After driving through a series of allegations of procurement violations and unfair tendering practices 15 ‘Golden Dragon’ Chinese buses have finally made it to Thimphu.
However, coming out of one controversy the Bhutan Post buses are headed for another controversy over questions and doubts by Thimphu workshops and other vehicle dealers on the availability of spare parts and maintenance issues.
In addition the Chinese government’s quality watchdog ‘General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ)’ on August 12, 2012 ordered the recall of 144 Golden Dragon buses in China on safety grounds.
The recall was announced due to concerns that the single leg seat design may not be strong enough to withstand rough driving conditions. There are worries that, in the event of a crash or similar extreme situation, the seats may become unbuckled from the floor of the bus. Furthermore, the seats are made a stiff plastic that may shatter on impact, posing a further safety risk to passengers.
The outer physical look of the buses look modern and catchy but what is left to see is how it will perform on Bhutanese roads.
An earlier Chinese bus suffered from break failure problems and went out of control in the Hong Kong market area damaging 13 other vehicles.
Proprietor of the Ganjung, Ugyen Tenzin said,”We have identified a workshop in Thimphu to do the entire repair and the servicing works for the four Chinese buses I’ve supplied”, he also said that his company has trained mechanics to deal with these buses.
Meanwhile Global traders couldn’t be contacted. However Bhutan Postal Corporation Limited (BPCL) transport officer, said that there is an agreement between BPCL and the two suppliers regarding the servicing works and providing spare parts should the buses break down in the future.
However, some workshop owners in Thimphu feel that Thimphu workshops will not be able to service the fleet of largely unknown Chinese buses with the added problem that there are no readily available spare parts.
Workshop owner Prahlad said,” “Identifying only a single workshop or spare parts supplier won’t be enough as buses which are run daily will need regular servicing at least three times a week if the quality of the bus is to be maintained.”
Another workshop staff in Olakha Maina said, “Most workshops don’t know how to repair Chinese buses and the most we can do are only minor services like mobil change etc.”
According to local workshops and car dealers the current operational city buses are either TATA or Eicher buses which are Indian products for which spare parts easily available.
Some of the leading or the biggest spare parts supplier in the country like the State Trading Corporation of Bhutan Limited (STCBL) also does not deal with Chinese products.
With workshops out of the option for any major repairs even the larger servicing companies like Samden vehicles, STCBL, Hyundai motors and Dejung Honda, all say they are not allowed to deal with any other brand other than theirs when it comes to servicing and supplying spare parts.
These agencies also confirmed that they do not have mechanics that are aware of the Chinese buses like the Golden dragon. “We train our mechanics to handle our own products and that is TATA,” the Samden Vehicles Managing Director said.
TATA motors according to its regional Bhutan and Nepal manager Vinay wrote that Tata has a policy which maintains a minimum stock of spare parts for all the models in the Bhutanese market with special tools and highly trained personnel. Similarly other vehicle agencies also claim to have highly trained personals in their specific brands to deal with all sorts of malfunctions in their products.
A private transport company owner in Thimphu said the break down of buses are inevitable but it can get worse if it happens to a public transport bus which runs in the city every day.
With nearly all workshops in Thimphu unused to Chinese buses major problems are expected not only to repair the buses but also in getting spare parts.
Even companies like the TATA and Hyundai automobiles which are very common in the country take months to acquire certain spare parts damaged due to accidents.
“ Requirement of spare parts are not always certain since accidents can happen any time to any part of the automobile so every part can’t be kept ready all the time,” the Managing Director of the Samden Vehicles Kouenleg Gyeltshen said. He said that even the head offices can’t keep all the parts of an automobile in spare so basically it takes two to three months to acquire some spare parts.
According to an official at the STCBL, even the TATA and the Toyota vehicles which good networks are not very easy to manage when it comes to supplying spare parts. She said that the requirements of spare parts are uncertain so one cannot expect which part will be demanded.
Most workshops and car dealers that the paper talked to say that it will doubly hard if not harder for the Chinese buses to get spare parts given their different technology, limited numbers and distance from the suppliers.
However, owner of Ganjung disagrees with the assessment. “This is not true. I cannot comment for Global Traders but Ganjung has stocked up on spare parts. In fact when my Tata Hiluxes steering box got spoilt they did not have the spare parts in Bhutan at the time.”
A fleet of the Chinese buses was launched in Changlimithang on Wednesday in a small event attended by several RSTA officials, Thromde officials and officials from the traffic division as well. BPCL said that the buses will start operating in about two days’ time after its registration with the Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA).
Earlier in June 2012, BPCL in a Nu 44.6 mn tender had awarded 11 large buses worth Nu 35.2mn to Global Traders while another company Ganjung got the order for 4 medium sized buses worth Nu 9.4mn.
MD of Samdhen Vehicles, Kouenleg Gyeltshen had then said that BPCL had violated tender norms by changing tender requirements after opening the bid to deprive him, who was the lowest bidder and met all tender specifications. Samdhen Vehicles total bid was cheaper by Nu 12.4mn
BPCL denied violation of rules but procurement rules of the Public Procurement and Policy Division (PPPD) under the MoF says that no changes can be made after opening a tender.
The controversial selection of Global Traders by Bhutan Post brought about much discussion on online forums and the social media as the company is owned by the son-in-law of the Prime Minister. The person representing Global Traders at the bid was the son-in-law of the MoIC minister Lyonpo Nandalal Rai. Bhutan Post comes under the MoIC ministry.