Government of Bhutan invited Benninger, says PRO

The representative for Christopher Benninger defended the legality and legitimacy of the Indian-American architect on grounds that the government of Bhutan invited the ‘unregistered foreign consultant’ to design the new Pemagatshel dzong.

In an e-mailed response to The Bhutanese, Benninger’s Public Relations Officer (PRO), Ramprasad Akkisetti said they were not aware of  any mandatory registrations of firms with Construction Developmental Board (CDB).

“We have been invited by the Government of Bhutan through a letter, which does not mention any such registration or clauses for being shortlisted to design the Pemagatshel Dzong. I am sure the Government that has invited the architects is aware of the processes,” said the PRO.

He said consultancy firms and architects must take interest to compete in the design of the Dzong, rather than being worried about some fulfillment of registration process, which would not necessarily lead to best architectural design.

“It is obvious that a learned panel of jury will select the architect based on the design and not on registration in the CDB,” he said. “Christopher had never applied to design National Secretariat complex, the Supreme Court, the Tshechu Ground or even the Pemagatshel Dzong.”

The letter states: “In fact the Government of Bhutan had invited him to make a proposal for the Thimphu Structure Plan and to enter the competition for the upper house of Parliament.”

The PRO said despite being a foreign consultant, he won from a jury of all Bhutanese architects in the Ministry of Works and Human Settlements (MoWHS).

The letter highlighted, when Benninger and Thimphu urban planner Geley Norbu were worked on the Thimphu Structure Plan, he felt the need for a qualified professional architect to sign the plans.

Therefore the Memorandum of Association and Rules and Regulations for the Bhutan Institute of Architects (BIA) was drafted. After the formation of Institute, Christopher Beginner’s application was rejected, although many other foreign architects were admitted.

“It seems there was a great deal of jealously over Christopher’s selection for the National Secretariat complex,” Ramprasad Akkisetti said.

He said this paper should ask the BIA President Dorji Yangki, why she is ardent on keeping Christopher from working in Bhutan when Rajni Chavada a British architect of India origin, does the same work in Bhutan?

He said BIA can always accept Benninger’s membership to an organization he was involved in initiating, and then he can be recognized by the board.

However the architects from BIA said they didn’t receive any response from department of culture under Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs (MoHCA) till date.

“We are giving some time to the department as fire in Wangduephodrang Dzong, left the nation in turmoil,” said the architect from BIA.

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26 comments

  1. I think the focus of this article is off. Benninger is not at fault for being invited by the govt. the govt has to explain why they are inviting a specific foreign architect when the rules require either registered bhutanese architects, or for really complex projects, an open competition for ALL foreign architects. Benninger is a single foreign architect competing among locals and this is an illegal mix. He is getting really special treatment by the government and that needs to be explained.

    The rules of procurement do not belong to the architect association, it belongs to the finance ministry and trade ministry. 

    The other issue is also of how he is being given works without proper tendering like the Secretariat building works and the thimhu city plan.

    The difference between benninger and others like rajni chavda is that the latter is like a teacher coming to teach in a bhutanese school. Benninger is like a teacher who wants to own the school itself. That is not allowed, so the comparison is a silly one.

  2. Because Bhutanese architects cannot design such complex houses. It is simple. You cannot fight against knowledge based on registration process. You have to outsmart Beninger by designing better. Government cannot afford to make Bhutanese architects play on such important buildings. Prove it by design. Don’t fight on procedural lapses. That is pathetic.

    • Sonam,
      you’re climbing up the wrong tree. The correct tree is called the national Procurement Manual which specifies how to recruit non-national firms or suppliers. What is shocking in this case is that they are doing a national competitive bidding and suspiciously  including a pre-selected non-national firm.

      If quality is so important and it is recognized to not exist in Bhutan, then there should be International Competitive Bidding. Is that too much to expect?

      It does not relate just to architects and designs. What about the shady contract given directly to  McKinsey for $14m? The same issue applies. If you don’t make a noise now then you are helping to set a very poor precedent for future governments or (god help us) for the DPT if they get re-elected.

    • Sonam, Bhutanese tends to forget things very soon. Back in early year 2000, every leader had criticized the Design of the New Chukha Dzong designed by our own local consulting firm “Druk Heritage”. Today everyone boasts what an unique, iconic and magnificent  the new Dzong is presented to the people of Bhutan. If the same huge consultancy fee paid to  Benninger is paid to our firms, where our firms’ quotes are minimum and designs are much better and detailed. Better to give to the works to our firms then drain out the Rupee.

    • Sonam, I dont think you are a Bhutanese!
      We all know that every dzong here in Bhutan was done by Bhutanese for many centuries! How can you say we bhutanese cannnot design our own dzongs? 🙂

  3. Sonam
    your comments are self-insulting. People understand you are not an architect, you understand you are a small fish in big ocean, it will take some time and sincere dedication, i am not an architect either but come to me with a laptop i will make you an efficient designer, you will need your brain for mathematics alone, and creativity for aesthetic, space management.
    How comes a foreigner will know what choesam is, or our traditional designs of windows, doors, and pillars and beams better than a Bhutanese. This cannot be done with good mathematics, its our innate culture and letting a foreigner design Dzong would less interesting because he will miss many thing of our cultural scenery.
    Designing a city is a easy job, incorporating traditional designs is difficult. He may do well with symmetry, ratio (including golden ratio) squaring a circle, but i cant imagine a slanting wall in foreigners head, that is our uniqueness, if we miss it we miss our ancient designs. Please understand CAD( computer aided design) software work equally with Bhutanese’s hand as it does on foreigners’, but remember Bhutan is Bhutan not just by geographical territories but also by architecture.

  4. It is interesting how the Foreign firm of Mr Cristopher gives no significance to rules and regulations of a sovereign country- (QUOTE ” He said consultancy firms and architects must take interest to compete in the design of the Dzong, rather than being worried about some fulfillment of registration process,…..”).
    Does he mean that we should not follow any rules and regulations made by the government!!!! How arrogant and insulting to us Bhutanese!!!! Also – how ironic is it that we Bhutanese have always managed to design our own dzongs which are symbolically and historically important to our identity as Bhutanese and now the foreign firms and the present government has no more confidence in the capability in the Bhutanese to even design a Dzong even after all the local architects are trained in some of the best universities and have also worked successfully in many projects in Bhutan. I guess the very ministry that is there to uphold our traditions and history wants to change the historical importance of us Bhutanese and take away the symbolic association of Dzong to Bhutanese??? Otherwise why is no confidence in Bhutanese even after all dzongs standing so far in country are done by Bhutanese??? Are we Bhutanese so pathetic in the eyes of the government and Mr Christopher that we now are no longer even capable of designing our own dzongs which we have so proudly did before?? Also did BIA make the rules of profcurement or is Construction Development Board under BIA ? I dont think so. The rules and regulations were not made by BIA but government and now when local firms who have dutifully abided by all rules and regualations made by CDB, Minsitry of Finance and Ministry of Works and human settlements – all under the govrnment – ask to abide by the rules, they don’t apply any more. So the solution is – why dnt we get rid of all rules and regulations then if they dont apply and have all things done in Bhutan free for everyone in the world to take over … That looks like what the firm of mr cristopher or ministy seems to want…

  5. Also… in continuation… I am interested as a bhutanese to hear what CDB and ministry of Finance and Minister of Works and Human Settlements has to say about not following our own rules and regulations… that will be interesting…..I have a child studying to be an architect… what is there future here in bhutan for my child… perhaps if government has no confidence in bhutanese my child will have no job here…. maybe she should find work in India then…maybe Mr chistopher will give her a job as he seems to be the one govrnment favours since he is getting special invitation by them??? I hope not…

  6. Interesting topic.. sorry la but I am confused. With one breath, Benninger’s Public Relations Officer (PRO), Ramprasad Akkisetti said “they were not aware of any mandatory registrations of firms with Construction Developmental Board (CDB)” and with anothr he claims that it was his boss set up rules and regualtions for architects in Bhutan. That contradicts things… how can one claim to make rules for architects and then also claim they are not aware of other rules regarding architects…. is this a lame excuse by a firm that they are not aware of rules of their own profession in a foreign country- looks like if they dont even make them self aware of the rules in a country then they must be not so smart! 🙂 . Are bhutanese architects jealous of benninger? maybe. I dont know about other people, but I think i will sure be very jealous of a firm from outside that does not need to follow any regualtions, that does not need to know any regualtions and gets selected without following rules and regualtions by our government. How very previlieged! The firm must be fantastic? What are the fantastic building that they have done in Bhutan? I would like to go and see the great architecture.

  7. Dorji Yangki President, BIA, Bhutan

    Although this particular article by The Bhutanese has quotes from “several architects of BIA” or “the architect from BIA”, I was not contacted for this article. I am assuming that the architects mentioned are from private firms who also happen to be members of BIA. They, of course, have every right to have their say too. I do not have a Public Relations Officer (PRO) to answer for me and therefore, since my professional conduct is questioned unfairly in a negative way in the article and The Bhutanese did not bother to even contact me on this baseless accusation I would like to take the opportunity to write here if I may:
    1) With regard to forming the BIA, contrary to what anyone would like to nicely claim, the local association was initiated and formed by local architects of Bhutan. Besides other senior Bhutanese architects, I was among the founding members and I have never met or discussed forming the BIA with Mr. Benninger or any other Indian or American architect. The only time I have ever even seen Mr. Benninger has been during a presentation he made on the Thimphu Structural Plan many years ago. Apart from that, I have never interacted with or met Mr. Benninger.
    2) The BIA was initially formed for the Bhutanese by the local architects with the intention to bring together Bhutanese architects with the aim to develop high standards of ethical professional conduct among architects. Professional ethical conduct includes prevention of fronting for projects one has not worked on or supervised especially when the work is carried out by those not legally allowed to carry out services in Bhutan regardless of which country they come from or how competent they are.
    3) In the article Mr. Ramprasad states that “consultancy firms and architects must take interest to compete in the design of the Dzong, rather than being worried about some fulfillment of registration process, which would not necessarily lead to best architectural design”. Such a remark is disturbing to law abiding Bhutanese citizens. Surely one can “take interest to compete in the design” while also abiding by lawful rules of a country?
    4) The local firms of Bhutan, like any other licensed business abide by the rules set by the country. If the rules apply to local firms, surely the rules would also consequently automatically apply to others too. All Bhutanese firms have abided by these laws and regulations set by CDB, the Procurement Manual and the Government of Bhutan and those local firms that have not done so have been disqualified in the past. Only CDB registered firms are allowed to bid for government projects as per the regulations set by the government. This regulation is also clearly given in the website of the CDB. It states “All Ministries, Departments and Dzongkhag administrations and their procuring agencies shall use only consulting firms or individual consultants who are registered with CDB”.
    5) In the article Mr. Ramprasad mentioned that “It seems there was a great deal of jealously over Christopher’s selection for the National Secretariat complex”. Such an attitude towards local architects is fairly self-indulgent in such an important context. The BIA has every confidence in our local Bhutanese people. Just to get their first degree, local architects study very hard for 5 long years, they have professional qualifications from some of the finest universities in the world and have worked successfully in many large and complicated projects in Bhutan over the past 20 years. Local architectural firms consist not just of architects, but also civil engineers, electrical engineers, quantity surveyors, draftspeople, drivers, assistants, administration staff, accounting staff, site managers, craftspeople, etc and, ultimately, like all Bhutanese, we all work hard to provide for our families, children and relatives.
    6) According to The Bhutanese, Mr. Ramprasad has asked why the President of the BIA “is ardent on keeping Christopher from working in Bhutan when Rajni Chavada a British architect of Indian origin, does the same work in Bhutan”. This comment by Mr. Ramprasad is misleading and lacks of any legitimacy; it is an attack on my professional ethics and conduct. As a President who is not self appointed but elected by my peers, my first and foremost duty has always been for local Bhutanese. Neither the BIA nor I have ever created any favorable context (or for that matter any conditions at all) for any foreign individual or firm over another foreign firm or foreign individual. Please kindly present evidence and facts on how and when I have done this. Moreover, Mr. Ramprasad does not seem to know the context in Bhutan- I thank him for assuming that I have such strong powers but the BIA President does not enjoy such powers of authority to allow any foreign firm or individual to work in Bhutan or have the power to select which foreign firm or foreign consultant can work or not work in Bhutan. We are just local architects who have come together to abide by fair and ethical professional standards of conduct. We also abide by the laws and rules of the land. The BIA does not create them. Some of those laws and rules governing foreign workers or foreign entities in the country are the Labour Act, the CDB regulations for consultancy, the licensing regulations of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Procurement Manual of the Ministry of Finance for bidding process besides the other laws of the land.
    7) Lastly, I would like to add that in my professional life as an Architect (which spans over 16 years), I have held ethical conduct and professionalism highest above all else – every time even at the expense of my own advancement, and promotions. Any misleading or untruthful inference on my professional ethics without any grounds for it is not just slander but since it is stated concretely in a newspaper is a very grievous “Libel” to my professional reputation. At the moment, I am seriously considering taking this baseless defamation of my professional conduct by Mr. Ramprasad in this article to the Courts of the law. One thing I will not tolerate from anyone are questions of my professional ethics and professional conduct especially since I have fought all my life, against many odds, to uphold them.

    • To President of BIA..
      I appreciate you for being honest and for holding professionalism above all. Now, being a responsible president, I expect you to answer the following queries for the general benefit of all.

      1. When the government took on the insensitive decision of allowing attic – which is an architectural disaster – why the BIA was silent?

      2. Why almost all architect works has to be be reserved for only professional Architects. The present rule in rein is that no one is allowed to practice architect be it simple buildings, walls, any structures. Going by the simplicity of Bhutanese building, a housewife can design and draw the buildings. Why’s there need to do only be professional architects?

      3. Since the government does not allow anyone other than registered architects to sign on building drawings, there’ve been lots of undesirable practices going on in the market; the drawings were prepared by some else and are signed by architects at a cost of huge payment. The actual designer are forced to remain concealed. The reason is that given the only handful of architects in the market, it made impossible to the owners to get a designers while on the other hand the design works are not so complicated so as to be given to architects which involve huge cost.

      4. In other words is BIA not terrorizing the country for ransom?

      Please respond to the above points if you think that you are doing the best for the country..

      Not hard feelings… please!

      • I don’t for a second doubt the sincerity and honesty of the BIA President and as far as Benninger and his firm are concerned they too need to fulfill all requirements laid down by the relevant authorities to be awarded any projects in Bhutan, Having said this, I too have heard of many instances whereby contractors just use the services of registered architects to sign drawing done by a third person so as to cut costs. 

        • Dorji Yangki, President, BIA

          @ the monk. Your comments are appreciated.
          In the past, the BIA has reprimanded certain architects for such related unethical conduct when it has come to our notice. Anyone who has evidence or even just “hearsay” about any registered architects signing for work they have not done or supervised, please kindly let the BIA know. We maintain the confidentiality of those reporting such practices. Of course, we expect those who report to do so in a sincere honest way.
          Furthermore, they can also approach the Construction Development Board who is the ultimate authority on registration of architects and also contractors. The other authority to approach is the ACC as such practices are akin to fronting and fraud.
          As I mentioned before, one of the main reasons why the BIA was formed by the members was to ensure ethical professional conduct. This means prevention of fronting or signing architectural work that is not done or supervised by that particular architect. Signing any work is also very serious as the architect takes on the technical professional liability for the work.

      • Penden, I don’t think you will find a single country in the world where a housewife will be allowed to design and approve building designs, no matter how simple. Your claim is simply ridiculous.

        By your logic, the rcsc exam should be scrapped because going on tours and attending meetings can be done even non graduates in the civil service. 

        Professional licensing (not trade licenses) is a method of raising standards. You’re talking about having equity at the cost of quality. That’s never good.

      • It looks like mr Penden wants to become an architect without putting in the hard work of studying for 5 years to become one! nice one! tha ha ha Of course before even the 5 years of degree, a student has to also be one of the good students in science in class 12 to qualify to study. I am sure drawing a house and signing to take professional technical liability of architect or engineer cannot be compared

    • Against my expectation, the so called professionals have somehow proved otherwise by submitting childish arguments. Nevertheless, i wouldn’t respond to those insensible comments. As a concerned citizen, i am very much worried what is happening in our country and it’s just that i exercise my right to say.

      Madam President, thank you for your immediate respond. BIA being a responsible association, like many citizens, i was of the view that the BIA could have saved the attic proposition had it put a little effort (as there’s no qualified institution to challenge the government). Now due to this rule, it has brought irreparable damages to the aesthetics of the traditional buildings in Bhutan. I am aware about the Thimphu Thromde going ahead with the ‘additional storey’ instead of attic but in the absence of written rule, most towns in Bhutan still continue with the attic constructions.

      Secondly, I was of the view that the rule for ‘mandatory design by registered architects’ was moved by BIA. Still, if BIA acknowledges what I have pointed out, BIA can put up the proposal to the government for amendment. It’s not that i am challenging the profession or for that matter their professional works. What I am referring to is ‘why do we need a gun to kill a mouse’. I am talking of small buildings and structures which don’t require analytical and logical thinking. It would be easily designed by a civil engineer or someone who have background of civil engineering. As per the present rule, the total architectural works is absolutely reserved for professional architects. Seriously, the architects available for service are on the finger tips while the demands in the market considering the length and breadth of the country are huge. This is no kidding. As a result, the designs are prepared by someone else and are signed by architects which cost not less than Nu. 20,000 per drawing leading to inflated cost. It’s definitely unprofessional and it is a serious issue to be discussed.

      Let me clarify the last point raised. I was of the view that the rule in force about the mandatory requirement of design by professional architects was framed by BIA. Through this angle it appears that the rule is biased meaning rule was framed to the advantage of Association’s members without considering the ground realities. If that was not the case, it may be treated null and void.

      We Bhutanese have the habit of emphasizing on standards and go on framing rules setting higher criteria. It remains only in theory and there’s no or less results yielded practically. Instead, it poses difficulties to the general public. .. peace!

      • Dorji Yangki, President, BIA

        @ Penden. you concerns are appreciated and noted. However, I think your concerns are too serious and lengthy to discuss in a comments page under an article which is not related to your concerns. I am happy to discuss and try to address any issues with an open mind with you or any one. However, I think it is only right that it is done face to face as that creates less misunderstanding since I have no idea who you are while I have given my identity openly. This unbalanced cloak and dagger exchange is not a fair situation among citizens who are both “concerned” about what goes on in our country. My telephone number is 17946075. You or anyone is welcome to call me and arrange to meet to discuss and address any issues with an open heart and mind.
        Just to reassure you on your attics concern- with a little research you will find that attics are very much part of our traditional architecture both in terms of aesthetics and functionality. Some examples are the beautifully painted attics of Wangduecholing Dzong. The Semtokha Dzong also has some nice living attic spaces. However, the ugly attics on modern buildings are another matter. Also to reassure you – the local architects did put in several concerns both for the attic and the extra floor recently approved in the several meetings with the concerned government offices. However, ultimately, as it is with most things, it is the call and authority of the Government to make the final decision.

        I look forward to hearing from you. As I wrote, I am happy to discuss things with an open mind and heart without any “hard feelings” as you have put it.

  8. haha. Child ur arguments are really childish

  9. What is the purpose of this article? Thinley Wangmo needs to do some research before publishing such article as a news item.  Your article to me seems like defending Benninger outrightly capturing only what his PRO has to say.  I know Dorji Yangki for her principles and integrity.  What a baseless remark from his PRO that she is ardent about rejecting Benninger and accepting other foreign Architects! How can a national newspaper entertain such baseless quotes.  Your unprofessional reporting should not tarnish an individual.  This is appalling!   

  10. scrap the pema gatshel dzong ask cristopher to redesign the wangdi phodrang dzong.

  11. I am not an architect but I am very disturbed by Penden’s questions especially the insider story stated in point 3. The statement ‘not so complicated so as to be given to architects which involve huge cost’  is contemptuous. It is an insult to any profession so to speak for the legal right to be compensated accordingly. I cannot imagine a day where I will be replaced by a housewife just because she happens to know the things I know, and I am regarded as overcharging?

    Personally, I do not think Dorji Yangki owes anyone any further explanation- unless questions are raised on professional grounds and is congruent with the subject matter.

  12. The status quo due to architect certificates is not a dominant criterion for willing contracts; but creativity, innovation, imagination, value for money, transparency, competition and the proof of their applications for making lives better are the dominant criteria in contract bidding and winning contracts. So, members of BIA or BIA should show the proofs of delivering services above global standards and competitors rather than waving academic certificate guns. The Wild West is no more anymore in any market. Market likes those who can deliver what customers want and can provide what they want.

    Any processes are required by a rule to achieve best result. If processes which set due to rules do not lead to optimum results, or even close to a result, processes and rules are discarded. New system takes over for achieving results. If new systems do not take over, make a shift, the consequence of the absence of conscientious effort s to shift the system is low production, perpetual poverty, low economic development, and the vicious cycle of hard times continues without any break.

    I think, instead of complaining, people should learn, create, build, develop and then take over. The nature of the market today has transformed in a way where if you cannot lead, you follow; if you cannot follow, get out of the way.
    Competition must be a rule to develop Bhutan; else we will continue to be like a prisoner in a prison cell wishing for a beautiful life outside the cell.
    Cheers.

    • kg – yes i think no one disagrees with creating competition. But even within competitions there are honourable rules to abide by especially in professional competitions. The point is whether competition is created with equatity or one party is given undue preference that they dont deserve. This is not a free for all world- we abide by honour and fairness. Your comments seem to suggest that it should just be free for all to do what ever. Such a world is known as a corrupt one!

  13. I thank the BIA president for taking the discussion seriously even though my subject of discussion is out of topic. An official once threw a tantrum when i was trying to discuss openly on some issues which was of important for a professional conduct. ‘You are crossing the limit,’ was the response from the official. I simply couldn’t do anything except to retreat myself. For this reason, it has become like a phobic to discuss openly with an official to discuss the matter of national importance. Anyway, thank you all to the netizens for your responses..     

    • Penden, be thankful that Dorji Yangki has politely responded to your off topic query and openly given her phone number for an open discussion.  From the way you have written, you seem to be really going off topic and probably  you got reprimanded for going off topic from your officer then. You are crossing the limit now by harping here despite getting the phone number; I don’t see any reason why you have to retreat when you have been given an access very kindly! People like you who go off topic and say things without research should retreat for the best interest of the nation. No hard feelings…please! 

  14. This article is dominated by BIA President and Penden when the real issue is about lack of enforcement of Government Rules. As a Citizen of Bhutan, I feel ashamed of the Country folks for they do not know which agency is responsible for what. For the information of readers in particular and Country folks in general I would like to urge that Public Procurement Policy Division (PPPD) which was established under MoF in August 2007 is the custodian of Procurement Rules and Regulations therefore, any credit or blame should go to PPPD and not to the CDB and MoWHS. I have even witness in the Parliament session that even our Hon’bel MP’s gave credit to MoWHS for coming up with the existing public procurement rules and the His Excellency Finance Minister was dumb without having slightest intention to clarify it and so the Country folks take it like that. In reality, a handful of people have really suffered a lot in bringing the existing public procurement rules to this status and not much support from the government has been received to strengthen this division even after almost 5 years of its existence.  This PPPD under MoF was borne malnourish – was malnourish for the last 4 years and will remain malnourish in future and so is the enforcement of Public Procurement Rules. 
    So MoF wake up – Country folks don’t know the existence of PPPD and PPPD is now painfully dying with malnutrition right in front of your nose. Strengthen PPPD or close up the Office so that people like Benninger can enjoy the resources of nation which belong to every single citizen.  

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