The Economic Affairs Committee of the National Council conducted a detailed review of the tourism sector and found several issues, which called for the government’s immediate attention.
Nine recommendations were sent to the government and one to the Royal Audit Authority (RAA) to conduct a special audit and ascertain the prevalence of malpractices in the tourism sector.
The findings from the special audit recommended the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) prioritise the finalisation of the Tourism Policy and Act, strengthen coordination and monitoring mechanism, institute information sharing mechanism, regulate regional tourists to its principle of ‘High value, Low Impact’, institute proper internal control mechanism in tariff regulations, integrate tourism activities in Dzongkhag Plan, and timely review its pricing structure to make it more responsive to the pace of global economic development.
The special audit findings and the recommendations of the Economic Affairs Committee were almost parallel. Some findings from both reports showed lack of coordination, weak institutional capacity, inadequate monitoring, lack of internal controls, weak accountability currently plaguing the tourism sector.
Since the government was unable to come up with a comprehensive policy and pass a tourism bill after NC’s repeated attempts to address the shortfalls, the National Council asked the Prime Minister, who is also chairperson of TCB, to provide clarifications on the issue.
Gasa counselor Sangay Khandu, who is deputy chairperson of the Economic Affairs Committee, questioned the Prime Minister on May 17 on why the government had not implemented the recommendations of the council made in December 2015, to adopt a tourism policy and work toward a tourism bill
Lyonchhen said the current status of the tourism sector is favorable and promising despite some verbal claims on the prevalence of malpractices. “The experts from RAA could not validate the existence of undercutting or suspected tax evasion through the special audit. Such practices are a serious offense and offenders will be accordingly penalized but I feel that no one can easily get away with such practices because everything is being recorded in the system,” he said. Lyonchhen justified that the tourism sector is vibrantly functioning at the moment, and the call for a comprehensive policy is quite questionable in regard to the pros and cons associated with it.
Lyonchhen also said that the tourism sector is currently well directed through inclusion in the Economic Development Policy, Vision 2020, and the 11th Five Year Plan. “Apart from international tourist, there is need to efficiently channel the regional and domestic tourists in the country, for which we have provisions included in the EDP 2017. And just as information, the government will not alter the minimum daily tariff of US dollar 250 per day while formulating the tourism policy. On the need for regulation of regional tourist, we have instituted e-permit and we will include some guidelines to avail the service and discussions are underway to further improve such service,” Lyonchhen said.
Lyonchhen added that the tourism sector contributed USD 73 million in 2016, which speaks a lot about the efficient functioning of the system and the visible hard work of the employees working in the sector.