Economic and Finance Committee’s Chairperson Questions power of NA Speaker

While the Economic and Finance Committee’s Chairperson questions the powers of the Speaker, the latter says he is shouldering his responsibility ethically

In the ongoing Parliament Session, the chairperson of the Economic and Finance Committee, Kinga Penjore, National Assembly (NA) member from Ganzur-Menje, Lhuntse questioned the right of the Speaker of the NA for withdrawing the recommendations on November 14, 2022. The Speaker withdrew the recommendation of the Economic and Finance Committee to waive off sustainable development (SDF) for Indian tourists visiting the border towns for up to a few days.

It was recommended after the Committee observed that the application of SDF to non-tourists (casual visitors) have made them stay in hotels across the border. This has led to the drying up of businesses such as hotels, restaurants, and entertainment centers.

The Committee recommended waiver as a means of assisting the growth of businesses in the service industry in border towns while also addressing the country’s negative trade balance.

However, the Speaker withdrew the recommendation of the Committee despite some Members supporting it.

MP Kinga Penjor questioned the power of the Speaker on account of withdrawing two recommendations. The chairperson said that the Speaker cannot decide unilaterally when the House supports the recommendations. He said that the recommendation that cannot be decided by showing off hand should be re-delegated to the committee.

Speaking to Business Bhutan, the Speaker said, “withdrawals were reasonable and with rationales.” In the process of deliberation, the Speaker cannot disrespect the Members of Parliament over overruling the Acts and has to see withdrawals if required. “I am shouldering my responsibility ethically,” the Speaker justified.

Rules of Procedure of the National Assembly of Bhutan 2022, Powers and functions of the Speaker, Section 42 states, “2. preserve dignity and decorum in the House and maintain discipline amongst the members; 3) maintain authority of the National Assembly and protect its rights, traditions, and privileges; 4) be responsible for setting overall policy and act as a guidance for the management and general administration of the National Assembly.”

Meanwhile, Dewathang-Gomdar MP Ugyen Dorji, the government enforcing stricter rules will have an impact on the business border, and it will never be as comfortable as before. Therefore, he said, “if the government can waive off the SDF for Indian tourists for few days, it can boost the business.”

Ugyen Tshering, the Lamgong-Wangchang MP, also stated that businesses in border areas are suffering as the number of Indian tourists has decreased. The MP also supported the recommendation. The MP of Khar-Yurung, Tshering Choden, also supported reducing the SDF as most of the hotels in border towns are left empty. While suggesting to segregate official tourists from SDF paying tourists, Mongar MP Karma Lhamo recommended to loosen the SDF rule.

The Opposition Leader (OL) Dorji Wangdi pointed out that it is not only Indians from Assam and West Bengal who go back without entering Bhutan because of the Nu 1,200 SDF but even from other states. “Therefore, there is need to waive of the SDF for non-tourists of Indian nationality.”

The OL discussed the difficulties that border town business owners face because their businesses are failing and they must pay taxes and repay loans.

Meanwhile, Passang Dorji (PhD), MP for Bartsham Shongphu, stated that the loss of business may be due to factors other than the imposition of SDF. The MP stated that there is a need to study border business and security risks and did not support the recommendation.

Karma Gyeltshen, MP for Kahmdang-Ramjar, stated that the committee members recommended if there was room for further review.

The Prime Minister, Dr Lotay Tshering also said that it is not convenient to support the recommendation as of now while willing to support the growth of hotels. The Prime Minster informed that the government is working on developing the infrastructure along the southern borders.

In an earlier session too, the chairman of the committee pointed out that the Speaker had withdrawn the recommendation to review the Civil Service Rule.

The NA Speaker Wangchuk Namgay withdrew the recommendation from voting saying it contradicts section 9.1 of the Tourism Levy Act of Bhutan 2022. The section of the Act only exempts day tourists who do not travel beyond the first designated point from SDF.

Sangay Rabten from Thimphu