Saturday, June 25, 2022

Ode To The Members Of The Economic & Finance Committee Of The National Assembly of Bhutan

For the first time in my life, I sat through the whole proceedings of the presentation of a Bill in the National Assembly – the Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022. I watched it on national TV on 20th June as well as day-before-yesterday, the 23rd of June, 2022.

For the record, the National Assembly tasked its Economic & Finance Committee to get an in-depth understanding of the issues relating to the proposed Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022. The 13 Members that make up the Committee met and listened to all the five sectorial agencies that make up the tourism stakeholders of Bhutan: ABTO, HRAB, HAB, GAB and BSTS.

The outstanding and admirable Committee Members of the National Assembly's Committee on Finance & Economics

Having been thoroughly briefed of the complexities of tourism business, today these 13 Committee Members qualify as the most educated, well-informed and most up-to-date among all other Bhutanese. No other individual or agency has the right to make this claim – because none cared to listen to the tourism industry’s side of the story.

And the depth of their understanding was evident in the presentation the Committee Chair made on 23rd June, 2022. The very substantive and eloquent way in which the Chair of the Committee - Honorable Kinga Penjor - presented his case on the floor of the National Assembly was sterling, to say the least. The expanse of his coverage of the subject, the pin-point precision with which he presented the many points that he touched upon, leaves me in no doubt the monumental amount of work the Committee Members would have been required to put in, within two day’s time that was allowed them. I cannot imagine that the Committee would have been able to make such a flawless and forceful presentation to the Members of the Lower House of Bhutan’s Parliament, without having to put in many hours of hard work and research.

And yet, at the end of so much passion and hard work, their recommendations were tossed out the window along with the bath water. That too by a lot who had not listened to even one line of what the industry stakeholders had to say. It is sad – but that is how the cookies crumple. There is no need to get emotional about it.

All things considered, we are not faulting anyone - we are fully aware that the government has the best interest of the country at heart. That is not in contest. Those of us who are apprehensive are so because we believe that the translation of those good intentions on the ground is, in our opinion, inappropriate and hasty. To be fair – we could be totally wrong – but our concerns are borne of the operational difficulties we foresee - as experienced players in the business of tourism – not the policy itself as we have made it very clear. For all we know, the policy may be just what the doctor ordered – that is something time will tell.

Most are of the view that the matter relating to the Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022 is water under the bride. I do not believe it – the hammer has been raised – but it hasn’t yet struck our heads. Until it does, I will keep up my hope.

For now, on behalf of the Members of Bhutan Sustainable Tourism Society (BSTS) and on behalf of Bhutan’s tourism stakeholders, I would like to record our admiration and appreciation to the thirteen Honorable Members of the Economic & Finance Committee of the National Assembly of Bhutan, for their commitment to the cause and their tireless work. Please know that you could not have done any better.

We would also like to record our gratitude to other Members of the National Assembly who also courageously attempted to alter the course of history. The pursuit of a cause matters - the outcome is obviously not in our hands.

I was hired by a Indonesian sporting magazine to cover the Shanghai Masters 2008 and Wimbledon 2009. I was asked to cover the French Open 2010 in Roland-Garros - but declined – just too much leg work.

During the Wimbledon 2009, I noticed that the Grass Courts are numbered from 1 to 19. Having covered all the courts, I counted only 18 Grass Courts. What happened to the 19th? The mystery was solved when I looked at the display board where the plays are listed. Court Number 13 was not listed. The Western world believe that the number 13 is ill-starred.

No Court Number 13 is listed

Closer to home, the officially accepted spelling of Chukha is “Chhukha” – with double “h”. The reason: the Bhutanese consider the number “6” as an inauspicious number! Thus Chhukha Dzongkhag Administration insists that the spelling of their Dzongkhag (District) should contain 7 alphabets.

Is it possible that despite so much hard work and wisdom behind their presentation the Economic & Finance Committee of the National Assembly of Bhutan could not succeed with their presentation – because their cumulative number stands at 13?


  1. I agree. For such an important Bill, it sure was presented and passed with so much haste. The Committee presented our appeal which was to defer the implementation of the new levy for a few months very well. And sadly the PM was vehement and passionate about not giving any ground to that appeal.

    And it is very noticable that all our political parties are so silent about giving our appeals a boost. If it was any other issue, PDP, DPT, etc. would have taken it upon themselves to come out with public statements. Not for our cause though.

    Sadly, the Bill will become an Act. Our grievances and concerns are now water under the bridge. I only pray that the magical formula that the government used will stand the test of time. I only pray that our concerns are unfounded and that the magic number of USD200 will bring about much peace and prosperity to our beloved Kingdom.

    Pelden Drukpa Gyelo

  2. Thank you Honorable Finance and Economy committee for your great effort 👍👍👍🙏🙏🙏🇧🇹🇧🇹🇧🇹

  3. It is said that some of the worst things have been done with the best of intentions. If the tourism industry blooms even at the cost of the tour agency business then so be it. But if it kills the industry as a whole then it will be the worst sort of legacy DNT leaves for the future of the country, it’s citizens, their future members and the foreign currency reserve. Guess it’s time for the private vehicle owners/tour operators to stop complaining about the new bill and “start walking”.

  4. How can you trust a PM who gets provoked into saying "better start walking if you find the price of fuel unaffordable"; an Agriculture Minister whose only solution is to change dietary habits, use butter instead of dalda for kami and to eat less chilli. This cabinet is incapable of anything and only good at making a mess of it. The way things are going, this PM is in for a vote of no confidence

  5. The powers that be will rue the day that the Tourism Levy Billl was shoved down the throats of protesting Bhutanese, without an honest consultation. When the Constitution of Bhutan was taken to all corners of the country to be debated and discussed, such was not the case with this bill.
    Erroneous calculations of the 65$ from 1991 in today's values were used as an argument. That amount in today's value would be roughly 140$, not 700$ as Lyonchhen said. So the premise is mathematically wrong. No respectable guide would work for 700 Nu. a day! I remember guides making 1500-3000 Nu. a day, and 5000 Nu. a day on some treks. Next, this whole point about all Bhutanese being stakeholders in tourism. Fine, in that case, then every Bhutanese must be stakeholders in mining, forestry, even hydropower, and every business under DHI. Businesses pay taxes, and in tourism there is also the SDF. These two components are taken for all Bhutanese, but people who toil and run the industry should also benefit. During the last few years, every agency (government, NGOs and even Banks) have been clamouring to support entrepreneurship. Well, the tourism industry has created hundreds of successful entrepreneurs on its own, becoming the second highest revenue earner for the country.
    The hydropower myth has been shattered. In over 4 decades, we are still shackled to the whims of India on the conditions of our hydropower projects. We have not exported hydropower technology and knowhow to SE Asia or other regions as we said we will. Instead, we are dependent on what India and Indian companies provide us. Yes, we get revenue from hydropower export, but that is negated by our import of fossil fuels alone. India has been a good friend so far, but nothing is free. They keep us under their thumb - from election meddling (as in 2013) to agriculture export strangulation (although we are supposed to have free trade) to petroleum imports. Every ministry or agency likes the ‘free’ GOI money to build their grand buildings, but at what cost (if they really realize this)? As His Majesty repeatedly commands, we have to be intelligent citizens - we have to love our country intelligently. We have to mature as a nation state, and in order to do that we have to have our fundamentals right to build a strong foundation. But, even as Puna I and II are facing major delays and cost escalations, we are going headlong into Kholongchhu. Is no one to blame when the country is taken hostage???
    Now we are dismantling the next industry - tourism. We are literally killing the goose that laid golden eggs. If you are referring to the hogwash draft ‘21st Century Economic Roadmap’ for guidance, then I feel sorry that the whole justification for making tourism ‘free for all’ is wrong. The Economic Roadmap whines that hotels were running at 80% less occupancy - well, build less hotels then! Don't give out loans. You don't dismantle the whole tourism industry that really worked and created hundreds of entrepreneurs. Yes, many things can be improved, but was it necessary to dismantle what was working? We are now pushing for mass unwanted tourism.
    We are lucky that Bhutan is a strong brand. Our environment and environmental policies carried us proudly on the world stage. Why did His Majesty the Great Fourth recently receive the Blue Planet prize, even long after his reign? Because it was during his golden reign that Bhutan jumped to the fore of global environmental leadership. These days, we talk about carbon neutrality, but there is no check on fossil fuels and vehicle imports. And you think hiring a PR firm will bring high-end tourists? Haven't we done that before? Our best marketers were GNH, the travel agents, the government and really just the country (how we governed, lived, and marched to different beat).
    I don't know who the advisors are, but they need grounding in reality, data, and feedback.

  6. To me they all look like idiots...