Hon Speaker of NA and the Hon Deputy Chairperson of NC , during the launch of the manuals. Photo Credit: NA website.
Coinciding with the 2nd birthday anniversary of His Royal Highness the Gyalsey Jigme Namgyal Wangchuck, the Parliament of Bhutan launched the Parliament Committee Manual 2017 and Oversight Manual 2017 in the National Assembly Conference Hall on 5 February. International IDEA supported (both technically and financially) the drafting and publication of both manuals.
The event was attended by the Hon Speaker of the National Assembly as Chief Guest along with the Hon Deputy Chairperson from National Council and Honorable members, Hon Secretary General and the secretariat staff of the Parliament.
The Hon Speaker emphasised the importance of the new Manuals, which are intended to strengthen the representational, oversight and committee functions of the Parliament in Bhutan, noting that improving Bhutan's oversight funcitons is a key priority at the moment. The Committee Manual, in particular, aims to enable Parliamentary Committee to perform their functions efficiently and effectively. It is expected that the Committee mechanism within the Parliament of Bhutan will further strengthen the country’s democratic parliamentary system, and strengthen and streamline the process of Parliamentary Committees. The Manuals will be oriented to the new parliamentarians after the elections this year.
The specific objectives of the Parliament Committee Manual 2017 are to:
- guide current and new staff in Parliament on committee operations to ensure a practical application of the rules and procedures;
- ensure higher quality guidance to committee operations; and
- familiarize committee members and all members of parliament (MPs) and Secretariat alike with agreed-upon policies and procedures as well as more effective oversight and supervision of the committee system.
Whereas the specific objectives of the Oversight Manual 2017 are to:
- strengthen the existing oversight mechanisms and train Members on oversight functions
- strengthen Parliamentary standing committees to play an effective oversight role
- enhance the financial oversight capacity of Members and the Secretariat staff
- collaborate with government on the oversight function
- strengthen the research and analysis service
Development of the manuals
The basis and authority for the Manuals came from the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan. In Article 10.2, Parliaments have are mandated to “ensure that the Government safeguards the interests of the nation and fulfils the aspirations of the people through public review of policies and issues, Bills and other legislations, and scrutiny of State functions.” This mandate is primarily carried out through Parliamentary Committees. In Article 10.11, each House is mandated to determine their rules of procedure, providing for the appointment of Committees to carry out the business of Parliament. And for effective oversight, Article 18 outlines the unique oversight role of the Opposition Party in Bhutan’s democracy, providing “healthy and dignified opposition to the government”.
With experts fielded by International IDEA, these manuals are a result of extensive consultations with the leadership and Members of both the Houses of the Parliament (the National Assembly and National Council of Bhutan), the Secretary General and secretariat staff of the Parliament, representatives of relevant Government agencies and Civil Society Organisations. During the preparation of the documents, the experts observed that:
"Bhutan's Parliamentary system has matured in less than a decade what took other countries at least a century".