BoIC’s perception problem

Though the main focus of the current debate around the Business Information and Opportunity Centre (BoIC) is on its legality, the main heart of the controversy around BoIC is political in nature.

It is this political element that has brought up BoIC before discussions in the Parliament, where even its legality has been challenged.

When the government first set up a committee to study the implementation of BoIC, several obvious issues were not sufficiently looked at.

The first being a clear and unambiguous legal status of BoIC citing specific legal clauses and ensuring there is no space for legal ambiguity. It is this lack of legal clarity that has put BoIC into a controversy over its legal status.

However, legality is a secondary issue to the prime political problem of the BoIC. Political problem here is defined less in terms of party politics and more in terms of the structure and perception of the fund and thereby the unrealistic expectations from it by ordinary citizens.

It is interesting to note that of the Nu 5 bn ESP there was little or no controversy over the Nu 2.1 bn injected into the banks but a huge amount of controversy over the Nu 1.9 bn BoIC fund.

There was no controversy over the 2.1 bn injected into the banks as it was done with a clear purpose and the money went into established Financial Institutions with clear rules and systems.

The problem for BoIC started due to the very nature of the organizational setup with it being in a no man’s land, not falling under the category of Financial Institutions or even under government ministries.

Many also essentially saw the fund as being a ‘Santa Claus’ fund with no collateral and generous terms. Given that it was an election pledge, a lot of people wanted what they saw as their share of the goodies bag.

BoIC soon became an elephant surrounded by the blind with each blind person having his own perception depending on which part of the elephant he was in contact with.

On the other hand BoIC from its very mandate saw itself as a serious financial and funding agency and therefore put in place a series of checks and balances not very different from what banks have. The checks had to be even more stringent given the no collateral aspect of the loans.

Soon eager applicants especially from rural areas found that their proposals in many cases were being rejected by BoIC on sound technical and financial grounds.

Furious that they were not getting their share of the Santa Claus goodies bag the villagers started calling up their MPs both in the National Assembly and National Council for help. This included calling up cabinet ministers as well. Even the local government was not spared as Gups and tshogpas came under pressure from their constituents over access to the fund.

The fact that this happened was testified to by many MPs of both houses who said that they kept getting incessant calls from their constituents for help and were wrongly held accountable when the funds did not get through.

Ordinarily when people don’t get bank loans they do not call up ministers and MPs to complain about it, but given the very structure of BoIC people saw it as the government denying them their fair share.

What they did not realize is that the BoIC saw itself as an important funding agency accountable to get back the collateral free loans it was getting. The BoIC’s flat out refusal to many calls and even visits by politicians trying to help their voters also further fuelled opposition to it across political lines.

In the meantime the higher salaries and perks of the BoIC management and staff infuriated the government bureaucracy who felt that the BoIC staff were mooching of the fund.

With all the developments, the Opposition sensing the ground swell brought up the issue in both the media and the Parliament, putting the government on the defensive.

The NC also took up the issue given also how its own MPs were being questioned by their voters.

The government realizing the above issues has decided to wash its hand off BoIC and in most probability hand it over to the Bhutan Development Bank Limited.

At the end of the day the BoIC episode is an important lesson in knowing that good intentions are not enough and it is important to do one’s homework and manage expectations.

Opinion by Tenzing Lamsang

The Writer is the Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper.

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