Trade and Investment Bill to have value-based sentencing for fronting

The Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma said that the new section on fronting as a fourth degree felony put in the Penal Code of Bhutan is quite harsh.

He said fronting does not just mean Bhutanese people renting out their business licenses to foreign nationals, but in the new section, it’s anything to do with money and hiring of business licenses within the Bhutanese people. He said the new section is going to be a problem for small business owners, particularly the people in villages, operating without a proper and legal license under their own name.

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma said while major business owners, who are involved and will involve in fronting, will do it so smartly, that it will be even difficult to catch them, whereas those who own small businesses will suffer the most under the new section of the Penal Code.

Lyonpo suggested to introduce a value-based sentencing based on the amount, so that small and micro business owners that run on small amount suffer less severe punishment as compared to those major business companies caught in fronting cases.

However, his suggestion did not receive support at the time. “It did not go through the Penal Code because people felt that something more needs to be done.

People must have voted out since it should have been done exclusively and in a little detailed manner actually,” Lyonpo said.

He admitted that he was not present during the consultation meeting on fronting so as to avoid a conflict of interest. He said the committee spoke to people from his ministry instead. “Two schools of thought must have existed, one must have thought it’s okay to keep fronting as fourth degree felony, whereas the other school of thought must have been in support of adding it under value- based sentencing in the Trade and Investment Bill,” Lyonpo said.

Meanwhile, the matter will be discussed in the winter session of the Parliament. Lyonpo Lok Nath Sharma said more consultative approach and measures are being taken into consideration. “Even the ministry is not in a very positive position to keep fronting as a fourth degree felony,” he added.

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