It is well known that the tourism sector has taken a major hit from the COVID-19 pandemic but what is not as well known that now virtually every sector of the Bhutanese economy has been impacted due to the pandemic.
The Private Sector COVID-19 task force organized by the BCCI and Chaired by former BCCI President Ugen Tshechup has been meeting various associations over the past eight days and it met 15 of them so far.
He said that except for the Telecom sector and cable operators, every other sector has been negatively impacted in a chain reaction.
He said talked about certain cross cutting issues impacting all or most businesses.
“One of the biggest issues right now is that most businesses don’t own property and are on rent or lease. However, despite the loan interest waiver Kidu very few landlords are passing on the benefit to tenants. This is in fact becoming one of the main issues,” said Ugen Tshechup.
He said that the Kidu is being given for people who have loans so that they help pass on the benefit to affected people, but if certain people are not doing that then they should not get the waiver.
He said the other cross cutting issue is that while certain soft loans have been provided as working capital for tourism at 5 percent, cottage and small industries at 4 percent and 2 percent loans of up to Nu 500,000 for agriculture the interest rate as of now has been lowered only for three months and then it would possibly revert back to more commercial rates. He said the demand is to give this for a longer period.
He said that sectors and businesses also wanted access to loans and working capital and instead of collateral in all cases, businesses could stand as a guarantee for each other.
He pointed out that among the private sector there was also a lot of concern around education in terms children’s education in terms of the board exams and how children from class 10 would go to 11 and how those from 12 would go to college.
The Chairperson pointed out a common complaint was also on the internet services and charges with complaints on the slow speed of the internet to the extent that even the BCCI was having difficulty in doing video conferencing. He said that services should actually be improved to encourage social distancing and charges should be made more reasonable.
He said that training institutes and consultants requested for better synergy between tour guides and hotel employees so that the institutions can provide them training courses in language, culture and other areas keeping social distancing in mind.
Ugen Tshechup said while the private sector was impacted the overriding expression from the private sector is to not be an extra burden on the government.
The Chair said that BCCI wanted to bring up these issues from now so they do not become too difficult to solve later. He said that the Prime Minister has committed to meet the task force once a week to be apprised of the various issues.
He said that issues are also being raised now the private sector in Bhutan are not robust and cash rich entities but everyone works from month to month.
“A lot of people have let go of their staff and now they themselves are trying to stay afloat,” said the Chair.
“Businesses can manage for one or two months as no one will starve in Bhutan due to the support structure. My concern is that if this continues a little bit too long then they may not be able to come out of the crisis,” he added.
He said that most businesses have loans and loan exposure and they also have skilled people who have no work right now. He pointed out that if businesses have no loans then they can take a break but this is not possible as they will have to continue paying loans.
He said if one looked at the tourism sector there is a need for a long term strategy to rebuild the tourism sector beyond the few months.
He said the IT Association can help the government with software development at a time when most IT contracts are not happening or are even cancelled. There is also no demand for IT equipment due to the lockdown in India.
The Tourism sector has requested to expedite certain tourism related programs.
In the border towns the main issue is the unavailability of day workers on workshops, construction sites and restaurants.
With the construction industry hit even the hardware stores are having a tough time showing how everything impacts each other.
The Chair said that the automobile industry is badly hit and staff are affected. He said one consideration could be if the companies could import vehicles without collateral.
He said the mining industry has been hit due to the lockdown in India including the entire boulder export business. The stone quarries inside Bhutan are not operating as there is no demand from construction sites.
He pointed to the impact on Drayangs and bars due to social distancing measures.
The taskforce plans to travel around the Dzongkhags to find out about issues affecting businesses in the Dzongkhags.