I am privileged to be a trustee of the Nepal Umbrella Foundation, which rescues and rehabilitates young men and women trafficked into slavery and prostitution. The foundation’s remit, however, does not embrace the institutionalized exploitation of these vulnerable people by their own government and licensed recruitment agencies. Corrupt agents and government officials in Nepal are bleeding millions of dollars from their own countrymen and women seeking foreign employment. With an adult unemployment rate of 46%, it is natural that Nepalese look for employment overseas. Their primary destinations are Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and India. About 23% of Nepal’s gross domestic product is derived from remittances from overseas workers.
It may surprise people to know that the country has a relatively well-developed legislative framework governing foreign employment of its citizens. However, the existence of the legislation is where provision of protection for such workers ends. A comprehensive review by the organization Verité revealed that monitoring under the legislation is virtually worthless. None of the recruiting agents interviewed held the mandatory license. Most if not all recruiting agencies charged fees in excess of the statutory maximum.
All workers on overseas work contracts are supposed to go through a training program, but many of the training establishments provide a certificate for half the fee without requiring the worker to go through the program. Most of the recruiting agencies retain workers’ passports before departure to ensure that they cannot approach a rival agency. No receipts are required or delivered for payments made by the workers to the agencies. The necessary paperwork is so complex that workers are virtually compelled to go through recruiting agencies. All applications have to be processed by the Department of Foreign Employment, which only has an office in Kathmandu, thereby necessitating the cost of travel and accommodation in addition to all the other fees and expenses. But quite apart from the bureaucratic hurdles in the path of those seeking overseas employment, the United Nations has determined that the major beneficiary of the corrupt practices involved is the very government organ established to oversee the process, the Ministry of Labor Transportation and Management. In reality, this institutionalized criminality has been in place since Nepalis first began to seek employment abroad. It is financial cannibalism. First in line are the recruiting agencies in Nepal. They charge fees for every aspect of the process but their mental approach is to gauge how much money they can squeeze out of each applicant. Even if they adhere to the official fee rate on paper, there will be additional charges for everything including verifying citizenship certificates, booking appointments with government organs, organizing health checks and certificates – the list is endless. Even making flight reservations affords an opportunity to do a deal with an airline or travel agent for another “commission”.
Some years ago, an ex-Gurkha officer friend of mine established an office in Kathmandu to employ people to staff his UN-sponsored mine-clearing contracts. He provided training and health and life insurance. His expenses were all covered under his contract with the UN, hence the recruits engaged by his company were not charged any fee.
Recruiting agencies in Nepal recognized that this constituted a dire threat to their modus operandi, and they mounted a concerted attack on him, deploying every government department to shut him down. It was futile for him to
How ironic that the Nepal Umbrella Foundation should have to consider amending our declared objectives. Sadly, those of us familiar with the systemic corruption corroding the soul of Nepal know only too well the Herculean proportions of the task of throwing off this suffocating shroud.
Source : New York Times