KATHMANDU, Aug 29: Amid reports of scores of Nepali migrant workers in foreign land particularly Gulf countries and Malaysia awaiting repatriation for various reasons, millions of rupees meant for their welfare in foreign countries are reported to have been misused.
The amounts collected from Nepali migrants going for foreign employment for their welfare are channelized to respective Nepali embassies in foreign countries through the Migrant Workers' Welfare Fund (MWWF) under the Foreign Employment Promotion Board (FEPB), to be used for the welfare of migrant workers under different headings like rescuing stranded migrants and taking initiations to repatriate them.
Likewise, the fund is used to send bodies back home in case a migrant worker dies there, give compensation to the family of a migrant died in foreign land and provide medical treatment for migrant workers injured there.
However, the Nepali embassies in various nine foreign countries have been charged with failing to clear years of arrears while authenticity of their expenditure details has been questioned. Ultimately, the case has landed in the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA).
Each migrant worker is bound to pay Rs 1,000 meant for the welfare of migrant workers, deposited in the MWWF. The family of a migrant worker who died in foreign countries is entitled to receive Rs 300,000 in compensation, provided through the MWWF and up to Rs 300,000 will be provided for the treatment of a migrant injured in foreign land.
The FEPB says the embassies are yet to clear arrears since 2065 BS. The embassy in South Korea is yet to clear arrears of around Rs 11.6 million so far, the embassy in Malaysia approximately Rs 11 million, the embassy in Qatar over Rs 9.1 million, the embassy in Saudi Arabia nearly Rs 5.5 million, the embassy in UAE around Rs 2.1 million, the embassy in Oman about Rs 1.2 million, the embassy in Egypt over Rs 400,000, the embassy in Israel over Rs 300,000 and the embassy in Kuwait over Rs 300,000.
Office bearers of the FEPB say that the figure may go up as this is a preliminary estimate.
Likewise, last year, Nepali embassy in Saudi Arabia cleared arrears of over Rs 15 million, embassy in Kuwait over Rs 6 million, embassy in South Korea over Rs 5 million, embassy in Qatar over Rs 3 million and embassy in Dubai over Rs 2 million.
However, the embassies in Malaysia, Oman, Israel and Egypt are yet to clear last year's arrears.
What's more, the embassies in question have instead been producing the bills for purchasing vehicles for themselves, paying employee's salary, providing them allowance and paying telephone, snack, food, furniture and telephone bills among others. Some of these expenditure bills are reported to be produced on only paper questioning its authenticity, say the FEPB officials.
Furthermore, the budget meant for the welfare of migrant workers is reported to being used to fund foreign trips by Minister for Labor and Employment and other embassy employees.
Executive Director of the FEPB Raghuraj Kafle says that such problem would be resolved once the audits of expenditure details are performed by the respective embassies themselves, instead of passing the task to the FEPB back in Nepal for the same purpose.
"The expenditure details prepared by respective embassies are sent to Nepal for audit. The Office of the Comptroller General asks us about the audit. We are finding it difficult to verify the produced bills for the expenditures," he says.
Some of these bills are old and worn out and written in Arabic, which makes it difficult for the FEPB officials to understand, he adds.
The FEPB is required to send budget to respective embassies to be spent on the welfare of Nepali migrants each fiscal year on the basis of the volume of preceding fiscal year's expenditure details.
It would help sort out the problems if the embassies audit their expenditure details themselves and send back the unused budget back to the FEPB, say the FEPB officials.
The existing trend of the embassies passing the task of auditing their expenditure details to the FEPB for the same purpose may encourage corruption, they also warn.
Embassy employees' field visit for the welfare of migrant workers in foreign countries is funded by money from the FEPB. Experts demand a clear definition that such visit by embassy employees is funded by the FEPB or the respective embassy itself bears it.
Assistant spokesperson for the CIAA Khagendra Prasad Rijal says that the CIAA is investigating the reports of the misuse of budget by the embassies. "All necessary documents are collected and investigation is ongoing," he adds.
"The budget sent by the FEPB is found being spent in other administrative expenses and for personal interest instead of using for the purpose for which the budget is allocated," he says.
When asked, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bharat Raj Poudel refutes the size of arrears yet to be cleared by the embassies in question as reported. "The problem may occur as the embassies have kept the unused budget for themselves for the next fiscal year," he says. RSS