The representatives of the Wood Based Industries Association (WBIA), in their first meeting with the Prime Minister, held in the capital on January 26, discussed issues such as the establishment of a sawmill by the Natural Resources Development Corporation Limited (NRDCL) and retail outlet, Wood Craft Centre under DHI and import of foreign skilled labour.
One of the main concerns raised was the establishment of the NRDCL sawmill. WBIA said the NRDCL sawmill will affect the private sawmill business. The association said 114 sawmills across the country have been affected by the economic crisis causing a little demand for sawn timber in the market for the last five years.
The Prime Minster, Tshering Tobgay, said the NRDCL sawmill is to function as an exemplary sawmill with the standardized machines to optimize output. Lyonchhen said the private sawmills have to upgrade their machines with the changing times. He said the good machines will be efficient in cutting wood without much waste.
Lyonchhen said he has not personally checked on the machines being used in sawmills, however, he is aware that many sawmills are using machines that are
decades old and used without proper renovation. He said that even the new machines that are purchased are low cost and of inferior quality. “If there are good machines in sawmills, it does not require more manpower. Otherwise if machines are not good then it requires more manpower,”Lyonchhen said.
He said that the ministry and NRDCL will discuss on the type of machines that NRDCL will bring in if they want to establish the sawmill. “If they purchase same machines which the other sawmills have then there is no way to do different work. But if NRDCL want to purchase different machines and how they will work, we will discuss with you all,” Lyonchhen said to the WBIA.
WBIA also shared issues relating to the Wood Craft Centre (WCC). They said there are more than 300 furniture houses competing with WCC. WBIA added that WCC is not subject to the tendering process as it is under the government, “It hampers private business so if it is handed over to DHI, it will have more impact to private business,” a representative of WBIA said.
PM said that WCC is well established and has been in operation for 24 years. He said many workers have been trained in WCC, contributing to employment opportunities.
He said if the private furniture houses can
manufacture furniture of the same quality as WCC and employ Bhutanese workers then the government would allow the private furniture houses to participate and compete, if not they would face heavy penalties.
He said that government will handover WCC to the Druk Holdings and Investment (DHI) to make it more efficient and MoEA will study to see if the handover will affect private business or be helpful to the government. The Minister for Economic Affairs, Norbu Wangchuk, said that the program will help the businessmen to share their new ideas and method to carry out business and to ease the time to do business.
The association was turned down on its request to bring in more number of skilled foreign labours. PM said the entire business firms in the country have expressed such a need but the government is firm on training and employing more Bhutanese workers than foreign workers.
As of now, there are 372 foreign workers employed in furniture houses, 53 in fabrication units and 101 in sawmills.
According to Ministry of Labour and Human Resources, the recruitment of foreign workers for furniture houses, fabrication units and sawmills were being permitted based on the objective of using these expatriates to train Bhutanese workers on the job and transfer knowledge.