Banking: The Bhutan Development Bank Ltd (BDBL) took over operation and management of community centres (CCs) from Bhutan Post on March 1.

While an official ceremony to mark the transfer did not take place, a committee comprising all agencies involved finalised the transfer last week.

The transfer will not disrupt the range of services being offered at the centres. All services currently available will continue to be offered.

The government is also considering transferring ownership of CCs to the Department of Local Governance (DLG).

Information and communications secretary, Dasho Kinley Dorji, said that the plan was for the CCs to be eventually taken over by the DLG as the department would be more aware of the needs of local communities. But he said any such transfer would have to be approved by the government first.

The Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT) currently owns the CCs while the BDBL is its vendor.

DITT promotions chief Chencho said that the department had to take the CC initiative as there was an information communications technology (ICT) aspect to the project. He said that as a specialised ICT department it did not have the capacity to research and explore community needs and therefore it would be more appropriate for the DLG to own the CCs while the DITT provided technical support.

But he added that any such handover would happen only after the CC concept is fulfilled.

A primary objective of the CCs was to create affordable access to online public services for all levels of Bhutanese society. Another objective is to achieve economic self-sustainability of the CCs by allowing each to run on a sustainable business model.

Despite the transfer, the BDBL will still be required to respect all memorandums of understanding signed between Bhutan Post and other agencies. Besides G2C (government to citizen) services, some of the CCs also offer the services of some financial institutions. Postal services will also continue to be offered at the CCs.

However, BDBL services will not be immediately available from this month as it will be introduced in a gradual manner. DITT promotions chief Chencho said that BDBL plans to recruit at least one more operator for each CC. He explained that one operator would focus on providing the services of the CC, while the other would concentrate on BDBL services.

It has not been finalised for how long BDBL will operate the CCs.

Bhutan Post was selected by the government in 2011 to operate the CCs for five years. It was also provided with a subsidy of Nu 28 million. Bhutan Post also spent an additional Nu 12 million over the subsidy, for which a refund has been approved.

The government decided to transfer operation of the CCs to BDBL on grounds that they were being underutilised and that financial services are a basic service that rural communities require more at the moment.

There are at least 185 centres in the country, constructed at a cost of Nu 275.7 million. A further 14 are being constructed for Nu 43 million.

Gyalsten K Dorji