A group of about 30 parents of youth sent to Japan through the “learn and earn programme” have alleged that Bhutan Employment Overseas (BEO) programme deceived the youth and that the labour ministry failed to monitor the programme.

Urging the government to act with urgency, the parents’ committee said that most of the Bhutanese youth in Japan is trapped in a difficult situation and are vulnerable.

Sonam Tshering, president of the parents’ committee, claims that he suspected serious lapses and chances of corruption in the scheme. He also alleged that unnecessary claims were levied from the students after reaching Japan by the BEO.

The chairman claimed that media reports highlighted that both the former minister and the current director general (DG) of the department of labour were involved in the case.

“Why is the DG not sent on leave, and why only the minister?” he asked.

It was the recent death of a Bhutanese youth in Japan that led to the formation of the committee to collectively represent the affected youth. The committee has also appointed a private lawyer, Ngawang Tobgay, for what they call to “fight for justice.”

Ngawang Tobgay claimed that he asked a set of questions to the affected Bhutanese youth and found that the BEO and the labour ministry had allegedly breached the terms of the agreement.

He claimed that initial observation of the issue found the labour ministry had allegedly failed to stop the BEO from sending more people even after the problems surfaced right from the beginning. The programme was a joint initiative of the labour ministry and BEO.

According to him, problems started surfacing with the first batch of Bhutanese youth sent through the programme. He alleged that BEO at times deposited the loan instalments on behalf of the applicants to improve the loan status and hoodwink the government.

“However, some of the students were later asked to refund the loan instalments paid by BEO,” he claimed, adding that it was based on the statements of the affected Bhutanese youth.

He said the number of students increased after the first batch and so did the fee to be paid to BEO to Nu 700,000 from Nu 600,000.

Ngawang Tobgay claimed that some of the agreements between BEO and youth were changed to suit the needs of the former. The agreement signed initially between the applicant and BEO, for instance allegedly did not mention the fact the applicant had to obtain N2 (Japanese language proficiency test) to be eligible for enrolment in Japan and was revised to add the clause.

According to the parents, BEO charged Nu 1,000 just for loan documentation, which means the firm by calculation earned about Nu 700,000 simply for documentation from 700 students.

The lawyer alleged that the firm had convinced banks to allow transaction for BEO on behalf of the students without their knowledge. According to him, the loan for overseas employment was first deposited in the accounts of the applicants and then without their knowledge and permission withdrawn.

Some of the parents alleged that youth had to pay tuition fee instalments within months after enrolling in an institution, claiming that BEO was supposed to pay tuition fees from the Nu 700,000 each applicant paid to BEO for up to six months to one year. They claim that some applicants had to wait for employment for up to four months.

Ngawang Tobgay also said that he suspected the amount charged by BEO was much higher.

According to the committee, 19 Bhutanese youth had allegedly contracted TB after reaching Japan. The committee claims that overwork, sleep deprivation, and the stress of perfecting a foreign language took a serious toll on the physical and mental health of the Bhutanese youth.

Some of the Bhutanese youth claimed to have returned to Bhutan on serious medical grounds and 90 more allegedly quit because of difficult working conditions in Japan. All of them have a loan to clear.

The lawyer said that one of the female applicants has been in a coma for the last four months allegedly due to the hardships she faced.

The committee met with Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, Labour Minister Ugyen Dorji, National Council Chairperson Tashi Dorji, and Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD). The committee claimed that they failed to exhibit any keenness to solve the matter.

The committee said that more lives would be lost in Japan if the government did not act with urgency.

Some of the Bhutanese youth in Japan, according to the committee, was not willing to share their problems with their parents while some had no option but to continue working because of the loan. “Japan is a very expensive country, and even by working two jobs many struggles financially. Forget saving, it is difficult even to meet the daily living expenses.”

In a panel discussion on BBS yesterday, representative of BEO, Tenzin Rigden, claimed that there were still about 660 Bhutanese youth earning and learning in Japan and doing well.

He claimed that the Bhutanese youth were earning between 30,000 and 200,000 Japanese yen a week depending on their hard work.

DG Sherub Tenzin of the labour ministry claimed that the youth were sent after a proper study of such programmes in other countries.

Bhutanese youth in Japan declined to comment. However, in an earlier interview with Kuensel a graduate who returned from International Futurity Academy in Osaka in October, Ngawang Dorji, claimed that he returned home as he could not pay his fee instalments which amounted to about 350,000 Japanese yen in six months.

Damcho Rabten, who returned from Tokyo Institute of Language in October, claimed that he did not see opportunities for quality employment in Japan and returned home.

Another youth, Sonam Wangchuk, said that the long working hours and high living standards in Japan was difficult to handle for many Bhutanese youth.

Mb Subba