Business: Interacting with business representatives in Thimphu yesterday, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay provided on-the-spot solutions to issues of the private sector.

Without wasting time highlighting government policies towards the private sector, the prime minister at the annual general meeting of Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) invited issues from the participants.

Private sector representatives said they want to be involved in the decision making process of local governments (LGs).

Gelephu’s business representative Ugyen Rabten said local governments have not been able to address their issues.

“We are not even allowed in LG meetings as observers,” a representative from Chhukha, Pala Dorji, said. He argued that LG members do not represent the business community.

The prime minister did not agree to the request, saying that it was not permissible under the democratic set up, but floated the idea of establishing an economic development committee in each dzongkhag. The committee would serve as a platform to discuss issues that affect the business community.

The government will float the proposal in the upcoming dzongdags’ conference.

The main purpose of the Better Business Council, where private sector representatives and the government meets, is also to thrash out such issues and improve the business environment. The prime minister assured that the council will be strengthened.

Business representative from Samtse, Ugyen, said ownership transfer of bar licenses was not allowed in his dzongkhag. “People want to transfer ownership to their kith and kin and partake in the upcoming LG elections as candidates,” he said.

“Allowing ownership transfer within the members of a family would be unfair to others,” the prime minister said, however adding that it was his personal view.

However, industry director Tandin Tshering clarified that ownership transfer of a bar license was legal and that the government has not issued any notification against it.

The prime minister instructed the director to solve the issue in collaboration with officials in Samtse.

A representative from Chukha apprised the prime minister that landowners in Gedu were unable to get loans from financial institutions, as they do not have lag thrams. Economic affairs minister Lekey Dorji was instructed to study the issue and come up with a possible solution.

However, the prime minister clarified that the government would not be able to do much if the issue was related to land kidu.

BCCI was established as a non-government and non-profit service oriented organisation in 1980. However, after 35 years of its establishment, the private sector feels the chamber lacks a legal identity.

They requested the prime minister to formulate a law within which the BCCI will operate. Without a legal identity, they said it was difficult for the chamber to deal with international agencies.

Lyonchoen asked BCCI officials to submit a draft law to the economic affairs minister.

Participants said that it was difficult to hire Indian labourers due to stringent immigration rules. Ugyen Rabten said stringent immigration rules did not allow regional tourism to flourish in the border towns.

Since it is related to the country’s security, the prime minister said the government would not take a prompt decision. He assured concerned agencies would look into the matter.

The prime minister asked the participants if they were concerned by the surge in the number of regional tourists. Most said they were.

Bhutan last year received about 100,000 regional tourists and the number is growing.

Lyonchoen also said that the government is working on promoting a one-window service although the concept is not new. “We want to make one-window service real now,” he said.

On the controversial Business Opportunity and Information Centre (BOiC), the prime minister said although the government has received criticism, the centre would not be closed. He said BOiC would be registered as a government entity.

He said that the allegations that BOiC loans are benefiting only People’s Democratic Party supporters are wrong. Citing an example, he said most of the BOiC funded projects are in Thimphu, where both the constituencies are represented by opposition MPs.

In her brief address, the BCCI president said the chamber looks forward to working in close cooperation with the government. “Private sector development is the engine of economic growth, for which the government’s cooperation is very important,” she said.

The prime minister said the fact that there are 26,000 business licenses in the country testifies that the private sector is developing. This figure, he said, did not include those earning profits informally.

The prime minister also said that the institution of BCCI should be strengthened for the private sector to do even better. He said there are currently only between 200 and 300 registered members, and that increasing the membership would be one of the ways to strengthen the chamber.

MB Subba