Proud Bhutanese


                                     Sneezing Democracy


The Constitution of Kingdom of Bhutan Article 7, section 2. Fundamental rights, states that, “A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech, opinion and expression.” Based on the valid state law of the kingdom of Bhutan, I would like to state about the Kingdom of Bhutan’s first Constitutional case (which the Opposition party with two members has won legitimately under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court) on “Vehicle Tax.”

Bhutan’s infant Democracy saw its first constitutional case when Opposition Leader Tshering Tobgay  and his only associate Damchoe Dorji filed the case claiming that the ruling government did not comply with the provisions of the Constitution when it decided to impose a vehicle tax under “rationalization and the broadening of the existing tax structure.” According to the complaint the government, it claimed, had gone ahead with the tax measure without the approval of Parliament violating Section 9. “Raising of revenues through taxes shall be authorized by the Parliament.” and 14(b) proposing taxation measures to the Parliament, and raising other revenues and resources for the Government” of the Public Finance Act and Article 13(1) “A Bill passed by Parliament shall come into force upon Assent of the Druk Gyalpo.” and 14(1) “Taxes, fees and other forms of levies shall not be imposed or altered except by law.” Under the Constitution of the kingdom of Bhutan

The Opposition asked that the taxes collected by the Government without the authorization of Parliament be returned with interest to the affected parties, and hold the Government liable for violation of their rights under Article 7(10) “A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to practice any lawful trade, profession or vocation.” of the Constitution; and hold it liable for contempt of Court for suspending the import of all light vehicles without obtaining the permission of the Supreme Court.

It also asked that the Supreme Court order the Government to revoke its circular suspending the import of all light vehicles and pay appropriate compensation (within four and a half months, over 1,400 vehicle buyers paid their taxes) to the affected parties with immediate effect.

Despite Prime Minister Lyonchhoen Jigmi Y Thinley’s meeting with lawyers from the office of the attorney general, and that the attorney general is representing the government, according to the provisions of the constitution. Article 29 of the Constitution “that the attorney general, as the chief legal officer, shall be the legal advisor to and legal representative of the government” Failed to convince the Supreme Court despite their re-appeal with disappointing verdict of the High Court that was “thought to be passed on Oppositions favor.”

On the 25th of February, The verdict, which the four justices of the Supreme Court, including the chief justice handed down to a courtroom filled with representatives of the government, opposition and the local media said that the issue raised by opposition does not relate to the authority of the government to impose tax but pertains to the non-compliance of procedure in raising and implementing the altered vehicle tax, the main subject of litigation.

“As deemed by the High Court ruling, the government will have to refund all taxes collected after it revised sales and import duty on vehicles in July last year and became the basis for the first constitutional case. The verdict also stated that the Constitution does not differentiate between “direct and indirect tax.” “Tax is tax” therefore the argument that there exists a separate law related to direct and indirect tax is an assumption and not tenable, thus squashing one of the main arguments of the government.” In short –

on the 14th of March, The temporary ban on the import of private light vehicles was lifted. The ban was imposed pending the Supreme
Court’s verdict on the first Constitutional case concerning the government’s tax revision on the import of vehicles. In a landmark verdict, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court’s verdict describing the tax revision as unconstitutional and saying that the government has not followed proper procedure.

An economic perception

I herby state that; as people throughout the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, that is not known to most of the people around the world awake each morning to face a new day, they do so under very different circumstances. Some 10%: 37.6% (2003) live in comfortable homes with many rooms. They have more than to eat, are well clothed and healthy, and have a reasonable degree of financial security. Others 10%: 2.3% and these constitute majority of Bhutanese people more than 60% of the population, making their livelihood from Agriculture consisting largely of subsistence farming and animal husbandry. Which includes rice, corn, root crops, citrus, food grains; dairy products, eggs and they are much less fortunate ones.

If for example, looking at an average family in Thimphu, Paro, Punakha and Phuntsholing, we would probably find a “Nuclear’ family of four with an annual income of approximately 120,000 or more. They live in a comfortable suburban house with a small garden and two or more cars (the rich). The dwelling would have many comfortable features, including a separate bedroom for each of the two children. It would be filled with consumer goods and electric appliances, many of which were manufactured outside Bhutan in countries as far as India, Japan, USA and China. Examples might include DVD players from Thailand, garments from Germany and mountain bikes made in China and vehicles from India.

This family, which is typical of families in central regions, appears to have a reasonable good life. The parents have the opportunity and the necessary education or training to secure regular employment; to shelter, clothe, feed and educate their children. Example; The son is home from his University in north America, and other two children are on vacation from boarding school in India and Thailand.

Where as in Poor family 23.2% live under poverty line (2008) there is no dinner table set; in fact there is no dinner. So in this context the government thought that, raising the Vehicle Tax certainly might help reduce the traffic congestion and environment impacts, Caused by few families still wanting to own an extra car for their children or themselves. Whereas; these group (Poor) of people will never even be firm of owning a car when they are not even able to educate and feed their children. Consequently the Government took a right decision by imposing higher Tax on Vehicles, and positively for the richer ones, who certainly has income.

“Within four and half months, more than 1,400 cars were bought, the prime minister said. “With the rising capacity of the people to import more expensive cars, I don’t know how many cars we’d want until such time that we’re able to amend the law,” Lyonchhoen said. “And, by the time we amend the law, if we can, what I do know is that many of these cars will be bought by people living in Thimphu, which is already becoming congested.” Some problems that would come along are the impact of carbon emission on the air, parking spaces and the rise in accidents and the cost for maintaining good traffic system.

Lyoenchen further stated that, “Of course we’ll get a little further away from our goal of GNH, which has so much to do with equity and with controlling our greed and desire for more and better material objects,” the prime minister said. “As more and more people will ride cars, there will be more who’ll be feeling disadvantaged.”

To add on Lyonchheon’s statement on GNH – I feel that raising a Vehicle Tax has nothing to do with Equality rather slim fraction of our income contributed as Tax, will be beneficial to the society guided, categorized and given back to the people in different outlines of welfare. Be it better road, more number of beds in hospital, sufficient text books for our children’s, or to strengthen our Democracy through economic growth etc.

Now one might argue that, I have not even thought of the Middle class families. In our society as a result of the widening gap between rich and poor are the middle class families. Something that the economist and in particular our Majesty the King is always worried about the increasing Middle class families with optimum desire for Needs and Wants, not to talk about the luxury goods. That has bad implications on environment, culture and crime

This group of people (middle-class) undoubtedly is increasingly increasing in terms of purchasing Vehicles. It’s like “my neighbor brought a new car; I will sell mine and get a new and better one.” I don’t think this is a very wise alternative of looking at things from an egoistic perspective and comparing our ego with the one who is better off. Are we going to eat more than certain amount that our stomach can digest or intake, thinking that a friend can eat more than us?

“How do you raise revenue when the very means is squashed by the judiciary and then again by the Supreme Court?” Prime Minister Jigme Y thinley questions the people. What would your answer be?

From my opinion, I think Hence looking at the Population structure based on rich, poor and middle-class with rugged mountains overlooking the terrain makes the building of roads and other infrastructure difficult and bloody expensive. The economy, one of the world’s smallest $3.526 billion (2010 est.)Based on Purchasing power parity and least developed (LDC), based on agriculture with more than 60% of the population closely aligned with India through strong trade and monetary links and dependence on India's financial assistance. The industrial sector is technologically to the rear, with most production of the cottage industry type. Most development projects, such as road construction, Trade and commerce rely on Indian migrant labor. Model education, social, and environment programs with good governance are underway with support from joint development organizations.

So for the first time our peoples elected Government that has won a Majority with landslide win, as of 2008 general elections is thinking of wiser Economic program taking into account the government's desire to protect the country's environment and cultural traditions and environment. So don’t you think raising Tax is part of Governments Economic program? 

Hydropower with commission of Tala Hydro Power Plant has boosted Bhutan's overall growth with its export to India. New hydropower projects including the current (Puna-tsang-chuu) Plant in progress will be the driving force behind Bhutan's ability to create employment (Unemployment rate 4% (2009)) and sustain economic growth at (6.8% (2010 est.)) and above.

Although one could claim that the Government or Prime Minister Jigme Y Thinley’s administration being unconstitutional proven to be violating the terms of the Constitution and certain acts under the jurisdiction of Law. Yet the economics and Economy of contemporary poor, underdeveloped nation like Bhutan with Imports $533 million (2008) In terms of fuel and lubricants, passenger cars, machinery and parts, fabrics, rice and many more, exceeding Exports $513 million (2008) standing at the rank of 187 in comparison to 200 countries in terms of trade deficit, is something we need to think. Are we always going to wash our Car’s with Channelized water supply sponsored by World Bank, and drive on Roads built by Indian Government, and look in the rear mirror to see whose car is better, so that you can plan to buy a new one?

But the question still arises, WHOM TO BLAME? The Government for violating the rule of law in taking wiser step, or Opposition for going in favor of the richer ones to maintain Democratic principles, or the Supreme Court for being a mango on apple tree? This is a first step of Democracy sneezing, it will cough soon, if we are not going to part of it.

To be continued….



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