Decides not to exempt any dzongkhag from the Nu 1,200 fee

Yangchen C Rinzin 

Two weeks after the National Assembly (NA) endorsed the exemption of Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) for 11 dzongkhags, the House yesterday, taking a complete U-turn, decided that SDF should be applicable to all the 20 dzongkhags.

This means tourists visiting any dzongkhag will have to pay the SDF of Nu 1,200 for regional and USD 65 for international. Tourists from India, Maldives, and Bangladesh are considered regional tourists as they were exempted from the SDF.

The Assembly on February 4 adopted the Tourism Levy and Exemption Bill 2020 where they endorsed to levy a SDF of Nu 1,200 per night per person for regional tourists and USD 65 on international tourists. The House also endorsed to exempt regional tourists visiting 11 dzongkhags from paying SDF to improve tourism growth in dzongkhags that do not receive many tourists.

The dzongkhags are Lhuentse, Mongar, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, Pemagatshel, Samdrupjonkhar, Tsirang, Dagana, Zhemgang, Trongsa, and Sarpang.

The National Council (NC) who deliberated the Bill on February 7 endorsed the recommendation and added four more dzongkhags, Gasa, Chukha, Samtse, and Haa in the exempt list.

However, following a re-deliberation of the Bill, NA members felt that exemption of tourism levy would not help to promote tourism in the exempted dzongkhags.

The members through a show of hands decided to do away the entire Section 8 that describes exemption of tourism levy in 11 dzongkhags.

Foreign minister and chairman of Tourism Council of Bhutan, Dr Tandi Dorji, said that Section 8 was viewed as a way to stop tourists from coming or to increase the number of tourists,  which was not true but a way to improve tourism in those dzongkhags.

“Although I cannot support to add four dzongkhags, we should keep 11 dzongkhags in keeping with the tourism policy of high value, low volume,” Lyonpo said.

Lamgong-Wangchang MP Ugyen Tshering said the fee should be levied in all dzongkhags if a policy is to be followed.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering who in the earlier session voted for exempting 11 dzongkhags supported the argument. He said that instead of creating disharmony due to such exemptions, SDF should be levied to all dzongkhags.

“There are chances that people may not visit those dzongkhags thinking there is no SDF so, there is nothing to offer to tourists,” he said.

Others said that tourism levy would control overcrowding of tourists. Improvement of infrastructure and amenities was also suggested.

Khamaed-Lunana MP Yeshey Dem said that there was no need for exemption. She added that Gasa has not reached a point where it needed a tourism levy exemption to attract tourists.

“NA consists of politicians, however, I hoped the NC, as a house of review would look into the matter carefully and slash off the list. But it’s shocking to see NC has instead added four dzongkhags to the list.”

Questioning the intention of NC, Bongo-Chapcha MP Tshewang Lhamo said that she had hoped that NC would adopt the SDF but not the exemption. “Instead, Chukha is added to the list. I cannot support the recommendation. Levy should apply to the dzongkhags.”

NA rejected NC’s recommendation to amend Section 2 on Commencement and Section 3 on Implementation as per the section 46B of Public Finance (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2012.

However, the House supported the recommendation on Section 10(3) to submit a bi-annual report on the tourism levy exemption to the finance ministry and Parliament.

The Bill is expected to be implemented from July.

The House endorsed Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2020 with 33 Yes votes.

Meanwhile, NC had also recommended adding an additional section in the Bill. The House recommended crediting a minimum of 2 percent of the fund generated from the annual tourism levy into the culture trust fund to support the efforts of preserving culture.

However, the recommendation was not discussed in the NA. Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that the House did not receive the said recommendation.