Friday, January 20, 2023

Short-Changing The Short-Term

I began blogging in 2009. As on today, my blog count, including this one, stands at 1,009 articles. So far the year 2022 saw the highest number of articles compared to all other years - at 145 articles - an average of over one article every two and half days.

Significantly, the month of June 2022 recorded the second all time highest number of blogs - at 17 articles. The reason for the frenzy:

Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022

It came to be known that the Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022 would be introduced as a Money Bill - meaning it would be implemented immediately upon endorsement by the Parliament. The tourism industry went on an overdrive, to try and defer the implementation of the Bill to a more appropriate date - sadly, to no avail.

Of the many points I made in trying to dissuade the government from rushing through the implementing of the Bill, most pertinent were the following:

That the people were not against the Bill - but at the terrible timing of its implementation. That the industry stakeholders’ plea with the government was that the abrupt implementation of the proposed Bill would severely impact the tourism trade and derail the smooth functioning of the business. The immediate implementation of a new way of doing business that is 360 degrees about-face, from a perfectly working system to which the industry had been used to for the past 48 years, is being unrealistic and impractical. That they needed time to reorient and allow people in the business chain to adapt to the new system - for a seamless migration. That people need time to recover from the ravages of the COVID-19. The industry’s request, which was not unreasonable, was for the deferment of the implementation of the Bill by atleast a year - if not more.

The Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022 was adopted by the National Assembly of Bhutan on 24th June, 2022 - it became law as of 20th June, 2022. Thus, as of June 30, 2022 I halted all further discussions on the matter relating to the Bill/Act - I realized that it was futile. But in parting, and in response to the government’s repeated assertions that in passing the Bill they had the country’s long-term benefit at heart, I made the following point:

“What was the point of the long-term benefit if the people were all dead in the short term?”

The Short-term concerns should have prevailed over the Long-term

Tourism is Bhutan’s most vital industry - it provides employment to the largest number of people; it supports the largest number of ancillary services/industries. It accrues benefit across the broad spectrum of the Bhutanese society - both in the rural as well as in the urban. It earns the highest $$ foreign exchange for the country. Barring few operators, it is also the only industry where tax evasion does not happen.
The Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022 became law as of 20th June, 2022

I tried to dispel the misconception that the tour operators would be the most affected by the Bill - I argued that the hotel industry would suffer the greatest casualty. I was offered a counter argument that the decision of the hotel owners to go into hotel business was purely a business decision, made at their own behest. I agreed, but argued that:

“The decision was made based on a conducive policy that was in place. That when that policy was altered, in spite of the industry’s vehement protestations, the onus of responsibility of the industry’s failure must rest squarely with those who did it - the government.”

Today I am told that hotels across the border in Jaigaon are fully booked - while ours in Phuentsholing are running empty. Even an extremely popular hotel such as the Hotel Druk in Thimphu has room occupancy of barely 2-3 rooms a night.

And yet we cannot give up hope - for all we know, there may be a pattern to the madness that we are as yet unable to see.

We hope and pray that there is.

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