Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

It is the 10th day today since collection of Nu 10 user fee at the pedestrian terminal in Phuentsholing began on November 1. While most are positive, some say the collection system lacks accountability.

A woman from Thimphu, who recently visited Phuentsholing, Karma said there are no receipts for the payment.

“Nu 10 is also collected for children but the children’s details are not recorded in the system,” she said.

At the terminal, most pedestrians pay in cash. Electronic (mBoB) payment is also available. People have to provide their details such as name, ID number, phone number, mbob journal number.

A hotelier said that while the collection will be used for many repairs and maintenance of the terminal, there must be a proper system.

“We are not doubting anybody but it should look transparent. Right now, we don’t get receipts. And the question is if the collection tallies with the number of people entering and exiting,” he said.

A restaurant owner said that the fee doesn’t bother him.

“I am only worried that our customers are going across the border and we have lost business. For Bhutanese, the user fee should be Nu 500,” he said. “Otherwise, everything Bhutanese buy from across the border must be taxed.”

He said that authorities should also consider the interest of the business in Phuentsholing.

The Director General of the Department of Immigration (DoI), Pema L Dorji said the he appreciates people for providing feedback and sharing concerns regarding the terminal user fee in Phuentsholing.

“We value feedback and take all concerns expressed seriously in our endeavour to constantly improve the way we do business,” he said. “We also greatly appreciate the support, understanding and cooperation extended by the general public.”

Pema L Dorji said the pedestrian terminal was constructed by the government at a considerable cost to the national exchequer. It is centrally air-conditioned with modern facilities and amenities, and provides a comfortable and pleasant environment for all users, he added.

“The infrastructure must, therefore, be well maintained and managed, particularly given the substantial movement of people on a daily basis,” he said. “In the context of user fees, we attach the highest importance to accountability and transparency.”

The pedestrian terminal user fee was introduced on November 1 to enable the terminal to operate on a self-sustaining model and all individuals are required to pay the user fee. User fees are collected by de-suups at the entry and exit sections of the terminal. Counting of fees are carried out diligently by five immigration personnel under the supervision of an officer and CCTV surveillance.

According to the immigration office, on average, at least 14,000 to 16,000 people enter and exit the terminal daily.

“Given the large movement of people on a daily basis, the collection and counting of fees is a difficult and tedious task,” Pema L Dorji said.

“The fees are deposited with the Bank of Bhutan on the next day. Fees collected are accounted for and proper records are maintained on a daily basis.”

DoI is also exploring ways and means to make payments cashless for the convenience of users and to make the collection system more robust and seamless. This is being pursued to prioritise a cashless payment system that will contribute to strengthening accountability, transparency and efficiency. The utilisation and management of funds generated from user fees will be in accordance with the financial rules and regulations of the government.

The regional immigration office in Phuentsholing will be fully accountable for the use and proper management of the funds and periodic audits will be carried out.

The terminal was built at the cost of Nu 183 million. The initial huge crowd and long queue have decreased and movement is seamless today.