An investigation team from the labour ministry found that the Best Placement Agency, the agent that sent 92 students to Malaysia had not violated any rules and acted as per the contract agreements it drew with the students.
After two students lodged a complaint against the agent in November last year to the labour minister and to the Anti-Corruption Commission, the ministry fielded an independent four-member team to monitor how the students were doing and whether there was any breach of contract provisions by either party.
However, officials said the ministry has not closed the case yet and has declined to share the report of the investigation team.
The investigation team focused on eight broad areas of complaint that included visa renewal, guaranteed employment after two years, quality of institute, on-the-job training and internships, and loan interest rate, among others.
The training institute, SG Academy, is graded a five star institute with international certification ISO 9001-2015 in Malaysia and the instructors are experts in the respective fields, a team member claimed.
The examination of the trainees is conducted by external agencies from the government. So far Bhutanese trainees had maintained a good performance.
The students had alleged the Best Placement Agency of manipulating loan interest rates.
The collateral-free education loan the students availed of from the bank was through an arrangement and a memorandum of understanding between the agent and the bank, and with the labour ministry as the secondary guarantor. Students were eligible for Nu 490,000 loan amount.
The MoU was signed on February 2016 with a loan interest fixed at 12.13 percent. In August 2016, the bank introduced the floating interest rates, which brought the interest rates for such loans to about nine percent.
The official said that the clients who took such loans before the introduction of the floating rates have the option to switch to the new interest rates. “Some are already doing it,” a team member said. “As of March this year, four repaid their loans.”
The team also verified the claim of a student that she was on tourist visa.
As per Malaysian rules, after the visa of the student is approved, the person is issued a visa approval letter. On arrival in the country, the student gets tourist visa, which is valid for 30 days, during which the student has to submit the passport to the institute to process for student visa sticker. The institute issues a passport holding letter indicating the individual is a student of the institute.
The students, the official said, were unhappy with their earning from the on-the-job training that the institute offered because there were avenues they could earn more.
The training institute, following requests from the students, issued internship letters to the students and allowed them to intern at the place of their choice. This move was to help them earn better.
The official said that the team emphasised the need to maintain the students at the OJT work places for safety and other concerns. “The institute has made efforts to expand the areas of OJT for the students too,” the official said.
Students had claimed that the agency promised guaranteed employment. However, the monitoring team members said the undertaking signed between the agent and the students mentions ‘depending upon the candidate’s performance and successful completion of the training, the candidate can also be offered a 2-year employment.’
The monitoring team recommended the ministry to explore placing youth in Malaysian training institute as an option to equip youth with vocation educational in future.
Kuensel learnt that most of problems resulted from miscommunication, misunderstanding, and not being aware of content of the undertaking documents.
“The rule allowed the agent to charge a commission of the student’s one month wage which in this case would be 1,200 Malaysian Ringgit,” an official said.
The team also studied the case of two students who were caught and detained by the immigration officials allegedly in breach of visa terms.
This was the first monitoring team from the ministry to visit Malaysia to check on the programme. Until then, the agent had sent its employees seven times to Malaysia to check on the students and report to the ministry. Whenever there were issues raised with the ministry, it asked the agent to resolve them and submit its report.
Members consisted of officials from different units, including a legal officer and an expert in occupational standards, who was not involved with the programme to rule out any conflict of interest.
The team returned after a week of inspection after meetings the students, officials from their training institute, and other relevant officials in February this year.
A member of the investigation team said, “We spent up to two hours with each of the 63 students that we met to understand the grievances and the issues.”
Employment services division’s chief programme officer, Chhoeki Penjor said the ministry would continue to strictly monitor how the concerns of the students are being addressed. While the team has filed its report, the ministry is yet to close the case.
“The Malaysia learn and earn programme at the moment remains suspended,” she said.
A BPA official said that its lawyer was in the process of filing a defamation case against the two individuals who returned from Malaysia and lodged complaints.
The agent has also filed a case with the police against the manager who was managing the Malaysia programme for alleged deceptive practices against a student. He later confessed to office that he had dealt with five students without the knowledge of the office.
According to BPA, the agent learnt about the case when an applicant turned up at the office to seek a refund. The official said the manager did not turn up for work or submit an explanation. He was suspended from work on December 26 last year.
The manager was allegedly working without the knowledge of the office and dealing with the students.