Importers and traders in the country are facing various challenges in order to import their consignment from damages to delays, and now they complain about having to pay illegal extra charges or commission to bring in their consignment from Phuentsholing on time.
This illegal commission which has now become like an informal extortion and bribery racket is paid to loaders using online payment apps to get their goods unloaded and to drivers in cash for getting their goods up on time.
This is above what the importers and traders are already paying for the official unloading and transport of goods.
For those who are doing small businesses, it has become next to impossible to do business in such a situation as they have to incur losses and pay such under the table extra charges to import things, they shared.
They said that they have been paying commission to loaders so as to transit their consignments at the earliest.
Better to pay or else
They said it is better to pay few extra thousands and get their consignment rather than keeping it in queue for many days paying high demurrage charges and taking risk of damage.
Demurrage charges are equivalent to parking fees but are much higher and collected by the government from the Mini Dry Port and Thromde Truck Parking to ensure that trucks do not occupy the space for too long.
For those who refuse to pay extra, their consignment stays out for a number of days unattended with a lot of damage. The traders have also complained of missing items from their consignments when it reaches to Thimphu, though they are not sure when and how items go missing.
Daylight robbery and modus operandi
In some incidents, the importers, especially those who run small shops pay cash of Nu 2,500 to 3,000 extra to drivers upon delivering their consignments only so that they can get their consignments on time. This is after paying off the loaders using the online apps. This is no less than daylight robbery, says importers.
The owner of one of the biggest marts in Thimphu who did not want to be named for fear of retribution said, “We know the government is doing their best to make everything easy but everything was hectic as we have four to five trucks coming in everyday with a consignment.”
The consignment sometimes gets stuck for three to four days due to labor shortage. He said that in the past, they used to pay the loading charges to the labor agent directly as per the rules, however, now the loaders don’t carry out things on first come first serve basis like before.
Priorities are given to those vehicles with less consignment and those who pay them extra money under the table or in this case via banking apps. The loaders call them asking for extra charges which they initially resisted, however, they paid them twice as they had no other options to bring in the consignment, he added.
“We have paid Nu 10,700 per day for a consignment from the third country as demurrage charges. The consignment got stuck for two days as they did not want to transship. That is why we had to pay Nu 21,400 in total. Therefore, we thought it was better to pay few extra thousands to the loaders than to pay high demurrage charges. So, we paid the loaders,” he added.
He said that they not only face the issue of damaged goods but they have also found the loss of goods.
“It is fine if they take a bottle or two but they take it in cartons and that too in huge numbers. We do not know how, but it is a loss for us,” he said.
“We informed the agent but they refused saying that everything is under CCTV surveillance. So, we have nowhere else to complain,” he added.
The owner of an enterprise, Dinesh said that the charges at the MDP and truck parking is very high already and moreover, the loaders ask for Nu 2,000 to 3,000 as additional commission to unload their consignments.
“For a DCM truck we paid Nu 12,000 in the past and now it is Nu 18,000. This is becoming way too expensive and having to pay additional commission is unfair to us. However, we have no option then to pay as demanded since we need to bring in our consignment,” he added.
He along with other hardware owners who face the same issues have out up this issue to their Hardware Association of Bhutan (HAB) but they have not heard anything positive from the association.
On the other hand, registering online is another issue whereby sometimes they have to wait for a long time to get the confirmation, he said.
“I have heard people saying they give priority to the vehicles for registration if they have paid some money on the side, but I am not sure as I have not seen anyone doing so far and so it may or may not be true,” he added.
Dinesh said that after paying the commission it would be nice if they are careful while loading but they seem reckless and so their consignments come with damages every time. Danish said as a result they are facing losses.
Jivan, owner of a hardware enterprise said that their consignments get stuck for more than 10 days though they register online and once it reaches the MDP or Thromde truck parking they charge them higher rates from the government set rate.
“It is not fair to charge us a commission to load because we are already paying huge amounts to the agents. Things are getting difficult. When we are charged so high we have to charge our customers as we cannot incur all the losses,” Jivan added.
The loaders ask them to directly deposit the commission in their individual bank accounts and not in the agent’s account.
“We are not sure from where the loaders are getting our numbers because they personally call asking for a commission if we want to load our consignments. There are lapses in the system,” Jivan added.
Thinley who runs a small garment shop in Thimphu said that registering into the system itself was hectic before but with a new system it has become quite convenient and easy.
“Though our dealer from across the border takes care of the charges until the transshipment, we have to bear the charges in the MDP. We are asked to pay extra charges if we want to transit our goods at the earliest,” she added.
She said they have given additional cash to drivers upon reaching Thimphu. “We have no option rather than to pay what they demand and this leads to minimum profit which makes it difficult to sustain,” she added.
Likewise, there are many traders who were impacted by overcharging and for having to pay extra money to even have their consignment reach Thimphu or other places. They hope that the government can look into the lapses.
DRC asks for written complaint
Meanwhile, Anup Kumar Rai, Regional Director of Department of Revenue and Custom (DRC), Phuentsholing said that though they have received many complaints verbally on loaders asking for commission and for charging extra, they did not get anything in written.
He said, “We have asked them to give us in writing and to provide us evidence of paying extra, but no one has come forward. However, the traders themselves are giving everyone a chance to take advantage of a situation whereby they seem to be paying extra charges to get their work done at the earliest. So, they seem to be getting used to it.”
He also said that Bhutanese people are giving people from across the border a chance to take advantage of a situation by letting them register for them online to send their consignment.
“DRC has notified traders stating not to deal directly with loaders and drivers on any financial matter, however, they seem to be doing it. Moreover, there is an issue of loss and damages of the goods,” he said.
The DRC RD said that he had heard of drivers taking advantage of the situation and charging extra money while delivering the consignment. He said in one incident he knows of, some goods were missing when it reached Thimphu but a few days later the driver confessed to offloading some it on the way.
Therefore, he said, “We insist everyone to have the money receipt so that we can sort things out if needed.”
He said that they did not have any evidence to say or complain that someone across the border hacked the system. However, now they have revamped the system with various security features. The system was initially handled by Department of Trade but later it was handed over to DRC by the taskforce.
The new system will not allow anyone from across the border to register their vehicle and IT people are working on it to make it more reliable and safer.
MDP manager says traders fault
The Manager of Dhendup Enterprises that runs unloading at the MDP said, “Though the RRCO, Phuentsholing notified the traders that all the transactions in the MDP with regard to transshipment should be dealt directly with us, the traders still deal with drivers and loaders directly.”
“There are many incidents of overcharging for the transshipment and the fault is with the importers and traders,” he added.
He claimed that it is not true that, priority is given to those who offer a commission nor do they make them wait for many days for not paying the commission, he said, adding that the trucks (Indian and Bhutanese) reach late at MDP causing delay and increase in cost.
In addition, he said that they receive many complaints regarding damages and loss of goods. They try to address all the issues irrespective of written or verbal complaints. “There are two transshipment areas, one is ours while the other one is at the truck parking,” he said.
“We were blamed even when the problems were from the truck parking. Most of the goods are damaged while arriving at the MDP and those goods are loaded haphazardly causing the goods to get more damaged during the transportation to Bhutan,” he said.
Truck parking coordinator denies commissions
Sonam Wangchuk who represents a private firm and is the coordinator of transshipment at truck parking shared, “We transit the goods on first-come-first-serve basis and it is not true that they ask for any commission. Everything is charged as per the rate set by the taskforce.”
He said they take pictures of all the damaged goods before the transshipment and misplacing of goods usually happens since many traders bring in their goods in one combination. He said it is not that they keep the lost items. He said they keep receiving minor complaints.
“The delay is caused because the vehicle themselves come late, not because the importers do not want to pay a commission,” he claimed.