Parliament is yet to be discuss, let alone endorse, this parting of ways
Tourism Council Of Bhutan Secretariat: The Tourism Council of Bhutan secretariat (TCBS) cannot be delinked from the civil service, unless endorsed by Parliament, according to officials of the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC).
Section five of the civil service Act (CSA) states that delinking any government agency from the civil service may be determined by Parliament.
The Cabinet, in June last year, approved the delinking of TCBS from the civil service, to operate as an independent body, functioning along corporate lines with accountability to the council of which the prime minister is the chairman.
Following the Cabinet order on the delinking, the commission wrote to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) seeking clarification. “The OAG agreed that delinking a government agency from the civil service can only be done if approved by Parliament,” a commission official said. “The rule of law is a must for RCSC.”
The commission also wrote to the Cabinet, requesting the appropriate authorities to submit the delinking proposal for deliberation in the next session of Parliament.
Rules governing tourism in Bhutan date back to 1971 when the first draft was drafted, according to records. In 1974, the Bhutan travel agency was established. In 1983, the Bhutan tourism council was established, after which it was made a fully autonomous undertaking, with the trade minister as its board chairman in 1989.
In 1991, tourism activities were privatized, with 33 tour operators and the tourism authority of Bhutan was established. In 1999, tourism licenses were liberalised and the tourist arrival stood at 7,158.
TAB was restructured into department of trade under the trade and industry ministry. The preparation and drafting of the tourism bill began in 2005, which still remains to be presented at the parliament.
In 2008, the tourism council of Bhutan was established as an autonomous body that depended on the government for finances.
While OAG officials weren’t available for comment, National Council members said, with the last Parliament session due in February, it wouldn’t be possible to deliberate TCBS’s delinking proposal with the tourism council Act still in the draft form.
“It may not be possible to pass a bill in one session, unless it’s an urgent bill,” said a council member. “The delinking proposal can be only discussed at Parliament when the tourism bill is ready.”
Council members said, for a government agency to be delinked from the civil service, the advantages and disadvantages of delinking the agency should be looked at and deliberated at length.
The delinking agenda
Since 2008, the Cabinet had issued executive orders on delinking TCBS. In November 2009, the prime minister had also mentioned in one of the executive orders that TCBS shall be an independent statutory body, functioning along corporate lines with accountability. The order also states that TCBS be staffed with full time/contractual employees, who aren’t part of the civil service, and have a defined performance management system for conduct and evaluation of all its staff.
Last year, after the delinking approval came from the Cabinet, the secretariat, as per Cabinet directives, even framed its service and financial rulebook, with perks and allowances like any other corporation. The secretariat was to be headed by a CEO, as per the service rulebook.
For its sustainability, TCBS also proposed an increase in royalty by USD 10 and USD 5 a tourist a day/night during the high and lean seasons, to create a fund to run the secretariat. This was met with outright rejection from all tour operators.
Today, the minimum daily tariff of USD 250 and USD 200 from a tourist is deposited with TCBS account first, from which the royalty of USD 65 and USD 55, along with two percent tax deducted at source, went to the government coffers. The remaining amount was for tour operator.
The issue was deliberated by the Association of Bhutanese
Tour Operators and TCBS. However, both agencies could never reach a consensus.
A press release from the cabinet in June last year stated that the decision to delink the secretariat from the civil service was made, considering the sector’s crucial contribution to the growth of the country’s economy, and as one of the main generators of hard currency.
Questions are being raised on why the secretariat has to be delinked when it is functioning well. Some tour operators were also skeptical on the funding part, saying it led to conflict of interest if tour operators had to fund TCBS, their regulatory body.
Some said it would disallow proper functioning of the secretariat, as TCBS may function on the whims of tour operators. Some observers said the secretariat’s delinking from civil service was unnecessary at the moment.
Even after delinking, the same practice of having the prime minister as the chairperson of the council, with three other ministers of home, agriculture and forestry, and economic affairs making up the council board members is to continue.
Presidents of Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators and Hotel Association of Bhutan represent the private sector on the council board.
“If the secretariat would be governed by the same board members, there’s not much difference” an observer said. “And even among the secretariat, it’s the same people working for the same organisation.”
The Council meeting to be held this month has TCBS’s delinking on its agenda, apart from discussions on the royalty increase.
By Kinga Dema