Labour Minister Ugyen Dorji said that deferment of loan repayment was one of the best measures to help Bhutanese youth in Japan at the National Assembly’s question hour session yesterday.

Lyonpo Ugyen Dorji responded to the Jomotsangkha-Marstshala MP Norbu Wangzom’s query about considering waiving off loans for Bhutanese youth in Japan.

More than 700 Bhutanese youth who went through earn and learn programme are in Japan. These youth have to pay for their college tuition and also pay off loans in addition to the living expenses through part-time jobs.

Lyonpo Ugyen Dorji said that the issue had been discussed. “We acknowledge the problems that are being faced by the students in Japan. We looked at the problems and tried to understand where it all went wrong. Lyonchhen and I have also met with some of the parents and a few students and noted their concerns.”

We also looked at the lapses of the labour ministry, he said. “After discussing the issue in the Cabinet, waiving off the loans was also considered as one of the measures. However, of the many measures that came up during the discussion, deferring the loan repayment was best.”

He said that the Cabinet also suggested a team led by the labour minister to visit Japan to understand the issue.

Lyonpo Ugyen Dorji said that according to various reports in media, and according to reports that the Anti-Corruption Commission submitted to Office of the Attorney General, there were corrupt practices involved in the programme.

“We hope that these issues will be resolved and justice would be provided through judiciary. However, currently, the government’s interest and responsibility is to solve the issues that these Bhutanese youth are facing in Japan,” Lyonpo said.

Although about 83 percent of Bhutanese youth have been paying off loans on time, the task was difficult, he said. “But it doesn’t mean that the youths doing well do not have issues. They also face problems, but because they try harder they are able to perform better.”

He said that the loan deferment could help Bhutanese youth in their situation. “There are many Bhutanese who have availed of loans but are not able to pay. People take loans between 2 and 3 million and go to Australia. They also have issues with loan payment.”

The government does not have the capacity to waive off the loans, he said.

Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) said that almost 80 percent of Bhutanese youth in Japan were preparing to return. However, according to the labour minister, about 83 percent of the youth had no problem. “These two statements are contradictory. The Cabinet had decided to defer loans repayment but it has not happened yet.”

He said that some of the Bhutanese youth have acquired diseases and there were reports of many falling ill. “Although enough assessments have already been conducted, it is important to visit the place and students to understand the real issue.”

Even after the Bhutanese youth complete their studies, there were chances of them losing the opportunity to work, he said. “Before going to Japan, they were briefed on the possibility of doing more than one part-time jobs.”

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering said that the benefit of waiving off loans and deferring loan repayment was similar. “If the loans are deferred till the Bhutanese youth get reliable jobs, this would greatly help them.”

Lyonchhen said that the committee’s visit to Japan would not only concern the problems of the Bhutanese youth but it is also intended to look at business related works and technical internship programmes, among others. “Bhutanese youth in Japan face several problems and hardships. However, these hardships they face now are meant to have better opportunities in the future.”

Lyonchhen requested a representative from the opposition party to accompany the team going to Japan that would include Lyonpo Ugyen Dorji and Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo. “We would like to work together so that issues are resolved.”

Rinchen Zangmo