Monday, November 13, 2017

Looking the Gift Horse in the Mouth

One anonymous reader commented the following on Wangcha Sangay's Blog. He/she is spot on! I wanted to express a similar view on the matter ... but decided not to because frankly I am getting pretty tired of making noise all the time.

Something is not quite right about this. But I have not really had the time to read and understand the issue properly. Is the governemnt of India waiving off GST on petrol and diesel for the benefit of the people of Bhutan? Or is it that the government of India is implementing excise duty refund at source? These are two different issues and cannot be misconstrued to mean the same.


Suddenly making commodities artificially cheaper is not a long-term solution that strengthens our sovereignty. I fully agree with the author on this issue of national importance. When petrol and diesel are more expensive in the country that we import from, this cannot be good. This is common sense. In previous years, the excise amount was refunded to the government of Bhutan; now the attempt is to give it back to the people – there is merit in this because it was the people’s money to begin with. But, people did not complain in the past when the government took the excise refund because we assumed it was going for overall development of the country.

Passing on over Nu. 2 billion to the car owners is not democratic. To put it in perspective, that is over $30 million. What about the majority of people who do not own cars and are therefore not directly affected? One could say, “But the excise was collected from car owners, and not everyone.” By that argument, they are also using roads and infrastructure that was built by the state more than others; they pollute the air, which everyone has to breathe and the argument can go on. Of course, it is hoped that the drop in petrol and diesel price will lead to a drop in commodity prices, but we don’t know if that will happen. The government may further interfere in price control and prevent free-market mechanisms operating on the principles of supply and demand. Wouldn’t more Bhutanese be affected if cooking gas prices were dropped instead? More Bhutanese depend on that than on vehicle fuel. It is easy politically to get rid of tax, but very difficult to raise it. Tax hikes are politically damaging and getting rid of taxes can make a political party popular. When people are not complaining about the ‘dirty tax’ on a product that we solely import, is not good for our environment, and is used by only people who have cash income, removing it just like that is a disservice to the country if you look hard. Higher prices can control import. Places like Thimphu are getting congested with imported cars, and we need more efficient pubic transport. Over Nu. 2 billion+ that could have gone to the 12th FYP, the Health Trust Fund to fund vaccines for all Bhutanese, or to set up efficient public transport is now doled out to car owners. For a country to strengthen its sovereignty we need to broaden our revenue base, and sensible taxation is one way to do that. We cannot fold our hands and go begging for funds to run a welfare state. That is damaging to our sovereignty because we are beholden to those foreign entities again. Here we had one small opportunity to slowly ask for less from India, and we blew it.

While we respect our neighbours, we cannot fully trust their motives. Elections are just around the corner, and all political parties should have Bhutan’s sovereignty foremost in their minds. PLEASE stop dragging the sanctity of our Bodhisattva monarchs into politics. We need a constitutional order that prohibits political parties from using the sacredness of His Majesty and the Royal Family in their schemes. Every Bhutanese should espouse whole-hearted allegiance and loyalty to the Royal Family from deep within our hearts. For without that, we should be ashamed to even call ourselves Bhutanese.

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