I am sorry for what I said: Education minister

Education Minister Norbu Wangchuk has apologised following a furor online over a speech he gave to teachers where he said that Bhutanese going to Australia look for toilet cleaning jobs.

Lyonpo’s speech to a group of teachers in Wangdue was shared on social media and soon went viral causing distress to Bhutanese studying and working in Australia.

“That’s the lowest end of the jobs,” he said in the recording. “Such jobs require no skill and people rush for this kind of jobs.” Lyonpo said that Australian toilets are not a respectable place for Bhutanese.

The minister was quick to apologise. Within a few hours of the post on social media, the minister issued a lengthy apology on his Facebook page.

“I want to offer my sincere apology for causing hurt and distress. Perhaps the choice of words and the choice of example that I used had been poor. I offer my apologies unconditionally,” Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said.  “I want you to know that I had not intended to demean the work that you do in Australia.”

A Bhutanese studying commercial cookery in Perth, Western Australia, Yeshey Dorji said not every one in Australia clean toilets.

“Being such a high profile person, he shouldn’t be making such derogatory and disgusting comments about people living and working in Australia for whatsoever reason it is,” Yeshey Dorji said.

Yeshey Dorji, who was also among those criticising the minister for his comments on social media said that even if it was for the purpose of retaining experienced and quality teachers, he can not make a mockery of someone who sweats abroad to make a better living and better future for their families.

“His comments and attitude towards people living and working out here is disgraceful and disheartening,” he said.

He said the minister has got the whole concept wrong about people coming to Australia.

“People come here to earn as they study not for the sole purpose of a gainful employment, unlike the Bhutanese going to Arab countries. His comparative analysis went wrong in this perspective,” he said.

Like Yeshey Dorji many working in Australia condemned the minister’s speech. The minister’s supporters jumped to his defense that the speech was misconstrued.

The minister was citing Bhutanese working in Australia as an example in his address on the need to improve the quality of education.

The speech, he said, which was targeted to teachers in a particular school was intended to encourage educators to raise the quality of education; to provide skill-sets to students comparable to any developed society; and as a small country to be at par with any other nations in the world in skills, talents and passion.

He said the government has made its stand clear on working abroad.

“At several occasions in the media or the Parliament, the government has always encouraged our people to work abroad as it brings in expertise; experience, exposure and the money to support our families or to start a venture back home.”

Lyonpo said that he had worked in Australia and has his family members working down under. “I would not intentionally cause hurt and misgivings to you and my family.”

The minister said his message to a targeted group of audience had been pulled out of context.

“It is unfortunate that as we near elections for 2018, what is apparently an innocent speech for a group of teachers and which could have gone unnoticed can be brought under the scrutiny of the global audience and dissected through ill-intended and malicious political purposes,” the minister said in his Facebook page.

“I offer my sincere and unreserved apologies to those of you working in Australia for my poor choice of words and tone; and putting you in the example that I used which could have been avoided.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said the government has repeatedly and on many occasions emphasized that Bhutanese working abroad are making important contributions to the Kingdom.

“Furthermore, their growing remittances serve to strengthen our economy.”

There are more than 4,000 Bhutanese studying and working in Australia.

Tshering Palden

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