If the agenda is not changed, the National Assembly will discuss an important Bill tomorrow that will have significant implications. On the agenda is the Property Tax Bill 2022, proposing a revision in property tax on land and building.

Even before the Bill is discussed or shared with the people, as it is a money Bill, there are agreements that taxes should be revised. This is because the tax on land and buildings has not been revised for three decades. Property owners still pay the rates fixed by a policy- Municipal Finance Policy in 1992. However, it is not only the long gap or wanting property owners to pay more, but improving services, especially in the thromdes.

A revised tax would mean improved revenue for the government. If it can be collected or diverted to the thromdes, it will help them implement plans, and improve basic services like drinking water, drainage system, improved roads and many more.

Thromdes today depend on the central government for budget. Planned activities or promises of Thrompons depend on how much the finance ministry releases. Quite often it is not what they expect or need. Revenue from fees and levies are not enough to even run a Thromde.

Today, property owners do not hold the Thromde accountable for the shortage of water, bad roads, or piling waste. They may resort to social media to complain, but would hardly confront the thromde or the Thrompon. This could be because they do not feel the pinch from the taxes they pay, nor can they expect improved services from a broke Thromde.

Taxes make both citizens and governments responsible. The logic is that revenue from taxation is ploughed back to improve services. Those paying taxes should question and take the government to task if services are not improved. In other cities, voters or taxpayers call for accountability. Quite often they ask mayors and planners to step down.

Our thromdes should have long transformed. There were expectations with the power decentralised to an elected thrompon and the Thromde Council. It has not.  Our thromdes are unbecoming of what we envisaged – it is more congested, dirtier, unsafe, and expensive.

Those privy to the Bill are raising important questions. Some are concerned of double taxation because property owners also pay personal income tax. Others are wary of how property would be valued as the government plans a value-based taxation system.

Property value has skyrocketed in thromdes like Thimphu and Phuentsholing. A decimal of land in the erstwhile paddy fields of Babesa and Taba cost Nu 2 to 3 million. The so-called market value is subjective depending on demand and interest of individual sellers or buyers. There is no doubt that property tax should be increased, how we do it is the question. The elected members would know best or dig deeper to understand the implications. If tenants end up paying the revised tax, there is no point in revising the tax.

Our legislations are such that the thromdes on their own cannot raise taxes. The government’s decision to revise is a bold decision. Not many elected governments would dare talk about revising taxes in the last year of their term, forget introducing a Bill on tax.

The Bill which will be discussed live presents an opportunity for elected leaders to sound populist and try to block it. It will not help anyone.