Recommended to deposit 2% of tourism levy to the culture trust fund  

Yangchen C Rinzin

National Council (NC) adopted the Tourism Levy Exemption (Amendment) Bill yesterday with the recommendation to add Haa, Samtse, Gasa, and Chukha to 11 other dzongkhags that National Assembly exempted from regional tourism levy. 

According to the Bill, the National Assembly adopted on February 4 regional and international tourists visiting 11 dzongkhags are exempted from paying the daily sustainable development fee (SDF) Nu 1,200 and the SDF of USD 65. The dzongkhags are Lhuentse, Mongar, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, Pemagatshel, Samdrupjongkhar, Tsirang, Dagana, Zhemgang, Trongsa, and Sarpang. 

However, the majority of NC members were not content with the list and asked why they were on the list while a few recommended doing away with it altogether. 

Members from Haa, Chukha, Gasa, and Samtse said that their dzongkhags should be also added as reports have shown zero or fewer tourist arrivals. 

Paro NC member Ugyen Tshering said instead of exempting tourism levy the government should look into why these dzongkhags do not receive tourists.   

“No matter how much tax is exempted if there is nothing to offer to the tourists, the dzongkhag would still see fewer tourists.” 

The members recommended the government should look into developing amenities to attract tourists in these dzongkhags. 

Sarpang NC member Anand Rai said that although the dzongkhag is listed in the exemption list Sarpang does not have enough facilities to attract tourists. 

“With the exemption of levy, it would only increase the free flow of tourists affecting the environment. Instead, there should be a tourism levy so that there is a limitation on the entry.” 

Tashigang NC member Lhatu said that the exemption would not benefit if there is no entry point close to the dzongkhags. “The government should open entry points first.”

Following deliberations for two days, NC also adopted NA’s recommendation for concessional tourism levy of USD 65 for international leisure tourists and Nu 1,200 for regional leisure tourists as SDF.

However, the House also adopted the Bill with the recommendation to add an additional section in the Bill. The House also recommended crediting a minimum of 2 percent of the fund generated from the annual tourism levy into the culture trust fund. 

One of the social and cultural affair committee members, Lhaki Dolma said that tourists visit Bhutan especially because of its culture and it needs to be protected. 

“The culture trust fund was started in 1999 with the target to raise the fund to USD 5 Million (M) but so far only USD 1M has been collected,” Lhaki Dolma said. “The fund would be operational only when it reaches USD 5M so this is an opportunity to add to the fund.”

However, NC members opposed the proposal and expressed that the culture trust fund is not related to the Bill. The members instead proposed to incorporate the proposal in the culture and heritage Bill when enacted. 

The committee members informed the House that the talk of enacting culture Act has been there for years. The members suggested incorporating it to the tourism levy exemption Bill. 

Meanwhile, with the Bill expected to be implemented from July 2020, the House recommended amending the section on commencement date as per section 46B of Public Finance (Amendment) of Bhutan 2012. 

The House adopted the Bill with 17 Yes votes, two No votes and 2 abstentions. The Bill will be forwarded to the NA for re-deliberation.