Transport: The information and communications ministry is still looking for a possible solution to address the issue of regional tourists driving their own vehicles to visit Bhutan.

At the question hour session of the Assembly yesterday, lyonpo D N Dhungyel said discussions are on with relevant agencies including those in the border towns.

“Discussions are still going on,” lyonpo said, adding they have to look at various agreements signed between the two governments as well.

Lyonpo also asked members to suggest possible solutions to help resolve the issue.

Nubi-Tangsibji representative Nidup Zangpo said that with an increase in tourists visiting the country, regional tourists has also increased drastically.

“Regional tourists driving their own vehicles is an issue for local taxi drivers following which the issue was raised with the information and communication ministry,” he said.

The other issue Nidup Zangpo raised was on doing away with the qualification for taxi drivers.

On waiving the qualification for taxi drivers, lyonpo said the minimum qualification of grade eight was found necessary for drivers to be able to read the notifications, announcement and the road safety rules and regulations, among others.

“This minimum qualification is required for drivers to help provide quality services and not to trouble them,” lyonpo said.

In the supplementary question round, Nidup Zangpo said he was amused with the minister’s remarks on seeking solution to the issue from members. “We have a ministry for about 700,000 people who seeks solutions from the parliament members,” he said.

He suggested that a viable solution would be to allow Bhutanese taxis ply in India like the Indian vehicles plying in Bhutan.

Lyonpo D N Dhungyel clarified that he had only sought solutions for better outcome and did not mean that the ministry was incapable of addressing the issue.

Lyonpo said the option he suggested has been explored and they are looking at ways to incorporate it. Lyonpo however, welcomed the North Thimphu representative Kinga Tshering’s suggestion.

Kinga Tshering suggested that any vehicles entering Bhutan be made mandatory to pay green tax like Bhutanese vehicles.

“While we can’t stop the vehicles, we should levy the green tax progressively,” he said.

For instance, Kinga Tshering said that Bhutanese pay Nu 50,000 as green tax for vehicles worth about Nu 200,000. This, he said translates to Nu 500,000 as tax for which commercially one bears Nu 50,000 a year as green tax considering the life of a vehicle as 10 years.

“Any such vehicle entering the country can be charged Nu 200 a day,” he said.

Lyonpo Damcho Dorji said that the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) transport agreement would help resolve such issues.

The BBIN agreement, lyonpo said categorizes the number of vehicles and types, among others, which would not allow all vehicles into the country.

Meanwhile, the Bumdeling-Jamkhar representative Dupthob said that Bhutanese living abroad have always requested for facilities to be able to keep a Forex account in the local banks and to be able to also send postal ballots during the next election.

“What is the government trying to do to address this issue?” he said.

Lyonpo Damcho Dorji said that opening a USD account is not an issue but withdrawing in dollars from it is an issue as it contravenes the existing financial rules and regulations.

This, lyonpo said could affect the country’s foreign exchange reserve and also lead to money laundering. “We are working on it for a possible solution as the issue was raised to me and the prime minister as well during our visits to the US,” lyonpo said.

By Kinga Dema