Bhutan Employment Overseas (BEO) collected a total of Nu 3.414 million (M) from 511 students who were sent to Japan through the “learn and earn” programme as visa fees and processing cost, according to an Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) report.

Each student from three batches was charged Nu 6,682, which the ACC report states was in violation of the Bhutanese overseas employment agent rules.

The collection of visa fees and cost in contravention of the rule was also pointed by the internal audit report in their report dated in 2017, and accordingly the overseas unit of the MoLHR was recommended to ensure that students are refunded the visa fees.

After the audit findings, BEO had refunded visa fees and cost collected from the first batch of 67 youths who were sent in April 2017. For the subsequent batches, who were sent in July and October 2017, refunds have not been provided to the 444 students, citing an amendment of the Regulation on Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agent 2016 that allowed BEO to collect visa fee and collection fee.

A note dated April 17, 2018, appraising the amendment submitted by DG Sherab Tenzin and recommended by Secretary Sonam Wangchuk was approved by the then Prime Minister, when he was in-charge of MoLHR. Prior to this, there was a note dated May 4, 2017 submitted to the then minister, Ngeema Sangay Tshempo by DG Sherab Tenzin, Officiating Chief Employment Officer Chimmi Rinzin and Program Officer Ugyen Tashi, where the then minister was apprised about the amendment of Regulation on Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agent, 2013 as per the guidance and recommendation of the Office of the Attorney General.

According to the report, approval for the endorsement for publication of the new regulation was also sought through the same note.

“Investigation learnt that internal audit team of MoLHR was not aware of the amendment of Regulation on Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agent, 2013 and existence of the new Regulation on Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agent, 2017,” it states. Further, the ACC observed that there was no mention of the new regulation being in existence in the management response to the internal audit finding.

The report states, “Upon observing such anomalies and a gap of over 11 months between the above two notes, investigation felt it was critical to rule out the possibility of falsification of documents.”  The ACC also reviewed key documents relevant to the issue and in doing so found that the Regulation on Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agent, 2013 was amended on May 4, 2017.

However, the addendum on the regulation was uploaded on MoLHR website only on February 2018, it was found. Further, the supply order for publication of the new regulation was only issued on June 29, 2018 despite receiving endorsement for the publication on May 4, 2017.

The ACC found that the Regulation on Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agent, 2017 was not disseminated adequately to the public. The cycle of revising the regulation was completed only after the investigation was launched, which inferred the intention of DoEHR staff to safeguard the interest of BEO, the ACC states.

The ACC, in accordance with section 137 of ACAB 2011, has decided to refer the matter to relevant authority for appropriate administrative actions against the responsible officials.

As per Chapter 3.1.1 and 3.1.3 of the Regulation on Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agent, 2013, “Unless otherwise provided by the foreign employer, the principal or the BOEA shall be responsible for the payment of visa fee and processing of work permit (if applicable)” respectively.

The ACC received the case in November 2017 after allegations of collusion and bribery surrounding the overseas employment program in India and Japan implemented emerged.

The ACC commenced the investigation on November 29, 2017 to uncover any facts and evidence of fraud and collusion in the administration of the above two overseas programs.

MB Subba