Funding parties

The ruling party today submitted a motion to amend the Election Act 2008. The motion sailed through the National Assembly, with only two members – both from the opposition party – objecting to it.

The proposed amendment seeks to include a new provision in the Election Act that would permit state funding for political parties.

According to Section 158 of the Election Act:

The income of political parties shall be made up of:

(a) Registration fee;

(b) Membership fees; and

(c) Voluntary Contributions from registered members.

Section 158 was debated extensively during the first session of the Parliament when the Election Act was passed. At that time, the Parliament had resolved that including state funding for political parties would contravene Article 15 Section 4(d) of the Constitution by which:

A political party shall be registered by the Election Commission on its satisfying the qualifications and requirements set out hereinafter, that: … (d) It does not accept money or any assistance other than those contributions made by its registered members, and the amount or value shall be fixed by the Election Commission.

But now the ruling party proposes to insert a new subsection under Section 158 that would allow political parties to receive state funding. According to the new subsection, income of the political parties would include:

(d) Funding from the State to the Ruling Party and the Opposition Party

Another new section proposes to allow the government to decide the amount of funding political parties would receive:

The Ruling Party and the Opposition Party shall receive funding from the State to maintain their party machineries and the amount shall be determined by the Government in consultation with the Election Commission of Bhutan.

State funding for political parties was discussed thoroughly during the first session of the Parliament. And it was deemed unconstitutional. The National Council had ruled that state funding for political parties is unconstitutional. The National Assembly had accepted that state funding is possible only if the Constitution is amended.

The Chief Election Commissioner had categorically stated that:

State support to political parties would contravene Section 4 (d) of Article 15 of the Constitution.

And the Chief Justice of Bhutan had warned that:

State funding of political parties negates the very objective of democratic principles, and therefore the National Assembly resolution will have to be adjudicated to determine its constitutionality.

According to the proposed amendment, only the ruling and opposition parties would be provided state funding. If we allow that, it would become very difficult for new political parties to challenge the existing two parties.

And according to the proposed amendment, the government would hold the authority to determine how much funding to provide. If we allow that, it would become virtually impossible for new political parties to challenge the existing two parties.

But I oppose state funding for political parties, mainly because it would violate the Constitution, both in letter and in spirit.

Yes, our party, the PDP, is in deep financial trouble. And yes, because of that, we may not qualify for the 2013 general elections. But that’s no excuse to disregard the Constitution.

I knew I smelt danger.

Relief for relief fund?

For the people

During Question Hour today, I requested the Hon’ble Home Minister to report on the status of the Relief Fund. In particular, I asked him if he, as the minister in charge of disaster management, would propose legislation to establish the Relief Fund.

According to Article 14 Section 12 of the Constitution:

Parliament shall establish a relief fund and the Druk Gyalpo shall have the prerogative to use this fund for urgent and unforeseen humanitarian relief.

Bhutan’s first Parliament has already met five times. And the sixth session is currently on. Yet, and in spite of the opposition party’s repeated appeals, the Parliament has not established the Relief Fund. In fact, the Parliament has done no work to establish the Relief Fund. So the first elected Parliament risks defaulting on this important responsibility.

On the other hand, a spate of natural disasters – floods, earthquakes, storms and fires – have struck various parts of the country during the last two years, and have caused unprecedented hardship to countless people. In almost every case, His Majesty the King has personally provided immediate relief, and overseen the rehabilitation and recovery process. And, during the opening of the Parliament’s sixth session, His Majesty spoke of His pledge to victims of the Chamkhar fire that:

… even though our nation may be a small, landlocked country without the great wealth of others, in their moment of great suffering, the King and government would do everything to find the resources needed to alleviate their pain and restore happiness to their lives.

Obviously, there’s a real need to establish the Relief Fund urgently.

So I was happy to hear the home minister report that his ministry and the Ministry of Finance have jointly drafted a proposal to establish a relief fund, and that the proposal would soon be discussed in the Cabinet.

And I was even more happy to hear the Hon’ble Speaker decide that the home minister will submit a motion in the National Assembly to introduce the proposal to establish the Relief Fund.

Royal address

His Majesty the King addressed the nation during the opening session of the Sixth Session of the Parliament this morning. The official transcript of the Royal Address follows:

Since assuming Kingship in December 2006, I have travelled outside Bhutan four times – each time it has been to India. Indo-Bhutan friendship is of paramount importance and something we hold dear. We must always work to further strengthen and deepen it. In October this year, I visited Kolkata and New Delhi. I found in my meetings with the President, Prime Minister, Chairperson of the UPA, ministers, government officials and leader of the Opposition, a common heartfelt appreciation for Bhutan’s achievements as a nation, and a steadfast commitment and pledge to strengthen even further what they feel is a model partnership and bond between countries.

We are presently undertaking the mid-term review of the 10th 5-year Plan. India’s assistance has been wholehearted and generous to the first development plan under our new democracy. On behalf of the people of Bhutan, I convey my deep appreciation to the Government and People of India.

Upon my return from India, I went directly to Bumthang to the site of the tragic fire in Chamkhar town. [Continue Reading…]