Only if businesses invest profit to upgrade capacity and employ Bhutanese

Monday Meeting: The government’s help for the private sector came with conditions when the Prime Minister had his first meeting with business owners yesterday in Thimphu.

Lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay said only if the private sector is willing to invest in upgrading their capacity and employ Bhutanese, would the government give them businesses.

Lyonchhoen said many business owners chose to buy land, Land Cruisers and construct houses with the profit earned, instead of re-investing it in the company.

Without investment no company could grow, he said. “I have trust in the private sector, but I am not a person who trusts blindly,” lyonchhoen said.

Called the Monday meeting, the meeting with business people is initiated to discuss various issues, including bureaucratic red tape and problems arising from policies and laws that affected the private sector.

About a dozen individuals, representing the Association of Wood-Based Industries (AWBI), met the Prime Minister and the economic affairs minister yesterday.

The main concern they raised was of the Natural Resource Development corporation limited (NRDCL) coming up with a sawmill that could push some 114 sawmills across the country out of business.

President of AWBI, Rinchen Khandu, said half the sawmills are left without work for the last five years and, if the NRDCL’s sawmill comes through, some 2,000 employees would lose their jobs.

Lyonchhoen said NRDCL would lead the wood-based industries with integrated wood processing units and latest machines, which, in turn, would set standards for other companies.

However, he said that, if private sawmills could meet the standards equivalent to NRDCL, with similar machineries and pricing, the government was ready to intervene, to the extent of chopping NRDCL’s plan.

But that, he said, would be done in consultation with NRDCL and private entities in the business.

Despite having 114 private sawmills, the prime minister said NRDCL must have reasons to establish its own.

The association also poured its grievance over the Wood Craft Center Limited (WCCL) being accorded with all furniture procurement for government agencies.  The members also raised concerns on the transfer of WCCL to Druk Holding and Investments (DHI), and its implication on some 330 furniture units in the country.

The Prime Minister said, even with the transfer of WCCL to DHI, the mandate of training nationals in furniture making business would be protected.  However, he said, a study must be conducted to find out how many individuals were trained to date and their whereabouts.

He assured that, if private firms could manufacture furniture that has a quality equivalent to WCCL, and employ Bhutanese, it would only take a notification to allow private firms to participate in the competition. If not, the Prime Minister also warned of heavy penalties they must face.

Another issue they raised was on the import of foreign workers.  The association’s president appealed that the number be raised.  He said that each sawmill was just allowed to bring in two sawyers, which was inconvenient.

The Prime Minister, however, turned down this request, stating that the foreign worker is an issue with almost every sector, including the automobile workshops, construction, restaurants and furniture units.  He instead encouraged the firms to train Bhutanese and pay them well.

There are already about 536 foreign workers employed in  wood based industries, including carpenters, fabricators and sawyers today.

Tshering Dorji