Government to include BCCI in the Trade and Investment Bill

MB Subba 

Issues surrounding the legality of the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) would be addressed in the Trade and Investment Bill that is being drafted.

Economic affairs minister Loknath Sharma informed this yesterday while presenting a follow up report to the resolutions of the previous session on the status of the BCCI in the National Assembly.

The minister said the government had held discussions on whether or not a separate law was required to address the legality issues facing the BCCI.

“We decided that BCCI should be included in one of the Chapters of the Trade and Investment Bill that will be introduced in the parliament later,” he said.

However, Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said that the BCCI was an association of mutual benefit and that it should be registered under the Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Act a non-governmental organisation to address the legality issues.

He said that there were three models of chambers – continental, Anglo-American and mixed – and that BCCI was based on the Anglo-American model. He said that chambers of the Anglo-American model did not require an Act given the membership was voluntary.

“The BCCI is not still registered as a CSO despite suggestions by past governments,” he said.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering described BCCI as a bridge between the government and the private sector. But he said that he was not confident about whether or not a separate Act was required.  

He said that registration of BCCI under the CSO Act was not possible. Lack of an Act, he added, would not impede the chambers work. 

The chamber’s objective, he said, was to achieve self-sufficiency in resources, which according to him was not in line with the CSO Act. He said that no law was violated due lack of a law for the chamber.

Drametsi-Ngatshang MP Ugyen Wangdi raised objections against the government’s announcement to bring BCCI under the Trade and Investment Bill. “The BCCI was about more than trade and investment,” he said.

One of the options, he said, was to update the BCCI’s charter to suit the present context. He added that there was no urgency for a separate Act.

However, the economic affairs minister said that it was not appropriate for BCCI to be registered under the CSO Act. He reasoned that several organisations, including that of hotels, tourism and construction, are registered with the BCCI.

Audit observations

The follow up report was based on a performance audit report of the BCCI, which had questioned the legality of the chamber as an organisation in one of the observations.

The performance audit covered the period from January 2013 to December 2017.

In absence of a legal basis, questions on the legality of documents and MoUs signed by BCCI with entities outside the country were raised in Parliament.

The report found that although BCCI was an apex body for private sector development, there was no clear legal mandate and legitimacy for its operation.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had reported that BCCI had drafted a Bill in 2006 but the then Speaker suggested BCCI to register as a CSO.

The previous session of parliament had also recommended the government to sign an Annual Performance Agreement (APA) with the chamber to improve its efficiency.

Lyonpo Loknath Sharma reported the ministry was working towards signing an APA with BCCI in the upcoming financial as per the parliament resolution. He said that the government was also mindful about respecting the independence of BCCI as a non-governmental organisation.

The minister reported that the government was working towards promotion of the private sector through ease of doing business and creating conducive environment for investment.

He said that the government had established a Private Sector Development Committee (PSDC), a majority of whose members are private sector representatives. He informed that the PSDC secretary office, which was previously under the economics affairs ministry, was brought under the BCCI in July last year.

He added that works on strengthening the BCCI’s financial system, internal audit system, planning framework and rules of procedure were ongoing even as the Bill was being drafted.

“The BCCI did not have enough resources as many people in the private sector did not register with the chamber,” he said. Trade fairs, he said, had also been stopped, as they did not benefit the country much.

At the end of the debate, Speaker Wangchuk Namgyel said that no resolution was required to be passed on the issue, as it was just a report presented to the House.

However, he remarked that there was no “wow factor” in the follow up report presented by the economic affairs minister. “It is a matter of concern that BCCI could not achieve self-sufficiency in almost 40 years.”

Foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that the BCCI should benefit both the private sector and the government. “It is up to the BCCI if they want to register as a CSO, but there must be some reasons why it didn’t,” he said.

He also said that a separate Act was not required for the BCCI. He expressed concerns about the BCCI’s status as it could not achieve self-sufficiency in about 40 years.

The BCCI was established under the Royal Command of His Majesty the King in 1980 and is a non-profit organization consisting of members from the business community, and is the apex body of the private sector.

BCCI generates 50.4 percent of its revenue from annual membership fees and 45 percent from rental income and voluntary fees, among others. BCCI receives grants from the government to meet its total expenses.