Sixth session

The 6th session of the Parliament is scheduled to begin on the 19th of November. During this session, which will go on till the 10th of December, the National Assembly will consider the following bills:

  1. Child Care and Protection Bill
  2. Penal Code (Amendment) Bill
  3. Anticorruption (Amendment) Bill
  4. Civil and Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Bill
  5. Sales Tax, Customs and Excise (Amendment) Bill
  6. Public Finance (Amendment) Bill
  7. Land Act (Amendment) Bill
  8. Election (Amendment) Bill

The government will submit reports on actions taken on the following resolutions of the National Assembly:

  1. Pay revision
  2. Zhaptog lemi
  3. Constituency development grant
  4. National minimum wage rage

The Assembly will ratify the SAARC Agreement on Trade in Services.

The Women and Children Committee of the National Assembly will submit their report.

And the National Assembly will consider a petition from the public of Paro to formulate stringent rules for drayangs and discotheques, and to review their licensing procedures.

I would like to encourage discussions on this blog on as many of these agenda items as possible. But the discussion papers for the 6th Session are yet to be distributed. So I do not know what will be discussed on most of these issues.

I’ll post information on these agenda items as and when they become available. In the meantime, please share your overall views on the items that will be discussed during the 6th Session.

Implementing the Constitution

For the people ...

Several people have asked me for an English translation of the expression of gratitude that I had offered to His Majesty the King during the inaugural ceremony of the fifth session of the Parliament. A busy schedule, arising from the fifth session, distracted me from translating the statement.

But yesterday, after posting the entry about the signing of our Constitution, I suddenly decided that the translation had to be done immediately. Here it is …

Expression of Appreciation to His Majesty the King

Introduction. It’s been hardly two years since the introduction of democracy in our country. Democratic Constitutional Monarchy has started off well, and as such, our country has received considerable international appreciation and acclaim for a successful transition to democracy.

But more importantly, our people are already enjoying the benefits of the new system of government.

We have been able to achieve a great deal of development within such a short span of time, because of the blessings of the Triple Gem; the support of our guardian deities; the prayers of our clergy; the good fortune of our people; and because of the wisdom, foresight and guidance of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.

Most importantly, it is because of the noble deeds and exceptional accomplishments of His Majesty the King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

To most people, democracy means that the complete powers of governance are in the hands of the people. And, that is correct. But in order to administer these powers on behalf of the people, our Constitution accredits a range of institutions. These are, for example, the National Council and the National Assembly, the ruling party and the opposition, the Lhengye Zhungtsho and civil servants, the judiciary, and the Constitutional Offices. The respective powers, roles and responsibilities of these institutions are enshrined in the Constitution.

But of all these institutions, that of the Druk Gyapo is, by far, the most important. According to Article 2 Section 1 of the Constitution, “His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo is the Head of State and the symbol of unity of the Kingdom and of the people of Bhutan.”

All of us are fully aware of His Majesty the King’s noble deeds, actions and achievements. So on behalf of the opposition party, I would like to express our heartfelt gratitude by recalling a few of His Majesty’s accomplishments during the past two years. I thank the Honourable Speaker for allowing me to do so.

One: land. In accordance with Article 2 Section 16 (b) (The Druk Gyalpo, in exercise of His Royal Prerogatives, may grant … land kidu and other kidus), His Majesty the King has, during the last two years, traveled throughout our country to grant audiences to people living in our remotest gewogs and villages, and to personally experience their living conditions and greatest difficulties. [Continue Reading…]

State of the Nation

Reporting to Parliament

The projected order of business for the Fifth Session of the First Parliament for Bhutan had, among many others, the following two entries:

Thursday, July 1:

Presentation of the Annual Report on the State of the Nation, including Legislative Plans and the Annual Plans and Priorities of the Government, to the Druk Gyalpo and to the Joint Sitting of the Parliament.

Monday, July 12:

Deliberation on the presentation of the Annual Report on the State of the Nation including Legislative Plans and the Annual Plans and Priorities of the Government by the Prime Minister

As we all know, the prime minister delivered his State of the Nation address, as scheduled, on 1st July. But for reasons still unknown, we didn’t get to discuss the prime minister’s State of the Nation report. We didn’t discuss it, as scheduled, on 12th July. Nor did we discuss it at another time.

It wasn’t like that last year. The State of the Nation report was discussed, albeit briefly, in the National Assembly immediately after the prime minister delivered it to the joint sitting of Parliament.

I hope it won’t be like that next year.

The State of the Nation address is important. It is the prime minister’s report to the Druk Gyalpo, the Parliament and the nation at large, on the social, economic, financial and political condition of our nation. It gives the prime minister the opportunity to highlight the government’s successes over the previous year. And it allows him to outline the government’s legislative plans, policy agenda and national priorities for the next year.

Naturally, the prime minister would expect us, parliamentarians, to consider his annual report carefully. And to spend as much time as needed discussing it to offer valuable feedback.

But more importantly, our people would expect us, their representatives, to consider and discuss the prime minister’s State of the Nation report thoroughly so that they can rest assured that the Parliament is doing its job.

Photo credit: National Assembly

Pride or disgrace?

How has it fared?

The Parliament met in a joint sitting yesterday to conclude its fifth session. And just like that, the first Parliament of Bhutan has already completed half of its 10 regular sessions.

So I’ve been thinking about the past five sessions, and researching how we, your members of parliament, have bought you pride or disgrace during the course of our work. I may write about it, but sometime later.

In the meantime, I invite you to share your thoughts on how we have fared so far. Which were our best moments? Which were our worst? And which made you laugh?

I’ve featured the Parliament building in the banner to remind you to give us, parliamentarians, your insights.

Working with NC

The prime minister, in his State of the Nation address, on differences between the National Council and National Assembly:

Already several issues have arisen between the National Council and this House which inevitably raised the question of seeking the guidance of the Supreme Court even before it was established. Now with its establishment, the wisdom of the judiciary too will be tested if indeed constitutional issues are brought before it.

My hope is that, through the ongoing dialogue between the two houses, these issues will be resolved without judicial intervention.

Very good.

Now prove that there’s some genuine commitment to resolve the many outstanding issues that the government and the National Assembly have with the National Council. Initiate that “ongoing dialogue”. And if differences can’t be resolved, seek the judiciary’s assistance. Major disagreements that need immediate attention are:

  1. Constituency Development Grant. The government has completely ignored the National Council’s repeated assertions that the CDG is unconstitutional.
  2. Question Time: Ministers have once again stopped attending the National Council’s Question Time.
  3. Budget appropriation. The National Council’s role in approving money and financial bills, especially in passing the budget, is still unresolved.
  4. NC resolutions. The government has not responded to any of the National Council’s resolutions. And during the current session, the National Council has made strong observations on the  economic development and FDI policies.

Carbon neutral?

Dorji, commenting on my last post, GNH vs GDP:

… what is surprising is that OL seem to have been engrossed in counting the repetition of GNH instead of the substance of the address itself.

Dorji is right. We should pay attention to, and analyze, the substantive parts of the PM’s address. So that’s exactly what we’ll do over the next few days. Here’s the plan: I’ll pick up some issues, one at a time, and we’ll discuss them.

Let’s begin with something easy: the environment. In his State of the Nation address, the PM informed the Parliament of the government’s decision to keep Bhutan carbon neutral for all time to come:

At the Conference of Parties Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen (COP 15) last December, Bhutan declared that it will forever remain carbon neutral and serve as a net carbon sink.

Climate change is a reality. And, left unchecked, global warming could inflict dire consequences on Bhutan, a country that has become increasingly dependent on the Himalayan water resources.

So the government’s promise sounds good. The “Declaration of the Kingdom of Bhutan – the Land of Gross National Happiness to Save our Planet”, as the proclamation is called, sounds like a good idea.

Is it really a good idea? The government seems to think so. But we, the people, don’t know. We don’t know, because we were never consulted.

In its enthusiasm to make the carbon neutral promise at the Copenhagen Summit, the government seems to have done a hurried job – it signed the declaration on 11th December 2009, and, barely a week later, announced it in Copenhagen – without any consultations with the people. We don’t know if experts were consulted, but we do know that our farmers were not consulted. Similarly, the private sector was not consulted. And, even though the Parliament was in session when the declaration was signed, even the parliament was not consulted.

Is the government required to consult the people and the Parliament? No

Should the government have consulted the people and the Parliament? Yes. After all, the declaration is a momentous promise, one that will have far reaching consequences, one that has been made on our behalf, and our children’s behalf, for all time to come.

And, as it turns out, one that we may find difficult to honour.

Thanking His Majesty

Earlier today, His Majesty the King was received in a traditional chipdrel procession to the inaugural ceremony of the fifth session of the Parliament.

My statement, expressing the opposition party’s gratitude to His Majesty, is available here.

Update on fifth session

The National Assembly’s draft agenda for the fifth session of the Parliament was distributed yesterday. The Assembly will discuss the Water Bill, Financial Services Bill, Disaster Management Bill, and the Annual Budget 2010-2011.

The joint sitting of the Parliament will meet to discuss and endorse the Tobacco Control Bill, RMA (Ammendment) Bill, Standards Bill, and Service Conditions Bill for Constitutional Offices. In addition, the prime minister will report on the State of the Nation.

Please keep sharing your comments on these bills. And, don’t forget to check the National Assembly’s website periodically to see if new bills have been uploaded.

Giving thanks

MPs outside NA

This week’s banner features members of parliament, in front of the Gyalyog Tshokhang, preparing to receive His Majesty the King to the inaugural ceremony of the fourth session of the Parliament.

A quick translation of my statement thanking His Majesty the King follows:

……………………………………………………………….……………………………………

A series of natural disasters have ravaged our country during the past 20 months. Nature’s four elements have created calamities throughout our country, in every dzongkhag, causing immeasurable problems for our country and our people.

Recently, earthquakes, windstorms and fires have inflicted damage, and caused anxiety and hardship for the people living in the eastern part of our country. And, only the day before yesterday, fires destroyed many houses in Haa town and Samkhar, Trashigang.

Such calamities are common in some countries, but in Bhutan they are rare. And they have never occurred in such frequency, or with such force, causing unprecedented problems and hardship for our people.

So our people are surprised. And they are worried. Since all these calamities have occurred only after the first elections, some people have wondered if democracy is inauspicious for Bhutan.

Democracy may or may not be auspicious for us. But, what is certain is that His Majesty the King personally introduced democracy in our country specifically to protect the wellbeing of our people. Furthermore, His Majesty the King has repeatedly commanded that we, the people, must strengthen the foundations of democracy in our country.

So, regardless of whether the signs are auspicious or ominous; and regardless of the frequency and severity of natural calamities, all of us must work together, collectively, to make democracy successful and beneficial to our country, our people and the dharma. This important responsibility belongs to each and every one of us.

On behalf of the opposition party, I thank our civil servants, armed forces, Zhung Dratshang and religious organizations for providing immediate help and support to our people every time there is a natural calamity.

More importantly, I offer our eternal gratitude to His Majesty the King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. Whenever natural calamities strike, His Majesty always rushes to personally help and comfort the people who are affected by them. And, in addition to awarding kidu grants to the victims of natural calamities, His Majesty provides moral support to build their confidence.

Recently, on the 3rd day of the 8th month, an earthquake – the strongest living memory – rocked our country. That earthquake completely destroyed not just houses, but entire villages upon villages in many parts of Eastern Bhutan. Many precious lives were also lost in the earthquake.

To make matters worse, aftershocks, windstorms, and fire spread even more damage, and caused our people living in the East – and people all over our country – a tremendous amount of worry and hardship … problems that His Majesty the King addressed personally.

In fact, this is what people told me when I toured parts of our country that were affected by the calamities: on the very day the earthquake struck, members of our armed forces were immediately at the scene – at His Majesty’s command – to help the people affected by the disaster. By the next day, the offices of the Gyalpoi Zimpoen had arrived, and were already distributing food, clothes and tarpaulin to the victims. Furthermore, at His Majesty’s command, the Prime Minister and Gyalpoi Zimpoen toured the affected areas and met the people.

The people found these interventions extremely helpful. Yet, His Majesty chose to visit the region and personally meet the people to give them moral support and a sense of confidence. Now, in addition to traveling the area on foot and personally seeing the affects of the disasters, His Majesty awarded cash grants, and kidu for timber and CGI. Furthermore, His Majesty commanded the armed forces to help the villagers rebuild their houses.

But that was not all: His Majesty visited their homes, cooked for them and talked with them. And, in order to comfort the people, His Majesty sang and danced with them, and slept in the houses of the poorest farmers.

As the earthquake had severely traumatized the rural students as well, His Majesty comforted them, played with them, told them stories, and built temporary classrooms for them.

The people affected by the natural disasters have said that, because of His Majesty’s personal concern, support and kidu, they actually consider themselves fortunate. They say that they now have the opportunity to build better homes for themselves. And, to build more vibrant communities.

Similarly, when fire raged through Haa, His Majesty, who was immediately at the scene of the destruction, granted support and kidu to the victims of the fire.

It is because of His Majesty’s all-important and selfless work, that, in the democratic era, our people look to our Monarch as our only support and ultimate insurance.

In order to fulfill this important mandate, however, we parliamentarians also have a responsibility. That responsibility is to establish the Relief Fund which, according to Article 14, Section 12 of the Constitution, the Druk Gyalpo can use for urgent and unforeseen humanitarian relief. But, instead of establishing the Relief Fund in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution, we, parliamentarians, allocated Nu 20 million as a budget item for the fiscal year 2009-10. That was hardly enough, so the Gyalpoi Zimpoen’s office launched a separate Kidu Fund.

Led by the Dratshang, the royal family, members of the armed forces, civil servants, corporations, businesspeople, students, private citizens, international organizations and friendly countries have all made generous donations to the Kidu Fund. Still, in the interests of the future, it is extremely important that we, parliamentarians, establish the Relief Fund.

The fact that His Majesty the King is gracing the opening ceremony of the fourth session of the First Parliament, despite all other important engagements, is indicative of His Majesty’s support of the democratic process, in general, and of the Parliament, in particular.

On behalf of the opposition party, I once again, offer complete and heartfelt thanks to His Majesty the King.

Royal address

Law makers

Law makers

ROYAL ADDRESS AT THE CONCLUDING CEREMONY OF THE 3rd SESSION OF THE PARLIAMENT, 30 JULY 2007

On the occasion of the concluding ceremony of the 3rd session of Parliament, I congratulate the elected government of the Druk Phuensum Tshokpa on the completion of one year and four months in office. In these early days of a new political system while bearing great responsibilities you have, despite the limited resources, successfully carried out the difficult duties of government in service of the Tsawasum.

The Opposition, though comprised of only two members, has through diligence and commitment, fulfilled the important duties of the Opposition party enshrined in the Constitution.

The members of the National Council, in the interest of the country’s future, have shouldered their profound duties with accomplishment. I must express my deep gratitude and appreciation to the government and the members of parliament. It is with complete trust and faith that I look upon you to serve the People and Country. In doing so you have my wholehearted support.

We must also acknowledge that in preparation for democracy we had entrusted immense responsibilities on our civil servants and judiciary as well as on constitutional bodies such as the Royal Audit Authority, Anti-corruption Commission and Election Commission, which they have fulfilled in the service of the nation. Henceforth, for a vibrant and successful democracy, we must continue to support and strengthen these institutions.

Media – newspapers, television, radio and the Internet – must play a very important role. I appreciate that while some of the media agencies are young and lack adequate resources they have strived to perform their duties with complete commitment. Hereafter, media will be vital in keeping people well informed and in encouraging debate and participation – key to a vibrant democracy. Therefore, I have decided that through the exercise of my Royal Prerogative of Kidu, to strengthen media agencies so that they may carry out their duties, without fear or favour, in the interest of democracy.

Today, whenever there is time, I travel across the country to the villages. It is when I sit in the houses of my people, eat our meals together and discuss the lives and aspirations of each family, that I am most content. And while I am there I try, in small ways, to help them with their most pressing problems. Nothing is as rewarding as knowing that I have made their lives a little more comfortable, a little more secure and happier.

There is no substitute for being able to see the problems of the people personally. For when I carry out my duties, I shall remember the faces of the people whom I must serve and I will know the ways in which I can serve them best.

It is also while I am in the villages that I come across so many people serving the country in such important ways, but who are rarely recognized and acknowledged. There is the civil servant, teacher, health worker and local government staff working in remote places and serving their country well. Our development projects are supported by the hard work of the daily-wage worker and those in the national work force. There is the small entrepreneur or the farmer working hard to feed his or her family. Such people are the backbone of our nation.

I have said before that the future is what we make of it. What work we do with our two hands today, and the sacrifices we make will shape the future of our nation. To each and every loyal, hardworking and law-abiding citizen I offer my deepest gratitude.

Now, I always say that when we work together we must be frank and forthright. Today, everywhere people are concerned about the disagreements between important institutions of government. I want to tell my people that when such disagreements arise, there is no need to worry. It means that the members of these institutions have embraced their duties wholeheartedly. However, we must be careful not to defer problems but resolve them as soon as they arise.

It is not the disagreements that our people should be concerned about; it is the manner in which they are resolved. Frankly, these disagreements have given us a great opportunity to set the right precedent for future politicians, governments and people. If the institutions in question can sit together, keeping national interest above all else, and resolve their problems, it will be an auspicious sign that democracy has a great future in Bhutan.

As King I have the sacred duty to look beyond the next one or two, or even five or ten years. It is my duty to serve the People such that, for generation after generation, era upon era our nation becomes stronger, more prosperous and happier. Therefore, from where I stand, I do not see different players such as the National Assembly, National Council, Cabinet or Bureaucracy.

What do I see? I see our small landlocked country. I see our small Bhutanese family. Then I see this immense world in which we have the challenge and responsibility to stand on our own feet and build a nation into which our future generations will always feel proud, secure and happy to be born.

This is what I see. I truly believe that we have a special, unique and strong nation because of our People – the jewel of Bhutan. Throughout history our people have always worked as One Nation with One Vision. So, today, it is my hope that you will uphold this unity of spirit and purpose and resolve all disagreements in the interest of our People and Country, now and in the future.

Tashi Delek