Parliament’s diminishing marginal efficiency
As in the past, the parliamentary debates in the third session of the first elected parliament ended without any substance in hand in credit in terms of making contribution to strengthening democracy.
The king addressing the closing ceremony (July 30) said the Houses made good progress towards democracy and fulfilled their prescribed responsibilities well.
The parliament this time passed few bills, the most important of them being the police act. The act has squeezed even administrative power of the police authority within the Home Ministry claiming that allowing an independent administration would invite political interferences.
Most importantly, the parliament failed to find conclusion on key bills such as the local government bill and civil service bill. With this failure it is obvious that the government would fail to conduct local elections proposed for sometime in August-September this year.
The local government has remained defunct when its extended term, as directed by the King, ended which has directly affected execution of the local development activities. The government had earlier proposed local elections early this year but Election Commission rejected to go ahead without any clear legal provisions.
Other important bill failed to get through was the civil service bill, which would democratize the age-old bureaucracy, also paving way for formation of trade unions for protecting interests of the workers. The weak legal provisions on civil service in the past had been the good opportunity for growth of nepotism, not to expect end of that era even if the bill is endorsed.
The politicians have agreed for a special session of the parliament in August just to get these bills passed left this time. The dates have not been confirmed yet. The special session agree upon also is not sure to complete the remaining task
The cause of uncertainty hovering tortoise-walk functioning of the parliament is the deepening relations between the government and the upper house. Attempt interrogation by the upper house with ministers indirectly hindered the relation between lower house and upper house. Unless both the houses pass the bills, they cannot come into effect as the law. Taking into account the bitter relations, and acting of taking revenge to each other between government and upper house, and lower house and upper house, possibility of passing the bills during the special session is minimal.
Delay in formation of the local body means delay in implementation of the assurance given by the ruling party at local level. This would invite frustration among the people who expected drastic changes in the system of governance after the introduction of democracy in the country.
Special session of the parliament means less time for the members of parliament to travel to their constituencies as in the past to inform people of what are they doing in Thimphu. Only a few of the MPs had gone to their areas last time, and it comes to be certain this number would go down due to consumption of time by debates in the special sessions.
Very important issues like deteriorating security environment in southern districts, creation of human rights bodies or strengthening of media failed to get place in the agenda. The country has no human rights organizations or the government has any such agencies to implement the provision of human rights incorporated in the constitution.
The summer sessions of the parliaments in South Asian countries general indulge in budget debates and Bhutan of obvious to adopt the culture prevailing around. However, as a new entrant to democratic world, Bhutanese parliament has additional duties to pave way for culturing and nurturing democracy and its core values. As in the past, the parliament this time as well avoided any healthy debates on democratic values.
The other notorious decision of the Lower House National Assembly was to ban BBS TV from doing live coverage of its debate sessions. Despite criticism, the house overtly dominated by the ruling party Druk Phuensum Tshokpa, remain stubborn on its decision not to allow media in. On the other hand, the Upper House National Council allowed the TV crew for live coverage. Tit for Tat, the BBS TV, as a sign of protests, boycotted live coverage of the budget presentation by Finance Minister in the joint sitting of the parliament.
To note, the parliament of Bhutan has big list of tasks to complete to make the country a complete democratic when second elections are held. To honor this noble responsibility, the politicians need to be more dynamic and progressive and the government need to be more cooperative in smoother function of the legislature.