BCCI can become strong only if it has a legal entity: new president

The lack of a legal status is hindering the Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) from being able to financially sustain its operations and become a vibrant organization representing the Bhutanese private sector. The newly-elected BCCI president Tandin Wangchuk highlighted the absence of legal footing as one of the chamber’s pressing concerns, one that has “handicapped” the chamber in terms of long-term financial sustainability, and thus resolving this issue will be a priority during his tenure. The BCCI, comprising members from the business community in the country, was established under the Royal Command of His Majesty the Fourth King in 1980. According to Tandin Wangchuk, without a legal standing, the BCCI is unable to carry out donation drives or initiate fund raising activities which would make it financially strong and enable it to deliver its services better. The status quo, he said, is even stifling the voice of the private sector. “Without a legal status, the BCCI is financially constrained and when we don’t have equal footing and legal tooth, we feel handicapped,” the BCCI president said. “This will adversely impact the sustainability of the organization and also suppress the voice of the private sector.” The first democratically elected government set aside an annual fund of Nu 3.0 million to sustain the BCCI’s operations. The second elected government raised the amount to Nu 6.0 million which further increased to Nu 10 million under the present government. The past presidents of the BCCI did try to obtain a legal status for BCCI but to no avail. A Bhutan Chamber for Commerce and Industry bill drafted and submitted to the parliament in 2013 failed to get through. “We wrote to the MoEA (Ministry of Economic Affairs) minister in 2013 requesting a legal status for BCCI,” said Ugen Tshechup Dorji, the 7th BCCI President. “One of the main issues of not having a legal status is the inability to get donations and direct financial assistance.” The request was however shot down. “Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuk refused to table the bill in the parliament,” he said. “We also approached the Speaker, Dasho Jigme Tshultim, who initially agreed but declined two weeks prior to the session.” If the BCCI had received a legal standing, a wider representation was in the line up. “The BCCI had a vision to institute local Bhutan Chamber for Commerce and Industry offices in all the dzongkhags across the country to get wider representation and it would have helped for the donation drive,” he added. The financial crunch got worse after the government axed one of the BCCI’s approaches to sustain by collecting membership fees. The chamber was also forbidden from organizing trade events which used to bring in some returns. The present government is supportive to get a legal status for the BCCI, according to Tandin Wangchuk. However, the MoEA Minister, Loknath Sharma, said that it doesn’t really matter if the BCCI had a legal status or not. “As a way forward, the BCCI needs to strategize things in a manner that the private sector respects it and holds the organization in a high regard,” the minister said. “Then it will easily sustain and be recognized.” “It is the responsibility of relevant stakeholders of private sector to strengthen the BCCI, and it is not the work of the government alone,” he said, adding “If there is a legal status for the BCCI, it will easily streamline with existing laws to bring positive changes to the private sector in the country.” However, the minister also made it clear that obtaining a legal status is not as simple as it may appear. “Again, it is also not appropriate to create laws for individual entities because there are hundred others requesting the government for legal recognition.” The BCCI comprises of a general body which is the apex forum of business representatives from the 20 Dzongkhags elected for the term of five years. Under the general body, the executive committee consist of the president of BCCI and the two vice presidents, and the presidents of ten sector associations, while the additional five regional executive committee members are elected by the general body members once in five years. Under the executive committee, the secretariat is managed by a salaried secretary general overseeing the day-to-day functioning of the organization.