Totally redundant

Yesterday, the National Assembly passed the Sales Tax, Customs and Excise (Amendment) Bill, and the Public Finance (Amendment) Bill. The two of us in the opposition party had argued that the bills would violate the Constitution, and, in the end, only the two of us voted against the bills.

The two amendments could allow the government to impose and raise taxes without having to seek the Parliament’s approval.

The bills will now be forwarded to the National Council, who will discuss them in the next session. If they pass the bills, the amendments will come into effect. If not, the bills will be submitted to a joint sitting of the Parliament.

Now here’s the strange part: the government’s legislative maneuvering is totally redundant.

Why? Because the Supreme Court will soon consider the first constitutional case, and rule whether or not the Constitution permits the government to impose taxes without fist passing it through the Parliament.

If the Supreme Court rules that the Constitution does, indeed, empower the government to impose and revise taxes without the Parliament’s approval, it would have been unnecessary to amend the existing laws in such a hurry.

But if the Supreme Court rules that, according to the Constitution, the government must seek Parliament’s approval before imposing and revising taxes, the amendments that the National Assembly passed yesterday would automatically become null and void.

The Supreme Court is the guardian of the Constitution and the final authority on its interpretation. We should have let them do their job, instead of jumping the gun, and becoming redundant.

Appealling justice

Yesterday, after learning that the government was appealing the High Court’s verdict, Bhutan Today sent me some questions. With their permission, I’m reproducing their questions and my answers here.

What do you think about the government appealing to the Supreme Court?

I am pleased that the government has decided to appeal to the Supreme Court, as they were obviously not satisfied with the High Court’s verdict. Remember that the government has the right to appeal to the Supreme Court.

As far as the opposition party is concerned, we respect the government’s decision to appeal, and will submit to the judicial process completely.

Do you think the High Court’s verdict has failed to set a precedence on constitutional cases for the future?

The High Court has not failed in any way. They ordered a verdict after giving the case careful and considerable thought. The fact that the government is appealing to the Supreme Court does not diminish, in any way or manner, the excellent work done by the High Court.

How hopeful are you of what the Supreme Court might pass as verdict? Do you think it will favor the government?

I have full confidence in the Judiciary. And I am absolutely certain that the Judiciary will fulfill their Constitutional mandate to “safeguard, uphold, and administer Justice fairly and independently without fear, favour, or undue delay in accordance with the Rule of Law to inspire trust and confidence and to enhance access to Justice.”

Obviously, we cannot predict what the final verdict will be. But regardless of how Supreme Court rules, you can rest assured that the opposition party will accept it without any question.

What is the long term implication of this case incase the Supreme Court intrepretation favors the government?

The fact that the government is appealing to the Supreme Court is good. It will bring proper closure to our first constitutional case. After all, the Supreme Court is the guardian of the Constitution, and the final authority on its implementation.

We will argue the case to the very best of our ability, but we will accept, and abide by, the Supreme Court’s final verdict. Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules, I am confident that the long term interests country and the people will be protected.

Royal decree

I see two important points in His Majesty the King’s kasho instituting the Royal Commission and outlining the process to establish the first Supreme Court of Bhutan.

The first is that the delay in establishing the Supreme Court was deliberate. It was meant to make the “… new democratic institutions learn to work together in harmony, and with unity of purpose, in the interest of the Nation and People.”

The second is that, His Majesty the King has devolved his authority and created an even more transparent process of establishing the Supreme Court. Though Article 21, Section 4 of the Constitution authorizes the Druk Gyalpo to appoint the Chief Justice of Bhutan in consultation with the National Judicial Commission, His Majesty’s kasho empowers the Royal Commission to recommend “…one person to assume the post of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.”