With only 2,535 job seekers sent overseas between 2013 and 2016, the labour ministry has met only 7.8 percent of the 30,000 targets it had set for the overseas employment programme.

This was one of the findings of the Royal Audit Authority’s (RAA) performance audit on employment generation and promotion initiative 2017 report. The report found inadequacies, lapses and deficiencies concerning the overseas employment programme that the ministry launched during the National Graduates’ Orientation Programme in October 2013.

The RAA report stated that 80 percent of the jobseekers are directly employed overseas through the ministry and the rest through the Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agent (BOEA.) The Government had spent Nu 41.57 million for the overseas employment programme as of June 30 2015.

However, the labour ministry’s response to the report stated that the target of 30,000 was incorrect and that except for a discussion paper, no such figure is reflected in the 11th Plan documents.  The ministry also stated that the target set in the 11th Plan documents to maintain unemployment rate at 2.5 percent is within the performance of the ministry.

“If the target was only reflected in the discussion paper, then the RAA is of the opinion that the ministry implemented the overseas programme without setting a clear target,” the report stated.

The report also recommended the labour ministry to ensure that the regulation on BOEA, 2013 be strictly enforced.

According to the audit authority, provisions of the regulation and their implementation were not enforced in earnest, which led to numerous non-compliances. The report also states that this has led to ‘undesired situations’ for the jobseekers.

Deficiencies in non-compliance of the BOAE regulations were highlighted in Chapter 3, which is related to fees, costs and contributions. Agents should bear the payment of visa fee and airfare if they are not borne by a foreign employer.

“Agents were found collecting money from Bhutanese applicants for visa processing, air tickets, security deposits, transportation charges, hotel and service charges among others,” the report stated.

The report stated that two agencies, M/s Tenzu Overseas Employment Agent and M/s Lama Youth Employment Pvt Ltd had advertised job vacancies on social media networks without permission from the ministry and had deployed Bhutanese overseas violating Chapter 4 of the regulations.

The report stated that Bhutanese employed overseas through the ministry had good pay and better working conditions than those sent through BOEAs. “However, the ministry had failed to put in place safety measures for Bhutanese sent through agents. The Bhutanese have faced issues like untimely and exploitative payments and excessive working hours.”

Although the ministry penalised the agents, the report stated that it was evident that the ministry did not effectively regulate and monitor even a small number of BOEAs in the country.

“The ministry lacked adequate monitoring and supervision due to shortage of human resources in the division. The ministry was unable to detect non-adherence to the regulations by BOEAs,” stated the report.

According to the report, the ministry could not rectify the deficiencies occurred from the violation of provisions on time that amounted to Nu 7.54 million, which M/s Tenzu OEA had unlawfully collected from 39 candidates. It also found that the ministry failed to detect such cases of unauthorised practices due to inadequate monitoring and supervision, which could be attributed to lack of clarity and awareness of overseas employment.

Funded through the economic stimulus plan of the 2013-2014 annual budget, Nu 13.45M of Nu 16.86M was spent on the programme. The following year, it spent Nu 28.13M of Nu 32.6M and a total of Nu 77.04M of Nu 87.79M was spent for the 2015 – 2016 fiscal year.

Yangchen C Rinzin