… as endorsed by Parliament

Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

A businessman in Mongar bought a restaurant in the heart of the town, paying more than Nu 1 million two years ago.

Without his own business licence, he has been operating under someone else’s bar and restaurant licence until the end of 2021, before the government began its fronting exercise.

Although he has acquired an independent restaurant license recently, he has not been able to avail a bar licence, as it is temporarily restricted.

He is not alone.

Many other business owners in Mongar town, who had to surrender their bar licenses to the legitimate owners, have been impacted.

Another restaurant owner, who leased his bar licence, said since the Ministry of Economic Affairs is not issuing bar licences, his business is not doing well. “For the business to thrive, we have to sell some alcohol, but we are restricted.”

The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) issued a notification that it would strictly enforce the provisions of fronting by January 1 this year.

In accordance with the notification, Mongar Regional and Trade Industry (RTI) officials conducted awareness programmes in five eastern dzongkhags under their jurisdiction in September last year and informed the business communities to return any form of business licenses by December 31, 2021, if they have leased them.

The officiating regional director, Karma T Rinzin, said the regional trade and industry office received requests from several business owners to allow them to sell excess alcohol products from their bars and restaurants.

He said they could not allow it, as the final notification had already been served, in addition to the advocacy programme. “Fronting is a criminal offence as per the Penal Code of Bhutan 2021 with varied penalties.”

He explained that fronting between Bhutanese will be considered a violation, with the first conviction a petty misdemeanour, and repeated offences subject to cancellation of licences. If fronting takes place between Bhutanese and non-Bhutanese licence holders, it would be a felony of the fourth-degree, or value-based sentencing, whichever is higher, and cancellation of the trade licence.

According to sources, fronting is rampant across the country in almost all forms of businesses like garments, hardware, hotels, grocery stores, tourism, and scrap dealers.

Meanwhile, businessmen said they are eagerly waiting for the government to issue bar licences as approved by Parliament recently.

A businessman said implementing fronting provisions before issuing bar licences affected his hotel business.

Karma T Rinzin said the regional office is waiting for the ministry’s issuance notice to issue bar licences.

He said the Trade and Industries Rules and Regulations 2022 are ready to be endorsed. “We hope to receive the directive to issue the licences at the regional level in two to three months.”