A majority of the assembly members expressed their reservations over the Works and Human Settlement Minister’s suggestion to sell the land on which stands the Trowa theatre at Changjiji today.
Having been reflected on the day’s agenda, the National Assembly speaker asked Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba to bring up to speed the members on the issue the government was facing, with regards to non-payment of fees for government land that was leased to Trowa theatre.
He said the almost 19,500 square feet land was leased out to a businessman, when the Changjiji housing was being constructed, some time in 2006, to allow for some recreation for the residents of the complex.
Unable to construct the said theatre, the lessee sold the land to another private individual, to which even the government then had agreed, and the transaction occurred.
Calculated at Nu 2/sq.ft. then, Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba said the owner of Trowa theatre, since 2006 until today, was liable to pay the government about Nu 230,000.
Around the same time, he said, the government raised the government fees from Nu 2/sq.ft. to Nu42, in keeping with the raise in government land leased in Pasakha industrial estate, including industries in Phuentsholing.
Going by that calculation, the owner of Trowa theatre, between 2006 thus far, he said, owed the government Nu 5.2 million.
Despite several attempts on the part of the ministry to collect the amount due to the government, he said the owner of the theatre insisted the agreement was on the previous rate, which changed while the construction was still ongoing.
Therefore, Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba said, the solution was either to buy the theatre and reclaim the leased land, or sell the land to the owner, which he deemed was the most suitable.
To buy the theatre would cost the government dearly, in that, besides the structure itself, they would have to pay for the facilities the theatre was equipped with.
In the meantime, he said, the issue was with the land commission.
Opposition party’s Damchoe Dorji said, while the issue appeared small on the surface, it had bigger bearings, considering the precedent it would set. “There are other private infrastructures, like Kelki school, which was built on government land on lease,” he said, adding, even they would wish to own land in a prime location, if the government was willing to sell.
Chukha MP Ugay Tshering said the issue emerged with the government’s decision to uniformly increase the lease fees, irrespective of whether land was for industrial purpose. “Fee hike on industrial land is understandable, because there are many,” he said, adding it should have considered for other types of lands. “But the government doesn’t have to sell the leased land to the private owners,” he said. “Instead, consider lowering the fees and negotiate with the owner.”
Speaker Jigme Tshultim said the government did possess the authority to sell the land if it wished to.
Opposition leader Tshering Tobgay asked what was on the minds of most members, and those listening and watching the session live on television, how the government raised the fees from Nu 2 initially to Nu 42 and why. “It sounds as though the government, unable to resolve the issue, that it deems selling it the best solution,” he said, adding, even if the government wished to sell the land, the buyer would face difficulty in mobilising the money.
“The issue is arising, be- cause the government isn’t following the rule of law, which in a democracy it must,” he said. “I think we should go by the law, and take the matter to the court, otherwise, others on lease will want to buy the land also.”
It was decided that, since works and human settlement ministry had already proposed to sell the land to the Trowa theatre owner at a negotiated price with National Housing Development Corporation, the matter was sent to land commission for approval.
“I think we should await what comes out of that,” the speaker said.