National Statistical Bureau shows higher employment rate at 2.7% than Labour Ministry’s rate of 2.1%

molhrNSB officials say that Labour Ministry’s unemployment rate should logically be higher than that of NSB, as the ministry’s survey is focused more in urban areas with higher unemployment
In what may cast serious doubts on the incumbent government’s claims of having exceeded its unemployment target of 2.5 percent, the National Statistical Bureau (NSB) has shown that unemployment in Bhutan during March 2012 was 2.7 percent. This is, as per, the Bhutan Living Standards Survey (BLSS) 2012 report.

This comes as contrary to the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR) 2.1 percent unemployment figure for the same period. The former Prime Minister had mentioned the MoLHR unemployment figure in his State of the Nation Report. It was claimed that this was lower than the 2.5 percent target set by his government.

Similarly, the NSB’s youth unemployment figure is 10.6 percent while that of MoLHR is only 7.3 percent.

In what may raise more questions, NSB officials say that since their sample was around 50 percent urban and 50 percent rural areas, it should logically show lower unemployment figures than the MoLHR’s survey. This is because the MoLHR survey is focused at 75 percent in urban areas, where unemployment is considered to be higher, and only 25 percent of the samples are taken in rural areas.

However, the MoLHR’s figures have been shown as being as lower.

Another major anomaly is that while the NSB data, going by the definition of a household, has taken into account a total population size of 581,257 for the unemployment rate, the MoLHR survey has estimated the total population size at 734,850.

NSB chief statistical officer Phub Sangay said, “We have taken 581,257 people into account based on our definition of a household, where people have to living under one roof and have to be cooking together.”

Another NSB official said that unlike MoLHR the NSB for a more definite picture and does not take into account institutional samples like schools, dratshang, or even foreign labourers staying in scattered settlements.

The NSB official said that while differences in a few points was acceptable, it was quite surprising to note the difference of 2.7 percent and 2.1 percent.

According to NSB and MoLHR officials, it was initially agreed that if the NSB was already conducting an unemployment survey as part of its BLSS then the MoLHR would not conduct one and go by the NSB figures instead.

This is because the NSB is the premier survey organization of Bhutan with more skilled manpower, and also more resources from the Asian Development Bank to fund the BLSS.

In this regard, the acting chief statistical officer of MoLHR Ugyen Tenzin said, “We had agreed with the NSB on this regard, but then we had to do our own survey as it was needed for the Annual State of the National Report of the PM to the Parliament. Though the NSB survey is for the same period, their report would have taken longer to come out.”

He said that the figures of the two organizations are different as their estimation of the measurable population numbers are different, and also that the MoLHR sample size was 12,000 households while that of NSB was 10,000. He said differences in figures would also crop up due to some differences in the questionnaires of both organizations.

A prominent economist, on the condition of anonymity, said that both the NSB and MoLHR unemployment figures don’t really reflect the ground reality of higher number of unemployed and underemployed people due to the classification of the employed.

He said, “In foreign countries, the number of people coming under the employed category of unpaid family worker is quite small as there are very few people working with their families in the fields. In Bhutan’s case, in both NSB and MoLHR figures around 40 percent of the employed are tagged under this category. The reality is that many people here will either be underemployed or even unemployed.”

Both NSB and MoLHR officials said that the categories of employed people were followed as per international norms.

Ugyen Tenzin said that the MoLHR questionnaires had filter questions to ensure that a family labourer who is actually unemployed is not reflected as employed.

Economists have also raised questions on the MoLHR’s low unemployment numbers being affected by the time of the year when the survey is being taken.

In this regard, Ugyen Tenzin said, “We had proposed in the past for multiple surveys in a year for a more accurate picture of the unemployment rate. It is possible that the while the unemployment rate is March is lower when the survey is conducted, it would be much higher in June and July when graduates are looking for work.”

He said the only way out in the future for a more accurate picture, resource permitting, would be to conduct more employment surveys throughout the year. He said that in other countries unemployment figures were generated on a quarterly and even monthly basis.

It is also interesting to note that in the MoLHR report, the drastic fall in unemployment rate from 3.1 percent in 2011 to 2.1 percent in 2012, is the biggest drop ever since unemployment was measured from 1998 onwards.

The drastic drop in unemployment occurred during a phase when the Rupee crisis followed by the Credit crisis started in late 2011. In 2011, the GDP growth rate was 8.1 percent and in 2012 the economic growth rate was only 7.5 percent.

Even in 2010, when the GDP growth rate was much higher at 11.77 percent, however, it only lead to a drop in unemployment rate from 3.3 percent in 2010 to 3.1 percent in 2011. The growth rate in 2011 was at 8.51 percent.

The above figures leads to questions on how unemployment could drop at its fastest rate in one of the worst growth years, where economic activity was greatly curtailed by the Rupee and Credit crises.

Some economists say the MoLHR’s large population estimate of 734,850 people would have included Indian labourers, who are anyhow employed. This is coupled with the fact that 75 percent of the survey was done in urban areas where most of the employed Indian labourers are present. An economist said that this may also explain why MoLHR’s unemployment figures are lower.

Ugyen Tenzin said that the survey only included labourers who had been employed in the country for more than six months. He also said since most labourers ate from a common mess, even a large number of them would be counted as one household.

Tenzing Lamsang / Thimphu

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  1. Both figure needs to be taken with a handful of salt and a litre of water….we need to look beyond the numbers…Statistics are like miniskirts. They give you the ideas but hide the most important thing.

  2. Whose statistic should we believe. Statistics are just static…it is just the average of two extremes. It looks it is just blaming the government. Is the data not taken from the ‘NSB…then why NSB is instituted if it weren’t able to give the true figure to the Government.  Is it just for data collection and for employment. What a pity if it is so. The facts and figures needs to be relooked and given to the government for decision making not just for building data and kept to collect dust.

  3. Bhutan is different from rest of the developed countries. The statistical methods that are used in USA cannot be used in our country because farmers in USA are not like our farmers who depend on remittances from people who are working in the urban centers. Let me give an example. My parents who are living in the remote village grow maize and vegetables for their own sustenance. Most importantly, we children give them more money than what their farms can produce in a year so that they can buy other stuff like salt, meat, clothes and go for pilgrimage. There are thousands of such families in our country. Can they be put as employed like the above surveys have done it. Farmers in the developed countries do not depend on any others for their living. Rather they produce for other consumption. The above surveys directly put everyone living in the village as a employed people irrespective of whether they could earn all the basic necessities from the work they do. At the least, i feel that people in the village who cannot afford to fulfill the basic necessities should not be construed as a employed person. When you compare our society to USA and conduct the statistical surveys, obviously, you will get a low number because 70 % of our people are living in the village who are considered as employed. That is why there is bias in the survey results.
    My proposal is to segregate among the village folks as people who are able to meet their basic needs from their farm works and those who are not able to meet their basic needs. If you do this with proper sampling across the country, i will assure you that then our unemployment rate will be closer to the actual value. 


  4. In a period of political divide, we cannot believe in any statistics. Even the staticians can be politicized and some newspapers are definitely politicized. So, statistics or information will depen on whom you ask and which paper writes them. If media, civil servants, monastic institutions, armforces all get politicized, politics will ruin our country. So, there should be stringent acts in place to prevent such scenario.

  5. I would rather go with the NSB, I just can’t trust this twerp called Tenzing Lamsang.

  6. DPT is always a corrupted government. It has the capacity to cheat the nation..,What are we people doing then? We are the fools to be fooled by fools.. By any means this DPT must be penalized for cheating the entire nation. Thank god, the mere cheat was revealed before election……

  7. Reliability of the data also depends on field enumeration by the interviewees and the field supervision by the supervisors. And needless to say the duration and quality of training provided to the interviewees before the data collection. 

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