What the boulder issue reveals

This whole issue around boulders best signifies how lack of good regulatory mechanisms and the absence of a long-term policy is bad for both transparency and the private sector.

Export of boulders and stones to Bangladesh has become big business in the last few years.

The logic being that it is better to export the river boulders at the foothills of Bhutan, then to let it flow to India during the monsoons where it is anyhow extracted and exported.

This has lead to a boulder-rush of sorts with thousands of Bhutanese involved in it from truck drivers to office employees. It is also now one of Bhutan’s top export items.

However, the lack of regulatory oversight has lead to under declarations and other undesirable issues. There is also the clash between government departments on who can regulate this.

On the other hand, the lack of any secure lease on this business has led to business houses to try and extract as much as they can within a short time period.

This is similar to the problems that affects the mining sector in terms of lack of effective regulatory oversight, in-transparency and the insecurity generated by short-term leases.

The lack of regulatory oversight and poor practices means that the issue ultimately lands on the table of RAA or ACC who do their mandated jobs and enforce existing laws.

It gets further complicated if public officials are partaking in this, which, if it is true, is corruption and they should be held accountable.

Public officials and agencies who have been sleeping so far then react in fear, and because they lack even basic equipment or systems. they play it safe to the extent of bringing everything to a screeching halt.

The solution, be it for the boulder export or the mining sector is to improve and strengthen the regulatory oversight mechanisms for both environmental and revenue reasons. This must aim at good environmental practices as well as an increase in revenue share for the state.

At the same time, Bhutan’s rules and laws need to be updated on the carrying capacity of trucks given that bigger modern trucks can carry more weight. However, safety should be observed. This carrying capacity issue has even hit industries and trade and threatens to push up prices of even consumer goods within Bhutan.

Then, to ensure that the companies don’t play the destructive short-term game but invest for the longer run; they should be given more secure lease periods with clear conditions of good environmental practices including a fair share of the profits to the state via royalty and taxes. There must also be better regulation of this entire new business.

There is the cross border issue where our foreign ministry or other local border mechanisms should come into play as hard currency earnings and jobs for Bhutan are at stake.

A stitch in time saves nine
Francis Baily

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