Community paid Nu 20M in advance to procure machines and want their money back

Tashi Dema 

In the beginning of 2020, promoters of a community group called Pema Dejung Kuenphen Private Limited (PDKPL) in Samdrupcholing approached a 73-year-old man to buy shares.

As a resident of Samdrupcholing, the elderly man grew up seeing many people become rich from the coals mined in his locality and thought he could finally have some stake in the natural resources at his backyard make some income.

The man and his family members started looking for money. They took loans and invested Nu 97,000 to buy shares. “I was hoping we could make good money out of it.”

He said he encouraged many people to become members and invest in the community group after he was convinced by the prospects, a new opportunity in his twilight years.

Like the village elder, 4,184 people from 1,715 households of 73 villages from Martshala, Pemathang, Phuentshothang and Samrang gewogs of the drungkhag became members of PDKPL and invested more than Nu 35 million (M) to make some profit from the State Mining Corporation Limited (SMCL) that is miningcoal in Habrang and Tshophangma.

A 34-year-old man resigned from his teaching profession to become a member of the group. “I thought PDKPL would do well and benefit the community.”

He said he was happy when SMCL took over coal mining in the locality in 2014 and thought the benefit could trickle down to the residents. “I was excited when the idea of the community group was shared. I decided to become a member.”

The group members, led by gups of four gewogs, formed a steering committee on December 2, 2019.

The 13- member steering committee drafted a community group charter, bylaws and decided to procure 27 machines and 22 10-wheelerstrucks. They called for quotations from dealers in December last year.

Nine dealers participated and the members awarded the work to a Thimphu based company called TCD Private Limited based on its assurance to help and support the community group in banking related works and processing letter of credit (LC).

Members also said they chose TCD because he was the lowest bidder with a difference of 5 to 6M and promised to establish a workshop with a complete set of tools and accessories for machine service and maintenance.

TCD also assured a buy-back policy facility for all machines of three to five years of registration date for five years.

According to the memorandum of understanding drawn between TCD and PDKPL, TCD would appoint PDKPL as sub-dealer of genuine parts for Samdrupjongkhar.

It stated machines should reach Samdrupcholing within 30 days of the Letter of Credit (LC) or full payment is made.

PDKPL paid Nu 20M as advance to TCD by February this year and issued a purchase order for 24 machines by February 8.

The group appointed a lawyer on the suggestion of TCD  as their representative to apply for LC and follow up other banking procedures and process, as they could not come to Thimphu because of the pandemic as Samdrupcholing was a red zone.

Members said they provided documents and correspondences TCD wanted,but since the machines never arrived, they lost the opportunity to hire machines to SMCL and be a part of the mining activity.

The group approached the Prime Minister and even Druk Holding and Investment (DHI) for time extension when they could not deploy the machines on time. A time extension of 45 days.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, during the recent meet the press session said the government would not be able to help the community, as the community could not fulfil the agreed conditions.

He said the government is exploring how to help the community members who invested in procuring the machines.

Meanwhile, members of PDKPL cancelled their deal with TCD in March this year and wanted TCD to return their 20M, as it is community money.

When members in Thimphu could not make any breakthrough with TCD to return the money, they suggested the committee members come to Thimphu.

Of the 13 steering committee members, seven reached Thimphu on April 12. They visited offices and TCD eight times asking for their advance payment.


Machines in Kolkata

TCD’s proprietor, Tashi Choki Dorji, said the machines are lying in Kolkata and he could not deliver, as the community group could not provide him LC and also make full payment. “They even could not obtain a work order from SMCL to process theLC.”

He said discussions to return the advance payment are on hold, as the community members went to the media and PMO and defamed him. “I issued a notice that until that is resolved, we will not discuss the repayment.”

Tashi Choki Dorji alleged the committee members ofplaying with the sentiments of people. “They did not do a proper job. If they made the payments, the machines could have arrived. I don’t have to produce LC, as I am just a dealer. TCD has nothing to do with the banks.”

As the steering committee members run from office to office in Thimphu, community members are worried in Samdrupcholing.

“The matter is of huge issue here,” the 73-year-old man said. “We are poor people. We want our money back.”

For the committee members, villagers are pressurising them. They either want to see the work progress or their money back.

A Samdrupcholing resident said the government and concerned agencies should relook into the matter and consider given the impact  of Covid-19 pandemic. “The steering committee members meant well for the community. We hope SMCL will ensure the community gets the jobor we get our money back.”