When rules don’t work

The government’s decision to let the Bhutan Duty Free Limited (BDFL) sell tobacco products in order to curb the smuggling of tobacco during the Covid-19 pandemic has drawn some criticism, as expected.

The People’s Democratic Party yesterday through a press release accused the government of transgressing provisions of the Tobacco Control Act. The party has also questioned the moral authority and called on the government to follow due procedures to legitimise their action.  How the government will respond or ever if they would, is yet to be seen.

Everybody, including the PDP is aware of why the decision was taken and never questioned the decision. The issue is on the procedure, which many are not aware of.

The PDP’s challenge on the government’s decision, however, should not be seen as a political move, as many are already surmising. In fact, the question provides an opportunity for our policymakers and legislators to relook into the many laws that are becoming a problem outside the august Parliament hall.

Letting the BDFL sell tobacco is a desperate move. We have a law that banned the sale of tobacco. It has not worked. It is a smart move as it could stop people breaching border protocols and risking a community transmission. The price of tobacco in the black market is too good to resist.

To repeat a cliché, we are wiser after the event. The problem is with our legislation or rules. We pass laws and make rules, when they are not implemented it puts us into the situation we are in today. Banning is the easiest part. The problem starts when it is not working. It is not working because we are not serious in implementing it.

In the recent past, apart from the sale of tobacco, plastic bags, billboards, sale of alcohol on Tuesdays and to minors, imported chillies and beans and many more were banned. All of these are only on papers. If we had been sincere with our bans, a lot of people, including those involved in making them, would have been behind bars or paid hefty penalties.

While most Bhutanese people will agree that our policies and legislation will have some impact, the question is whether it can be done better. This is another case of Covid-19 teaching us lessons. Considering that banning tobacco and the repercussions have made a major issue, alcohol, another problem, does seem a little neglected.

Long recognised as the cause of health as well as social problems we have not done enough to reduce sale or consumption of alcohol although we are reminded, with statistics, that a majority of the serious patients in our hospitals suffer from alcohol related illnesses.

Laws should be progressive. They should change with time and the Covid-19 time has taught us lessons. If ever there is a special or extraordinary session, our legislators should look into the practicality of legislation that they pass, especially if some of them are among those flaunting it.

We have learnt enough lessons. It is not time for blame games.  Parliament decisions have to be credible and credibility will come if they make sense on the ground or are implemented well.

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