Yangchen C Rinzin 

If the Dog year was full of trouble for the labour and human resources ministry, The Dog passed on the baton to the Hog, as the ministry was bogged down with major issues related to its overseas programme.

The overseas programme, learn and earn programme (LEP) that was under Anti-Corruption Commission’s radar continued to make headlines. The ministry, more than focusing on creating employment as mandated, had to juggle between solving overseas employment issues and dealing with criticism on social media for the failed programme. 

More than 200 of the 700 youth who went to Japan under LEP returned to Bhutan alleging the agent, Bhutan Employment Overseas (BEO) of corruption practices and requesting the ministry to solve the issue. 

The youth are still struggling to repay the loan they had availed to go to Japan through the agent. Focusing to solve the issue, the ministry came up with ‘best measure’ to defer the loan repayment instead of waiving off. 

However, not many were in favour of this. Each youth had availed Nu 700,000. A team led by the minister also visited Japan to study the issue deeper. 

The issue did not end here.

Marching to Royal Bhutan Police headquarter, about 100 parents and youth appealed to Chief of Police to register their complaint against BEO based on five criminal charges after they did not find any hope when ACC dropped the case as administrative lapses. 

Police arrested the two owners. Police forwarded the case to Office of Attorney General (OAG) and after another month, the case has finally reached Thimphu dzongkhag court where the proprietors of BEO are charged for 2,887 counts of forgery. 

The ministry’s director general (DG) was dragged in the case. Many on social media criticised and demanded both labour ministry and RCSC to sack DG that handled the programme alleging corruption. The DG was implicated in different overseas employment programmes in Japan and India. 

Just as the issue on overseas employment was subsiding, more than 100 Bhutanese women in Iraq are now desperately asking for government intervention to come home. The government is still working on to rescue the women who were sent by a Bhutanese agent by allegedly luring them. 

Despite problems, the labour sector also launched two programmes that the minister claimed would contribute to job creation. To gain employment in agriculture and construction, youth engagement livelihood programme was launched. It was initiated to engage unemployed job seekers who completed Class X and above.

Claiming it would not face the fate of LEP, labour ministry launched another programme Technical Intern Training Programme (TITP) to send Bhutanese youth to Japan. TITP will allow Bhutanese youth to pursue a three-year internship with Japanese employers to gain skills and acknowledge augmenting their employability. 

The ministry also took a bold decision to discontinue direct employment scheme after learning a lesson from the LEP issue. Employment responsibility system was also instituted across nine sectors to address the unemployment problem.

While the Pig year called for efficiency in the labour ministry, the New Year, under the government appears promising for now. The government in the 12th Plan targets to bring the youth unemployment rate down to 9 percent. 

The Rat year could be a hopeful year with the government looking into revamping TVET that would focus on creating skilled vocational graduates. The ministry has already started the work on increasing national minimum wage rate.

As of December 31 2019, about 48,274 jobseekers between the age of 25 and 29 are registered with ministry’s job portal system.