Laws are good; laws are bad. And when too many heads blabber and fight their way through to give their own interpretation to the clauses of the numerous laws, legislations tend to lose all their meaning and purpose.
As is often said, history repeats itself, and we find ourselves asking the same question yet again this day: whether a few individuals in power can decide to impose or exempt payment of customs duty and sales tax. It was about government imposing tax on vehicles four years ago. Today, it is about waving off tax and duty on books imported from India.
This – what government can and cannot do with tax and duties – needs to be made clear.
However, while we debate who is right and who is not and the repercussions that could follow, we seem to be ridiculing our mother of all laws by willfully ignoring its existence.
The Constitution says that taxes, fees and other forms of levies cannot be imposed or altered except by law. By this clause of the supreme law of the land, the government’s decision to lift customs duty and sales tax for all books imported in 2015 is in clear and direct violation of the constitutional provisions.
The Opposition says that by lifting sales tax and customs duty on books imported this year the government has engaged in an act that is tantamount to alteration of taxes which is unlawful. And because what has been done by the government is illegal, what the Supreme Court said in a not so dissimilar case in 2010 must hold good with this case too, that imposing and altering of taxes should be decided by all the elected representatives of the people together and not only by a sub-group represented by the executive.
Defending its move, the government maintains that exemptions were made to encourage Bhutanese to read because 2015 is being observed as the National Reading Year, and that on satisfaction and in the public interest, the Ministry of Finance may exempt a person from the payment of sales tax or customs duty.
But surely there are ways to encourage Bhutanese to read without the government having to touch the taxes. How many Bhutanese will really benefit from this move is anyone’s guess.
Any alteration or imposition of taxes must go through legislative process of making laws, which means it should go to the Parliament. The executive has not and should not have the power to impose or alter taxes.
The government’s argument could not be more inane.