Trowa Theatre in Changjiji sits on government land. The land, measuring 19,432.56 square feet, was leased to a businessman in 2001 to build an entertainment center.
In 2006, the government approved the transfer of the lease to another businessman. And increased lease rent from Nu 2 per sft per annum to Nu 42 per sft per annum, which was the amount being charged to other lessees occupying similar property in Thimphu.
The businessman taking over the lease did not sign a lease agreement protesting that the new lease rent was too high. He still has not signed a lease agreement with the government. Nor has he paid lease rent since 2006. The total outstanding lease rent as of last month is about Nu 5.24 million.
The Parliament discussed this case in its 5th and 7th sessions, in 2010 and 2011 respectively, and, on both occasions, decided that the government should resolve the issue in accordance with the laws of the land.
Last Thursday, during the Public Accounts Committee’s report to the National Assembly, Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba, the minister for works and human settlement, reported that his ministry was unable to resolve the issue, and that, as such, he had requested the Land Commission to sell the land to the lessee.
The government should answer how a businessman is allowed to run a business on government land, without signing a lease agreement, without paying lease rent, and for so long while violating laws and ignoring regulations. And the government should resolve the issue, even if the case must be forwarded to the court of law, as was recommended by the Public Accounts Committee.
That’s what the government should do. But what the government actually did do, instead, was to send a formal request to the Land Commission to sell the land to the businessman.
What was Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba thinking?
There are many other businesses, in Thimphu and in other parts of our country, which have also leased government land. Wouldn’t selling leased government land to one businessman open the floodgates for other businesses to also buy land that they have leased from the government?
And what about the rule of law? Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba must know that the laws of the land prevent leased government land from being sold. He must know that Section 307 of the Land Act states that:
Under no circumstances shall a land on lease from the Government land or Government Reserved Forests land be converted to ownership right.
Trowa Theatre sits on prime government land. That land belongs to the people of Bhutan. And the people of Bhutan would want to know that their government is protecting their land, not squandering it recklessly.
This opinion piece is from the opposition leader’s blog www.tsheringtobgay.com