Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) could not find any grounds for re-investigation of the ‘Learn and Earn’ overseas employment programme.

On January 21, parents and representatives of youth who went to Japan under learn and earn programme submitted an appeal to the ACC Chairperson for re-investigation saying the commission’s earlier investigation was incomplete. 

The appeal concerned re-investigation on excessive fees levied by the language schools in Japan, deduction of commission at source, favouring one agent for ticketing, high visa processing and agent fees.

ACC said the issues raised by the representatives was administrative in nature and moved the ball to the labour ministry’s court. “It is the responsibility of the relevant implementing agency – Ministry of Labour & Human Resources – to resolve the issues,” ACC stated.

ACC also asked the representatives to seek other options and consider appropriate recourse. 

ACC has investigated three batches of youth sent to Japan under learn and earn programme, excluding the last batch sent in April 2018. The Commission claims that investigation covered all aspects of the programme with the primary focus to determine whether there were corrupt practices in the implementation of the programme. 

“The ACC’s investigation did not evaluate the efficacy of the program design and its outcome whatsoever,” a letter from ACC stated.

However, ACC as far back as February 28, 2018, wrote to the labour ministry specifically stating not to preclude itself from enforcing necessary actions for breach of Regulations on Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agent 2013 and taking other administrative recourse including implementation of internal audit recommendations without waiting for the outcome of ACC’s investigation. 

ACC said that the criminal charges were forwarded to the Office of the Attorney General based on the findings and shared its findings on administrative issues with the ministry for appropriate actions. This includes fixing accountability on the responsible officials, ensuring the Bhutan Employment Overseas (BEO) to refund the unauthorised translation fees and making appropriate systems corrections. 

ACC is yet to receive the action taken report from the ministry as required by Sections 138 and 140 of the Anti-Corruption Act 2011. Further, ACC stated that it might invoke Section 139 of the Act in the event the actions taken by the ministry were not satisfactory or appropriate under the circumstances. 

ACC’s clarifies on its mandate

Despite its efforts to educate the public on its mandate and functions, ACC stated that the commission received complaints pertaining to issues not related to corruption and expected ACC to investigate and resolve non-corruption issues. 

“While it is fully understandable that any person approaching the ACC is doing so in the hope of redressing one’s problem/s, it is imperative to clear this misconception that not all administrative issues and improprieties, sense of injustice, grievances, etc. are corruption offences in accordance with the Anti-Corruption Act of Bhutan (ACAB) 2011,” it stated.

However, ACC claims that it did not disregard such issues during the course of investigation. This was done to understand cases in entirety and to share such issues with relevant authorities for systems improvement, grievance redressal, and fixing administrative accountability.

ACC said it instituted robust internal protocols to ensure that complaints were objectively assessed as per its legal mandate. 

During the last Parliament session, the good governance committee upon ACC’s recommendation proposed establishment of an office of ombudsman to redress grievances related to administrative issues. ACC stated that from past experiences, there was no uniformity in handling such complaints and actions taken besides burdening and deviating its focus from real corruption issues.

The second Parliament resolved that the commission in consultation with civil service commission should strengthen its human resource capacity and the government would provide financial support.

Tshering Dorji