The prime minister says he would be the happiest if landlords volunteer

MB Subba

The government is wishing that some landlords will show their benevolent side by voluntarily waiving a few months’ house rents for tenants affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The government estimates that up to 12,000 employees could have lost their jobs. Hotel operators and nightclubs that pay high rents also remain affected due to loss of business.

“I would be the happiest person if some house owners volunteer to forgo a few months’ rents,” Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said at the meet the press on March 27.  “But I can only make such requests to house owners as the government cannot make such rules,” he said.

Dr Lotay Tshering said that benevolent gestures would be appreciated the most during difficult times as the Covid-19 pandemic. “The government will appreciate such gestures from landlords. More than us, the public will be thankful,” the prime minister said.

He cited a welcoming development where a hotel operator in Thimphu with 22 staff had come forward to offer monetary support to the government. 

“The hotel operator also assured us that he would not lay off the employees despite the loss to his business. He wanted to take care of the employees even if it would force him sell his inherited properties,” he said.

The prime minister said that the government could not ask landlords to forgo house rents. 

He said landlords risk their houses being taken by the bank for inability to deposit loan instalments on time. “The government hasn’t invested in their buildings,” he said.

House owners say that such measures are possible only if the banks defer the payment of loan instalments.

However, observers say that rent waivers by many house owners during such a difficult time are actually possible as not all the tenants of a landlord would be affected by loss of jobs. 

A Thimphu-based hotel operator recently left the business due to loss of income. “I don’t know when the tourism will be opened again. I am looking for other options,” she said.

About 700 tour guides, mostly freelancers, have registered with the Guides Association of Bhutan (GAB), seeking alternative sources of income.

The GAB expects to deploy the laid-off guides soon, according to the GAB’s executive director, Sonam Tashi.

The prime minister also said that some affected companies had started sending their employees on unpaid leave. He requested the employers not to take such decisions.

Dr Lotay Tshering said sending employees on unpaid leave was equivalent to laying them off. The government, he said, would provide support to affected business enterprises.

“The business houses made profits with the support of those employees during good times. If they manage to take care of their employees by bearing some loss during such times, the government will provide further support,” he said.

The prime minister said that while business houses and persons were looking for government support, they should also reciprocate.

The labour ministry, which is looking into the issue, has notified that any employer laying off their employee must comply with the labour and employment Act.

According to the Act, an employer laying off employees must submit a written notification to the chief labour administrator.