02/25/2006, 00.00
BHUTAN

Unemployment rising as economy grows

by Prakash Dubey

The problem is linked to an education system unable to produce skilled manpower so that industries must turn to foreign labour. There is risk of social tension.

Thimphu (AsiaNews) – Bhutan's economic growth is nullified by the country's high unemployment rate, as it is paradoxically forced to seek human resources from abroad. At the root of the problem is an education system which does not succeed in producing qualified manpower, thus leading to the risk of creating strong social tensions.

The recent growth of the construction industry and the revival of tourism in Bhutan have increased its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 8.7%. But data is "infected" by the virus of rising unemployment, especially among youth, who drop out of school between the ages of 15 and 19.

Adults in the country fear this could lead to discontent among youth and threaten the passage to parliamentary democracy in 2008.

According to Bhutan's Royal Monetary Authority (RMA), over the past two years the unemployment rate has increased from 1 to 3%. The main causes identified by research include the incapacity of the construction industry to create more jobs. In a recent report, the RMA revealed that the construction industry had registered a 20% growth rate but its contribution to national employment was a mere 3%.

Devendra Subba, an Indian engineer working in Bhutan, said: "Such a bleak scenario is due to the fact that the construction industry invests mostly in engaging skilled laborers. There is a great dearth of skilled labourers in Bhutan and we meet their requirement from India and Nepal." Subba said the Bhutanese education system was incapable of creating a skilled workforce and the government needed to introduce education reforms, "otherwise we will depend on foreign nations not only for funds but also for qualified personnel."

The RMA report confirms Subba's fears: foreign workers in Bhutan employed in the construction sector extract more than 41 million US dollars from the national economy per year, which they send to their countries of origin. Agriculture and forestry absorb more than 60% of jobs.

Subba continued to say that this situation, together with the increasing foreign debt, could create serious social tensions: "it could feed the resentment felt by the local population towards foreign workers, who 'gobble up' their job opportunities."

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