PM signs executive order to defer loan repayment for learn and earn students

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The Prime Minister signed the executive order to defer the loan repayment for students of Learn and Earn program in Japan yesterday.

Starting yesterday, the students have three months, till end of May, to apply for loan deferment. The students would have to get in touch with the banks to complete the formalities.

Talking to Business Bhutan, Labor Minister Ugyen Dorji said that the loan deferral would be applicable to all students under the Learn and Earn program in Japan and irrespective of where the students are, whether in Japan or in Bhutan.

“The students also have the option to not avail this facility. If they analyse it, it is an attractive package for them. The government is being reasonable by deferring the loan,” said Lyonpo Ugyen Dorji.

The executive order comes after the Opposition Party, Druk Phuensum Tshogpa, early this week slammed the government for inaction to address the problems faced by Bhutanese students studying and living in Japan under the ‘Learn and Earn Program’.

In a press statement, the Opposition said the government has failed to act on its two recent commitments – to defer the loan repayment of the students and to send a team of officials, led by the Labor Minister, to Japan to study, verify and look into ways to help the students.

The Opposition demanded that the government to address the problem as soon as possible. “The government cannot be indifferent and negligent of its duty to a national problem affecting hundreds of our youth,” the DPT press release stated.

The labor minister clarified that the opposition and media misinterpreted the fact-finding mission to Japan. “The people have leveled the visit as fact finding mission but it is not the case. Our objective to visit Japan is to advance the diplomatic relation between Bhutan and Japan and to use the opportunity of the visit to meet with the students there,” said Lyonpo Ugyen Dorji.

Meanwhile, the legal representative and representative of Parent’s Committee of students of Learn and Earn program are currently in Japan investigating the plight of Bhutanese students.

Ngawang Tobden, the legal representative, said that the students are disappointed with the government for delaying the investigation.

The representatives arrived in Japan on February 22 and they claimed that they met over 200 students and are still in process of meeting more students. They are also getting feedbacks from the students. They will compile a report.

 “We are intending to meet and get in touch with each and every Bhutanese student in Japan. However, some of them are residing in very far places and we we couldn’t visit them due to high travel expenses incurred in the process,”’ said Ngawang Tobden.

However they have sent feedback forms through post.

Ngawang Tobden said the main purpose to meet each and every student to get their feedbacks is because as per official report of labor ministry and the government’s statement, about 80% of the student are happy in Japan. “So we want to know whether it is true or not,” he said.

He also said that the students in Japan are expecting loan waiver and good jobs.

Ngawang Tobden said they would file a lawsuit against Bhutan Employment Overseas (BEO) after they reach Bhutan for the breach of contract.

The death of 24-year-old Bhutanese in Fukuoka, Japan on December 4 last year, who was in Japan since October last year through the learn and earn program, sparked heated discussions, with allegations against the Ministry of Labor and Human Resources and BEO.

Around 735 Bhutanese youth were sent to Japan starting 2017 till date through the program arranged by BEO. Around 90 students returned home last year unable to cope with working conditions and more than 100 more are expected to return soon.

The Anti-Corruption Commission investigation found that the labor ministry had illegally approved the BEO license. BEO had also charged unauthorized translation fees amounting to Nu 3.8mn from 511 students. The ACC had asked for the cancellation of BEO’s trade license.

Chencho Dema from Thimphu

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