During constituency visits, councillors also got a earful on the new mobile and green taxes

Feedback: The benefits of the Business Opportunity and Information Centre’s (BOiC) loan scheme has not reached people in rural Bhutan, who constitute a majority of the population, according to observations the National Council (NC) members made from their recent constituency visits.

Although people raised several other issues to the 17 NC members during their constituency visits, the issue of green tax and BOiC loan scheme emerged prominently in 15 dzongkhags.

The council members found that technical issues in the implementation were holding the loan scheme from benefiting those who needed it the most.

Thimphu’s representative, Nima Gyeltshen, said people in his constituency have been grilling him on the BOiC and the tax issues.  People informed him that the government had imposed taxes, especially the telecommunication tax, without realising how it might impact the poor. “In villages, it’s difficult for people to recharge Nu 100 voucher also,” he said.

During a public meeting in Kawang gewog, the community shared that they have been unable to avail loans from the centre, despite applying several times.

“When BOiC people visited gewogs, it appeared as if it was easy to avail the loans, but it was like cheating the people,” he said. “All they tell me is that the centre hasn’t benefited the people.”

He said that, while BOiC doesn’t ask people for  collateral while availing loans, they still have to produce a rich guarantor. “Some of my constituents came to me, asking me to be their guarantor,” he said. “I said we (NC) have always rejected the centre’s establishment, and that I can’t be their guarantor.”

Tsirang’s council member, Kamal Bdr Gurung, said some people in his constituency told him that the “BOiC loan scheme was only for the rich and People’s Democratic Party supporters”. He said his constituents also questioned him on the imposition of five percent tax on mobile voucher and fuel tax, and that they are not happy with these taxes.

Dagana’s member, Sonam Dorji, said the voucher and fuel taxes are affecting people. “I was told that the taxes have imposed extra financial burden on them, and that the imposition of green tax was unacceptable,” he said.

He said a carbon neutral Bhutan had enough forest cover and imposing a green tax was irrational.

On the BOiC loan scheme, Sonam Dorji said farmers and small-scale enterprises were disgruntled with their inability to avail loans because of the centre’s requirement of a guarantor, and the need to prepare a project proposal.

“We need an experienced accountant or a qualified person to prepare such a proposal, which is difficult for our farmers,” Sonam Dorji said. “Although many have applied from my constituency, I haven’t met anyone, who has actually been issued a loan.”

Following his observation from his constituency visit, Trongsa’s councilor, Tharchen, has proposed to the good governance committee of NC to ask BOiC for a report on whether the centre’s benefits are spreading to all parts of the country. “Otherwise we may need a political intervention to correct the situation,” he said.

He said the BOiC loan scheme looked promising in the beginning, but technical issues have prevented people from availing its benefits. “There’s also a lack of trust between the people and BOiC; they don’t give cash directly to the people,” he said.

Councillor from Samtse, Sangay Khandu, said people in his constituency were also unable to avail the BOiC loan, and that he met people, who had spent about Nu 80,000 for travelling to Thimphu and preparing their business proposals, but to no avail.

In most cases, he said, the papers didn’t get through and the projects were “not good.” “They were also told that people from BOiC would make a field visit, but their wait has been in vain,” Sangay Khandu said.  He said some of them have been waiting for eight months for a response from the centre.

Gasa’s councilor, Sangay Khandu, said that there was a mismatch in the objective and the actual implementation of the scheme. “The farmers want to use the loan scheme for the development of agriculture. But that’s not happening,” he said.

While questions on tax on voucher have settled in his constituency, NC member from Mongar, Sonam Wangchuk, said people continued questioning him about taxes on fuel, and described BOiC as a difficult issue. “Some people called me from my constituency, saying they needed a rich person as guarantor to process for a loan,” he said. “The system is such that only the rich get the advantage over the poor.”

The other issues the people raised were on sokshing, land replacement, census, human-wildlife conflict and delay of implementation of works by local governments.

Meanwhile, BOiC’s chief executive officer, Karma Tshering, during the inauguration of the centre’s branch in Trashigang recently, said that the branch was opened in Trashigang to cater to the six eastern dzongkhags. “The applicants are facing difficulties trying to access our services. Therefore, to ease such constrains, we’ve decided to take our services to Trashigang to cater to the six eastern dzongkhags,” he had said.

According to BOiC, it received over 2,000 project proposals from people across the nation, half of which were related to agriculture.  Some 30.5 percent of the applicants proposed for livestock projects and 17 percent for manufacturing.

Karma Tshering said it was difficult for BOiC to work with 22 employees on over 2,000 applications, with one appraisal officer working on 115 applications.

By MB Subba