OVERSEAS study tours of public servants, which appear to be nothing but pleasure trips at the cost of public money, in most cases have produced no results. Yet they do not cease to be included in project planning. Public agencies keep coming up with proposals with provisions for overseas trips and fund allocation for such trips although policymakers have repeatedly sounded warnings against the squandering of public money by way of such futile exercises. The prime minister is reported to have spoken against such foreign tours of government officials. A collusion between project implementing agencies and the planning ministry comes, as the planning minister admits, at play in tours. In most cases, project implementing agencies create provisions for foreign tours accommodating officials from departments and ministries, which have nothing to do with the projects but have the power to approve the tours. Such tours are an added and unnecessary burden on the development budget. Even when there have been talks against overseas tours in the past few years, the government allocated Tk 3,129.59 crore in the 2018–19 financial year, about Tk 4,064 crore in the 2019–20 financial year and Tk 3,960 crore in the 2020–21 financial year for the purpose.
The planning minister’s suggestion, as New Age reported on Thursday, that there should be an assessment of the impact of almost a year’s break in overseas study tours because of the COVID-19 outbreak on the implementation of development projects is worth noting. The minister also observes that no major impact is to be found, suggesting the pointlessness of most of the overseas tours. In many cases, officials, who receive training, find it difficult to translate the knowledge into action as they are transferred to places where the training becomes irrelevant. What is worrying is that the government has allowed such trips for years — it opened the floodgate noticeably in September 2015 when Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha planned study tours to gather theoretical and practical knowledge of urban development. The National Economic Council in October 2019 approved an irrigation development project, with a provision for the training of two dozen officials in Australia, Germany and the Netherlands to gather experiences of how to dig ponds. In the recent past, many project proposals, with provisions for overseas tours, made the headlines and were criticised. Some of them are reported to have been approved while a few have been sent back by the approval authority for modification.
The practice of sending government officials abroad for training at the expense of public money has come to be an unacceptable proposition. The government must, therefore, be stringent about preventing the waste of public money in such a manner. The government agencies must also stop including provisions for unnecessary foreign trips in the name of training for officials. The government and the authorities concerned must, rather, strengthen local institutions, with financial and human resources, so that necessary training could be organised at home.
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