Emotions ran high at the House of Review yesterday, as members reviewed their tenure on the concluding ceremony of their last session.
As is the tradition, Chairperson Sonam Kinga placed the Trashi Khadar on His Majesty The King’s throne after the concluding prayer ceremony.
Once he retreated, he let out a huge sigh. With folded hands and eyes closed, he hummed a short prayer and exited the hall. The curtains fell on the 20th session and the last for the second National Council members.
Moments before Chairperson Sonam Kinga almost choked on few instances, as he delivered a highly charged closing address.
“This moment is like a dream,” he began his closing address to a hall-packed audience, which had the Gyalpoi Zimpon, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay and National Assembly Speaker Jigme Zangpo in attendance along with members of the clergy and the civil service.
The chairperson said that the members began their term, four years and seven months ago, with the profound advice from His Majesty The King when conferring dakyen on them: “The National Council at all times must be worthy of the trust and confidence of the people and that NC is not an Opposition but an instrument of check and balance.”
“Today, each of us must ask ourselves if we served as per His Majesty’s noble aspirations and met the expectations of the people,” he said. “I feel even if we have not excelled in our duties, we have not failed utterly. People may not be fully satisfied with our service but they will also have no regrets.”
The National Council reviewed and amended 40 Acts mostly initiated by the government.
In this session, the members and Speaker of the National Assembly commended the House for its review and recommendations on the three Acts including the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances, and Substance Abuse (Amendment) Bill 2017.
Sonam Kinga said such high acceptance from other institutions indicate that the House has lived up to its mandate of policy review and legislation.
While no Parliament member deliberately attempts to violate the Constitution for selfish personal gains, he said differences in interpretation and understanding arise. The NC successfully recommended and altered the law that said civil servants appointed to constitutional posts need not resign before assuming the posts.
The other concern that the NC had raised was in election procedures where the Supreme Court ruled that the proposed changes be made.
“This way we have upheld the responsibility to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law,” he said.
In exercising its check and balance mandate, the NC opposed two money bills, the Fiscal Incentives bill and the Tourism Levy Waiver Bill 2017.
The House conducted a policy review of the immigration of foreign individuals in the country, the recommendations of which were implemented to strengthen security.
While NC ratified 14 international conventions and treaties as moved by the government, the Bangladesh, Bhutan and India and Nepal movement of vehicle agreement and the European Investment Bank were objected to.
The House raised 81 constituency issues to the government and addressed them. NC raised 50 verbal and seven written questions to the government seeking clarification on various issues.
He thanked the NC members, the National Assembly, and the secretariat for the support and cooperation rendered for a successful tenure. He also expressed gratitude to His Majesty The King for the unfailing guidance and the members of the Royal Family for enduring in the efforts to uplift the lives of the Bhutanese.
“We had His Majesty’s guidance through his speeches at various occasions as the point of reference while conducting our daily work,” Sonam Kinga said.
Later in the afternoon, deputy chairperson Tshering Dorji at a press conference said that the mood among the members on the day was bitter sweet.
“We’ve mixed feelings; happy because we completed our term successfully but sad that the tenure is coming to an end,” he said.
The Parliament had received some flak after the Supreme Court in its July 26 judgment on the Spasmo Porxyvon Plus (SP+) or its ingredient Tramadol stated that the Parliament had erred in the drafting of the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances, and Substance Abuse Act 2015.
Tshering Dorji said that the NC had not erred in legislating the Act in not giving the authority to amend the annexures of banned substances.
“From NC’s perspective, the reason why this decision of addition or deletion of schedules of drugs is kept with the Parliament is because the change in this list will lead to an accused or defendant being sentenced to three or five years,” he said. “So we’ve not made any blunder in this regard.”
He said that the new drugs were introduced much quicker which was not informed to the Parliament on time. “If it was informed on time, we would have updated the schedule of drugs and the problems would not have arisen.”
In the new Act, any substance that has a similar impact, as those listed in the schedules will be controlled under the same provision that is applied to others that are listed, he said.
“The power to amend the schedules has also been given to the board of the BNCA to give the much-needed flexibility provided that the board will not misuse it.”
The NC members, as is the custom, also attended a prayer ceremony at the Dechenphug monastery yesterday.