They expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s response so far
The representative of the parents and students of the Japan’s learn and earn program submitted a letter of appeal to Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) on 21st January, for the office to reinvestigate the case on what they allege are excessive fees charged by the Bhutan Employment Overseas (BEO).
The representatives also expressed their dissatisfaction on the response by the government on the matter, stating that the Prime Minister has underplayed the severity of the situation by subtly calling it hyped and publicly announcing that only a small percentage of the students were unable to cope, thus undermining the outcry of the hundreds of students.
“What was even more disappointing was when the new Labor Minister called this tragic incident ‘a little problem.’ As concerned parents, we do not wish our children to be the next little problem. In wake of such a lukewarm response from the government, whose best solution to the crisis is deferment of loan repayment, we have no other choice but to submit our plea to ACC, which in it all essence stands for truth and justice,” they stated in their letter of appeal to the ACC.
As per the letter submitted to ACC, it recommended that the ACC investigate the fees levied on the Bhutanese students by the language schools in Japan to be cross checked with the language fees paid by the students from other countries like Nepal, India, Vietnam, and China among others. “This is to ascertain the doubt raised by our students that other foreign students pay far less language fee than them, thereby leaving a mechanism for BEO and its Japanese counterpart to profit illegally,” says the letter.
Regarding the commissions received by the agents, the group suggested the investigation team to re-investigate it in order to know the actual scale of what they allege is a scam.
The letter reasoned that while the program was being discussed with the ministry, the question of taking commission from the work place, including a percentage of their wage, by the SND, BEO’s Japanese counterpart, was never mentioned, but as per the students, the same was deducted from their wage nonetheless.
The representative also recommended the office to investigate on the air ticket process stating that the air ticket contract of all the students were given to one ticketing agency, without floating tenders.
“Despite the BEO’s claim that they were given good discount by the agency, it still does not compare to the substantial concessions they should have been qualified for while buying tickets in such a large number.”
The representatives reasoned that because the government is involved in this program, it was required by law for BEO to float the tender for the air tickets, which is a standard practice. “Again, many were sent via transit flights, which should have been cheaper, but most ended up paying a considerably higher airfare,” says the letter.
Tendering out would have ensured cheaper airfare and best price, irrespective of BEO’s justification that BTCL gave them heavy discount and is further unfair to all the other air ticket agents, who pay their taxes and deserve to partake in an opportunity like this, said the representatives.
“Visa processing fee was overcharged as well”, stated the representatives saying that despite taking the agent fee of Nu 57,000, the agent took unreasonably high visa processing fee which needs to be renegotiated and the excess amount need to be returned to really justify the program’s motive to help the poor and under privileged students.
The representatives said that had the ministry not been involved directly, many wouldn’t have enrolled in the program in the first place and not taken the risk of entrusting the live and future of the youths to the two inexperienced partners of the BEO.
The representatives also shared their disappointments on investigation findings of the ACC that only talks about refunding the translation fee of Nu. 7,500, and overlooked other miscellaneous fees, which BEO wrongfully levied.
The representatives also pointed out that the purchase of air ticket given to one agent without floating the tender was completely overlooked in the investigation.
“We are surprised as to how this is possible, especially considering the fact that the Managing Director of BEO brought Nu 3 mn language fee in advance from the ministry to purchase air tickets months beforehand, particularly for the third batch of 380 students, to ensure cheaper airfare”.
However, the representative said it was learned the Nu 3 mn was deposited in the loan account of the students from the first two batches of 62 and 67, who had defaulted on their loan EMI.
“This was done to convince the banks to release the loan for the largest batch of 380 students, from where the partners made the biggest profit, legally as well as illegally.”
The representative questioned how the program went on unchecked for almost two years though it was illegal right from the beginning and said that in absence of the original money receipt, BEO had complete control of the student’s loan money.
“We are painstakingly recounting all the points just to make one point that the ACC’s recent finding is incomplete,” stated the representatives.
The representatives said that the labour officials instead of bringing in professionals to rectify and update the program enabled the two inexperienced private individual to exploit the poor unemployed youths. “However may the partners justify, and whatever documentation proof they produce to vindicate themselves, which we are sure now they obtained with the help of the Director General, the fact that our children are currently suffering does not change.”
Meanwhile, the representatives will file a court case in the second week of February on breach of contract.
However, the Prime Minister during meet-the-press on Friday said the loan deferment should be enough option to resolve the crisis. He added waiving off loan can only be provided during emergencies and could set a bad future trend.
“I personally received two mails from the student in Japan informing that the situation is not as hard as portrayed in media,” said the Prime Minister.
The PM said the crisis could hinder the bilateral relations. “When we send our team over there, it could convey a different message”. PM added that the team will make a program to morally boost the youth and explore better opportunities to ease the situation for students in Japan to ease the situation.