For many Bhutanese with a single source of income, the last week of the month is the best week. It is, even if for a few days, the time when they have cash in hand or balance in their account. Rents and dues are paid, empty LPG cylinders are refilled, essentials are bought and if lucky, spare a few for a family treat.
This August, it is not going to be the same. The salaried group, civil servants and most corporate employees have little to worry, as the salary and the various allowances are credited in their account even if many stopped working since August 10. Daily wage earners, part timers and the thousands in the informal sector depending on small shops and eateries will feel the pinch of the lockdown this week.
Shops, except for a few identified, have not opened since they abruptly closed on August 11 morning. Many found themselves workless when they woke up with the news of the lockdown. After remaining idle for nearly three weeks, the greatest fear is the knock on the door from the landlord asking for house rent.
Businesses were affected since March when Bhutan recorded the first Covid-19 positive case. There were no complete shutdowns. The discount house owners gave after they benefited from the government’s monetary policy eased the burden. Some waived off house rents for a month or two, some gave generous discounts while some argued that they had no loans to pay.
The lockdown is different. Apart from a few critical industries, offices, shops and all businesses are closed. The hope is that there will be concessions because the little they have needs to be spent on essentials. The reason is that the second phase of the Covid-19 monetary measures are still in place.
Those with loans need not pay interest on the loan until September and there is a concession of 50 percent from October until March next year. Payment of loan itself is deferred for one year without penal interest. It would be unfair to avail discounts or waivers to all, but there are people whose means for livelihood has suddenly disappeared with the lockdown.
There is no compulsion and the government will not intervene as they feel it is the “moral responsibility” of the house owners. However, no one is certain when the lockdown will ease so that people could go about with their lives. Like in the first quarter of the year, some house owners will step up, without having to be told, to help their fellow citizens.
As we wait to see another week pass by in lockdown, whether the government should intervene or leave it up to house owners is worth pondering over. The government has come to the rescue with the monetary policies. If the lockdown, an extraordinary circumstance, continues for long, the benefits of the policies is a good reason to convince property owners to let some of the benefits trickle down to the tenants.