According to a reliable source, the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), in its investigation on the overseas employment case has come across findings in both the India case and the Japan case, and is expected to soon send the report to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) for prosecution.
In the India case, the ACC found that the former Labour Minister Ngeema Sangay Tshempo and the current Director General of the Department of Employment Sherab Tenzin’s family members benefitted from an overseas training provider named Manas.
Manav is the owner of the International Institute of Wellness Studies (IIWS) based in Noida, India that had won tenders from the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources to take around 500 to 600 Bhutanese youth at around Nu 80,000 per head (though rates varied per tender) in training and placement programs.
IIWS would have won anywhere from Nu 40 mn to Nu 48 mn worth of these training tenders.
In the case of the former Labour Minister the ACC investigation found that Manas through a Bhutanese front man had invested Nu 3 mn in an excavator hiring agency owned by the niece of the minister.
This Bhutanese front was the partner of the ex-minister’s niece in the company. The money trail showed that the money had come to the Bhutanese front partner from Manav.
Manav also paid around Nu 600,000 to Nu 700,000 to a machine supplier in helping buy a Nu 1.5 mn toilet paper rolling machine for a company owned by the son of the Director General of the Department of Employment, Sherab Tenzin.
The ACC has also come across various issues in the case of the ‘learn and earn’ program in Japan run by a private company known as Bhutan Employment Overseas (BEO) with support from the Ministry of the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources.
Around 735 Bhutanese students have been sent to Japan, starting from 2017. Under this program each youth took a Nu 700,000 loan at eight percent interest rate from the Bhutan Development Bank in a scheme supported by the Ministry of Labour.
This would mean around Nu 514 mn was given to the BEO with support for the program and loan scheme from the Ministry.
The ACC found that the BEO had overcharged students under certain items heads which the BEO is supposed to refund to the students. One example is a Nu 7,500 translation fees each of the 735 students.
This amount alone comes to around Nu 5.5 mn in total.
There are other areas where there was some overcharging. The ACC also found that original bills had not been given to parents and there were some transparency and due diligence issues.
Apart from the agency, the ACC report will recommend the prosecution of labour officials to the OAG for various lapses on their part in this program.
Apart from legal charges, the ACC is also expected to write to the MoLHR and the RCSC on lapses by labour officials in this program.
The ‘learn and earn’ program has come been under much controversy for the past two years with a recent suicide of a youth bringing focus on the issue again. Many students and parents have alleged a host of malpractices and issues against BEO. Many said they trusted the program in the first place due to the active support of the Labour Ministry, which also helped secure the loan.
When contacted by The Bhutanese, the former labour minister Ngeema Sangay Tshempo said that the excavator hiring company belonged to his niece and not him. He claimed that he only gave the business idea to his niece but the business and transactions around it belonged entirely to her.
He claimed that his niece had taken a bank loan and had also invested her own money in the company. The former minister said that he had no idea about who her partner was or what investments he had made.
The former minister also pointed out that he is not a member of the tender committee which is handled by the secretariat and they had informed him that they followed all the procedures.
The Director General Sherab Tenzin said that at the time his sons were not doing anything and he encouraged them to start something.
His sons came up with a toilet paper manufacturing unit idea. The DG said that his son originally wanted to order the machine online but while engaging in some small talk Manav told the DG that it would be better to get the machine from India so that maintenance would be easier.
The DG said Manav was hired as a supplier to get and supply the machine and also set it up. The DG claimed that his sons would have settled the complete bill with Manas once the machine was set up in Bhutan.
Sherab Tenzin said that he changed his mind later as he realized that people would point out this issue given Manas’ business dealings with the ministry.
He claimed that they gave away the machine and the business to a friend in Bhutan and that friend would settle the accounts with Manas.
The machine was worth around 1.5 mn and the Labour DG said that he had paid around Nu 850,000 for it so far.
The DG defended the ‘learn and earn’ program in Japan and claimed that it is a good program but there were some issues due to the youth’s commitment and their ability to learn Japanese.
The overseas programs were handed over for investigation by the former Prime Minister Dasho Tshering Tobgay in January 2018.
A then press release issued by the former government said, “The investigation has been requested based on the several informal complaints received by the Office of the Prime Minister on possible incidences of corruption and collusion by the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources, particularly in awarding contracts relating to trainings in India and Japan.”
The Former Labour Minister was also sent on leave by the former Prime Minister till the investigation process was complete.
Despite the entire program being under investigation the Labour Ministry allowed BEO to send around 235 Bhutanese students more to Japan bringing the total to 735 students now.
When The Bhutanese contacted the ACC, they declined to respond or comment on the issue. The OAG is expected to prosecute the case.