The Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) president Ugen Tsechup Dorji has announced that he would be resigning by the end of November 2015, a good four months before his three year term ends in March 2016.
Ugen Tsechup said that he is stepping down because in spite of his position as the BCCI President he feels that he has not been able to be effective enough.
“The private sector has been given several assurances that it is a priority but apart from verbal assurances not much has been done to address several issues,” said the President.
The President, however, was at pains to point out that he was not blaming the elected government per say but the entire system which includes autonomous agencies, Royal Monetary Authority, departments, bureaucrats, red tape etc.
He said that despite several efforts and proposals from the side of BCCI to strengthen the private sector and business environment there has been little or no response and progress on important issues.
One of the many grouses is that the BCCI Bill which was supposed to be introduced in the last session is yet to see the day of light. “Currently BCCI only exists under a verbal Kasho of His Majesty the Fourth King and the Bill would have been important in giving a legal status to BCCI,” he said.
Ugen Tsechup said that the BCCI more than a year ago presented the government with a comprehensive proposal for the development of the private sector called the Private Sector Development Way Forward. The proposal took a sector wise approach and identified problem areas like red tape and lack of coordination. The government is yet to get back on that.
After taking over from 2013 the BCCI President and his team embarked on a tour of Dzongkhags to find out business issues and concerns for small businesses. He said proposals have been put up but here too there has been a limited response.
Another BCCI official that the paper talked to said that there was a deep sense of disappointment that the government and its agencies had either not responded or followed up on many of BCCI’s proposals and submissions on behalf of the private sector.
The outgoing BCCI President pointed out a host of issues affecting various sectors of the private sector.
In industries issues like higher electricity tariff, excise duty refund, double taxation and industrial infrastructure are yet to be resolved according to BCCI. One example pointed out was though Industries requested that the Jigmeling estate in Gelephu would not be viable and instead the Dham Dhum estate in Samtse should be focused on it was not addressed.
He said even something as simple as the Movie and Film sector requesting for Industry status could not be done.
He said the Royal Monetary Authority’s actions during the rupee crisis in forcing Indian people to take out Bhutanese
currency from banks in the form of rupees had effectively devalued the Ngultrum by seven to eight percent. The President pointed out the lack of finance and incentives even today for doing businesses.
The President also said that there was a lot of bureaucratic red tape and resistance from the bureaucracy to change and reforms. A BCCI official said the bureaucracy was being allowed to come up with more red tape and more regulations.
On the employment front BCCI had pointed out that there was a mismatch between the jobs available and the education sector. BCCI had proposed to work with the Education and Labour ministries in a tripartite manner to provide career counseling and job training but this was not accepted.
In Agriculture BCCI had proposed one district three products to help in food self sufficiency and poverty alleviation in rural areas but despite requests the Agriculture ministry was yet to give time for a presentation.
He said in the Tourism sector there was a lack of support on issues like tourism infrastructure.
A major grouse for BCCI and various other private sector associations under BCCI has been that government agencies and corporations are seen to be increasingly competing with the private sector.
Ugen Tsechup said, “Before democracy there was a process of privatization whereby BGTS gave way to private transport companies, Bhutan Tourism Corporation was privatized and PWD was dismantled to allow private construction companies. But now the process seems to be reversed.”
He gave the example of State Mining Corporation and NRDCL’s stone quarry efforts in competing with the mining sector. He said that Woodcraft’s business and the NRDCL now going in for saw mills would be competition for the private wood industry. He said the Construction Association of Bhutan has to compete with
the government’s Construction Development Corporation Limited for construction jobs. He said that there was mixed signals coming on the issue.
The BCCI President said that state of the private sector is not in a good away and this is visible in the fact that the private sector is not hiring much people. He said prior to the rupee crisis of 2012 the tax contribution of the private sector in relative terms then would have been higher but it has since come down. He said though total tax revenues are up they are not proportionate to the number of companies today.
However, he said that the ‘final straw that broke the camel’s back was the Gross National Happiness Commission turning down a Nu 80 mn BCCI building project proposed under the small development projects. “The Indian Embassy had agreed to the project and also came up with the money but of the 15 annual projects the GNHC said that the BCCI building is not a priority,” said Ugen Tsechup.
He said the BCCI building which would have been built on BCCI land in Thimphu would have been a source of revenue for BCCI and would have stabilized its finances by collecting rentals.
He said in two annual general meetings of the BCCI in 2013 and 2014 he had assured BCCI members from across the country that the funds were ready and a BCCI building would be built. However, with GNHC saying it is not a priority he said he has lost face and also does not have the moral authority to continue.
On the other hand the government said it has not approved the construction of several of its ministries own offices with the express aim of controlling imports.
He said that he would not resign until the 60th birth anniversary celebrations of His Majesty the Fourth King are over in 11th November after which he would step down.