Khuruthang shopkeepers complain against hospital canteen owner’s long tenure

Business: Nine Khuruthang shopkeepers have written a signed complaint letter to the Punakha dzongkhag and hospital administration, questioning the rationale behind allowing a single owner to run the hospital canteen for about 12 years.

The letter that only carries the signatures and not the names of the shop owners was addressed to the hospital administration and copied to the dzongda, health ministry and the anti corruption commission.

“Why is the operation of the hospital canteen not tendered like others, and is there any corruption within the hospital management and canteen’s involvement?” the letter asks.

The letter also questioned if the administration section derived any benefits from the canteen.

Punakha hospital’s administration officer, BN Sharma, said they received the complaint letter about five months ago, from shop owners, who claimed to be the market (bazaar) committee of Punakha.  There are about 150 shop owners in Khuruthang town.

Since the dzongkhag has authority, when it comes to tendering, he said, they forwarded the matter to the dzongkhag.

Punakha dzongda Phub Tshering said they also received the letter few months ago.  The dzongkhag tshogdu (DT) had initially awarded a small space in the hospital area to the canteen owner.  He said he was appointed as Punakha dzongda in 2013.

He said it was not retendered since the DT decided to continue with the same owner. “Once DT makes the decision, we can’t change it,” he said.

The canteen owner operator said they have been running the canteen from a small room inside the hospital area for about 11 years. “We‘ve been paying a monthly rent of Nu 800, as per the government rates,” the owner said. “We also share the kitchen with trainees visiting the hospital.”

Meanwhile, Khuruthang shop owners said the issue was raised in several meetings held in the town and also at the DT.  However, they said no action was taken.

They said the canteen wasn’t the only issue, but there were also about 30 shops running without a business license opposite the Punakha dzong

“As per the rule, no street vendors or shops are allowed to operate near the dzong area,” a business owner said.

Punakha thromde theumi Namgay said they raised this issue with the department of trade but, to date, nothing has happened.

He said they were under pressure from Khuruthang business people, who had been complaining that allowing the shops to run near the dzong area was affecting their business.

By Dawa Gyelmo, Punakha