Established under the Royal Command of His Majesty the King in 1980, the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BCCI) is a non-profit making private sector organization, comprising of business community members from all around the country. While the General Body is the apex forum for the BCCI, the Executive Committee pursues implementation of programs by the BCCI Secretariat, as per the policy directives of the General Body. The President, Vice Presidents, and the Executive Committee Members of the BCCI are elected by the General Body for a term of three years.
The BCCI was established as a non-government and non-profit making service oriented organization in 1980 under the Royal Command with a traditional role of augmenting and supplementing the efforts of the Royal Government towards development of a formal private sector. However, due to a weak private sector base, lack of members voluntarism, deplorable resources in terms of human skills and budgetary fund coupled with lack of insight on management of such an institution, the Chamber remained dormant from 1985 till mid 1988.
It was again under the Royal Command that the BCCI was reinvigorated in May 1988 as a potential partner for nation building, following a Royal Audience granted to the representatives of the business community by His Majesty the Fourth King. Established on a noble foundation of a broader institutional representation, the BCCl general membership then consisted of representatives all elected through democratic processes from various business sectors & sub-sectors and nationwide district business communities. The Chamber began its operation through voluntary contribution of funds by a handful of prominent enterprises. The organization was managed by a team of honorary members elected for a fixed term and a salaried Secretary General overseeing the day to-day functioning of the organization.
Having taken the form of a national establishment, the BCCI instituted its permanent office with half-a-dozen of largely unprofessional staff in Thimphu in 1990. This was in fact the beginning of a reinvigorated intermediary business organization (IBO) in Bhutan, conventionally branded as ‘the bridge between the government and the private sector’. Since then, this IBO, despite wide adversities, has embarked upon achieving its cherished mission of promoting, developing and furthering the economic participation of the Bhutanese private sector in the nation building process, by providing a collective voice in advocacy to represent and protect member’s interests and business facilitation services to help the private sector enhance its competitiveness in their businesses.
The Secretariat of the BCCI operated in a semi-permanent residential cottage. It lacked proper office space and basic automation system. It was only in 1999 that the institution built a permanent office building through one-time ‘building construction contributions’ of the business community members.
To move along the decentralization process of the government, the BCCI established five permanent regional offices in five selected regions. The main objective of this endeavor was decentralization of the BCCI’s business development & advocacy services to the SMEs through improved networking, both for business start-ups and for the ongoing enterprises. The first regional office was set-up at Phuentsholing in 1994 and then followed by Monger, Trongsa, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar in early 2007. The required physical infrastructures for these regional offices have been put in place, staff recruited & oriented and offices put into operations from beginning 2007.
The BCCI today has a total of six professionals and thirteen non-profession, support staff at its secretariat at Thimphu manning three different broad divisions such as Business Support Division, General Affairs Division and Human Resource Development Division. The f( new regional offices have a couple of staff each, whereas, Phuentsholing, being the nation’s trar as well as commercial hub, has four regular employees with two middle-level professionals.
Since the re-establishment of the BCCI in 1988, the bulk of its budget, fund was raised from membership dues contributed by the business units on an annual basis. Which the BCCI has been due diligent towards application of this public money, the fragile resource has been a vicious force against institutional sustainability and internal financing of program and services. In 2006-07, the BCCI, based on the general consensus of the business community introduced a new membership scheme, in essence, through fresh classification of members.
However, due to lack of Chamber’s statutory hold or control mechanism over these members, mobilization of membership dues under the new scheme has not been encouraging. There has been certain resentments and attrition to Chamber’s goodwill. Still the new scheme has been able to generate resources at least to meet the additional administrative overheads. One of the main reasons for escalation of administrative overhead expenses was a result of establishment of regional offices
Besides the membership dues, the Chamber today generates its resources trivial though, through other sources such as rental earnings, trade exhibitions and activity-based subsidy from the Royal Government. For services and programs, the BCCI mostly depends on the program supports from donors, whereas, programs such as the trade fairs and exhibitions are self-sustained
To achieve its cherished mission, the BCCI has on its agenda, a broad range of function services. Some of these services include representation both in the national and international forums, networking & linkages, business information services, training & other skill develop programs, membership development, business referral services and sustainable enter development services. The BCCI provides linkage between the government and the privates and works closely with all the government agencies, autonomous organizations and international organizations and donor agencies towards facilitation and promotion of trade & industrial development in the kingdom.
Towards this front, strengthening of the institutional capacity to become a better partner for the royal government for shaping enabling environment for the development of the Bhutanese private sector has been the key approach of the BCCI to respond to the ever-increasing expectations of its members and stakeholders.
The BCCI, as a development facilitator, has always endeavored towards working not in confrontation but in close collaboration with different agencies. With this principal approach, the BCCI had excellent associations with line agencies in the past. Above all, it was the Ministry of Economic Affairs in particular that has seen and advocated for the sustenance of the Chamber.
While the BCCI holds sincere desire to forge cordial and workable partnerships with all stake holders working towards promotion of the Bhutanese private sector and it has been receiving support and cooperation, existence of consistent relationship with the MoEA in particular, is based on the common understanding that in most countries the Ministry of Economic Affairs hold the regulatory charge and control over the general operations of the chambers of commerce. In our situation, the MoEA has not just been a regulator but a guardian ministry in all possible spheres.
Much has been gradually achieved by the BCCI in terms of institutional infrastructure autonomy and system, this lBO, is relatively subtle in terms of legal statute, institution sustainability & professionalism, pro-activeness, etc. due to several inherent reasons. Poor financial sustainability has been a deterrent which has virtually restrained the Chamber activities. Production and delivery of programs on a self-sustained basis may not take-off so well immediately particularly when the private sector still receives business support & promotion programs often fully subsidized and delivered by different agencies of the Royal Government and other institutions. It would definitely take some time for the private sector to accept the principle of ‘pay for services’ in Bhutan.
Institutional dependence on mandatory membership fees, in the long run, may not be a sustainable approach, whereas, it is compelled to resort to this financing mechanism 1) for lack of government delegated functions that the Chamber could execute within its capacity, 2) limited professional competence to produce and sell its services to the members and 3) the institution is over-stretched in almost all aspects of representation, professionally not focused and holds very limited scope for prioritizing its promotional services as most of the time, it cannot avoid but engage itself into diverse roles, quite often, passed down to it by the regulating agencies. For the Chamber to be legally recognized, more oriented & focused, clear and of dynamic, enactment of a suitable CCI Act as its legal statute is equally indispensable.
While the ‘way ahead’ may be difficult and challenging, BCCI has the will to be the apex private sector organization of Bhutan managed by a team of dedicated staff, consistently striving towards creating a conducive environment for the growth and development of the private sector, and playa pro-active and lead role in fostering economic development in Bhutan.