Photo Courtesy: Rigzom Academy facebook

4 civil servants, DNT’s GS and private educationist invested Nu 1.59 mn in Rigzom School but took their money back

According to the Opposition’s assessment of the government’s one year in office, Opposition party, Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), said that the decision of the government to give financial handouts to Class X students who did not qualify to study in government schools came about at a dubious timing, even when the National Education Conference decided not to do so.

Right below this line it said that for the sake of transparency, the Opposition demanded the Ministry of Education (MoE) to make the shareholders of Rigzom Academy, a private school in Paro, public.

Rigzom Academy, formerly named as Tenzin Higher Secondary School, was owned by Sonam Zangmo and her husband Kezang Nob, but since the school was running into a loss, Tshering Pema and her husband who is the principal of Rigzom leased the school from the former owners. The lease agreement was signed between Tshering Pem and Sonam Zangmo.

Initially when Tshering Pem and her husband took up the school in early 2019, they planned to run the school with six educationists who all worked together in the Paro College of Education at one point and are close friends too.

With the initial plan to work together, the six educationists invested Nu 300,000 each except for DNT’s General Secretary who invested only Nu 90,000.

The six educationists are DNT’s General Secretary, Phurba, Paro Dzongrab, Kinley Gyeltshen, Dr Rinchen from Samtse College of Education, Dr Tandin Dorji President of Norbuling Rigter College and Professor Dr Kezang Sherab and Assistant Professor Kinzang Lhendup from Paro College of Education.

However, their plan to become shareholders failed when they realized that a shareholder must be the member of the company, and by law, a person is a shareholder only after their name and other details are entered in the company’s register of shareholders and this requires long procedures and formalities.

As it was found to be technically inconvenient, Tshering Pem returned the money back to them which was collected in the beginning of the year, according to Kezang Tshering, who is the husband of Tshering Pem and also the current school Principal.

Kezang Tshering, said, “With all of us being educationists and also close friends, we have always aspired to run a school together but though we wanted to have them as shareholders initially, we had to drop this plan.”

“The Opposition is accusing us that we have an affiliation with the government, but we have no association with the government. Though there are six educationists who lent us money initially, but they are not the shareholders,” he said.

He added that the government did not help them, and therefore, the Opposition’s accusation is wrong. “Before accusing us, they should have first come to us and discussed with us. If the Opposition has found that Rigzom is favored by the government they should prove it,” he added.

DNT’s General Secretary Phurba said, “One of our friends is the brother of ex-NC Thrizin Namgay Penjore who was the former DPT candidate and one more friend is the brother of DPT candidate from Wamrong Khaling constituency.”

He said Tshering Pem and her husband asked him to buy shares, not because of his post as the General Secretary of DNT, but because he is a close friend to them and had worked with them.

Phurba said, “When they approached me, I wasn’t really interested to buy the share as I didn’t have money, but upon their insistence, I decided to lend Nu 90,000 that I had as they promised to give interest on that. Before 2016, I lent money to so many businessmen and I used to get interest on lending the money and I was doing the same thing this time.”

He said he is legally allowed to do any business, as according to the ECB’s rules and regulations, only candidates of the political party are not allowed to do any business or hold business license, but as a member of the political party or as a secretariat of the political party, he can do any business.

“Just because I gave Nu 90,000 on interest to that school owner, the government will not change the decision based on that Nu 90, 000,” he added.

Paro Dzongrab, Kinley Gyeltshen, invested Nu 300,000 during the initial plans to take on shares of the school, but Tshering Pem returned the money back to him after the plan was dropped due to incomplete formalities.

He said, “If they are able to complete the formalities, we are going to contribute the money again,” he said.

Dr Rinchen from Samtse College of Education is one of the investors who invested the same amount of Nu 300,000.  Another person who invested in the school, Kinzang Lhendup, Assistant Professor from Paro College of Education said that when Tshering Pem took the school on lease, being family friends and having worked together in Paro College, they decided to support her by contributing some amount, even if it is in the form of being shareholders.

He said, “In our understanding, there is no issue in being a shareholder but we are not allowed to be the promoter but later we learnt that being a civil servants and with long procedures and requirements that are demanded, we had to drop the idea.”

“The Opposition suspects that the government has favored us, but we have full evidence that the government has not favored us. My brother Karma Thinley is DPT’s candidate from Wamrong Khaling constituency and I don’t have any affiliation with DNT,” Dr Rinchen further said.

Another professor, Kezang Sherab, from Paro College who deposited the same amount of Nu 300,000 said that in the beginning, the school was on the verge of collapse, and since the school was taken up by one of his friend’s wife we wanted to contribute.

He said that he is looking forward to pursue plans to become a shareholder in the future.

Dr Tandin Dorji, President of Norbuling Rigter College who is another member from the group, said there are many formalities and rules and regulation to follow to become a shareholder. It was inconvenient to be a shareholder formally so he got back his money.

He said, “When we conceptualized the plan, we thought that it would work well, but later we learnt that there are so many issues, and so most of us were not interested but since we had agreed to contribute the money to start the school, we contributed as decided, but after the collection of school fees, we got our money back. If things work out well, we shall get interest on the money we lent, as promised by Tshering Pem.”

He further said, “The education business (private), under the DNT government, is bound to fail. It will not succeed because from the beginning, itself, we struggled a lot and somehow because of the location, we managed to get some additional students for Rigzom school. But private schools are not going to succeed and this is what we see.”

In 2019, there were about 3,000 students who were funded by DNT to study in private schools. Some schools got 100 students, some managed to enroll 200 students, and a few had 300 students. There are about 20 private schools across the country, Dr Tandin said.

From next year, about 50 percent of the 3,000 students will be adjusted in government schools. Each government school, having class XI and XII, might take in around 150 to 200 students which means that about 1,500 students will be absorbed in government schools, he stated.

“About 20 private schools in 2020 will be left only with about 1,500 students, which means each private school will get 70 students. So the private schools can’t sustain with 70 students and I am quite surprised that DPT is raising this issue. DPT has misunderstood that schools are benefitting,” Dr Tandin added.

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