Unemployment is the biggest challenge Bhutan is likely to confront in the next few years. Currently, 8,591 young people are looking for employment. And there is little doubt that this is a conservative figure.
The government is aware that only 42,000 jobs are available against the requirement of 82,000 jobs and by the end of 2018, when the PDP government’s term ends, a staggering 120,000 college and class XII graduates will enter the job market.
These numbers are impressive but given our small and already saturated job market, it’s intimidating as well. The PDP manifesto had raised high hopes and expectations, promising full employment during its term. Two years have gone by but the government is yet to put in place an effective strategy to fulfill this pledge. In fact, DrukNyamrupTshogpa (DNT) is of the view that the government has been rather lackadaisical when it comes to implementing substantive initiative to address the issue of unemployment in the country.
The unemployment benefit scheme introduced by the government is myopic at best and irresponsible at worst. A large sum of Nu 550 million from the much-needed Economic Stimulus Plan (ESP) has been diverted for this scheme, which could have been invested to boost the economy and create more jobs in the long term. The only visible actions taken are the Guaranteed Employment Program (GEP) and Youth Employment Scheme, both of which are short sighted, temporary measures to manipulate the employment statistics.
In addition, the government’s much-touted Overseas Employment Scheme is also failing with allegations of misinformation and fraudulent practices. Those who were sent abroad find themselves working under miserable conditions in areas where the citizens of that country refuse to do. In some cases, their passports have been taken away and with limited resources, they are unable to return home. Such schemes focus on getting people employed rather than in developing long-term measures such as creating jobs in the country.
Unemployment is a serious issue and will only worsen with more graduates pouring into the market every year. We cannot be complacent and delay effective action by squandering precious time on more studies and reports. Asking the Employment Creation Task Force to come up with more recommendations only reveals the government’s ignorance of the many existing studies, reports, and recommendations readily available, based on which adequate actions can be taken.
Nyamrup believes that the government must develop a long-term strategic plan to address the issue of unemployment, keeping in mind that the government will not be able to solve the issue once and for all within the five years of its mandate. Therefore we propose that a long-term strategy be developed, through the involvement of relevant agencies including all political parties. This will ensure ownership by all and enable smooth implementation of the strategy in the long term.
Without such an approach, there is an inherent danger of new governments disrupting and changing the path of development strategies as we have seen in recent times. In true Nyamrup spirit, we believe that important issues such as employment deserve not only the highest priority but also common concern and all of us need to work together in finding solutions and effective action.
Short sighted, ad hoc programs will only bring temporary relief for a few well-connected individuals. There is also an issue of equity, which is a core focus of DNT, with girls and those from humble backgrounds not benefitting from available opportunities.
It is indeed unfortunate that despite two governments, we are yet to come to a consensus on the issue of unemployment. The blame game and petty squabbling between the government and the opposition creates more confusion for the citizens. The endless criticisms against the policies of each other only reveal the narrow partisan interests harbored by them for short-term political gains.
In this wake, Nyamrup would like to reach out to both the ruling and the opposition parties to deliberate on the challenges of unemployment and come up with resolutions that will address the problem. It’s time to keep our political differences aside, stand together as Bhutanese, and get down to what we promised to do – to serve the people and country with utmost dedication and selflessness.
The young people of Bhutan have high hopes from our political leaders and we must live up to their expectations. The least we can do is to create the opportunities to enable them to fulfill their dreams and aspirations. The future of the nation deserves more attention, and above all else, a unified approach and long-term vision that is effective, sustainable, and resilient.