Friday, June 24, 2022

The Money Is Not Yet In The Government’s Pocket

As I have said many times before in this blog, the deal is not done until the cash is firmly in the pocket. The Lower House of the Parliament may have endorsed the Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022 yesterday morning - but the money is not yet in the Government’s pocket - far from it. According to the law, it has to be forwarded to the Upper House - the National Council - for their endorsement. However, the endorsement or otherwise by the National Council is inconsequential - because since this is a Money Bill the National Assembly can override the National Council - they can pooh-pooh their objections.
None support to the Bill was not considered

However, I believe that we may have been witness to an act of providence - I believe that during the process of endorsing the Tourism Levy Bill by the National Assembly yesterday, our protecting deities have shown their hands.

What transpired yesterday in the Lower House could well provide the Upper House with the ammunitions to contest the endorsement - NOT on grounds of the merit of the Bill itself – but on grounds of procedural lapse by the NA or its Speaker.

People would have noticed that the Tshogpoen (Speaker) called for the raising of hands  - only from those Members WHO SUPPORTED THE DEFERMENT OF THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE BILL. Thirteen hands went up. He never asked for the raising of hands from those Members who DID NOT SUPPORT.

How did the Speaker take it on himself to assume that the none-supporters may/could have outnumbered the supporters? Why was the raising of hands not called for – from those Members who did not support the recommendations of the Economic and Finance Committee? Why was the possible abstentions discounted? Is "NO" votes not needed to be registered?

Regardless, even if the NC does not object the obvious lapse of House procedure, there is still one final hurdle they have to overcome. The law is that while the endorsement by the NC is inconsequential where a Money Bill is concerned, the Bill still has to receive Royal Assent before it can pass into law.

Who can foretell what will emerge from the Throne Room? We will have to wait for that – before we start counting our marbles.

In closing, I want to covey one clear message:

The problem will not come from the tour operators – as long as the TCB has the imagination to accept certain realities of the business. The tour operators are amenable to supporting the government on its policy to increase the SDF although its introduction is terribly ill timed. The bigger trouble will come from the hotel sector who stands to be the most impacted by the policy. Their total investment in the business is far in excess of hundred billion Ngultrums.

Strangely, some hotel owners seem to have already decided on a way out of this looming disaster. When I asked a hotel owner friend to start digging a hole into the ground in which to hide from his creditors – he said no such thing is required.

He said he will just handover the hotel to an operator across the border. Problem solved!

1 comment:

  1. As the Bill would have impacts on me firstly as a tour operator and moreso as a Bhutanese, I tried to watch the deliberations in parliament. What was most appalling was that the justification from the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister was solely that the Bill would be good for out future, our posterity, full stop. Beyond this there was hardly any rational argument for introducing this Bill at this time.

    While there are arguments that this high levy will filter out the the riff raff coming to Bhutan, the reality is that the aftermath of COVID is itself a filter for the tourism sector - global economies are still recovering and it will take a while for people to make money, feel confident about travel, etc. The global tourism sector could take at least a decade to reel back to pre- COVID days.

    Advocates of the new levy also paint a picture of tour operators as regimental army sergeants, goading tourists into buses and herding them to troughs at the buffet table. It is not true that tourists have to stick to defined itineraries. The stiff competition in the industry over the years have operators thinking out of the box to offer diverse products and services where personalizing itineraries is the first step. Moreover, the blooming restaurant industry is a clear indication that the days of fixed meals overwhelmed by asparagus and chanterelle mushrooms are a thing of the past.

    Yes, there are problems in the industry and it is high time that we sat together to address them. But not in this draconian manner. After all, what use is the future if we cannot take care of the present.

    And sadly, I can,t resist saying this. If transformation is the word of the day, maybe we should begin by transforming the leadership of the Tourism Council of Bhutan.