The government yesterday signed an executive order, providing a grace period to Bhutanese youth under the learn and earn programme in Japan, before they start paying back the loans.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, at the third meet the press yesterday said: “We have just passed an executive order deferring repayment of the loans. Until they get formally employed, they need not worry about the loan.”

The grace period will be effective until the youth complete their language courses. The duration of the courses is four years for class 12 graduates and two years for university graduates.

The prime minister said questions would be raised as to who would pay the interests during the period since the banks would not be willing to waive off the interests and the government did not financial resources.

“What we have decided is that we will capatalise the interests. We will push these interests towards the end of the four years and the interests accrued would be added with the capital (initial loan amount), which can be easily paid by (the youth) once they are formally employed,” he said.

This means the amount of interests the youth will have to pay will increase along with the increase in the loan amount due to the addition of interests. Over 700 youth have gone to Japan through the programme, each taking loans of Nu 600,000 to Nu 700,000 and pays Nu 14,000 as interest at the rate of 8 percent.

The prime minister said that the government was not in favour of waiving off the loans. The government, he said, could help the youth look for jobs after the completion of their language courses.

He said that the Bhutanese and Japanese embassies in New Delhi would assist the youth in resolving issues related to visas. According to parents, one of the issues the youth will face is the possibility of deportation after the completion of their courses since their visas are tagged with the duration of the courses.

According to the prime minister, there are three sources of the loans – Bhutan Development Bank Limited (BDBL), the National Pension and Provident Fund and the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan (RICBL).

He expressed concerns about the words used by a member of the parents’ committee and their lawyer in its recent press release. The group recently visited Japan to study the condition of the Bhutanese youth after the labour minister, who was expected to lead a fact-finding delegation, cancelled the plan.

Dr Lotay Tshering said that the learn and earn programme was started with good intentions. The government, he said, could not do much with respect to the hiccups at a time when investigations were ongoing.

Labour Minister Ugyen Dorji told Kuensel that relevant persons should contact the respective banks to process the loan deferment documentation within three months.

In order to address the issues related to signing of documents, the labour minister said that scanned documents would be accepted. He said that even those who have come back from Japan were eligible to apply for the loan deferment scheme.

It is optional for the youth to apply for the grace period, he said.

MB Subba