It was expected that the Relief Kidu initiative would be a source of relief to people in distress. Although there are people who believe that employable people may be pampered, the feedback indicates that it unquestionably helped keep families off the streets, providing basic needs like food and shelter and health. Some beneficiaries feel they have literally been saved.
At the same time the circumstances and implications of this unique initiative is an interesting story, to say the least. It prompts impressions and raises questions. The situation of hotels in Bhutan and experiences of the employees reveal an important narrative.
It is no surprise that a large proportion of the kidu recipients are hotel employees, tourism being a critically affected industry. It is a surprise, however, that many of them are from the high(est) end resorts, FDI projects. While there is no doubt that these companies are taking a hit worldwide, conventional wisdom would say that they are actually in a better position than most to absorb a temporary slowdown.
Although they have every right, legally, to lay-off staff or reduce salaries when business is bad, this normally logical approach to business appears somewhat impersonal in the Bhutanese context. Also, they do enjoy more incentives than Bhutanese owned hotels. In a small society like ours, they lose credibility in the court of public opinion.
In contrast, it is heart-warming to see some Bhutanese-owned hotels going out of their way to look after their staff. Zhiwaling has earned the appreciation of the government and community by taking on the responsibility of keeping their employees fully paid to ease the burden on the state. So has The Pema by the Realm and Kuenphen Rabten Resort.
Bhutanese hotels have offered their rooms and services to quarantine citizens returning home. In proportion, they suffer the stress of loans and tensions more than international resorts because, for them, it is personal.
There are hotel owners who are broke and seeking loans so that they can keep paying their employees. And there are kidu applicants who have withdrawn their applications because they see others in greater need.
All this makes us feel good to be Bhutanese.
Meanwhile, we have to acknowledge that there are some Bhutanese who can match forms of corporate greed seen everywhere. We hear of hotel owners and management who do not have proper lists of employees, some who are supporting false claims, and those who have not just laid off staff or reduced their salaries but actually asked staff to share their kidu payments.
At a time when a timely, decisive, and effective Royal initiative like the Relief Kidu is providing amazing solace, such an attitude is not acceptable.