Flouting rules, officials spend on foreign trips

- ANIL GIRI, Kathmandu

Nov 26, 2018-

Cutting foreign junkets was one of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s first mandates after he took office earlier this year, but since then, more than 5,000 government employees and officials from various ministries have taken foreign trips on taxpayers’ money and the trend continues despite tightened procedures.

Some 824 officials spent 1,703 days in the months of June and July on sponsored visits, amassing millions of taxpayers’ money and affecting service delivery back home, according to the data prepared by the Prime Minister’s Office that excludes trips made by ministers and heads and members of constitutional bodies.

According to the document obtained by the Post, the Finance Ministry, in October, released Rs5.3 million in reimbursement for trips taken by ministers and government employees despite exceeding its allocated budget for foreign trips.

Rs3.5 million was paid to Finance Ministry officials alone while Rs1.3 million was spent on deputy PM and Defence Minister Ishwar Pokhrel’s visit to China. The rest of the expenditure is listed under the Ministry of Law and Parliamentary Affairs secretary’s visit to France.

As the PM’s Office continues to collect data for the period between August and November, preliminary data already indicate an upward surge in foreign visits by ministers and officials, which officials say, will be released soon.

“It is complicated to get the data related to expenditures by officials as the nature of the visits differs,” said PMO Under-secretary Bishnu Ghimire.

Officials said several countries hosted officials in various trips under sponsored visits and later deducted the expenses in their aid or loan pledged to Nepal.

In the last two months, the Defence Ministry topped the foreign junket list with 209 officials including Nepal Army members, followed by 122 officials from the Ministry of Home that included Nepal Police and Armed Police Force officials, 91 officials from the Ministry of Federal Affairs, 77 officials from the Ministry of Forest and Environment, and 48 officials from the Ministry of Health and Population.

“We asked officials to make important trips only and we are monitoring the situation,” said PMO Spokesperson Binod Kunwar, who admits that foreign trips made by officials have not declined despite repeated written instructions and stern warning from the prime minister and his office.

The government had earlier tightened the procedures to obtain diplomatic and official approval for lawmakers, chiefs and deputy chiefs of local bodies but none of the warnings and procedures seem to have worked.

In April, the PMO also issued regulations to manage foreign visits and junkets so that it can be transparent, more useful and result-oriented and lessen its impact on the state coffers. The regulations required all government offices to follow strict rules such as barring visits on state expenses, maintaining a mandatory reporting system and the process of nomination and criteria for foreign trips.

The regulation also required the ministries to publish on their websites the name of officials and bar them from international visits for at least two years. It clearly

outlined that visits should be prioritised on the basis of the gravity of the bilateral

and multilateral functions in the international arena but protocols have been largely ignored and half of the ministries are yet to submit their reports.

On June 12, the federal 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. Ironically, the ministry which first imposed the strict rules has the highest number of civil servants defying the protocols.

According to the ministry, officials without clearance from the ministry will not get visa recommendations from the department of consular service under the Foreign Ministry but parliamentarians in the House of Representatives continue their lobby and press the government to obtain diplomatic passports, regardless of the nature of their visit.

Published: 26-11-2018 07:28

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