But local leaders favour it being continued 

Construction: A debate ensued on whether the community contract should be continued because of possible adverse effects it could have on the agriculture sector during the recent annual general meeting of Construction Association of Bhutan in Thimphu.

The community contract is a contract worth below Nu 1.5 million awarded to villages without a tender process. The community contract was initiated in 2011, and is applicable only to villages and not the gewog as a whole.  The contract works should directly benefit a village.

While the community contract has benefited villagers, contractors said it is detrimental to agriculture.

Though the works and human settlement ministry deferred the discussion, contractors nevertheless reiterated its negative impact on agriculture. They also highlighted the negative effect on the 3,200 small class contractors, which makes up the majority in the construction sector today.

“Awarding contract works to the villagers would affect the agriculture since such practice would encourage more people to rely on contract works for cash income than focusing on agriculture,” a contractor said during the annual general meeting.

Another contractor from Trongsa said that the community contract is also going to divert more villagers to take up the works in future. “Because community contract is financially rewarding it would keep attracting more farmers which will adversely affect the agriculture already confronted with labour shortage and rural-urban migration,” the contractor said. “Quality of contracted works will also be affected when the works are given away to villagers with little or no technical skills.”

Local leaders however maintained that the community contract has rather benefited the communities than affecting the agriculture. “We have never faced a situation where farming was affected because of the community contract,” Drakteng Gup Gayley Chhophel said. He also pointed out that only a handful of activities are awarded annually.

The contract works are also divided among the chiwogs. “Therefore, a chiwog is likely to get only one community contract work in a year so when the works are completed people return to farming,” Gayley Chhophel said.

Trongsa dzongkhag tshogdu chairperson, Tashi Pendhen said such initiative has rather helped in stopping people from leaving their villages. “The community contract has given the villagers an opportunity to earn cash income for which they were earlier going out of the villages in search of part-time jobs,” the chairperson said. “The quality has improved instead because the villagers take extra care from the sense of belongingness.”

Tashi Pendhen said community contract has also enabled the local leaders to monitor the works efficiently to ensure better quality.

Another contractor also pointed out that the community contract has already reduced the work prospects for small class contractors, most of who are youth from villages across the country.

“Since the works in the villages are given away to the community contract, small class contractors are already left jobless,” the contractor said.

The contractors also said if contracts in the villages are given under community contract while the Department of Roads takes most of the road works on labour contract, most small class contractors would be left with no work. The contractors also alleged that local leaders were involved in collusion to award works to their relatives, friends and neighbours.

“As far as we have seen the community contract has been awarded to the local leaders’ relatives,” a contractor pointed out.

Responding to this allegation, Tashi Pendhen said while such instances cannot be ruled out, proper measures however are in place in the community contract guidelines to prevent such malpractices. One such example is the need to route the contract through the gewog tshogde before awarding the works. “As far as I am concerned only little room is left for any local leader to be able to manipulate the contract works,” Tashi Pendhen said.

The contractors however urged the government to come up with a policy, which balances the contractors’ grievances as well as protects the benefit of the local communities.

Works and human settlement secretary, Phuntsho Wangdi said that the community contract is solely the right of the local leaders as reflected in the Local Government Act. “It’s the power of the local leaders so we don’t want to intrude,” Phuntsho Wangdi said, adding the discussion should be deferred and the issue deliberated with local leaders.

Tempa Wangdi