Owners of automobile workshops from all 20 dzongkhags and 4 thromdes gathered at the White Tara hotel in Thimphu on 25 December, in order to bring into view some of the issues that they are facing. The Prime Minister Dr Lotey Tshering, the Automobiles Association of Bhutan and the media were present at the meeting.
A majority of the points raised in the meeting came from the Thimphu workshop owners. They stated that the current location for the workshop area is not very suitable. To which the Lyonchhoen agreed and said location readjustment needs to be made after discussions.
He added that the process would take time, as the matter is not directly in the hands of the government. He pointed out such decisions will have an effect on various sectors and policies, particularly the thromde, since the state sector does not fall under rural jurisdiction.
One of the representatives questioned as to why there hasn’t been an industrial space allotment made in the capital, especially when there are already spaces provided for Gelephu, Phuentsholing and other areas.In response, PM said that the intent behind it is to drive the development phase in other regions.
Some workshop owners expressed disgruntlement at the unfair treatment received from landlords that is in violation of the Tenancy Act. When a requisition to review the Act was made, the owners suggested that the Tenancy Act does not favor the service sector, such as auto workshops. The workshop owners also said that the asset installment, removal and relocation have more cost implications and complications than in the case of other businesses- pointing out to retail and certain service sectors.
Despite the agreement, Lyonchhoen stated that the case must have to be further discussed in the presence of other concerned departments and regulators to get to a mutual conclusion.
Lyonchhoen said that the decisions will not bebrought up in the current Parliament session as the issue has come up rather late. He also stated that he cannot assure that it will come up in the upcoming Parliament meet. However, he ensured that meetings will be held again and the government shall look into the matter.
PM said that fixing the Tenancy Act, alone,might not be sufficient to curb the problems that the workshop owners are faced with.The current proposed location at Babesa was ruled out as the government is reportedly planning some other developmental activities there.
Some of the workshop owners said that due to the demand and supply extension over the years, with increasing numbers of vehicles, automobile technology advancement and other factors, they require more space.Currently, on average, a workshop only has space for about 4 to 5 vehicles, which sometimes does not match with the demand and supply scale. The vehicles have to be parked near the roads, as there is no other space to park.
Regarding the Tenancy Act, Lyonchhoen clarified that there are formal negotiations made between the landlords and the workshop owners. Therefore, landlords defaulting on the occupancy through unprecedented notices to vacate their lands would not be a problem.
In response to the matter, they stated that some of the landlords were allowed to give two months notice despite their agreement of a long-lease agreement.
PM, taking heed of the request, ensured the Automobile Association that a meeting should be arranged in presence of the landlords as well, in order to fairly mediate the matter.
Lastly, some concerns were shared in regard to electric vehicle repairs, as the workshop owners said that hiring IT skill-equipped mechanics would further add to the prevalent cost factor. Lyonchhoen addressed that they are aware of it and will certainly support in certain ways.
For starters, he laid out the information of including vehicle and electronic vehicle curricula in training institutes, which would not only upskill the youth, but also reduce reliance on expertise from outside.