Minister of Works and Human Settlement, Lyonpo Dorji Tshering

Lockdown further impacts construction sector

Contractors around the country are facing difficulties due to the pandemic and the lockdown has added to it further, leaving them worried and helpless.

Minister of Works and Human Settlement, Lyonpo Dorji Tshering said that the pandemic has impacted the construction industry in the country as a whole, be it big or small, private or government.

Lyonpo said, “I cannot say the extent of the impact but everyone is suffering. Closure of international gates has led to a skilled labor crisis in the country. Now the 21-day lockdown added to it.”

Lyonpo said as far as possible they have made the construction material available but labor shortage has always been an issue. He said the contractors have to continue paying their staff.

“During such time we can’t do much but we have been considering time extension and we will continue to do so as per the procurement rules and regulation. We have always been telling our fellow contractors not to worry if the work got delayed due to the pandemic,” he added.

Lyonpo said everything should come together. “If they do not have the materials they cannot go ahead with the work just because they have budget for a project. Likewise, if they have no required laborers, it is of no use though they have the budget,” he said.

“The two major projects the ministry is working on is construction of roads from Samrang to Jomotshankhag (Nu 400 mn) and resurfacing of road from Samtse to Tendu (Nu 120 mn). We are impacted but we are adapting,” he added.

However, if they do not see any possibility of adapting than they may have to prioritize, he said, adding that for now they are prioritizing work which can easily be done in the context of COVID-19. Nevertheless, they are trying to do all.

Meanwhile, General Secretary of Construction Association of Bhutan (CAB) Tshering Yonten said that the lockdown has posed another difficulty for contractors and CAB has received a number of issues from the contractors.

“Contractors claim that though they are now allowed to work, their construction materials got stranded in different places. Lots of bills are pending due to lockdown whereby the contractors are having difficulty in paying their workers and in supplying essential goods,” he said.

Some workers have left the site due to lockdown as the number of days was uncertain and once the lockdown is lifted completely, it would take some time to reorganize everything. This can be one factor for failure to complete work on time and this can further lead to cost implication, he added.

In addition, he said that the cost of the construction materials are going up due to high demand and low supply and there is a worry of being charged with liquidity damage.  

“We are planning to approach government to at least consider the timing at least and we already have proposed our issues to the taskforce,” he added.

Site engineer of K.D Construction Dechen Wangmo said that lockdown has added to their difficulty and has hit them hard this year with cost implications in particular. She said, “We are already under pressure by our procuring agencies and we were warned several times that they will terminate our work.”

They tried to get laborers but they could gather only a few and unfortunately, few days after resuming their work, lockdown was implemented. “We feel handicapped because we are finding difficulty in paying our workers and on the other hand, completing work on time is our greatest worry at the moment,” she added.

They are under pressure, but doing their best, she said.

Kado, who holds a medium construction license said that he was awarded with a work in Phuentsholing in March 2020 and pandemic has impacted it in many ways. “After the closure of gate, my workers left for their homes and since then I have been trying to get laborers from within but it is challenging,” he said.

Though he has managed to get a group of foreign laborers from another construction site, the group deceived him. He said, “I drew up an agreement with the supervisor and paid them the advance, however, they did not turn up despite numerous calls. So I went to immigration, labor and police to ask help.”

He managed to get back his money but lost his workers. He was warned by the procuring agencies and he again managed to get few Bhutanese workers but the lockdown happened right away.

“This is our situation and procuring agencies are not willing to understand our situation. We want to complete as per the agreement but what can we do in such a scenario,” he said.       

He said Phuentsholing is identified as a red zone and they will never know if the workers will want to work once the lockdown is lifted due to associated risks.

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