INJUDICIOUS spending of public money on foreign trips of officials has become a regular phenomenon. There has been widespread criticism of such foreign trips, which are in effect pleasure trips that the bureaucrats take to gather knowledge. In October, the Planning Commission approved the Mujibnagar Irrigation Development Project, in which the implementing agency set aside Tk 1.68 crore for the training of two dozen officials in Australia, Germany and the Netherlands. The Chittagong Hill Tracts affairs ministry spends more than Tk 1.5 crore each year on sending their staff abroad on study tours. The application of knowledge gathered from such trips, however, remains vague. The prime minister at a meeting of the National Economic Council on Tuesday rightly, therefore, expressed serious disappointment at the misuse of taxpayers’ money in unjustified foreign trips of bureaucrats.
While this is not the first time that the prime minister has voiced her concern about this — she had asked government officials in October to refrain from frequent foreign trips with public money — only words hardly seem to work. Despite the prime minister’s cautions, the Biman Bangladesh and the Civil Aviation Authority have recently decided to send at least 10 people to Seattle to bring two Boeing 787-9s by spending taxpayers’ money, which has been criticised by aviation experts. In the 2018–19 financial year, the medical education wing allocated about Tk 20 crore for staff training abroad for an exposure to medical education. One office assistant who joined the programme did not know the purpose of the training as the letter of invitation was written in English. There are also reported instances in which retired bureaucrats have gone abroad using government funds. Such profligacy of public servant became possible in the absence of strict monitoring and the government’s lack of commitment to a transparent and accountable culture in public services. The government should, therefore, draw up rules and regulations about the planning of, budget allocation for and approval of foreign trips and provide for a clear directive on action against officials consequent on their reckless use of government funds.
A large amount of money spent on unnecessary foreign trips in the name of project implementation or improving public services is a clear sign of intransparency in approval process. The authorities concerned do not appear to have effectively enforced the Budget Management Act. The government must, therefore, take up the issue seriously. The Planning Commission and the cabinet must give clear directives to end the reckless use of taxpayers’ money.
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