It is found very educating and informative to witness the on-going deliberations taking place in the two houses of the Second Session of the Third Parliament. It was interesting how some issues always remain alive no matter how much the water has flown under the Lungtenzampa bridge. It is also fascinating that over a short span of time in the history of our development and nation, the institutional memory in our governance and law making appears to fade. One wonders how much of effort may be going towards preparing for deliberation of far-reaching issues at the highest law-making body in the Kingdom? Absence or lack, it becomes apparent from the deliberations on the subjects of: (1) Impeachment of the constitutional post holders, (2) Fronting, and (3) Monopoly.
Records in relevant offices may speak for itself that considerable effort were put in by the preceding offices of the Royal Government on each of these issues.
First – While deliberating on “Fronting,” the house was grappling with the definition of the term. It maybe pointed out that in the 1990s it was understood to mean as a licence issued to a Bhutanese citizen being given or leased out to a non-Bhutanese for a fee. The latter operates the business with his/her own investment and pockets the profits or bears the loss wholly. The bank accounts, BIT/PIT, non-employment of Bhutanese or token Bhutanese presence as employees particularly at the managerial level, and trade transaction records were used as adequate basis to establish whether a licensee was involved in fronting or not. In fact, fronting cases were taken care under that exercise with the full cooperation of the BCCI and the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Second, with regard to the issue of monopoly – a De-monopolisation Policy was enforced and successfully implemented in the 1990s. It was disconcerting to listen on the floor that “monopoly” is here to stay in Bhutan, despite monopoly being discontinued with the liberalising of each dealership/agency ship. It was made eligible to be given to two or more registered Bhutanese dealers totally banning monopoly. Accordingly for example, each dealership of M/s. Tashi Commercial Corporation held was also issued to others. The most visible outcome of the enforcement and implementation of the anti-monopoly policy was the distributorship of cooking gas and petroleum products and the resultant birth of the M/s Druk Petroleum and M/s. Damchen Petroleum from Bhutan Oil Distributors. In effect it almost tantamount cutting off half of the business of M/s TCC by giving away to other Bhutanese businesses. Even if the past effort is no longer relevant, can we ignore Article 16 of the Constitution, which provides that:
“Parliament shall not enact laws that allow monopoly except to safeguard national security.”
So, the ‘laws’ would imply any rule, policy, regulation or an act of the State. One may not see merit in the de-monopolisation exercise now both in spirit as well as form. But can a legislator/public functionary conveniently disregard and/or disrespect this Constitutional requirement to favour a sole trader/supplier or manufacturer depriving the taxpayer and state the benefit of a fair competition?
Third and finally, with regard to the deliberations on the bill for impeachment of constitutional post holders – the first democratic government had instructed the Attorney General to draft the Bill so as to proceed impeachment proceedings against a constitutional post holder who might have incurred its displeasure. But the draft was required to be revisited and finalised by a committee under the chairmanship of First Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The bill was never tabled for reasons best known to the government at that time. So in fact, there may be two draft bills already in possession with the competent authorities.
While all that happened in the past may often be no longer useful, some merit can be gleaned if some hard and serious research work is carried out taking into consideration those institutional memories and experiences.
Contributed by Kunzang Wangdi
Erstwhile Director MTI/CEC