l Usha Drukpa, Thimphu
Despite two general elections and the maturity of Bhutanese politics, one facet, which people in rural areas, as well as urban Bhutan, have not grasped is the importance of members of parliament (MP). Most rural people, especially, think that MPs just attend the parliament sessions; the responsibility of governance is entirely in the domains of the cabinet ministers, with MPs having little or nothing to say. People further say MPs are just there for the status and perks.
Talking about this, National Council (NC) member from Chhukha, Pema Tenzin, said that besides civil servants and educated people, there are people especially in the rural parts of the country who have no idea about the work of MPs and NCs. “People in the rural parts are either not interested or do not get the time to interact with MPs”. This he says, may be a reason why the roles of MPs are not understood.
The need for creating awareness was highlighted by NC Pema Tenzin. “Some think that after the parliament session, MPs do not have work,” he said, adding that MPs are involved in research of their respective constituency, going to the field, talking to the people and many more.
80 percent of the work is done by MPs while ministers have the executive powers, and having this power, they can take forward the country, said NC Pema Tenzin.
The Foreign Minister, Damcho Dorji, said that every candidate has the equal right to expect a ministerial portfolio as long as they have the necessary experience and capability to fulfill the responsibilities expected of a minister.
“Whether an MP is looked down by the public will depend upon how capable they are and how they earn the respect of the general public. So it is not always true that MPs are looked down by the public. In general, politicians are not really loved by the people as they become objects of criticism in a democracy due to the nature of their job. However, it all depends upon how each individual performs and carries himself,” he said.
He mentioned that ministers are part of the Cabinet and the government and therefore, must work as a team to take care of the whole country. “Therefore, it is not true to say that if a constituency has a minister then they will make a difference in their constituencies. I think this is more a perception. What needs to be done will be done in every constituency even if the concerned MP belongs to the Opposition party,” said the minister.
National Assembly MP Ritu Raj Chhetri, said that ministers have executive power and they have to work in their daily life under the ministries. But, when the parliament session starts, “all are same under the hall of parliament.”
“As soon as the parliament is over, people think that MPs do not have work. It is their perception,” he said. Every after the parliament, MPs have the responsibility as a representative of the people. MPs have to visit their respective constituencies, discuss and disseminate what they have decided in the parliament.
Nonetheless, he said that there may be some MPs who do not work at all. “This could be a reason why people have different notion about the MPs in the country. But again more than half of the MPs work really hard. However, this part of the story is not told.”
Another MP said that as Bhutan has just ventured into democracy, people’s expectations and the work MPs do may not be matching. “People’s expectation is that as soon as the parliament session gets overs, they want MPs to stay back in their constituencies. But we have works as committee members and others, which people do not understand,” he added.
“I have been busier as a MP than as a civil servant,” another MP, who did not want to be named, said. “I have done a lot for my constituency and the people there know that MPs are important. Maybe, it is due to few MPs, that people start saying we are not important.”
MP Choida Jamtsho, from Nanglam constituency said that MPs do not have many important roles to play in financial and planning matters unless it is related to their own constituencies.
However, he said there are no differences between ministers and MPs when it comes to work. However, MPs have to visit their respective constituencies regularly.
Tenzin Dorji, a businessman said, Member of Parliaments are public figures, and they will be subjected to public scrutiny for their performance both in and outside the Parliament. So it is subjective.
“As a MP, if they are able to deliver their campaign promises and maintain good rapport with the people in their respective constituencies, I don’t think there is any reason to look down upon them. If the ministers, despite having to run an entire ministry, and still have time for their constituencies and people, I don’t see why MPs feel they cannot out do the ministers, who are already burdened with so much work,” he said.
A National Council (NC) member said that the executive powers of ministers, gives them an edge. “If not every MP can work just like ministers,” he said.
A civil servant said ministers has upper hand in developing his or her constituency. “People may be comparing constituencies of minister with those of MPs and feeling that MPs are not important.” However, he said that if MPs are active, they can also seek support from the government for any project. “Moreover, today we have the local government, with whom MPs can work together.”
However, he said that MPs are equally important to build the nation.
A former MP said that the general public should know that MPs are the ones who do research on numerous issues, for the nation.
Similarly, Kinley Penjor, a businessman said, MPs have capabilities to serve the Tsa-Wa-Sum. There are lots of capable MPs. The quantity does not matter but the quality does, he said.
“I would agree and disagree at the same time. Well I feel MPs are better connected to the grass root levels and are directly connected to the people of their constituency. They are in better position to raise the issues,” he said.