The new section fronting which was introduced during the 1st and 2nd reading session was re-discussed yesterday as well. An extensive debate took place on the offence of fronting, but it drew no conclusion as such and the issue will be discussed again in the coming week.
Fronting definition states, “A person shall be guilty of the offence of fronting if the person:
a) has acquire a business license from the competent authority and leases the business license to any person to run the business on any term; or b) sub contracts a government work without the written approval of the procuring agency. The offence of fronting shall be a felony of fourth degree and, in addition to the cancellation of license; any benefits accrued or gained from fronting shall be seized or restituted to Government.”
Most of the parliamentarians supported the introduction of this section and considered it as a good initiative but they had problem regarding the imposing of felony of fourth degree as most of them argued that a law should be imposed on a person based on the type of license that is being rented.
The main concern was the impact of the law on Bhutanese who lend licenses to other Bhutanese. They said that could become like the Tobacco Act that imprisoned dozens of Bhutanese.
“People own different kind of shops, some own small shops, medium shops whereas some owns big shops,” said one of the MPs. A fourth degree felony should not be imposed to everyone as some small shops might also suffer otherwise. Business license has types and based on the shops they own like micro, small, medium and big according to which a law should also be imposed voiced the MPs.
Bhutanese renting their business license to outsiders, being a security threat, and concerns over tax evasion was also highlighted by Panbang MP, Dorji Wangdi.
Minister of Economic Affairs, Loknath Sharma, added that there is a need to provide proper definition of fronting and what is considered fronting in the section clearly because lease is the only term mentioned in the section, which make it seem like nothing other than lease is considered fronting, as there are many other factors that also fall under fronting apart from lease.
He also added that, regarding the imposing of punishment, value based sentencing should be taken into account rather than just sentencing everyone. Trade and Investment Bill is under process which will also deal with this section.
Khatoed laya MP Tenzin, Drametse Ngatshang MP Ugyen Wangdi and many other parliamentarians also gave suggestions to make changes for the same.
Taking a hardline stance Chairperson of the Legislative Committee, Bomgo Chapcha MP Tshewang Lhamo said that all are equal before law, and it doesn’t matter whether the business is small or big, but a crime is a crime, and it can even affect country’s economic growth.
She also said that fronting definition is not available even in the Oxford Dictionary so there is no room for any sort of confusion and requested the Speaker to keep it as it is and reminded everyone to take up their social responsibilities.
The other sub section that was added and finalized during the 3rd reading session was a new sub section after 135 (b) aiding and abetting which states that no Thrimthue shall be payable if the defendant is convicted of an offence of aiding and abetting that is felony of fourth degree and above.
Update: The proposal to insert fronting as a fourth degree felony has been pushed to the winter session by the NA which felt more time and consultations were needed.