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The overseas employment conundrum

Following more than a year of speculations and allegations in the overseas programme for India and Japan, the ACC’s investigation has shed some light on corrupt practices that were executed under the veneer of addressing unemployment.

It has implicated the former labour minister, the incumbent director general of the department of employment and human resources and the programme officer of corrupt practices. In calling for the cancellation of Bhutan Overseas Employment’s (BEO) trade license, the ACC has also asked the labour ministry to compel BEO to refund Nu 3.832 million it collected as translation fees from 511 students, who were sent to Japan. There are more charges and while ACC is commended for cracking the case, it is also critiqued for not holding the owners of BEO as accountable. The state of Bhutanese youth in Japan still remains an issue and one that the government claimed would be discussed in the cabinet.

However, the investigation has revealed the source of the problem and with it the weaknesses and the failure of the labour ministry in protecting the rights of the workers. The labour ministry was unable to monitor its own people, let alone the overseas programme in Japan run by businessmen. Instead, its director general, who was the link to the agent, the youth overseas and the ministry is accused of being involved in corrupt practices. That the proposal to start an overseas employment programme in Japan came from businessmen shows the desperation the ministry and the last government to keep its pledge of sending 30,000 youth overseas for employment. Seen this way, the ministry is as vulnerable to corruption as it is to giving into political pressure and scams as our youth.

The ACC has also called for administrative actions against labour ministry officials and restitution of funds that were collected through violation of rules and illegal means.  These actions are not enough and rather makes a mockery of our youth and the unemployment situation the country is buckling under. It involves an elected official, who people choose and civil servants, who are chosen through meritocracy. Their actions and indifference resulted in exploitation of youth. Labour officials that the parents of the youth in Japan met recently still remain unmoved and indifferent to their grievances.

It is time we stop tolerating such acts from public officials. It is as much time that if found guilty, the civil service commission stops its practice of transferring problematic civil servants from one agency to another.

Given the involvement of labour officials and the ACC findings, we now question the creditably of the labour ministry’s review report on the overseas programme in Japan that the cabinet is set to discuss. Questions are already raised on the fate of those in Japan if the institution that sent them there was illegally established. Would a mere cancellation of the agent’s trading license be enough to address the grievances of our youth and their parents?

How we hold those involved accountable and how the government strengthens the labour ministry would test our resolve to address the nation’s biggest challenge – unemployment.

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