The great unemployment debate between DPT and PDP

This was the main issue raised during DPT’s AGM and the final press conference

The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) which was held last week at RIM saw a full house after previous full house AGMs by BKP and DNT before it.

The party president, Dr Pema Gyamtsho said that during the last five years, the Opposition intervened and deliberated whenever they deemed that some of the policies introduced by the government were not in line with the country’s national interest.

“We fully cooperated with the government during the standoff last year and never tried to compromise the security of the country by criticizing or interfering,” said the OL.

Employment

Most of the party speakers mostly dwelled on the youth unemployment issue in the country and accused the PDP government of failing to address the issue.

The party claimed that the unemployment scenario in the country has been worsening over time and might lead to ‘unemployment crisis’ in the future if there are no sustainable measures in place to address the issue.

DPT claimed that when PDP government took over the nation from DPT, there were around 3475 youths without jobs. While PDP’s Pledge was 100 percent employment, they said that from the 3475 youths unemployed in 2013, it had now increased to 9000 individuals unemployed. DPT also added that that there has been increase in the unemployment situation in the urban areas.

DPT’s Vice President Dorji Wangdi said that unemployment was 2.1 percent in DPT’s tenure compared to 2.4 percent in PDP’s tenure.

When asked for details Dorji Wangdi said that the 2.1 percent figure was the Labour Force Survey of 2012 by the Labour Ministry as the survey for 2013 would not apply to it as it resigned in April 2013.

The 2.4 percent he is referring to for PDP is the ultra detailed Population and Housing Census survey last conducted in 2005.

However, while Dorji Wangdi held up the Labour Ministry’s 2012 labour force survey the DPT press conference saw two DPT MPs, Nidup Dorji of Nubi-Tangsibji and Rinzin Jamtsho of Kengkhar-Weringla expressing open doubts on the current Labour Ministry’s job vacancy figures and credibility of its figures.

Dorji Wangdi who was also the former Labour Minister did not mention that fact that the much more detailed and bigger five yearly Bhutan Living Standards Survey of 2012 by NSB found the actual unemployment rate to not be 2.1 percent but actually 2.7 percent in 2012.

BLSS has a much larger sample size and more thorough statistical methods.

In contrast the comparable survey sample size and methods of BLSS 2017 found that the overall unemployment rate had dropped from 2.7 percent in 2012 to 2 percent in 2017. This 2 percent was close to the Labour Ministry’s own survey of 2.1 percent unemployment rate.

The only difference being that youth unemployed had moved up slightly from 10.6 percent to 11 percent of the total. The Opposition and sections of the media focused more on this slight increase in youth unemployment percentage rather than the overall drop in unemployment.

The PHCB 2017 after surveying almost every Bhutanese household came up with 2.4 percent but there is not comparable PHCB data in 2012 or 2013 for a fair comparison.

DPT’s another charge at the AGM and press conference was inability of PDP to achieve full employment.

Here there seems to be a difference in the definition of full employment between the two. DPT considers at as 100 percent employment down to every youth.

On the other hand, labour minister, Ngeema Sangay Tshempo said, “As per the 11th Plan document, the full employment is defined as employment rate at 97.5% or unemployment rate at 2.5%. Both PHCB and LFS have reported overall unemployment rates under 2.5% and hence it should be considered having achieved the full employment target as pledged,” said the labour minister.

On the DPT’s accusation on the delayed publication of the of Labour Force Survey, the minister said that since there were numerous surveys being carried out like the Bhutan Living Standard Survey (BLSS) 2017 and the Population and Housing Census of Bhutan (PHCB) 2017.

“The ministry therefore, decided to look into the findings of the BLSS 2017 and PHCB 2017. Both these reports had indicators on unemployment. This was done in order not to have different unemployment rates for the same year which would distort information and confuse people and policy makers on which data to use,” said the labour minister.

The DPT party members said DPT’s main aim was to create as many jobs as possible in the country and it was they who initiated the overseas program in countries where there was lesser conflict with the law and order like Australia, Canada and Japan. They alleged PDP took all the credit for their initial programs during their term including the hydro sector, tourism sector and CSIs which employed thousands of our youths.

To this, the labour ministry responded saying that the ministry is not aware of any such program during the 10th FYP. “In fact, DPT government’s policy was not to encourage or place youth overseas during their term. The overseas employment program was implemented only in June 25, 2014 as part of the Guaranteed Employment Program,” said the minister.

Repeated and similar allegations on unemployment issues against the PDP’s tenure were also made during the DPT press conference.

The labour minster firmly maintained that the government has achieved the target of full employment as pledged. The studies have shown that unemployment in Bhutan is due to strong family support system, youth aspirations, mismatch of skills and jobs, lack of technical skills which is demanded by the economy as opposed to most job seekers being with general academic qualification,” said the minister.

Others

Apart from the unemployment issue, a DPT party also discussed and said that the aided in timely approval of budgets in the parliament without objections to help improve the rural livelihoods. Therefore, the opposition said that they also need to be credited for the success of the 11th FYP.

The party president also denied the general claims that majority of the party’s candidates are very young and inexperienced, which he said was evident from the candidates they introduced to the audience during the event.

The party also said that the opposition needs to be applauded for their part in objecting to the BBIN agreement and nipping it the bud, which the party said, would have compromised the national security and sovereignty of the country. However, on BBIN the National Council is widely credited with examining, critiquing and not passing the agreement though there was opposition from the Opposition as well

The party also took credit on having objected to plans from the government to corporatize JDWNRH.

Opposition to corporatization was fueled due to the widely mistaken notion that patients would have to pay from their pockets when according to repeated clarifications by the Health Ministry the plan was for the ministry to pay on behalf of patients so that JDWNRH would have revenue from the ministry to pay medical staff better in order to motivate and retain them. Patients would never have to pay.

The party also expressed their discontentment with PDP government on the national issues such as debt saying it had reached 169 bn in 2018 up from 95 bn in 2013.

Here the segregation is that non hydro debt which is actually difficult to pay back as it is not self liquidating unlike hydro debt was 41 bn in 2013 and it reduced to 37 bn in 2018.

Hydro debt ballooned from Nu 54 bn in 2013 to Nu 132 bn in 2018. On the debt issue PDP has no one to blame but itself as it first politicized the issue during the 2013 polls and the same appears to be happening now.

There are also differences between the Opposition and government on the reserve figures.

Party’s vice president, Dorji Wangdi said that in order to serve the country well, one must be able to identify the problems plaguing the societies and plan according. DPT stated that the biggest concerns are the rising inequality between the rich and poor (based on the Gini coefficient moving from 0.36 in 2012 to 0.38 in 2017), human wildlife conflict, poor farm road connectivity, shortage of drinking and irrigation water, rising rents in urban areas, among other social issues.

During the AGM, the party’s North Thimphu candidate Lily Wangchuk was officially introduced as the third vice president.

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