Labor Minister D.Sarangerel fired for ‘insulting’ people

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  On Monday, Minister of Labor and Social Protection D.Sarangerel presented policies to be implemented within the framework of the transition from welfare to labor. However, the public was outraged by her speech, which discriminated against and looked down on citizens. Following public demands for the minister’s dismissal, the government removed D.Sarangerel from her position as a minister, Chief Cabinet Secretary D.Amarbayasgalan reported on Tuesday.

In specific, the minister compared the citizens’ lives to foot soles (untouchable or bottoms), saying, “Our ministry calls poor families as ‘soles’ families. They will be trained as hairdressers.”

People fear that Mongolia will soon have only two social classes: the very poor (or “soles” people as D.Sarangerel called it) and the upper class. It’s getting harder and harder to live in the middle class, they say.

Lawyers, for instance, highlight that the fact that the minister discriminated against citizens by calling them “soles” violates the Constitution of Mongolia and shows no sense of human rights. More specifically, Article 14.2 of the Constitution states that no person shall be discriminated against on the basis of ethnic origin, language, race, age, gender, social origin and status, property and assets, employment occupation and official position, religion and conscience, conviction and opinion and education.

Chief Cabinet Secretary D.Amarbayasgalan informed the public that Director of Mongolian-Russian Joint School J.Soronzon was dismissed for this very reason. In the same way, citizens strongly supported the idea to have D.Sarangerel resign for her impertinence.

Former Minister of Labor and Social Protection N.Nomtoibayar also expressed on his Twitter account on Tuesday morning, “When I was a minister, I never heard of ‘soles’ families. Leaders are seeing society under the caste system!” In fact, the lowest stratum casts in India is named Dalit or “untouchable” and “bottoms”.

Following the public backlash, Minister D.Sarangerel and the relevant officials held a press conference on Tuesday. 

“I apologize personally for making a careless mistake in calling families below the poverty level as ‘sole’ families. I was told by an expert that the international term used to describe the lowest level of poverty translates to ‘soles’ or ‘bottoms’ families. I apologize for saying it recklessly and for upsetting so many people. I admit my choice of words was wrong. I am a daughter of a family with many children. I had absolutely no intention to belittle or look down on anyone’s standard of living. But my biggest goal is getting people out of poverty. I have no intention of looking down on anyone or discriminating on the basis of wealth. It was my mistake to use translated words. I fully agree that in the future, I should pay attention to the choice of words I use,” the minister said.

She acknowledged her guilt but did not say that she would take full responsibility for it. When reporters asked the minister whether she would take responsibility for her actions and resign, she did not answer.

Meanwhile, the Youth Democratic Union protested and made a statement outside the State Palace on the same day. They demanded the government dismiss Minister D.Sarangerel.

Head of the union N.Boldbaatar said, “In her statement, Minister D.Sarangerel discriminated against the citizens of Mongolia by calling them very poor or bottoms. We consider this a violation of the universal principles of human rights and the Constitution of Mongolia. Therefore, Minister D.Sarangerel and Prime Minister L.Oyun-Erdene should apologize to the people. She should be dismissed. Therefore, we demand that the government take responsibility for this act of breaking the law. Ministers are rich. A minister’s child becomes a minister. It’s time to change this society. (Ministers) have degraded society and the economy to this extent and they have trampled ordinary people under their soles for many years. The government that trampled on the rights of its citizens should apologize.”

On the other hand, another thing that enraged the public was the policy and plan announced by the ministry. Specifically, within the framework of the transition from welfare to labor, the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection has set a goal of lifting 1,520 families with below average incomes out of poverty. In the first phase, families in Bayanzurkh, Songinokhairkhan and Chingeltei districts that need to be supported will be selected and people aged between 18 and 55 who are able to work will be trained as hairdressers.

In addition, these people will be given jobs and hairdressing tools such as combs and hair dyes. Their families will also be looked after for two years. This work is scheduled to start in November and if it succeeds, Mongolia will be able to create a model of eliminating poverty, Minister D.Sarangerel boasted.

Citizens believe that it is not an optimal decision to spend budget money on useless things like buying combs and hair dyes, and they doubt whether there is a demand for more than 1,000 people to become hairdressers. In fact, rather than educating and training these people, they suggest the ministry to focus on the more important issue connected to the increase in prices of products and comprehensive pension reform specified in the revision of the Labor Law.

Minister D.Sarangerel explained, “The most important thing of this program is to select 1,520 very poor people and teach them the skills that are in demand in the market within two months. Just yesterday, I tried out the hairdressing training. We have no problem training 1,500 people as hairdressers. We are conducting market research. We aim to create an opportunity for these people to earn 1 million MNT or more per month by getting certification in some kind of profession.”

According to the minister, the above program and plan were developed without any research. In other words, she acknowledged that the ministry is going to spend public money on works with uncertain outcomes and consequences. Officials did not confirm through research whether these people can earn more than 1 million MNT after specializing in hairdressing. In reality, what the labor and social protection sector really needs is major reforms, not such ineffective and vague plans.

D.Sarangerel previously served as the minister of health and minister of environment and tourism. At these posts, she was heavily criticized by the public for washing a lot of money under the guise of introducing expensive COVID-19 treatment and for failing to make rational and effective decisions. She recently replaced former Minister of Labor and Social Protection A.Ariunzaya during the restructuring of the government. At the time, citizens expressed their displeasure with her appointment, but it was ignored by the government.

While serving as the minister of environment and tourism, D.Sarangerel expressed her position on the visa issue, causing another controversy. Particularly, she said, “It is difficult to get a visa in Mongolia. I believe that this problem will be solved. A big goal has been set to increase the number of tourists to 1 million. There is an opportunity to develop tourism by tightening the control over visa issues at the border and ‘shake’ or take the money of rich people from our southern neighbor.” The public criticized the minister for her crudity and insensitivity.

It is unfortunate that a person with such incompetence and no sense of human rights was working as a minister for years. That is why people called on the government to dismiss her in unison.

LABOR SUPPORT AND MAJOR REFORMS ARE NEEDED

The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, the National Statistics Office of Mongolia and the World Bank jointly announced the official poverty rate estimation for 2020. 

According to the survey, 207,800 people are able to work but are unemployed. Of these citizens, 70,700 are potential labor force and 49,400 are people who want to work but are not actively looking for a job. Last year, 19.1 percent of enterprises in Mongolia faced a shortage of manpower.

Unfortunately, some officials explained that this situation arose due to “the laziness” of young people. In fact, young people are doing hard physical work in foreign countries because their work is under-appreciated and under-valued in Mongolia. In other words, the welfare policy was too extensive, which discouraged citizens from working for the country. Therefore, in addition to the above problems, citizens are criticizing the government for not taking measures to create a society that values and supports labor.

The plan D.Sarangerel presented included the following measures:

• The Employment Support Fund will provide funding for local job creation. Funding will be received after the calculation is done. A result agreement will be concluded.

• Job seekers will be assessed on their individual capabilities. The employment agency will work with job seekers until they are employed.

• Discounted, interest-free and collateral-free loans will be provided to the self-employed and micro-entrepreneurs. At least 50 percent of the citizens to get loans must be women. Loans will be provided through banks and about 1,400 self-employed and micro-entrepreneurs can apply.

• Participatory projects will be implemented to instill soft skills and the right attitude in the youth. About 5,000 people will be trained and 80 percent of them will be employed.

• Contracts will be signed with universities and vocational training centers in advance, and support will be provided to organizations that will provide employment to graduates for more than one year after graduation.

• A digital labor exchange will be operated. 

After the controversy, Minister D.Sarangerel said, “Young people are not lazy. But their wages are insufficient, so we are going to provide the business foundation or initial financial support that will enable them to pay out loans for the houses they want. For example, 28 billion MNT interest-free loans will be provided to reduce poverty in rural areas through the Employment Fund. A loan of 20 billion MNT is also going to be issued in urban areas.”

CHILD ALLOWANCE CUT-DOWN PROPOSED

Minister D.Sarangerel insulted the citizens as “bottoms” while Speaker of Parliament G.Zandanshatar said that the number of affluent citizens, who do not need child allowances, is increasing.

He noted, “Expenditures other than salaries and wages of the state budget increased from 5.4 trillion MNT in 2008 to 10.3 trillion MNT in 2021. This is due to increased welfare. Next year’s budget will be discussed at the fall session. The decision to increase the monthly child allowance to 100,000 MNT in order to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic should be reconsidered. A total of 1.5 trillion MNT is being spent on child allowances. According to a survey conducted by the Mongolian National Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Mongolian Employers’ Federation, the number of business owners who do not need to receive child allowances is constantly increasing. In next year’s state budget, children’s money should be directed to specific groups. The public should be properly informed about this. Welfare money is ultimately funded by taxpayers’ money. Therefore, it will be used to create a 24-hour daycare or appropriate working conditions for young parents.”

The authorities are saying that either people are extremely poor or there are too many rich people getting child allowances. It is unfortunate that they are actually undermining the current situation without any research.

Minister D.Sarangerel

Misheel Lkhasuren

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