Thursday, 19 June 2008

Bhutan : National Council in session

18 June, 2008 -The National Council (NC), as a primary institution of democracy, apart from its legislative functions and as a house of review, will also have the power to challenge government policy through a motion of censures, according to the national council bill.

As per the NC bill, the motion must be proposed by not less than half the NC members, who number 25. “We can, for instance, challenge government policy, like joining WTO, if it is detrimental to the interest of the country and the people,” said an NC member.

The NC can also review whether the executive and the national assembly are functioning in the best interest of the people, by looking at whether the broad policy is constitutional and if it has any vested interests.

The NC also has the power to review and comment on legislative proposals or bills initiated by the government or the national assembly (NA) and ascertain whether the laws and resolutions passed by parliament and the national policies, plans and programmes are being implemented by the government and the people.

According to the NC Bill, the council can initiate and pass bills by a simple majority of the total number of members in the national council. However, money bills and financial bills should originate only in the NA, whereas any other legislative bills may originate in either house.

When a bill is subsequently passed by the NC, after it has been introduced and passed by the NA, the bill would be submitted to His Majesty the King for assent within 15 days from the date of passing such a bill. If the national council does not pass the bill, that has been introduced and passed by the national assembly, the NC shall return it to the NA with amendments or objections for re-deliberation.

In case the NC refuses to incorporate such amendments or objections of the NA, the bill will be submitted to the Druk Gyalpo, who shall then command the houses to deliberate and vote on the bill in a joint sitting.

His Majesty the King graced the first session of the national council yesterday. His Majesty was escorted to the National Council hall in a traditional chipdrel procession. The chairman, the vice chairman and the members of NC offered kusung thukten mendrel to His Majesty the King for his well being and long life and as a symbol of reverence and loyalty of the people. The session was opened with the marchang and zhugrel phuensum tshogpa ceremonies.

The chairman of the national council, Namgay Penjore, said that the council members were fortunate to be part of the council during the reign of His Majesty the King. “We pledge to serve the country with unwavering loyalty and dedication,” he said in his opening statement.

“We felt that it was a special privilege that His Majesty the King chose to attend his first session of the national council after the joint session and we felt immensely proud and greatly encouraged to look beyond ourselves and our constituency and serve democracy in the national interest,” said an NC member.

In its first sitting, the NC will review the national council bill, election bill, public election fund bill and national referendum bill. The NC has formed four groups to look at different bills.

“We aren’t looking for editorial issues like typos, grammar and basic translation errors but focussing on the main issues,” said an NC member. “For example, in the public election fund bill, we’re looking at whether the campaign fund should be determined by constituency size. In the election bill, we’ll discuss how should the national assembly elections go about if there is only one party.”

The major issue in the National Council bill is to distinguish and define the exact review functions.

The NC has also power to call the attention of a minister to any matter of urgent public importance. “It’s important for us to bring the attention of government to the victims of natural calamities,” said an NC member.

The National Council, an apolitical body, has 25-members, including five eminent persons nominated by the Druk Gyalpo.

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