The penalty of Nu 10,000, which the Tourism Council of Bhutan imposed on a tour guide on April 14, was for breaching two sections of the guides’ code of conduct by being in a relationship with the tourist and soliciting money, and not for alleged sexual harassment, fraud and providing the tourist non-prescribed antibiotics.

A female tourist from Hong Kong, Yuk Ying Belle Yan filed a complaint to the Council on March 11, alleging that the tour guide, Palden Singay verbally and sexually harassed her. She also alleged that he gave her non-prescribed antibiotics.

Following a review of the complaint, the Council wrote to the tourist that it was unable to decide on the allegation of providing non-prescribed antibiotics since it lack expertise in medicine.  “Therefore, the complainant is requested to pursue with an expert on this allegation if you may but the management would like to inform you that all antibiotics are properly regulated in Bhutan,” the letter stated.

Palden Singay in his statement to the Council stated that the tourist fell ill on the way to Trashigang and was taken to a Basic Health Unit in Phobjikha. She was also taken to Wangdicholing hospital in Bumthang, which prescribed her some medicines.

On the allegation of sexual harassment, the Council stated that it could not charge the guide of sexual harassment since the evidence submitted did not warrant him of such consequences.  “The management, while discussing this allegation took into consideration the personal relation enjoyed by the two parties and an act of the complainant taking the respondent to Bangkok for holiday even after the alleged incident,” the letter stated.

The tourist first visited Bhutan for a week through a travel agent in December 2016. Palden Singay was then assigned as a guide.

According to Palden Singay, it was during that visit that Belle and he entered into a personal relationship. After she left the country, they maintained contact through social media sites, WeChat and Facebook. Belle visited Bhutan for the second time on January 22 this year through another tour company owned by Palden Singay’s sister-in-law.

Palden Singay claimed that Belle offered him monetary help to send his parents for a pilgrimage. “I denied the offer several times but she was persistent so I agreed and told her that I will repay her and she agreed,” he said. “She handed me USD 1,100 as promised and Thai Baht 10,000 extra as pocket money for our Thailand trip.”

According to Palden Singay, she had bought a ticket to Thailand for him for February 10, the day she was leaving Bhutan.

On the money that the tourist gave to the guide, the Council’s letter stated that the conversation between the parties did not agree on the specific date of repaying the money. “Besides, the respondent had spent the money for the purpose which was communicated to the complainant,” it stated. “Hence, the management couldn’t charge the respondent for fraud since he neither disagreed on repayment of money nor accepted for purpose other than what has been intended and communicated to the respondent.”

The letter however stated that the guide was imposed an administrative penalty of Nu 10,000.  The guide said he has paid the penalty and refunded USD 1,100 to the Council. The total penalty of Nu 10,000 was imposed on him for entering into a personal relation with the complainant and for asking for monetary favours from the client, breaching section 4 (e) and (i) of the guides’ code of conduct under the rules and regulations for Tour Operators in Bhutan 1999.

According to Palden Singay, their relation started falling apart a few days after he returned to Bhutan from Thailand following which Belle threatened that she would destroy his career. He said that the allegations are a result of their personal relationship.

“Our relationship didn’t work out and she said she will destroy my life and ruin those associated with me,” Palden Singay said. He claimed that the complainant’s sister, Alice, wrote to the Council’s legal officer expressing her unhappiness with the council’s decision and made personal threats.

A TCB official said that the Council took the matter seriously and a thorough investigation was carried out. “There was no evidence of sexual harassment having taken place,” the official said.

If Palden Singay was found guilty for sexually harassing the guest, the TCB official said that his license would be immediately cancelled and the council would hand him over to the authority concerned.

The code of conduct for Tour Guides forbids guides from entering into personal relationships with guests.

Henceforth, if any guide is found to have entered into personal relationships with a guest, TCB will impose heavy penalties and even cancel his/her license, the official said. “We would also like to request guests not to encourage such activities,” the official said.

The official said that the Council’s new rules and regulations, which was recently approved has stricter penalties for such offenses. The new rules and regulations are yet to be implemented.

Dechen Tshomo