Majesty the King’s work, all of us know very well that, even before the Coronation, His Majesty had worked tirelessly to ensure that the foundation of democracy was well secured so that, although the people didn’t want democracy, the transition from absolute monarchy to democratic constitutional monarchy would eventually be made smoothly and effortlessly.

And after the historic coronation of the Fifth Druk Gyalpo, His Majesty the King has spared no effort to work with even greater force to serve the country and people of Bhutan. So, it is not possible to recount all of His Majesty’s good work today.

But, from among all his work, if I were to report about one, just as an example, we may be better able to understand His Majesty’s complete dedication to his country and his people.

It is no secret that most of our people live in villages, many of which are located in remote corners of our country that have not been visited by officers or civil servants. His Majesty has journeyed to these far-flung places. He traveled by day and night, for many weeks, in the scorching sun and soaking rain, and among leeches and insects. And no matter how tired he may have become, His Majesty insisted on visiting every village personally and, in it, dwelling place, with or without a roof.

He met his people in their villages, in their lands, and in their homes. He listened to their problems. And he personally solved their problems, right there and then.

We all know that the biggest problem our farmers face is the issue of land. Many farmers have “excess land”, land that they have not been able to pay for. Some have too little land. And many do not have any land at all – these are sharecroppers who for generations have slaved on other people’s fields.

In Lhuntse, in one dzongkhag alone, His Majesty the King granted various types of land kidu to a total of almost 5,000 families.  Similarly, His Majesty awarded many kidus to the people of Mongar. And, during the natural calamity caused by flash floods in various parts of the country, His Majesty rushed to see the devastation personally. And he met the victims and granted them kidu.

Monarchy in democratic Bhutan

Before the advent of democracy, our monarchy played a crucial role in the development of our country. And every successive monarch worked exclusively for the wellbeing of the country and the people.

Now, our beloved kings have deliberately given their powers to the people, and started a democratic form of government.  Yet the institution of monarchy, and His Majesty the King, must play an even more important role now to ensure the success of democracy, and the continued stability, peace and prosperity of our country and people.

Responsibility of parliamentarians

We, however, must also do our share of work. In order to enjoy benefits of a healthy democracy we must all work together. That includes parliamentarians, civil servants, private sector, farmers, the youth and all other citizens.

But, if we look at the situation today, many people feel that democracy has not given them what they want. And what do our people want from democracy? Our farmers want their hopes and aspirations fulfilled; our business community wants a much more stronger private sector that can contribute to a growing economy; our youth want quality education and job opportunities; and, overall, our people want GNH. GNH not just in words or on on paper, but real GNH that translates to improvements in their lives.

So, to fulfill the expectations of our people and of democracy, we parliamentarians must accept the biggest responsibility. The National Council and National Assembly, the ruling party and the opposition party, all of us have a collective responsibility to ensure that democracy succeeds.

As far as the opposition party is concerned, we will engage our body, speech and mind to serve the tsa-wa-sum, and we offer our pledge to do so here, in the incomparable great hall of the Parliament of Bhutan.

Conclusion

In conclusion, on behalf of the opposition party, I offer my sincere gratitude to Your Majesty the King for inaugurating the third session of the Parliament, and for making our democracy strong. Tashi delek!

Lakshuman Chhetri

Well done

Well done

Yesterday, Lakshuman Chhetri, a senior officer in the National Assembly Secretariat, left his office for the last time. After serving the National Assembly for 22 continuous years, Mr Chhetri left to take up his new assignment as head of BICMA’s media division.

Mr Chhetri, who I met in Sherubtse College (he was an outstanding athlete then), was the first graduate to join the National Assembly. He did so, as a trainee officer, in September 1987. And during the last 22 years, he’s seen the National Assembly Secretariat grow from a small office with only six staff to today’s efficient organization having more than 50 staff.

Yesterday, when I called on him to say thank him for his services to the legislature and to say goodbye, he reflected on his long and successful tenure. He recalled the shock waves that His Majesty’s kasho of 10 June 1998 sent through the National Assembly and the country. In that historic kasho His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo devolved all his executive powers to an elected council of ministers. At the same time, His Majesty insisted that the monarch be subjected to a periodical vote of confidence of the National Assembly.

Mr Chhetri remembered the many important debates over several consecutive sessions of the National Assembly concerning the presence of Indian militant camps within our country, and the threats that they posed to the security of our country and the friendship between Bhutan and India. In December 2003, the militants were finally removed from Bhutanese soil by His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo who personally led our armed forces in the operation that lasted barely 48 hours and showcased the bravery and genius of our beloved monarch.

And he recalled the period leading up to the first parliamentary elections, the first session of the first new parliament, the discussions on the Constitution and the signing of the Constitution. All emotionally difficult events for a population that didn’t want democracy but was forced to accept it by Their Majesty the Kings.

Mr Chhetri has enjoyed being part of these historic moments in our country. But now looks forward to a new chapter in his life. I wish him the very best of luck.

Incidentally, the longest serving officer in the National Assembly is Kazilal Rai. Mr Rai joined the NA Secretariat in July 1981 as PA to the then Speaker, the late Lyonpo Tamshing Jagar. Today Mr Rai is the Assembly’s senior administrative officer.

No middle path for live TV broadcast

Limited use

Limited use

Middlepath (very good nickname) had this to say on my last entry about the National Assembly’s decision to discontinue live TV broadcast for most of its proceedings: “OL and others, please do not abuse the provisions of the Constitution to suit your position on the live telecast. The Constitution says that the proceedings of the NA should be conducted in public but the speaker has the discretion to exclude the press and the pubic from all or any part of the proceedings….(Art 10,15). Public should not be understood as live coverage – it should be understood as open for public observation. In that respect, any one who wishes to observe any session from the public gallery is free to do so…”

This is what Article 10.15 of the Constitution really says: “The proceedings of Parliament shall be conducted in public. However, the Speaker or the Chairperson may exclude the press and the public from all or any part of the proceedings if there is a compelling need to do so in the interests of public order, national security or any other situation, where publicity would seriously prejudice public interest.”

Yes, Middlepath is correct: the Speaker does have “…the discretion to exclude the press and the public from all or any part of the proceedings…” But don’t forget the condition for the Speaker to exercise these powers: “…if there is a compelling need to do so in the interests of public order, national security or any other situation, where publicity would seriously prejudice public interest.”

So the question is would live TV broadcast of the National Assembly proceedings compromise public order and national security? And would it prejudice the public interest? If so, the Speaker can prevent BBS’s live TV broadcast, along with the rest of the media and the public. If not, the Speaker cannot.

By the way, our Honourable Speaker is not responsible for the decision to discontinue the live TV broadcast. It was us, the members of the national assembly. And only two members, both from the opposition, felt that the live TV broadcast should continue. Political analysts will find this odd, because live TV broadcast gives the members of the ruling party disproportionate access to and coverage by the media. So these analysts will ask why then, when the ruling party stands to benefit so much from live TV coverage, are they against it?

With regard to Middlepath’s advice that “public” should not be confused as “live coverage”, he may have a point. But if “public” means “public observation….from the gallery”, it would mean that we are willing to purposely exclude the majority of our population from viewing the proceedings of the Assembly. After all, not many Bhutanese can afford the journey to Thimphu just to observe their parliamentarians. For our people’s sake, for democracy’s sake, let our wider public also participate by viewing the Parliament’s proceedings on BBS’s live telecast.

But there’s still one more issue. Is BBS a part of the press? If so, they may be excluded, along with the rest of the media, from observing all or part of the proceedings, but on condition that their presence undermines the interest of public order or national security. As a matter of fact, TV is part of the press. And live TV coverage is the highest form of news media – viewers get to see and hear events as they really take place, not as others say how they’ve taken place.

Live TV poll

National shame

National shame

Our last poll, on the PCS, has been up for hardly four days. But it generated 51 votes. Almost three-fourths of them were cast against the position classification system. And only 14 voters supported the PCS. Several of the commentators, however, clarified that the PCS is actually a useful system, but that its flaws come from poor implementation. I agree with them.

If the RCSC wants to continue with the PCS, it should implement the system completely. In particular, it should put into practice the dual principles of “right person for the right job” and “equal money for equal value of work” that the PCS is founded upon. Half way measures will not work. And exceptions and the lack of transparency will cause civil servants to lose confidence in the system.

Our new poll is on the National Assembly’s decision to stop live TV broadcasts for most of the session. I’d written about the National Assembly’s decision a few days ago, but several people have asked for a poll.

Earlier this month, I’d also written about the BBS’s new television facilities. In a span of three weeks the BBS inaugurated a spanking new Nu 200 million National TV Centre, and they were told that they can no longer broadcast most of the National Assembly proceedings. What this is, is a national shame.

Broadcasting bad news

Broadcasting service

Broadcasting service

During a recent meeting to discuss the agenda for the next session of the National Assembly, MPs decided that live TV broadcast would be allowed only for the opening and closing ceremonies, the PM’s address, and for discussions related to public accounts and anticorruption. Only two MPs, both from the opposition, argued that the proceedings of the National Assembly should continue to be broadcast live on TV.

I cannot understand why anyone would want to discontinue the live broadcast of the National Assembly proceedings. Consider that:

  1. the Constitution requires that “The proceedings of Parliament shall be conducted in public”;
  2. live TV broadcast enhances the accountability of the members of parliament to the people who elected them;
  3. many people, especially outside Thimphu, enjoy following the proceedings in the Parliament and, thereby, participating in the democratic process; and
  4. BBS, which does not charge any fees for broadcasting the proceedings of the National Assembly, has not said that they cannot, for whatever reason, continue this service;

Unlike in many countries, our people actually like to follow the debates inside parliament. This is good. And we should be nurturing this interest in the democratic process. Not suppressing it.

Our honourable MPs would do well to listen to their people. And to the Constitution

Calling for issues

Gyelyong Tshokhang

Gyelyong Tshokhang

The third session of the Parliament will begin on 26 June 2009. But the agenda is not yet final. In fact, we don’t even have a draft agenda. But expect your MPs to discuss the Local Government Bill, Tobacco Bill, Royal Monetary Authority Bill, Civil Service Bill and the 2009-2010 Budget Bill during their summer session. There probably will be other bills too. But, for now, I invite our readers to go through these bills and give me your comments.  The bills should be on the relevant websites (That’s MOHCA, MOH, RMA, RCSC and MOF).

The Parliament will also discuss issues that are submitted by Local Governments. We’ll know what issues these are only after the draft agenda is out.

And individual MPs can also submit issues for the Parliament’s deliberation. So if you have pressing issues, which are of national importance, send them to me. And I’ll submit them to the National Assembly.  But send them to me during the weekend, as the deadline for submitting agenda points is Monday, 25 May.