Timber: Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, while meeting with 50 members of the Association of Wood Based Industries (AWBI) yesterday, asked if the sawmill owners were trying to intimidate or scare him by coming in a large group and for informing the media about the meet.

The AWBI members, disgruntled with a recent circular from the Natural Resources Development Corporation Ltd (NRDCL) to register for timber sawing, requested to see the Prime Minister at 12pm at the Prime Minister’s office but the meeting was rescheduled to 4pm and the venue moved to the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The AWBI president, Rinchen Khandu, submitted to the Prime Minister that the agriculture ministry on December 2, sent a circular to Druk Holdings and Investment (DHI) that the ministry decided that NRDCL shall be the sole agency for disposal and distribution of timber from January 1, 2017.

He also said that NRDCL issued a circular to all the sawmill owners on December 21 to register for timber sawing, stating that NRDCL was doing so in order to engage the services of sawmills to saw NRDCL timber to meet the supply requirements of end consumers.

“This means that NRDCL is going to do the work of sawmills, thereby depriving the sawmill owners our work. We are all worried and decided to appeal to the PM,” Rinchen Khandu said.

Another sawmill owner said that the NRDCL circular means that sawmill owners cannot buy and sell timber but only saw the timber for the corporation. “NRDCL and DHI never consulted with us,” he said.

He asked the Prime Minister to retain the Timber Distribution Modality 2015 that the agriculture ministry framed for sustainability and growth of the private sector.

“AWBI members established a retail outlet in Semtokha and Olakha and if NRDCL disposes and distributes timber, it will be a replication of that same business,” he said. “We would like to submit the petition to the government to kindly look into the matter for sustainability and growth of the private sector.”

AWBI members also had issues with NRDCL’s proposal to establish a joinery unit in Ramtokto to fabricate building components and furniture.

The members stated that wood based industries in the country have been facing challenges, from raw material sourcing to marketing of finished products. “Private sectors are more threatened when state-owned enterprises like NRDCL come up with such activities,” Rinchen Khandu said. “We are affected as there are not many consumers and also because there is no level playing field for us when availing goods and services for government procurement.”

Members also claimed that NRDCL, which was established for natural resource development, is now profit oriented since it was clubbed under DHI.

Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay told the members that he will have to talk to relevant officials including the agriculture minister, DHI and RNDCL officials, to find out why such a circular was issued and the move taken. Lyonchoen said he would get back to them after these consultations.

“But it is important to find out if the sawmill owners are selling the timber as per the law or inflating prices and making it difficult for people to get timber,” Lyonchoen said.

Lyonchoen said he could not make any decisions, since he was not informed about the details of the meeting. “I have come here impromptu since you all insisted. I will now study the details of the issue.”

Lyonchoen said the sawmill owners, who have come from far flung dzongkhags, were wasting their time. “While I understand that you all have come because of your concerns, I don’t know if it was to scare me. But I am not scared.”

Lyonchoen said that he got concerned that the media was called for the meeting. “I am not scared because I have not done anything wrong.”

He also said that he is not worried about the 2018 elections either. “If I am bothered about elections, I am not a capable leader and I am not serving the people well.”

Tashi Dema