December 5, 2018 02:00 AM NPT
The Office of the President and its chief occupant is expected to set example of simplicity—especially in countries struggling with dismal economic growth and poverty. But President Bidya Devi Bhandari has been widely criticized for unnecessary pomp and her hunger for luxuries. President Bhandari has been criticized over ongoing process of purchasing luxury cars for her office. While this continues, it has been found that Nepal has sent the head of state to the UN Climate Change Conference in Poland, at a cost of several millions to state coffers, while most other countries—China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan to name a few—have sent delegations led by environment ministers, senior officials or climate experts. India, for example, sent Union Environment Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan to COP-24 while Pakistan is represented in the forum by Prime Minister’s advisor on climate change. Why did Nepal send the head of the state to the event which could have been attended by ministers, top government officials or even experts? And why did Office of President agree to go on such event without caring for President’s status?
When the President travels, it significantly raises the cost of the visit for a secretary or senior joint secretary, the chief of protocol, protocol officers and an interpreter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs need to accompany her. The secretary at the President’s Office, advisers and other officials also accompany the visit. According to the experts, such misplaced priorities of visits by head of state erode Nepal’s diplomatic image abroad. President’s visit also stands against government’s commitment to cut unnecessary foreign junkets. One of the first things Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli took on when he assumed office in February this year was to limit the foreign junkets of ministers and government officials. The idea was to prevent taxpayers’ hard-earned money from being misused in foreign trips of no substance. That was the right initiative as ministers and the top government bureaucrats had made foreign trips one of their top priorities.
In April, Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers had issued regulations to make trips abroad transparent, more useful, result-oriented and economical. The regulations had mentioned that foreign visits should be prioritized based on the gravity of the bilateral and multilateral functions in the international arena. Two months later, the government made it mandatory for officials and staff of local governments planning foreign visits to obtain clearance from the Ministry of Federal Affairs and General Administration. But like many of the good moves this government took in the initial days, this has failed. Record shows that more than 5,000 government employees and officials from various ministries have taken foreign trips on taxpayers’ money. In October, Finance Ministry had released Rs 5.3 million in reimbursement for trips taken by ministers and government employees. We are not opposed to government ministers, prime minister and the president going on foreign trips. But when we start sending the head of state to the forum which could have been attended by ministers or even officials, it belittles the office of presidency and the country. For nobody has the right to misuse taxpayer’s money in foreign junkets. Our head of state cannot be the exception.