NC exempts 15 Dzongkhags from SDF fee

NC also adopted the Tourism Levy and Exemption Bill

The Tourism Levy and Exemption Bill of Bhutan 2020 has been adopted by the National Council (NC) with 17 Member of Parliament (MP) of National Council (NC) supporting the Bill, 2 MPs not supporting and 2 abstained from voting.

Leisure tourists visiting selected dzongkhags, like Lhuntse, Mongar, Trashiyangtse, Trashigang, Pemagatshel, Samdrupjongkhar, Tsirang, Dagana, Zhemgang, Trongsa, Sarpang, Gasa, Haa, Chukha and Samtse will be exempted from payment of applicable tourism levy for the duration of their stay.

NC added Gasa, Haa, Chukha and Samtse to the list of 11 exempted dzongkhags  by NA.

That means regional tourists now have to pay SDF of Nu 1,200 only for Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Wangdue and Bumthang.

An international leisure tourist shall be liable to pay tourism levy of USD 65 per night halt and Nu 1,200 per halt for a regional leisure tourist.

Chairperson of Economic Affairs Committee (EAC), MP Ugyen Tshering said there were several sections where the House could not agree on. So, EAC held an internal meeting and concluded on agreeing on it.

MP Ugyen Tshering said they welcome the suggestions, especially the Sustainable Development Fee (SDF), which they imposed and NC agreed on Nu 1,200 fee per person (regional tourist) per day. But regarding giving exemptions to dzongkhags, which the House did not agree on, as already in the past, the government has given exemptions to six dzongkhags, and another five more dzongkhags was included by the government of the day, said the MP.

The MP said the government is trying to promote tourism, especially in the eastern and southern Bhutan, but at the same time, they are giving exemptions. The members in the House are perplexed because, as on one hand, the government is saying that tourism needs to be promoted, and which is why SDF is imposed so as to generate revenue, but on the other hand, the government says that some dzongkhags needs to be exempted.

“We did not agree on that and also majority of the MPs,” said MP Ugyen Tshering.

“The country has a budget deficit, fiscal deficit, in fact everything is running into a deficit, and the national debt is increasing, and on the other hand, the government is giving exemptions, so where can we really get an income,” he said.

MP Ugyen Tshering said tourist numbers will be less in 2020 -2021 due to the introduction of Nu 1,200 and also because of the recent epidemic of Corona virus. But slowly the momentum will gain and, “I think the revenue will come,” he  added.

As for implementation of the Bill, MP Ugyen Tshering said it should go by the Public and Finance Act of 2012, where in it states that any Financial Bill or Money Bill should be enforced the day the Bill is tabled in the National Assembly. “We have stated it in our recommendations as well,” the MP further added.

Trashiyangtse MP Karma Gyelthsen who voted ‘No’ for the Bill said it is completely against the tourism policy of High Value and Low Volume because the past government had added six eastern dzongkhags and there was not much impact and NA has added five more dzongkhags and now NC has added four more dzongkhags. Out of 20 dzongkhags, there are only five dzongkhags left without levy exemption, he said.

“The government needs to do a vigorous study on this and then make tourists visit eastern dzongkhags,” he added.

Similarly, Bumthang MP Nima has also voted against the Bill even though he supports all the other clauses mentioned in the Bill except for one clause on exemption of tourism levy for 11 dzongkhags.

MP Nima said there is no comprehensive written policy on tourism, and the one in place promotes High Value and Low Volume, and the Bill is not according to the policy. He said tourism levy is imposed in order to provide good services to tourist and also to attract quality tourists.

Also, he said tourism levy collected can be used to develop the infrastructure. He said it is not appropriate as some dzongkhags are exempted and some are not.

The Sarpang MP said exemption of tourism levy will benefit Sarpang and now Samtse is also included. He said Samtse is much better than Sarpang because it offers many more places to visit.

In order to support the efforts of cultural preservation in the country, for all times to come, the National Council recommended a minimum of 2 percent of tourism levy of USD 65 for international tourist and concessional tourism levy of Nu 1,200 to be directly deposited into the Cultural Trust Fund.

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