The Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) has written to the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SAARC CCI) saying that BCCI might consider withdrawing from SAARC CCI if Bhutan’s BCCI is not given its rightful turn to be the President for 2020 to 2021.
This letter sent on 5th June was sparked off after it became clear that though it is Bhutan’s turn after Sri Lanka (2019-20) to be the President of SAARC CCI on a rotating basis, this was abruptly interrupted with the SAARC CCI agreeing to Pakistan’s candidature bypassing Bhutan.
From all indications so far it appears that the SAARC CCI Secretariat which is based in Islamabad, Pakistan has acted in tandem with the The Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) to get an out of turn third term for FPCCI.
This is even while Bhutan has just had one term so far and was in line to get a second term.
BCCI officials explained that during the first Presidential cycle it was agreed that the first President would be elected which was Pakistan (1994-95) and after that the Presidency would rotate among the countries for two years each in an alphabetical order.
However, when Bhutan’s turn came in the first cycle, it was not ready to take up its turn and so gave up its turn with the agreement that it would take up its turn at the end of first cycle after Sri Lanka, which Bhutan did.
In the second cycle starting from 2008, though Bhutan was among those who proposed going back to the SAARC CCI Constitution of following the alphabetical order, this was not approved by the General Assembly and it was decided that the same first round trend of Presidential cycle would be followed.
As per this system Pakistan again took over as the first President from 2008-2009 and Bhutan did not get its alphabetical turn after Bangladesh but was expected to get its turn after Sri Lanka towards the end.
However, in March 2018 the SAARC CCI executive meeting proposed that the alphabetical order be resorted to again as per the Constitution.
The SAARC CCI, it seems, immediately accepted the idea without consulting Bhutan and thus paved the way for Pakistan to become the next President after Sri Lanka ensuring three terms for Pakistan while Bhutan has had only one turn.
In line with this the FPCCI of Pakistan immediately went about nominating Pakistani businessman Iftikhar Ali Malik as the SAARC CCI Vice President for 2018-2019 which means that he is in place to become the President in 2020-21 once Sri Lanka’s turn ends.
A BCCI official said that a major force behind this move to deny Bhutan it’s rightful chance is Iftikhar Ali Malik himself, who is an influential and well connected businessman in Pakistan.
The Bhutanese came across Pakistani news reports of even the current Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain congratulating Iftikhar saying that Iftikhar’s elevation is an honor for Pakistan.
BCCI came to know about its lost turn and Iftikhar Ali Malik’s elevation only through a WhatsApp group message where some other member countries were congratulating Iftikhar.
Without losing time the BCCI in 16th April 2018 sent a letter to the current President of SAARC CCI from Sri Lanka, Ruwan Edirisinghe.
The letter informed the President that Bhutan is readying to take over the Presidency of SAARC CCI from 2020-21. It requested the President to continue with the present trend of appointment of the President of SAARC CCI till the SAARC members complete their turn for the post.
The letter also informed that all SAARC countries have taken up tw0 terms each, except for Bhutan and Maldives. It requested that SAARC CCI give due importance to Bhutan to finish its term before moving to the alphabetical order.
On May 3rd without even acknowledging the previous letter sent by BCCI, Hina Saeed the Secretary General of SAARC CCI quoted the SAARC CCI Constitution to say that Pakistan was next in line after Sri Lanka (based on the alphabetical order.)
The letter also declared that Iftikhar Ali Malik as the SAARC CCI Vice President for 2018-19 meaning that he will be the President in 2020-21.
Another letter from BCCI was sent on 14th May, this time to the Secretary General of SAARC CCI, Hina Saeed. The letter clearly explained the background of the whole issue and why it is Bhutan’s turn after Sri Lanka and not Pakistan.
The BCCI said SAARC CCI should function for regional prosperity, cooperation and collaboration and should not be limited to the interest of a few countries.
The BCCI asked for a re-discussion on the issue so that a fair and just decision is made by the SAARC CCI.
In a telephonic interview with The Bhutanese, Hina Saeed said, “SAARC is made up of eight countries and each country is equally important. We are going by the Constitution where the order of the Presidency is stated.”
She said that Bhutan is equally important as any other country.
However, Hina did not answer the question as to why the ‘Constitution’ was not applied from beginning of the second round which would have meant that Bhutan would have got its turn after Bangladesh and why the Constitution was suddenly being introduced when it is Bhutan’s turn. She also did not answer on if it is fair that Pakistan get’s three terms at the cost of Bhutan which has had only one term. Hina Saeed only kept paying homilies to the importance of SAARC and SAARC CCI without giving any concrete reply to the questions.
BCCI will await a reply to the letter sent on 5th June threatening a pullout before taking any future course of action.
BCCI also plans to consult the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the protocol and diplomatic aspects.
The website of SAARC CCI says that though SAARC was established in 1985 it avoided including core economic issues in its program, but in consequence of a desire for having a SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the SAARC Secretariat commissioned a study on Trade, Manufactures and Services in 1988.
The study was completed in 1991 and was concluded with a strong endorsement towards establishing a SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry so as to bring about improvement in the business environment, disseminate information about potential tradable goods and identify joint ventures in the SAARC region.
After the directive of SAARC Secretariat, SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry, assisted by the respective countries business chambers, submitted its draft constitution to the SAARC Secretariat and received its approval in December 1992. This signified the official recognition of the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SAARC CCI) by all the national governments of SAARC as the apex body of all the National Federations of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of SAARC.
Its current members are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
The constitution of SAARC CCI designates Pakistan as the Permanent Secretariat of SAARC with a Secretary General to be the Chief Executive Officer of the Secretariat.
The objectives of SAARC CCI are to encourage intra regional trade, service, Industry, small and medium enterprises, agriculture, through creating strong business linkages amongst the entrepreneurs of the region of South Asia.
It aims to make recommendations to safeguard the economic and business interests of the SAARC and serve as a consultative body of the private sector of the region to provide input and feedback on regional economic issues.
Its objective is to encourage member countries to accord preferential terms of trade to each other and finally strive towards the gradual realization of the SAARC Economic and Monetary Union.
It aims to promote the exchange of commercial, technical, industrial management and scientific information, education and know-how amongst its members and collate, collect and disseminate statistical data and joint research and development among the SAARC Member Countries.
During SAARC summits the SAARC CCI can present reports to the SAARC heads.
It also serves as a south Asian networking platform for business houses.