After a month of deliberations and discussions the Ninth Session of the Third Parliament, which opened on June 8, 2023, saw members of the parliament (MP), passing the Pay Revision Bill 2023, discussing and endorsing the National Digital Identity Bill 2023 and ratifying articles related to trade, amongst others.
Having obtained the blessings of the two houses, the salaries of civil servants would increase from 55% to 74%. According to Finance Minister, Namgay Tshering; “The pay revision is mainly done to address the inflation and as a part of the reforms and transformation in the country.”
The House endorsed the National Council’s amendment on Foreign Service Utility Expenses for the Head of the Mission/Embassy/Consulate General. However, the House could not endorse the Council’s recommendation to repeal the 21 days of annual leave for civil servants and the recommendation for a new section on the Duty Free Shop Membership for the MP.
Similarly, the Parliament also endorsed the joint committee’s recommendations on the National Identity Bill of Bhutan 2023 as an urgent bill. The joint committee’s recommendation includes, “the national digital company shall be a public limited company with all the shares owned by Druk Holding and Investments,” and “the offence and penalties prescribed in this chapter shall be in accordance with the Penal Code of Bhutan.”
The National Assembly also ratified both the agreement and protocol on movement of traffic in transit between the people’s republic of Bangladesh and the royal government where the protocol provides the frame work with greater connectivity and the agreement to help promote, facilitate, expand and deepen trade relation between the two countries.
“The agreement between Bangladesh and Bhutan will be very significant as it will provide alternative trade route for Bhutan with other countries,” said Karma Dorji, the minister, Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment (MoICE).
Similarly, the Assembly also ratified the BIMSTEC Charter. According to the minister of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade (MoAFET), Dasho Dr Tandi Dorji, the BIMSTEC member countries can engage in discussions and collaborations on various fronts, including free trade agreements, grid connectivity for electricity trade, motor vehicle agreements, and maritime transport, amongst others.
Further, the Assembly adopted the Biological Corridor (BC) connecting Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary and Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary covering six gewogs in Trashigang and Trashiyangtse.
The Parliament also adopted the revised Forest and Nature Conservation Bill marking a significant milestone in Bhutan’s efforts to safeguard its natural heritage while ensuring responsible development and the preservation of sacred sites. Similarly, with an aim to promote and ensure full and equal enjoyment of all human rights by persons with disabilities, the Assembly adopted the Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities.
“The Conventions should not be misconstrued as not supporting the persons with disabilities but to provide policy space for the government in keeping with the socio-economic development situation of the country,” said the health minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo, adding that the numerous developmental activities were being initiated and implemented in support of the person with disabilities.
The Convention covers a number of key areas such as accessibility, participation, equality, employment, education and training, social protection and health marking a shift in thinking about disability from a social welfare perspective to human rights based approach.
The Convention is also a comprehensive human rights instrument with an explicit, social development dimension.
The Parliament also adopted the highly disputed Civil Liability Bill of 2022 which holds immense significance. With the bill, negligent deaths and injuries can be prevented and it would ensure fair compensation due to wrong doings, amongst others.
The house also deliberated on the Public Accounts Committee’s (PAC) review report on Annual Audit Report 2021-22 and voiced concerns on reports of increasing unresolved financial irregularities, high attrition rate, high government debt, unresolved financial irregularities, underutilization of capital budget among many others and the need to look into resolving these issues, amongst others.
Meanwhile, the question hours saw more than 50 questions asked to the government covering all the ministries with regard to issues and challenges in trade route, foreign reserves, social, policy, and developmental issues, amongst others.
The closing ceremony of the Ninth Session of the Third Parliament will be observed today (July 8, 2023).
Sherab Dorji from Thimphu