Financial services … for who?

A joint sitting of the Parliament passed the Financial Services Bill. 66 members voted for the Bill. Only one member voted against it. That solitary member was me.

I voted against the Bill because it is discriminatory – it favors foreign investors over our own people.

Section 50 of the Bill specifies that a Bhutanese individual cannot own more than 20% of a financial institution’s shares; and that a Bhutanese company cannot own more than 30% of a financial institution’s shares.

But the Bill does not specify the amount of shares a foreign company can own in a financial institution. That has been left up to the Foreign Direct Investment policy. And the present FDI policy allows foreign companies to own as much as 51% of a financial institution.

So basically, the maximum amount of shares Bhutanese individuals and companies can own in a financial institution are clearly defined by law. But the amount of shares that foreign companies can own is not defined by law – instead, it’s left up to a government policy. Today’s policy allows foreign companies to own a lot more shares in a financial institution than what our own companies can own. And tomorrow’s policy could allow foreign companies to own even more shares.

It’s important to specify – clearly specify – the maximum amount of shares that a Bhutanese individual or a company can own in a financial institution. And it’s even more important to clearly specify the maximum amount of shares that a foreign company can own.

Our laws should favour Bhutanese companies over foreign ones. But if, for whatever reason, that’s not possible, both of them – Bhutanese and foreign companies – should be treated equally. Foreign companies should never receive preferential treatment over our own companies.

But that’s exactly what the Financial Services Bill allows.

Foreign investors already have more money, have more expertise, and have more experience. Now with more ownership of our banks, they will, in time, dominate and control our financial sector. That cannot bode well for the security of our economy.

Here’s Section 50 of the Financial Services Bill:

No person shall hold more than the following percentage of interest in shares of a financial institution:

(a)     in case of a Bhutanese individual, 20 percent,

(b)     in case of a Bhutanese company not being a financial institution, 30 percent.

(c)     in case of a Bhutanese company being a financial institution, as per the limit provided under section 53 below, and

(d)     in case of a foreign financial institution, as per the RMA regulations in line with the Foreign Direct Investment Policy.