Bill passed, criteria unresolved (Reproduction)

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Sept 12: The first extraordinary sitting of the parliament yesterday passed the LG bill but did not come to any resolution, after more than five hours of discussions, on the draft criteria for declaring bills as urgent, addressing disputed bills in future, voting on bills in a joint sitting and drafting of bills.

The joint committee of both the houses proposed that any bill, which is of paramount national importance and is acknowledged by everyone as urgent, should be declared as an urgent bill. It was proposed that the ruling government or any of the houses could propose an urgent bill. It should also secure two-third of the total votes to qualify as one.

But many members questioned whether the bill should be first submitted to parliament to be declared as an urgent bill. Some members said that submitting the bill to parliament was not necessary if the bill is proposed as urgent bill either by the government or any of the houses. “It will be a tedious process and a waste of time,” said Mongar’s Drametse Ngatsang MP, Ugyen Wangdi.

Gasa’s Goen Khatoey-Khamey MP, Damcho Dorji, said that if the government or either house submits a bill as an urgent bill, accepting it in the parliament should not be a problem. “Gaining two-third of the majority vote will cause problems, as some proposed urgent bills might not secure it,” he said. “In all democratic nations, a parliament accepts a urgent bill identified either by the government or the two houses.”

It was also proposed that, in future, a joint committee, similar to the committee formed to discuss the local government bill, will be formed to discuss disputed bills. The joint committee will resolve the differences between the two houses and seek to reach a consensus position acceptable to their respective houses.

The parliamentarians also proposed to reduce the joint sittings to a minimum.

While discussing the voting procedure for passing a bill, some parliamentarians argued that the speaker, as the MP of Radhi-Sakteng constituency, should be given the right to vote to make the final decision, in case the vote remains equal or fall shorts of a two-third majority vote. Some members quoted the example of the LG bill that could not be passed in the last assembly, which fell short by a vote. “If the Speaker was given the chance to vote, the bill could have passed gone through,” said one parliamentarian. But others argued that, since acquiring two-third of the majority vote is necessary, it is not necessary for the speaker to vote. Instead, the speaker should remain neutral and be fair.

A former member of the constitutional drafting committee said that the Speaker of National Assembly and the Chairperson of the National Council could vote only in case of equally divided votes by the members of their respective House. The word mentioned in the Constitution section is “deciding vote” in case of “equal votes” and not compulsory voting either by the Speaker or the Chairperson.

In case of a joint sitting, Article 13 section 4 mentions that the bill shall be passed “by not less than two-thirds of the total numbers of members of both the Houses present and voting”. Here the speaker is not included within the definition of “members present and voting” because the procedure for the joint sitting and the proceeding of either House are different. It is for this reason that the Constitution deliberately does not mention the word “casting vote” by the Speaker under Article 13 in case of joint sitting where he is the presiding officer.

A constitutional expert explained that given the need to protect the parliament as an independent organ of the Constitution, the Speaker could not play a bipartisan role. Once under oath he cannot be assumed to have political association once he is under the oath of affirmation as the Speaker of the Kingdom of Bhutan’ Parliament.

He also pointed out that it was also important for MPs to understand that, once elected, they represent the popular sovereignty of the people and therefore cannot assume sectarian representation in parliament. Thus, they are the delegates in the National Assembly of the people.

The speaker, however, said that these are all proposals and needs a deliberate discussion.

Source: Kuensel online

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