Amid the pandemic and the restrictions, 10 Bhutanese women had reached New Delhi, India. They were on their way to Qatar, in the Middle East, to look for jobs. The government had to intervene when Indian airport authorities suspected the authenticity of their visas. The problem is solved, at least for now.
The bigger problem, however, is at home. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit Bhutan and Bhutanese around the world, one priority of the government, on the command of His Majesty The King, was to look into the problems of Bhutanese wanting to return home for safety. Millions of ngultrums were spent and consultations held to rescue Bhutanese, especially women from the Middle East. The images of how Bhutanese young women had to be rescued from Iraq are still fresh.
Before we could recover from the pandemic and the troubles related to it, we are seeing women heading for the Middle East again. There is nothing wrong in Bhutanese wanting to work abroad. The problem is the loopholes in the system, which the pandemic exposed, are not plugged.
The ten women were on their way to Qatar and we don’t know who facilitated that. The women had told officials that they found the jobs themselves. An agent could not be traced. It will be an uphill task to trace them as they are more organised than our agencies or authorities.
What they exposed, as they left, are the gaps in our systems. It is easy to take our agencies and officials for a ride. People know the weaknesses and fault lines of our systems. And they have tricks up their sleeves to get around our poorly implemented processes. The fact that Bhutanese women are enticed to work in the Middle East despite having rules that jobseekers should go through registered agents says a lot. It is, like we say, the right hand not knowing what the left is doing.
The expectation is that leaving to work abroad will be more organised. It seems agents or those wanting to forgo official channels are many steps ahead. If we have not learnt lessons, we picked up the hard way from the pandemic, we will never improve.
The Delhi incident is a reminder that we need to plug our loopholes. As the pandemic subsides, we will see people returning to normal. Normal in our sense is taking the government and regulations for a ride.
The pandemic might have devastated our economy, but it also showed us opportunities and exposed our limitations. Those aware of the tricks are having the last laugh.
Recent developing events that people are talking about are the examples of how systems are taken for a ride. How can we not question one person applying for four business licenses? How can Jaigaon businesses produce millions of cash in ngultrums even after the border remained shut for years? How can we outsource jobs with restrictions and impediments?
The printing industry is a classic example. A corporate employee, who resigned to start a printing firm, was shocked when his minimum profit rate was rejected in an open tender and the job offered to another. He challenged the official and was invited to observe the printing works. He knew the job was going to a printer in Siliguri. He had not learnt the tricks of the trade and questioned. The official was convinced and he got the job. A bar owner forgot to renew the “hired” license. The license owner demanded Nu 300,000 as the license was getting cancelled. Worried, she approached all her relatives, who knew trade officials. She used the official channel, but was refused a renewal of the license. A few weeks later, she got it renewed without having to go to the office.
These are just a few examples. The deeper we dig, the uglier it can get. And all these happen because we are not serious about what we are paid to do.