Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) president Ugen Tshechup Dorji during his five Dzongkhags tour shared his agenda for the country’s private sector and took note of grievances expressed by various business communities.
For the first time in its history BCCI office bearers are visiting every business community across the country to hold awareness meetings. The chamber will be conducting tours for the rest of the 15 Dzongkhags starting next month with prior approval from the Election Commission of Bhutan(ECB) to avoid waiting for the general elections to end.
The president said there are many issues that have been raised by the business communities.
BCCI is currently working on a resource mapping for each Dzongkhag to link community resources with the market.
Ugen Tshechup said, “The chamber plans to classify the top three or four products that would best grow and make commercial sense in that district,” he added.
The chamber he said will not just help the rural people grow a crop but shall facilitate them all the way till it reaches an end consumer. “We are going to not just help them grow the crops but help them also find a partner if necessary and then sell their products so that they can improve their income,” Ugen Tshechup said.
BCCI will also conduct studies on access to potential markets. “Among other factors, the driving distance or if goods might perish on the way will be considered to identify what will be the best for that district and once we have done that we will have meetings with all relevant government agencies,” the president said.
He revealed that the chamber upon completion of the resource mapping shall draft a plan or project for each Dzongkhag on the above lines.
Ugen Tshechup said “in 2013 we are hoping that we will be able to do an extensive tour and the remaining two years, 2014 and 2015 will be used as implementation phase of what studies and researches has shown would be the best for the Dzongkhags.”
He said to address the business issues BCCI will take advantage of their strengths and understand their weaknesses.
Some of the most important indicators to do business were maximum profits with the utilized time, proximity to market, cost of transportation and demand of the product.
Dzongkhags with hydropower projects
The president said the first three visited Dzongkhags, Trongsa, Zhemgang and Sarpang could benefit from the Hydropower projects that were coming up in their Dzongkhags.
However, he said there should be an opportunity for the people of those Dzongkhags to benefit directly in all the areas that local people were capable of taking up.
“The message we wanted to pass to different Dzongkhags is that they have to now start speaking to the Dzongkhag administrations, GYT, DYT and insist that the Dzongkhag should have benefits from the projects that are coming up in their own districts,” he said.
Ugen Tshechup said “during construction period, you have towns booming with the influx of laborers and increased demand but that is short term and there aren’t any direct benefits for the locals. We don’t want ghost towns to come up,” he added.
“When you talk about hydropower, it’s about billions of investments in that particular region but at the end of the day if most of it is going to go back or being paid to a foreign contractor what is the benefit that is being left behind for the people there? The only thing left behind would be the hydro project itself which is beneficial to the government but not to the people directly. The message is clear that the BCCI and the people in the different Dzongkhags need to insure that the benefits of the hydropower projects are also given to the people living in that area,” he said.
Samtse missing out on mining
Ugen Tshechup, at the familiarization meeting in Samtse urged that the Dzongkhag to go back on their decision to ban mining in their Dzongkhag.
The decision to stop mining in Samtse was decided in 2010 following corruption and illegal practices.
Ugyen Tsechup said the Dzongkhag is poor, compared to other districts, going by the population under the poverty line. “Each Dzongkhag needs to know what their strength is. Be it in cash crops, services or industries. In Samtse one of the strengths is mining. The district had the environment for mining, and was the best place to establish industrial estates, since it shared a border with the Indian state of West Bengal and is the closest to the major Indian towns or rail heads. It means they can reach markets easier and cheaper than most Bhutanese towns.”
He said the chamber will ensure that policies and regulations are put in place properly so that corruption shall not exist in the industry.
BCCI officials and Ugen Tshechup also clarified that some local media had portrayed the chamber’s genuine objectives in a negative manner.
“We urged the local businessmen there to open up mining for their own benefits. 70 percent of proponents should be local companies or consortiums from within the Dzongkhag and if they do not have enough funds they can involve others who have the potential,” BCCI secretary general Phub Tshering said.
While Ugen Tshechup said environment concerns are paramount and cannot be compromised he also noted that “any place where economic activities grow, the particular place grows and rural people in the area will prosper.”
Ugen Tshechup during his tour to the district also said that several Ferro silicon companies, a beer factory and a coffee factory are still awaiting approval to start business in Samtse.
However, there is no place and it has been disallowed. It would benefit the people of Samtse only if it was allowed, he said.
He said the feedback from the business community in Samtse has been positive. “If the chamber gives them the support they are willing to reconsider their earlier decision.”
Meeting with MAJ
During his visit to Chukha Dzongkhag, Ugen Tshechup accompanied by few BCCI office bearers met with the executive members of the Merchants association of Jaigaon (MAJ), India.
The two sides decided to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) soon to help ease the process of solving various issues. The president said BCCI is looking at resolving a lot of issues internally.
“There are a host of issues along the border towns faced by both sides. We thought the best way to address this issue was to sign a MoU with their association whereby grievances of the Indian business people involving Bhutanese businessmen will be forwarded by the MAJ to BCCI and grievances of Bhutanese businessmen will be addressed through MAJ by the chamber.”
Of the many issues, problems with regard to townships, LPG cylinders and taxation emerged to be the three major ones faced by business communities.
During their visits, the president’s entourage firstly found the need to expedite the approval of new townships like expansion plans in Trongsa and re-location of Sarpang.
“Almost all the business communities we met had issues pertaining to town expansion and allocations still not being finalized,” Ugen Tshechup said.
Another serious concern was with regard to the commercial LPG cylinders. Ever since the Department of Trade under the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) launched the 19 kilo Bhutan industrial gas (BIG) gas cylinders, hoteliers started to complain about its price.
Previously, it cost Nu 491 to refill a 14.5 liter gas cylinder but it costs Nu 2,025 to refill the 19 liter cylinder. “It doesn’t last four times as much as the domestic cylinders. This is especially for the border towns that face stiff competition from Indian border towns in terms of food price.” Ugen Tshechup said.
Lack of proper taxation on small businesses in rural places was also cited by a few business communities. “Lot of people in the smaller towns that we visited does not have the accountancy background to keep written accounts. Revenue and custom officials just come into their shops and looking at the stock charges them a tax on an ad-hoc basis and the tax regardless of whether it is a good year or a bad year, the tax just keeps going up every year,” the president said.
If given the green signal by ECB, the president’s entourage will visit eastern Dzongkhags starting next month and gradually cover the northern parts. “We will be visiting all the business communities for it is necessary to understand their issues and also to study the economy in each Dzongkhag which will facilitate the resource mapping,” Ugen Tshechup said.