Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has asked the labour ministry to compel Bhutan Employment Overseas (BEO) to refund translation fees amounting to Nu 3.832 million (M) to the 511 students sent to Japan through the “learn and earn” programme.

During the investigation, a report of which was released recently, the ACC concluded that the investigation was convinced that BEO had charged translation fees from students in contravention of the Regulation on Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agent 2013.

The investigation found that there was no evidence to prove that the BEO incurred any translation cost. The BEO had taken Nu 7,500 from each student.

BEO, however, replied to the ACC that the amount collected as translation fees was then used to either pay students’ loans or paid to the parents or students.

“When BEO was given the opportunity to prove that translation fees were genuinely incurred, owner of BEO, Jurmey Tshewang, furnished three tax invoices issued by SND, the BEO’s Japanese counterpart. However, the investigation was not able to give credence to the tax invoices since there was no means to authenticate the genuineness of the tax invoices,” the report states.

As per Chapter 3.4 of the Regulation on Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agent, 2013, “No other charges in whatever form, manner or purpose, shall be imposed on and be paid by the worker without prior approval of the Administration. Such fees shall be collected from a hired worker only after he/she has been successfully placed with the principal employer.”

The investigation found that BEO, without any prior approval from the labour ministry, had charged as translation fees.

Citing Jurmey Tshewang, the ACC states that the translation fees were required to cover expenses for translating academic transcripts and other credentials while applying for study in Japan. On the contrary, Tenzin Rigden, one of the persons involved in the programme, stated that the translation fees covered the work related to translation not just for the preliminary documents that require to be sent to Japan from Bhutan but also for any subsequent related works like processing documents again when students apply for vocational colleges or regular jobs in the span of five years.

Jurmey Tshewang told ACC that translation work were done by staff of SND in Japan and BEO paid the fees to SND. However, investigation found that translation fees for all the three batches were not remitted to Japan by BEO.

Tenzin Rigden, according to the report, stated that payment of translation fees to their Japanese counterpart was flexible. The Japanese counterpart was paid as and when BEO collected money from students for loan payments, money transfer to home, outstanding airfare, outstanding language fees, and other financial aid.

According to the report, BEO collected fees in two parts. The first part included tuition and admission fees, which BEO had to remit to various language institutes in Japan prior to sending students to Japan. These fees were based on invoices of various language institutes in Japan, the report states.

The tuition and admission fee ranged from Nu 318,000 up to Nu 517,000.00 per student depending on the institute.

The second part included all other costs and fees including the agent’s own commission, which were already preset by the BEO. Altogether, the other costs ranged from Nu 120,000 to Nu 130,000 per student.

According to the report, 66 out of 67 students of April 2017 batch took loan of Nu 600,000 each from the RICBL. The RICBL transferred the entire loan of Nu 39.6M availed by those students directly into BEO’s CD account on March 3 2017. About Nu 6.767M out of Nu 39.6M was refunded to the students as “take-along money” leaving balance of Nu 32.832M.

Out of the remaining money with the BEO, it had wired Nu 23.312M to six language institutes in Japan and had retained Nu 8.19M (about Nu 130,000 per student) to cover for air ticket, visa fees, documentation fees and agent’s commission.

ACC report states that based on the ticketing invoices, the actual ticket cost incurred by the BEO amounted to Nu 2.36M, which comes to Nu 35,000 per student. It collected Nu 40,000 from each student which amounts to Nu 2.64M.

“The BEO did not refund the balance to students even though the actual ticketing was done in March 2017 and was aware of the actual ticket cost. The refund was made only in September and October 2017 apparently after receiving complaints from students and as a result of Internal Audit inspection,” the ACC report states.

The report highlights that 61 out of 62 students who went in July 2017 batch, availed loan of Nu 700,000 each from BDBL between June 20 to 24 of 2017.

The loans were disbursed in the youths’ individual savings account although it eventually ended up being deposited in BEO’s account. In July 2017 batch, the BEO deposited Nu 36.6M into its account in the month of June 2017. Of this, the BEO wired Nu 30.088M to Japan retaining about Nu 7.799M (Nu 127,866 per student) to cover for air ticket and other costs including its commission.

The agent collected Nu 50,000 against air ticket from each student, amounting to Nu 3.05M, but it actually incurred only Nu 2.626M only. The agent refunded the balance amount of Nu 390,875 before students departed Bhutan.

By this time, both Jurmey Tshewang and DG Sherab Tenzin were already aware of complaints lodged by a group of April 2017 batch students, which included ticketing as one of the issues, according to ACC.

From the October 2017 batch, 380 out of 382 students availed loan of Nu 700,000 each from BDBL. The loans for 50 students were directly deposited into the BEO’s account while the remaining students’ had to be deposit in cash to the BEO. From the gross collection of Nu 267.4M, the BEO refunded Nu 24.690M to students as ‘take along money’ leaving itself Nu 242.709M.

From this balance, the BEO wired Nu195.21M to various language institutes in Japan. The BEO, therefore, retained Nu 47.499M, out of which it spent Nu 18.178M on air tickets. The BEO kept Nu 29.321M as its commission and other charges.

MB Subba