President’s Milestones – I

.....highlight (March 2023)

Tandy Wangchuk, President, BCCI

Tandy Wangchuk took the reign of the President of Bhutan Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BCCI) from August 2021 when the global COVID-19 pandemic that engulfed the nation was at its peak.

As an uncompromising person, the pandemic did not restrict him from being at the forefront in leading the Bhutanese private sector in engaging itself as an integral part of the society, in securing the nation from the dreaded virus.

Under his leadership, the BCCI was actively involved in consultations at various levels. Several discussion forums were established within the Chamber that upheld the element of inclusivity in packaging the recommendations of the private sector towards containing the virus and at the same time, ensuring that the business sector remained afloat.

Within the limited financial resources at its disposal, the BCCI managed to engage itself in several significant activities starting from disinfection services at the border checkpoints, representing the business sector in national as well as regional forums within the country and providing public-private consultation platforms for shaping the intervention measures.

Appreciably, the leadership of the President and his regular guidance to the BCCI Secretariat, to the regional offices of the BCCI and to the institutional organs of the Chamber brought about much desired convergence in representing the private sector while advocating for shift in policy and other regulatory measures as demanded by the pandemic.

Development of an inclusive dossier for revival of the economy is one advocacy document that the BCCI came out with for dialogue with the Royal Government. This position paper provided recommendations to the Royal Government and the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) of Bhutan that the private sector perceived would secure the nation economically and sustain it to get through the pandemic phase and eventually fuel economy revival process.

While coming out with this proposition paper, the Chamber also drew and incorporated in it, several field inputs that actually emanated during the President’s familiarization and business sensitization visits to different dzongkhags. Many of the measures recommended in the document have been accommodated by the Government in its “Monetary Measures Four” (MM4).

Post introduction of MM4, the private sector held mixed feelings and reactions against the measures adopted by the RMA and the RGoB particularly on NPL accounts and loan cooling period of six months. Introduction of Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) in the tourism service sector too was received with mixture of confusion and discomfort.

These measures and resultant mixed reactions invited the Chamber to enhance its engagements with its members and business sector-associations for both reactive and proactive advocacies.

The perseverance of the President in representing the aspirations of the private sector for certain relaxation on measures introduced is significant.

He led bilateral consultations of the private sector with the Ministry of Finance (MoF), the RMA and the financial institutions besides holding series of consultative sessions with the BCCI membership. The outcome of this persistent engagement is notable.

Relaxation on application of Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) on genuine foreign delegates visiting the country for trade and economic cooperation particularly, for investment under the FDI regime is well-received by the private sector.

Beyond, SDF waiver up to 24 hours in the border towns of Samtse, Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar for tourists of all nationalities is a welcome move in the nation’s collective efforts towards reviving the economy, without of course undermining the safety and security aspects that the nation accords the highest priority.

The President continues to pursue with the government on the private sector recommendation to atleast consider “stay period-based concession” on the SDF for tourists visiting the country.

Equally comforting is the relaxation on measures adopted by the RMA on NPL accounts. Borrowers with liquidated NPL accounts need not have to go through the cooling period of six months for accessing fresh loans.

The “Monthly Last-Friday Meet” (MLFM) of the private sector with the Honorable Lyonchen and the government team is a welcoming development. The President and the BCCI membership takes this as a worthy platform for discussing, acknowledging and agreeing on issues and strategies towards facilitating sustainable private sector development.

Long-term measures introduced by the government might not be rolled back. However, through such a public-private sector consultation across the table, well-intentioned adjustment and accommodation on policies and other regulatory measures can be accomplished.

Some of the praiseworthy outcomes of this Public-Private Dialogue (PPD forum are:

  • Consideration of captive mines to industries wherever feasible and sustainable both economically and environmentally.
  • Agreement to consider the nearest disposal site for mining over-burden wherever available and environmentally feasible in order to reduce the cost of such disposal.
  • Expediting payments by the government procuring agencies to the contractors against contract works executed to relieve the financial burden on such contractors. The BCCI notes with appreciation that a notification has already been released by the MoF in regard to this matter.
  • Acceptance of the BCCI’s request to the government to consider supporting skilling programs for the IT graduates as necessitated under the nation’s move for digital transformation.

The BCCI, under the able guidance of its President, so far, hosted two MLFMs, beginning with the month of February 2023. The second MLFM wherein the consultation, among others, centered on the challenges being faced by the budget hotels took a decision to everybody’s excitement.

Honorable Lyonchen, to much satisfaction of the President, BCCI and budget hoteliers declared that such hotels (Blue Poppy 1 and Blue Poppy 2) shall be eligible to host tourists as long as the necessary service standards are met. Lyonchen directed the Department of Tourism that the hotel classification should be reviewed to make it more relevant to the international and national contexts.

Taking over the leadership reign of BCCI as an elected honorary office bearer, the President has committed and gone beyond the nine-to-five engagement for the office of the President. In the institutional governance and strategizing fronts, his leadership contribution, as on date, is laudable. Towards positioning the Chamber as a dynamic proactive forum, albeit staff attrition of almost 40 percent, he directed the BCCI in formulating strategy document for facilitation of private sector revival.

This document which has already been reviewed and adopted by the Executive Committee of BCCI, provides a five-year roadmap for the BCCI in-terms of its focus and direction.

Adoption of a more robust and contextually relevant charter to govern the operation of BCCI was his first endeavor as the President of BCCI. This amended charter (BCCI Charter 2021) ensures inclusivity in terms of representation of the dzongkhag business communities in the BCCI’s institutional organs. Guided by this governance document, several guidelines have been developed and adopted that would serve as administrative and management tools for the Chamber.

Encouraged by the transformation exercise of the government, BCCI too has undertaken an institutional reformation move which would be adopted from the beginning of the next fiscal year (July 2023). This exercise has been crucial for the Chamber owing to its dwindling budget resources as a result of the pandemic and resultant high attrition of experienced human resources during the past years.

For the Chamber to be the smart advocator and for research-based advocacy services, the President also realized the need of a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) with members holding professional expertise on economic policies, innovative business practices and relevant field expertise to advise the Chamber on policy issues requiring technical analysis and its expert interpretation. This Committee will hold its first session soon.

One remarkable achievement of the President is his personal initiative in securing the registration of the landed property of BCCI that houses its secretariat in Thimphu under institutional ownership. Earlier, this property was under user-right.

Trade promotion centers (TPC) are often housed and operated by the national chambers of commerce globally. Many large economies however have multiple organizations / bodies operating such centers for their respective memberships.   BCCI too aspired to establish such a center.  With the fund recently assured to the BCCI within the government’s 13th FYP budget allocations, establishment of such a center under presidentship of the reigning President is not a far-fetched dream now. The center would be built as a permanent facility for showcasing / exhibiting and launching of products and services with business information and facilitation services as a part of the establishment.

While presenting this brief update on the important milestones achieved, the office of the President, BCCI wishes to acknowledge the guidance and timely support of its Executive Committee, Executive Management, task forces, ad-hoc committees and its general membership. The BCCI Secretariat and its regional offices were instrumental in assisting the President in achieving these milestones.

The BCCI owes immense gratitude to the Chairman and members of the Private Sector COVID-19 Task Force for their regular engagement with the Chamber in meaningful representation of the private sector in this difficult time. The office of the President acknowledges with appreciation the expertise provided pro bono by the business professionals and sector-experts while packaging the private sector recommendations for revival of the economy.