The Nu. 100 mn Teacher-empowering project backlash| Update
The education ministry has finally, reacted to the uproar in the aftermath of complaints from teachers who claim to have overpaid for ‘poor-quality laptops through Ministry of Education’s (MoE) poorly coordinated ‘Empowering Teachers’ project’.
The issue earlier was that many teachers have overpaid, which MoE also admitted to some extent. Many teachers also complained about the quality of the product and credibility of the supplier.
However, the issue now is the monthly loan repayment amount that hasn’t been deducted for many teachers leading to lump sum payments and a penalty. In a letter dated May 16, sent by MoE to the schools, teachers who have not made payments for the availed laptops have been directed to clear the outstanding amount within this month. Failing to do so would lead to a penalty of 5% per month.
Some teachers have not made a single payment while some had outstanding balances of just a few thousands Ngultrums.
Many teachers are now infuriated for they are forced to make lump sum payments which is unreasonably disproportionate to their monthly income. The monthly payments on the loan, as per the initial agreement, were to be deducted from the teachers’ salary starting February 2010, to be liquidated in one year or a maximum of two years.
The teachers are now arguing that it is the bank or MoE’s fault for not deducting the amount as reflected in the signed agreement.
The Nu. 100mn project was initiated in mid-2009 by MoE and has already ended in April this year but has created loan repayment and miscommunication issues among the three agencies involved- the ministry, the dzongkhag administration and the teachers.
The Bank of Bhutan Limited (BoBL) agreed with MoE to finance more than 3000 teachers to avail a loan of Nu 39,000 for one Sony VAIO laptop or Nu 28,000 for one desktop computer. The bank then agreed to recover the loan from the teachers’ monthly salaries.
A teacher said, “while we have been partly irresponsible, the ministry and concerned agencies also are at fault”, He said, the teachers now should be asked to make payments on a monthly basis without any penalty.
The then dealing officer of MoE, who is no more with the ministry, said “It is a possibility because of the huge number of people involved but even if information was not received by some, the teachers should have taken the responsibility of informing authorities.”
However, many teachers who talked to The Bhutanese said they were sent from one agency to another and moreover a huge number of teachers in the remote areas failed to make it to the dzongkhag offices.
“We agreed to have the amount deducted from our salaries and signed the agreement, I have no idea why they haven’t”, said one of the teachers.
“I have forwarded the letter to the concerned teachers and am not sure if they have done anything about it,” said a principal of a school in Gaselo, Wangdi.
One of the clauses of the initial ‘letter of undertaking’ signed by the teachers with a legal stamp states that, “in case of cessation of my service prior to liquidation due to resignation, superannuation, death, termination and other such exigencies I also authorize you to recover the loan from the gratuity provident fund balance or any other service benefit amount payable in my favor”.
The ministry still seems to have not done its homework in reviewing the data of teachers who have resigned or expired.
A vice principal in one of the schools in the western region said, “It’s been like a year since the teacher expired but her name is also reflected on the defaulters’ list”. As reported by this paper earlier, many teachers from across the country questioned the quality of the product.
Some teachers have raised issues regarding the quality of the product. While many said the laptop had a lot of technical flaws like the battery and software, some said it just would not function after a few months. A year’s warranty was provided by the supplier, Kee Pee Bee Distributors in Thimphu.
However, some teachers in the rural areas couldn’t make it to the supplier’s office. Jigme Choden with Phuntshothang middle secondary school in rural Samdrup Jongkhar is one of the many teachers who fall in this category.
“I bought the laptop in 2010 along with some colleagues here but our laptops are already suffering cracks and malfunctions,” she said.
While The Bhutanese couldn’t get hold of concerned BoBL officials, MoE’s administration and finance division (AFD) officials who look after procurement refrained from making any comments.