Among the many business fronting cases reported, it is perhaps the business license to run a bar that is the most audacious as some are being advertised online in the social media for sale. A senior trade officer, Dhurba Giri, said bar license is a legal document and it cannot be sold.
He added that people also produce documents to transfer the bar license in another person’s name which is permissible under the rules and regulation. “People come with documentation that they are willingly transferring it to someone, and transferring is allowed as per rule, as they are not producing any document stating that they are selling the bar license,” he said.
But renting the license out to another person is where it gets tricky, as the license holder must be present at the establishment during inspection time.
“The license holder cannot be at the shop all the time, in big business firms, usually the license holder is hardly present,’’ he said.
Fronting is a common practice, especially among relatives or close friends in Bhutan. Dhurba Giri said some people are hesitant to get new bar licenses, while some prefer to give their license to their own relatives, without transferring it. And still there are those who rent out their licenses knowing it is wrong to do so.
A shopkeeper from Paro said that he had paid to rent out a bar license from one of the shopkeepers, but later gave it back after he felt that he was being highly charged. He is selling alcohol without any license for quite sometime now.
But he is in the process of acquiring a bar license under his name in the meantime. There are many shopkeepers, like him, around the country and strict monitoring shall be required because more dangerous than fronting is the sale of alcohol without a license.
The senior trade officer said the penalty for the charges is also not severe resulting in people breaking certain rules and regulations at some point of time.
He added that although the issuing of bar license has been temporarily suspended, however, hotels with more than eight rooms or more and tourist standard restaurants are allowed to get the license.
Fronting between Bhutanese and foreign nationals is rampant, particularly in the border towns. Therefore, the Regional Director of the Regional Trade Office in Phuentsholing, Pem Bidha, said that the office carries out regular field inspections, and whenever a foreign national is spotted inside any of the shops within Bhutan, they check for their work permits and other necessary documents.
However, since fronting lacks a concrete definition, the office cannot take strong actions so they keep any non-Bhutanese nationals caught as a suspect and remain vigilant. She also added that there is a need for a strong Act.