The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has called for the cancellation of trade licence of Bhutan Employment Overseas (BEO), the agent for the controversial overseas employment programme in Japan.
The commission’s investigation report has implicated former labour minister, Ngeema Sangay Tshempo, director general (DG) of the department of employment and human resources, Sherab Tenzin and programme officer Ugyen Tashi in the overseas employment programme in Japan and India, for engaging in unethical practices that are construed as corruption in accordance with Anti-Corruption Act 2011.
The commission forwarded the investigation report to the office of the attorney general yesterday for probable prosecution.
Learn and Earn in Japan
Although registered in the name of Jurmey Tshewang, BEO, the ACC found was operated in partnership with Tenzin Ridgen, officially represented as a consultant of BEO.
Following growing controversies and complaints, the former minister in July 2016, had verbally instructed Sherab Tenzin to freeze issuance of new and renewal of old overseas employment licences.
On November 24, ACC found that a registration certificate signed by the labour secretary was issued to BEO. The same day, Sherab Tenzin had sent a recommendation letter to the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) to issue trade licence to Jurmey Tshewang. On November 30, the MoEA issued a trade licence to BEO as recommended by the MoLHR.
The investigation team found incomplete application form submitted by Jurmey Tshewang with overwritten date. BEO’s foreign principals, Light Path Co., Japan and SND were not found to have been accredited by the MoLHR. During investigation, the secretary confirmed that he was unaware of any suspension in effect since he was not informed of it at the time of signing the registration certificate issued to BEO.
On January 19, 2017, ACC found that Sherab Tenzin had moved a note sheet seeking approval of the ministry to lift suspension on issuance of new licence.
“He justified that the overseas agents have invested in opening the establishment and might attract civil litigations,” the report states. “His note sheet clearly indicated that the Ministry had indeed instructed his department to suspend issuance of new and renewal of old overseas employment license.”
The investigation determined that BEO was issued registration certificate without submitting and verifying any documents.
Regardless of whether or not issuance of new licence and renewal of old licence were under suspension, ACC’s investigation concluded that Jurmey Tshewang was illegally issued registration certificate for establishing BEO despite failing to furnish key documents. It found that the BEO had changed its foreign principal from Light Path Company Ltd. to SND without following the due process as required by the Regulation on Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agent, 2013.
“It is evident that Sherab Tenzin and Ugyen Tashi had knowingly failed to exercise due diligence and failed in strictly implementing the Regulation on Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agent, 2013, which led to illegal issuance of license to BEO, ultimately benefitting Jurmey Tshewang and Tenzin Rigden,” the report states. “Secretary Sonam Wangchuk, being the Chief Labour Administrator, also failed in overseeing and ensuring that staff of DoEHR exercised due diligence and strictly implemented the Regulation on Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agent, 2013.”
Handling of Complaints
Amid allegations in media accusing the BEO of handling students’ loans and charging excessive fees, a formal complaint was also lodged to Dil Maya of MoLHR via email by a group of students from Japan on July 11, 2017.
The email was forwarded to Sherab Tenzin, who however, had not handled the issue as required by Chapter 12.1 of the Regulation on Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agent, 2013. “Investigation found that Sherab Tenzin had not conducted any proceedings or issued any order to address the grievances of the students and fix accountability on the violator,” the report states. “Instead, he assumed the responsibility of BEO and responded to the students’ complaints (point by point) through email with copy to the minister, secretary and relevant programme officials.”
Despite promising the students that he would verify and inform the outcome of the verification, ACC found that Sherab Tenzin had chose to remain indifferent and do nothing on the issue. “In the email, he is also found to have used subtle threats to silence the students. For instance, he ends his email response stating that if students strongly feel they have been cheated or deliberately misguided, he would advise the agent to arrange their return so that the case can be dealt appropriately.”
Sherab Tenzin had told ACC that on receipt of complaints, the genuineness of the complaints are verified and then shared with the agent to resolve the matter.
Investigation also found that Sherab Tenzin had responded to the internal audit memo by explicitly stating about giving credit and support to BEO.
“Investigation is certain that Sherab Tenzin had proactively defended BEO primarily to favor Jurmey Tshewang.”
As per the regulation, the agent may charge placement fee equivalent to one month’s salary of the worker only upon placement and visa fee must be borne by the agent or its foreign principal if not paid by the employer.
The regulation permitted only placement and documentation fees (actual). “However, investigation observed that BEO was not only allowed to charge other fees without actual basis but also exercised full control of students’ loans right from the beginning in such a way that it could conveniently deduct all tuition fees and costs including its agent commission upfront even before sending students to Japan.”
ACC found no evidence to prove that the BEO incurred any translation cost besides furnishing their own receipts to students against Nu 7,500 collected from each student.
BEO, without any prior approval from the ministry, had charged Nu 7,500 a student as translation fees in all three batches amounting to Nu 3.832 million (for 511 students). A review of the proposal submitted by BEO to the DoEHR, MoLHR revealed that BEO had not reflected the translation fees in their cost breakdown.
ACC also found that the translation fees for all three batches were not remitted to Japan by BEO.
ACC has charged Sherab Tenzin for two counts of offence of omission amounting to abuse of functions, one for deliberately failing to exercise due diligence and violating Chapter 2.1.5 of Regulation on Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agent, 2013 which resulted in illegal issuance of license to BEO, ultimately benefitting Jurmey Tshewang and Tenzin Rigden.
The other, ACC states, is for deliberately failing to manage the complaints lodged by the students/youths and violating Chapter 12.1 and 12.3 of the Regulation on Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agent, 2013 to safeguard the interest and favor BEO. The above act is also in violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethics under Chapter 3.2 of BCSRR 2012.
ACC has charged program officer Ugyen Tashi for one count of offence of omission amounting to abuse of functions for deliberately failing to exercise due diligence and violating Chapter 2.1.5 of Regulation on Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agent, 2013 resulting in illegal issuance of license to BEO, ultimately benefitting Jurmey Tshewang and Tenzin Rigden.
The above act is also in violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethics under Chapter 3.2 of BCSR 2012.