Overseas tour plans continue to plague public projects

Published at 12:00am on September 30, 2020

OVERSEAS trips of public servants, mostly unnecessary and a means of waste of public money, do not appear to cease in project planning. Public agencies keep coming up with proposals with provisions for overseas trips although policymakers have for long sounded warnings against the squandering of public money by way of such futile foreign trips. A recent Department of Narcotics Control proposal for training, scheduled for January 2020–December 2022, at a cost of about Tk 63 crore to build its capacity for drug tests in public service recruitment appears to be another addition to a series. The department plans to send its officials, along with some home ministry officials, to Singapore and Colombia to gather knowledge about drug testing at a cost of Tk 1.4 crore to be taken from a block allocation. The planning ministry is, however, reported to have objected to the programme and many other components of the project such as irrationally high pricing of equipment.

The planning ministry, which has held a number of meetings to evaluate the project proposal, has objected to the estimated cost of Tk 3.5 crore for a database, saying that the department could easily use the national data centre for the purpose. The ministry has sought clarifications from the narcotics department. What is worrying is that the proposal at hand resembles almost all recent projects criticised for being overpriced. In the middle of September, a project proposal of the primary education ministry involving Tk 19,296 crore, with a provision for overseas training of about 500 officers at a cost of Tk 5 crore, for free midday meals for students of government primary schools for five years drew criticism while the planning ministry is reported to have found the project overvalued and sent it back for a revision. A week ago, a project proposal for the Population and Housing Census 2021 prepared by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistic made the headlines for planning to spend 10–211 times the amount it spent on its earlier census in 2011 in procurement. Even though policymakers directed public servants on a number of occasions not to make foreign trips in the name of study tours and not to squander public money through inflated procurement budget, both foreign trips and irrational spending in procurement do not cease to come up in proposals.

The government must, therefore, be stringent about stopping the waste of public money in such a manner and hold to account officials planning the tours. The authorities concerned must also enhance its oversight and analyse procurement proposals under projects to stop irrational spending.