July 25, 2017 02:30 AM NPT
KATHMANDU, JULY 24: Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's call to stop foreign junkets by government officials has done little to discourage civil servants from travelling abroad. On July 13, Deuba had instructed newly-appointed Chief Secretary Rajendra Kishor Kshetri to bar overseas trips by top bureaucrats and other officials for attending programs other than those concerning bilateral relations with foreign countries.
But tracking by Republica of government employees who acquired permission for overseas trips shows no decline in such visits.
Over 100 government staff are currently on foreign visits and twice as many more are in the queue to visit overseas in the next few weeks, according to information gathered from various agencies. The actual figure could be higher since information pertaining to some ministries is not included.
On Monday, 10 officials of the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development left for Australia to attend a 'sharing and learning program' on sub-national governance.
Since Friday, around 90 government employees including staff of the Ministry of Agricultural Development, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Women Children and Social Welfare, National Women's Commission, Ministry of Water Supply and Sanitation, Office of the Auditor General and Ministry of Finance left the country to attend various programs.
Among them, at least 16 officials of the Ministry of Agricultural Development and various departments are in South Korea and Switzerland. Last week, more than two dozen officials of the ministry had attended a program in Sri Lanka.
"Visits to South Korea and Sri Lanka took place through the World Bank funded PPCR: The Building Resilience to Climate Related Hazards Project of the World Bank is running an independent unit at the ministry, focusing on climate change-related issues," said Tika Ram Sharma, information officer at the ministry.
More than 90 percent of programs being attended by government officials involve study tours, exposure visits, impact evaluation workshops and capacity building workshops. Experts with knowledge of such trips said these visits are pure junkets involving huge costs.
Talking to Republica, officials at some of the ministries concerned said they are not happy over the way taxpayer money is being wasted on useless programs.
"This particular trip costs somewhere between Rs 600,000 to 800,000 per person. With that kind of money, we could have given residential training to around 1,000 government employees at local level. It would be good if the government bans such useless visits," an official at the Ministry of Federal Affairs said, referring to Monday's the Australia visit of his colleagues.
Sharma, however, defended the visits, saying they were good for the development of the employees concerned and the government agencies.
"Such visits are useful for learning the good practices of other countries in coping with the hazards of climate change. Experience gained from Sri Lanka and Korea will help officials develop appropriate action plans to reduce the impact of climate change on farmers," he said.
Meanwhile, nine officials from the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Minister, including Secretary Gopinath Mainali and eight officials from the Ministry of Education including Secretary Shanta Bahadur Shrestha returned on Monday after visiting Australia in defiance of PM Dueba's direction .