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Strengthen the labour ministry

In what could be a blow to the labour ministry, the joint sitting of the Parliament has now tasked the National Statistics Bureau to conduct the labour force surveys.

Against the burden of unemployment the country is buckling under, this decision of the parliament is progressive.  The statistics bureau has the expertise and mandate to provide accurate, timely and reliable data for informed policy making. The parliament has given the institution a grave responsibility to provide accurate labour market information to the people and policy makers for them to take informed decisions.

Unemployment, especially among youth is the most serious issue confronting modern Bhutan today. Yet, efforts made to address the problems have often fallen short.  The performance audit report has pointed out several lapses in addressing unemployment. It found that labour market need assessment was not carried out for employment facilitation initiatives to address gaps in the available and required skills in the labour market nor was an impact assessment carried out to evaluate the impacts of employment generation programmes.

The ministry has the mandate to facilitate human resource development for the country’s economic development. But its incompetence in generating reliable surveys to provide accurate information for policy making indicates an institutional weakness. It is problematic when the ministry isn’t confident about its own reports and when the basis to decision-making is faulty, initiatives taken to address problems rarely work. The ministry is supposed to be at the core of policies, given the impacts its strategies have on the lives of the people, the youth, the future that the country banks on. But it has grown to become the weakest sector.

After the labour ministry generated more than a dozen labour force survey reports, the parliament’s public accounts committee now cites conflict of interest to handover this task to the statistics bureau. By this argument, all ministries that produce reports must also have conflict of interests. If the intent is to strengthen the capacity of an institution to ensure that it performs, parliamentarians must take on the responsibility to point out the lapses and deficiencies. When the government itself has questioned the creditability of labour ministry’s reports and the ministry has cited a technical glitch, a reason such as conflict of interest makes a mockery of the unemployment issue.

However, we must understand that the systemic deficits in the ministry in terms of coordination, communication and reporting mechanism does not mean that professionals there are not doing their work. An organisation’s performance depends on its leadership. The ministry must initiate reforms and implement the recommendations made by the audit authority for it to regain public trust and confidence in tapping the skills and knowledge of the workforce, the prime drivers of a society’s socio-economic development.

The joint session of the parliament’s decision on December 6 however comes after the labour ministry notified that it would be conducting the National Labour Force Survey 2017 from December 4 to January 7, 2018. The ministry and the statistics bureau must work together to ensure that this survey’s creditability is not questioned. Even if the bureau conducts the survey, the labour ministry will be implementing the policies. We cannot afford to falter anymore.

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