…but contractors say the decision hasn’t helped

MB Subba

The Department of National Properties (DNP) has relaxed various rules, including those on imposition of fines, for the construction sector to cope with the situation arising from the Covid-19.

Upon request of the Construction Association of Bhutan (CAB), DNP has through a notification given hindrance period beginning from March 24.

The notification also grants time extension for contractors for reasons that are backed by evidence.

However, one of the vice presidents of CAB, Tshering Yonten, said that contractors did not benefit much from the notification due to practical difficulties.

According to him, it was difficult for contractors to produce paper evidence. He said that even pipes, which are produced in Bhutan, were in short supply due to disruptions in import of raw materials. “In such cases, it’s not possible to get paper evidence.”

Tshering Yonten also said that the construction sector was expected to face cement shortages soon as raw materials are imported. He added that some construction materials are not manufactured in the country.

“We are concerned and requested for time extension but not much has been done as producing paper evidence was difficult,” he said.

The project manager or site supervisor concerned must clearly review and authenticate the grounds for requesting the extension while ensuring to record detailed facts of all associated problems arising from the Covid-19 disruption.

In case of a supplier’s inability to supply goods on time, a written application should be submitted with supporting documents to the procuring agency.

The procuring agency can give time extension if the tender committee is convinced with the request.

Some contractors say that lack of labourers and materials have affected work progress. Some companies are reported to have employed Bhutanese labourers.

“The normalisation shall be announced once the Covid-19 is declared safe by the government. Until such time, all on going construction and supplies of shall be granted a hindrance period and no penalty shall be imposed,” DNP notifies.

The DNT has also has instructed contractors to use locally available resources, materials and labourers as far as possible.

Contractors are reporting lack of materials due the ongoing lockdown in India. The import of labour has also been halted due to Covid-19 fears.

CAB vice president Tshering Yonten said that shortages of labourers and materials were major issues. He said that not many Bhutanese nationals were willing to work at construction sites.

He said that some labourers who had left for home to celebrate Holi festival could not return to work. “But we are carrying out works with whatever is possible with the limited materials and labourers,” he said.

The construction sector, he said, had also seen price escalation of materials, including cement. According to him, concrete blocks are being used in Thimphu but that they were in short supply in places like eastern dzongkhags.

Amid the pandemic, the labour ministry is compiling the list of shortage of workers in different sectors to fill in the gap left by foreign workers after the two-week restriction on entry of foreigners in the country.

Most of the construction works in the country are halted or only few Indian labourers are seen working at the site.

Construction owners say have received calls from the labour ministry asking if she would be interested in recruiting unemployed Bhutanese at her construction sites. Some labourers from India were stranded as they were coming to Bhutan.