From Bhutan Observer (Jan 2012)
Observer's Tandin Pem summarizes the eighth session of the first Parliament held from January 4 through January 20, 2012
A lot of debates were expected from the eighth session of the Parliament, especially in amending the Tobacco Control Act. However, the Act was quickly amended making it more lenient on illegal possession of tobacco. Another amendment has now increased the quantity of tobacco an individual can import for personal use.
A total of 12 Bills were discussed and debated by the two houses.
The National Assembly passed the Consumer Protection Bill of Bhutan, Druk Gyalpo's Relief Fund Bill of Bhutan, Education City Bill of Bhutan, Disaster Management Bill of Bhutan, University of Medical Sciences Bill, and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
The National Council also passed the Consumer Protection Bill of Bhutan, University of Medical Sciences Bill, National Flag Bill of Bhutan, and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. The Parliamentary Entitlement (Amendment) Bill was also adopted by the Council.
The joint sitting of the Parliament endorsed the Child Adoption Bill, Sales Tax, Customs and Excise (Amendment) Bill, Public Finance (Amendment) Bill, and the Tobacco Control (Amendment) Bill of Bhutan.
The Election Act was left as it is without any new amendments.
In the National Assembly, a report on the poverty in the country was presented by the Poverty Reduction Committee. According to the report, about 23.2 percent of the Bhutanese population was living below poverty line in 2007 compared to 31.7 percent in 2003. It was reported that GNHC was identifying poverty affected areas in the country in consultation with Gyalpoi Zimpon's office and drawing strategy to address the matter.
During the question hour in the National Assembly, questions on mobile coverage, Local Government expenditure, rupee crunch, permanent structures built by Chinese military along the Sino-Bhutanese border, land compensation and replacement, relief assistance for people during disasters, census issues, and Haa Dzong were discussed.
The economic affairs minister, Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk reported that as per the resolution of the National Assembly, the ministry is reviewing rules and emphasizing on high taxation to control alcohol issues. He said sanctions to operate new alcohol producing firms were withheld after the resolution to control alcohol was passed by the house. The minister further informed that if new licenses were not issued for such firms it would contradict Article 9(10) of the Constitution which discourages monopoly.
Similarly, the agriculture minister, Lyonpo Pema Gyamtsho reported that rules and policies on allotment of rural timbers were ready for implementation and further consultation with the stakeholders was being carried out. He also informed that the Land Act will be tabled in the 9th session for amendment.
In the other businesses of the house, MP Rinchen Dorji moved a motion on the petition received from a group of people who expressed their grievances in the conduct of last Local Government elections. The chairperson read out the petition which stated that conduct of LG elections in some Gewogs were not as per the law. The petitions on unlawful activities were submitted to the courts but were eventually suspended by the Supreme Court before any verdicts were passed. The petition also reads that given these circumstances, the people may lose faith and confidence in the laws passed by the Parliament.
The National Assembly consequently resolved and called the attention of the authorities concerned that it was important to embrace accountability for such lapses.
During the question hour at the National Council questions on Yenlag Thromde, property tax, drug shortage, and the Local Government Entitlement Bill were discussed. The National Council also discussed legalising the use of electric fencing. The members of the Council decided they will submit three recommendations to the government for urgent and necessary action. They said BEA must reconsider its ban on electric fencing of crops. The NC recommended that BEA in collaboration with the agriculture ministry and Bhutan Power Corporation must come up with Safety Regulations for Electric Fencing and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the National Environment Commission should render all necessary assistance to the agriculture ministry to address human-wildlife conflicts.
The two houses also voted in favour of the revised tshogpa salary. The government raised the salary of the local government officials from Nu 2,000 to Nu 5,000 beginning this month.
The eighth session of the first Parliament concluded on January 20 with the members of the Parliament offering Tashi Meonlam to His Majesty the King. The closing ceremony was graced by Her Majesty the Queen, members of the royal family, senior government officials, and representatives of international organizations in the country.