The black elephant

In a turn of events, the IT park is shedding its image as a white elephant.

By the end of this year, there could be a thousand Bhutanese, the majority youth, employed at the park. It may not have met initial expectations of bringing in a large IT company like Infosys or Genpact but it seems to be headed in the right direction in terms of employment and local skills development.

The youth employed at the park are engaged in a variety of processes like photo editing and software development. A very few are even paid upwards of Nu 100,000 for the latter.

Some young entrepreneurs are provided a space at the park to work on their ideas. One of them will be launching a mobile app soon for the housing market that should help in finding not only vacant spaces, but also plumbers, electricians, carpenters, etc.

Undoubtedly, the IT park is a hive of activities today, a far cry from a time when it struggled to attract tenants and visitors were greeted with large empty halls.

But there are problems that need to be resolved.

The IT park’s largest tenant and employer of Bhutanese youth desires to further expand its operation in Bhutan. This means more jobs and transfer of skills.

But there seems to be an incomprehensible impediment facing the company: a lack of public transportation for its employees between Thimphu city and Babesa, where the park is located.

The city’s bus operator does not have enough buses to increase frequency on the required route. The company hoped that the government could provide transport reasoning on the grounds that it did not come to Bhutan to start a bus service. They’re right. For the amount of employment it is generating, the government, which has been helping the IT park to develop all along, should provide the transportation required so that the company’s operations are not disrupted.

We hear the government speaking a lot about employment today and how the youth all want a government desk job, yet such incidences can confound, including the one where thukpa and momo sellers were banned from plying their informal trade during the cold nights, when bureaucrats and decision makers are warmly tucked into their beds.

But it is welcome news that the government has recently provided the funds for the acquisition of more buses. It is only hoped that these buses are added to the route so that a year long problem is finally addressed.

But there is another problem, albeit a good one. Real estate at the IT park is running out and its largest tenant, if its expansion plans go as planned, may not find space at the park.

Going by government provided figures, we’re producing a large number of IT graduates annually. They need to have jobs and such international firms may be the answer until our own industry is a nascent one. But whether another large IT park structure needs to be built is a question that needs to be carefully studied.

A temporary phase where interested companies and expanding ones are housed by the private sector could be considered until we’re sure that we need another IT park.

1 reply
  1. irfan
    irfan says:

    IT sector is always considered for creating mass employment opportunities. It always gets considered as a key driver within the industry where it’s placed. When we all want to create and procure IT enabled assets; it will be rather unfortunate if real estate runs the IT sector employers out of space for future expansion and growth. But for the growth to be fuelled providing more jobs for the IT graduates, the transportation related issue should have been fixed by now. No nation can wait to see batches after batches of IT graduates turning into liabilities unless they are picked by these ever spreading IT firms. And without the real estate and transportation facilities, growth in the IT sector can’t be expected.

    What I am not very sure about is that whether the additional buses to be acquired by Bhutan Post will solve this problem for a longer time to come. With one shift of working per day we are probably looking at two distinctive peak hours for the transportation needs. Those hours will anyway not be very different from other office or school or business hours. And that’s the situation everywhere else. We also prefer to own some mode of private transport as well once we are settled with a well paid job.

    The question is whether the city’s public transport model should be designed and developed to meet the maximum rider-ship capacities at the peak hours or Bhutan Post decides to maintain a reasonable capacity to meet demands through out the day. We also don’t want to see lack of road infrastructure and parking facilities to run out Public Transport facilities for its growth. But as the mere users of public facilities, we can only wait at the bus stops for the next bus. On the roads of neighbouring India where two wheelers are highly popular for city communication; the cost of a standard 10 metre city bus can always roughly be equated to at least 30 bikes or scooters. In some European countries, people prefer to ride some of these expensive trikes on a normal driving licence for safety and as a cheaper alternative to owning a public transport pass. For us in the region, public transport is the cheapest mode. Hopefully with transport solutions implemented in time for the growth of the IT sector, a lot many will be saved from turning into another white elephants. Isn’t that the origin of the word ‘white elephant’ comes from another country in this region only!

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