Trade: The regional trade and industry office in Samdrupjongkhar on July 1 cancelled 31 business licenses after the license holders surrendered them as fronting cases.

Of the 31 license holders, 22 are trading sector licenses, eight industrial sectors and one expatriate license holder.

Most Bhutanese license holders are from Samdrupjongkhar and few from other dzongkhags, who had given their license to non-Bhutanese individuals to run the business.

The trade sector includes shops for garments, grocery and bars while the service sector includes cobbler, saloon, electronics and tailoring outlets.

The cancellation comes following an investigation where trade officials along with the fronting committee members, identified 50 shops involved in fronting.

Sometime in May, these shopkeepers were asked to run the business themselves or surrender the licenses and were given until June to deicide, failing which the licenses would be cancelled.

The licenses holders, trade officials said also owns shops in other dzongkhags.

Regional director (RD) Karma Drukpa said these 31 license holders agreed to surrender the license and were cancelled.

The RD said although the licenses are cancelled, these shopkeepers have until July to clear all the stock and pay their business tax.

“We had four meetings with these license holders and the committee members decided to cancel the license,” RD said. “This was the first phase and the rest will be dealt in the second phase.”

He said they have to review some of the license holders in service sectors like furniture house, electronic shops, workshops and optical centres because the non-Bhutanese workers still have their work permits.

“But we’ll have to see if they’re the owners or just the workers,” he said, adding if it’s fronting then they would discus with immigration and labour to cancel the renewal of their work permits.

Karma Drukpa also added that there were few license holders who owned dry fish shops and had wanted to continue the business themselves. But, they had to surrender the licenses after most Indians refused to hand over the business.

“Otherwise, nobody had come forward to surrender the licenses,” he said.

Meanwhile, if these license holders want to apply for a new business license, they might be given a chance but based on strong conditions that they run the businesses themselves.

“If they’re found involved in fronting again their license would be cancelled on the spot,” RD said. “We’ve almost finished investigating in the trade sector in Samdrupjongkhar and are now left with the service sector.”

For last four years, the regional trade office has been investigating fronting issues. There are about 650 licenses holders in Samdrupjongkhar including Indians who have registered licenses.

Yangchen C Rinzin,  Samdrupjongkhar