From Words to Action: National Assembly 2024 Bill Empowers Lawmakers

In a significant legislative development, the National Assembly of Bhutan has introduced the National Assembly (Amendment) Bill 2024. This ambitious bill seeks to bolster the authority of the National Assembly, even challenging the executive branch from which it originates. The bill aims to refine the assembly’s procedures and ensure greater accountability from the government.

A notable provision of the bill is the restructuring of the speaking rights within the assembly. By implementing a system where speaking opportunities are determined by a button push, the bill reduces the discretionary powers of the Speaker, thereby promoting a more equitable platform for debate and discussion.

One of the most contentious aspects of the bill is the National Assembly’s insistence on maintaining the ability to pass a vote of no confidence not just against the government as a whole, but also against individual ministers. This provision, despite facing strong objections from the ministers, underscores the assembly’s determination to assert its supremacy over the executive.

The bill delineates specific grounds for initiating a no-confidence motion against the government or individual ministers, addressing concerns raised by some ministers about potential encroachments into the Lhengye Zhungtshog Act and, by extension, the executive branch. National Assembly members, however, have dismissed these concerns, emphasizing the necessity of such measures for robust legislative oversight.

Further enhancing its oversight capabilities, the bill mandates that ministers provide relevant and factual replies during assembly sessions, explicitly excluding personal opinions. Additionally, ministers are required to report on actions taken in response to assembly resolutions. These provisions aim to ensure that the assembly’s resolutions are taken seriously and acted upon accordingly.

The bill also strengthens the powers of assembly committees, granting them the authority to summon individuals for consultations, thereby enhancing the legislative process through comprehensive stakeholder engagement.

A significant administrative change introduced by the bill is the evaluation of the Secretary General of the National Assembly by the Speaker, rather than the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC). This move is expected to enhance the accountability and performance of the assembly’s administrative leadership.

In another major move, the bill includes provisions for Members of Parliament (MPs) to receive the same protocol as ministers or executives when visiting Dzongkhags, along with security escorts in high-risk areas. This measure underscores the importance of MPs’ roles and ensures their safety during official duties.

At one level, the bill represents a continuation of the National Assembly’s ongoing efforts to assert its authority with each new Parliament. For instance, in the past, the Economic and Finance Committee of the National Assembly was empowered to study and make recommendations on the budget document. However, this bill marks the most significant effort yet to enhance the assembly’s powers as a legislative body.

The success of these enhanced powers hinges on their application. If used judiciously for the benefit of the nation, the bill could herald a new era of effective governance in Bhutan. However, there are concerns about the potential misuse of power for personal gain and privileges.

As the bill progresses, the people of Bhutan will be watching closely, hopeful that these changes will lead to a more accountable and effective government.

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