There are several offices working to ensure services

Yeshey Lhadon

There is a nationwide lockdown, but if everybody stayed home, a lot of essential services would be affected bringing life to a standstill.

Besides the front liners like the health staff, De-Suups, foresters, police and other volunteers, some of the offices are functioning to ensure services are delivered and essentials catered.

Bhutan Agro Industries limited (BAIL), a state-owned company, remained closed for a week. However, with drinking water in huge demand as thousands of people are out on the streets to enforce the lockdown protocols, the company was asked to start producing water.

BAIL has 140 employees. About 20 percent of the employees are engaged in producing bottled water during the lockdown, according to the Chef Executive Office (CEO) Gyem Dorji. The company still produces about 30,000 bottles of drinking water every day since August 17. Gyem Dorji said, “We are trying to meet the urgent requirements. If the demand increases, our employees will do overtime.”

The CEO said that employees were following stringent health protocols. Employees are living in the production facility and are not allowed to mingle with outsiders, not even the drivers delivering the bottled water. “Their movement is restricted to factory premises to ensure safe public health,” said Gyem Dorji.

With interactions mostly done through social media, services of the two telecommunication companies have become crucial during the lockdown.

“We are functioning twenty-four-seven since we are a real-time service provider,” said the CEO of Tashi Infocomm, Tashi Tshering. Tashi Infocomm has 420 stations throughout the country. Most of its employees are working from home leaving only 30 operation maintenance employees to man the core network of Thimphu. The employees are living away from their families, in Druk Hotel. Tashi Tshering said that 70 percent of Tashi Infocomm’s employees are technical employees who are actively working outside Thimphu.

Selling paper recharge vouchers is the biggest challenge without access to outlets and small shops. The company started distributing recharge vouchers to people living in the rural areas without internet banking through gewog centres.

It is mandatory for financial institutions to function during the lockdown to ensure uninterrupted services such as fund transfer, remittances and storing money in Automated Teller Machines (ATM) using digital services. The Financial Institution Association of Bhutan consisting of all the banks in Bhutan discussed a Standard Operating Procedure to be followed during the lockdown with Royal Monetary Authority.

The CEO of Bhutan Development Bank Limited (BDBL), Phub Dorji said that BDBL received several queries and requests during the lockdown from customers, mostly from rural areas. “Our clients requested us to deliver cash in rural areas as they are not using smartphones to avail our digital services,” said the CEO.

BDBL used to send one staff in the rural areas on a monthly basis to provide banking services. During the lockdown, local government officials collect the names of clients and forward it to Thimphu. BDBL officials are then sent to deliver cash.

Phub Dorji said that they are providing online banking services through 13 employees stationed in the office. They are kept isolated from their families in a hotel and shuttled from the hotel to offices using pool vehicles.

The Thimphu Thromde has become busier since August 11. Besides ensuring water supply, sewerage and waste management services, the thromde is also fully engaged in delivery of grocery to the capital’s residents.

Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said that few selected Thromde employees are working and staying back in their office like any other functioning offices during the lockdown. “We keep on supplying required essential goods and services.”

Meanwhile, mainstream media houses are either stationed at workplace or working from home. The CEO of Bhutan Broadcasting Service Corporation (BBSC), Tshering Wangchuk said that BBS is running two television channels- BBS 1 and BBS 2 along with a radio channel with only 80 employees out of 310 in Thimphu.

The employees are camped at the BBS station since the first day of lockdown with meals provided from the office canteen. The CEO said that BBS was well prepared for lockdown since March when Bhutan had its first Covid-19 case.

Other than the government officials visiting BBS station for talk shows or panel discussion, no other outsiders are entertained in the BBS compound.

A team of seven reporters and editors including a lone female journalist of Kuensel Corporation is also stationed at their workplace.

Meanwhile, there are other service providers like  waste collectors, grocery, vegetable and LPG suppliers who have become busier during the lockdown.