G2C: The government should reconsider its decision of handing the operation and management of the community information centres (CICs) to Bhutan Development Bank limited (BDBL) from Bhutan Post ltd.

At a press conference yesterday, opposition members shared their dismay on the government’s decision to swap the ownership of CICs from an experienced operator to a new one.

A press release from the opposition states that the change would have serious ramifications on the quality of services provided through the CICs.

The previous government had handed over the CICs to Bhutan Post for operational managements and an agreement was signed as well.  The CICs operated successfully for three years under Bhutan Post, according to the opposition.

As per the agreement, the government had agreed to provide subsidies to Bhutan Post for the services in the centre.  The agreement also stated that Bhutan Post would hand over the CICs back to the government only if its business failed drastically.

However, the press release states that, between 2013-14, Bhutan Post stopped receiving subsidies from the government, owing to which Bhutan Post incurred an expenditure of Nu 12m from its exchequer to run the CICs.  As the business started to pick up, the press release states, the government decided to take over the CICs.

Opposition Leader (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho, at the press conference, said the government did not discuss the issue with them, nor with any of the concerned ministries and agencies. “No consultations were carried out on this issue,” (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said. “It isn’t fair for Bhutan Post that had set aside time and resources to prepare the CICs.”

The concern, according to the opposition, is that, after the centres are taken over by BDBL, the main purpose of CICs would be futile.

Panbang representative Dorji Wangdi said about 95 percent of the CIC services are non-banking services.  With a commercial institution like BDBL operating the management of CICs, it was bound to generate conflict of interest.

Dorji Wangdi said BDBL didn’t represent all the other financial institutions in the country. “This is a easy way to fulfill the pledge of having a bank in every gewogs by the government.” he said.

The opposition leader also said BDBL could compromise their mandate of delivering credit to the rural people by taking over the CICs.

The press release also states that the decision to hand over the CICs to BDBL was made by  the cabinet.

However, no official explanations or justifications for the handing over were communicated to Bhutan Post by the information and communications ministry or the prime minister’s office.

The opposition said that the government has unilaterally revoked the legal agreement signed between the government and the operator, without consulting the other party to the agreement.

“Undoing the initiatives of the previous government has been the hallmark of this government,” reads the release.

CICs have been established to provide a single venue from where communities, especially rural ones, can access information communication technology, public and other services.  A primary intention is to reduce the costs and time of availing public services by bringing them closer to the people.

Meanwhile, a meeting between the government and the Bhutan Post is scheduled for January 22, to formally sort out the differences, in keeping with the earlier terms of agreement.

By Younten Tshedup