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Bringing national priority into focus

Political stunt or no, some interesting developments are continuing to surprise the Bhutanese people.  The latest in the line of remarkable events is the leave that Labour Minister Ngeema Sangay Tshempo sought, which the prime minister granted, to allow Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate some aspects of the initiatives that the ministry took in the period of a little more than four years.

Some brushed off the minister’s leave as utter gimmick. There are others who are of the view that at a time when politicians cling to power even as they have erred and are unpopular among the electorate, a minister stepping aside is exemplary. It is taking responsibility as a leader.

Worthy sentiments.

Although unemployment situation has been a concern for the nation for quite some time, efforts that the labour ministry put and the many measures it employed helped reduce unemployment rate from 2.5 percent in 2015 to 2.1 percent in 2016. That is going by the latest Labour Force Survey report. But youth unemployment has risen by 2.6 percent. As we speak, the nation’s youth unemployment figure stands at 13.2 percent.

The ministry’s focus shifted abroad to address growing youth unemployment in the country. Its overseas employment programme helped employ close to 4,000 Bhutanese in businesses outside Bhutan. But, all’s not been a happy story. The programme very soon became unpopular with Bhutanese jobseekers. Rather than focusing on short-term and unsustainable solutions, the government, labour ministry in particular, could have sought a more practical option by collaborating with and helping the private sector grow. That is job creation. That is building economy.

Looking back, labour ministry’s plan to facilitate 120 new business start-ups by youth by 2018 to achieve full employment fell far too short. Going by some estimates, it is expected that about 19,000 jobseekers will enter the labour market annually. It is a formidable challenge we have in our hands.

It has been found that skill mismatch is among the main reasons that contribute to rising unemployment in the country. Employers are reluctant to take in graduates that our colleges produce. What this means is that our children do not posses the attributes to enter the wider world of reality. This means education, how we are preparing our children for the future. Creating employment opportunities requires concerted effort. Our planners, policymakers, and educators need to look at the problem of youth unemployment from a broader perspective and get at the heart of the issue.

Prime minister has said that he will take full charge of the ministry in the absence of a minister. What this development indicates is that government will not tolerate corruption and recognises the challenges that lay ahead. We are comforted by this knowledge.

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