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The NC rejects the Tourism Levy Exemption Bill of Bhutan 2017

Posted on :02 December 2017

In the 13th sitting of the National Council, the members voted against the Tourism Levy Exemption Bill of Bhutan 2017 (Money Bill).

Of the 20 members present, 5 members voted “Yes”, 12 members voted “No” and 3 voted “Abstain”.  The Bill will be forwarded to the National Assembly with the grounds for rejecting the Money Bill by tomorrow.

Before, introducing the Bill, the Hon. Chairperson informed the urgency of deliberating and passing the Bill in the same session.

Lyonpo Namgay Dorji, Minister for Ministry of Finance briefly introduced the Money Bill outlining its background, principles and objectives. Highlighting on the benefits and contributions of tourism sector in the country, he said the Bill will not only enhance the existing tourism for the country as a whole but also promote and develop tourism in the eastern circuit with the levy exemption of USD 65 per night for international tourists.  

The members sought clarification on the impact of the bill on the core tourism policy of the High Value Low Impact, the legal status of  exemption granted on tourism by the Government which are not included in the bill, the relation of this bill with rising east policy of the Government, impact on the growth of tourism in other dzongkhags where there is no exemption, transportation and infrastructure.

The Hon. Finance Minister explained that the government has formulated the Bill to boost tourist arrival in the east by slightly modifying the tourism policy of "high value, low impact “. The Hon. Minister also said that the bill has no relation to rising east policy of the Government rather it was only aimed to boost tourism sector and spur investment and infrastructure development in the east. The proposed Bill will exempt the levy for a period of three years on trial basis for international tourist visiting the eastern circuit.           

The deliberation resumed with the Hon. Sangay Khandu, Chairperson of the Economic Affairs Committee presenting a brief report of the Bill prepared by the Committee. Highlighting the provision under chapter 3 (7) which states that “An international leisure tourist visiting eastern circuit shall be exempted from payment of applicable tourism levy for the duration of their stay”, the Hon. member submitted several key observations and reported that the Committee is not in a position to recommend the House to support the Bill.

Extensively deliberating the Bill, diverse view was expressed by the members especially on the chapter 3(7). While most of the members supported the principles and objectives of the Bill to promote tourism sector,  concerns and doubts were raised on the strategies to achieve it. 
Highlighting Section 13 of the bill, which gives blanket exemption to tourists who cancel their itinerary to the east based on events beyond one's control,  the Hon. Deputy Chairperson Tshering Dorji submitted that such a section will be difficult to implement as the section allow tourists to get exemption even if their travel date falls on an astrologically bad day or road block etc. 
Few members spoke in support of the bill  as the bill is being piloted for three years in the eastern region and if successful other regions could benefit. The Deputy Chairperson argued that there is no basis to accept it even as a pilot bill as it will directly impact the core policy of high value low impact let alone benefit eastern region.  Reminding the house that the NC had always supported regional development and adopted several recommendations to address regional tourism imbalance in the past sessions,  the Deputy Chairperson urged the house not to confuse the issue with not supporting balance regional development.

On Monday, the House will deliberate the follow-up on Cultural and constituency issues and other business.

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