A welcome move | Daily News

A welcome move

Orders have gone from the top to all ministers and MPs against undertaking overseas trips unless the mission is deemed very essential, according to a news report. This is a most welcome development particularly amidst the worst economic crisis to hit the country since Independence and when we are starved of dollars to pay even for the basic essentials. Foreign travel is a costly affair which should be undertaken only as a last resort. After all, we have capable envoys, who, no doubt, will be up to the task of handling matters without requiring the presence of ministers.

Time and again we have seen rulers imposing overseas travel bans on their MPs, but after a while things are back to square one. Most of the foreign trips made by ministers are in fact jaunts undertaken with family members at tax-payers’ expense. We even had a Foreign Minister during the Mahinda Rajapaksa Presidency who undertook a trip to Iceland with which Sri Lanka has little or no links whatsoever and with spouse and brood in tow.

We have a plethora of committees and oversight bodies to decide on every matter under the sun. A similar body should be appointed to decide on the validity of claims made by ministers who undertake overseas trips on grounds of importance. Today technology has advanced to such a level that makes overseas travel, for whatever purpose, redundant. Even leaders of developed countries communicate with each other via Zoom obviating the need for costly travel.

In this country politicians are known to travel abroad at the drop of a hat, and for flimsy reasons. A majority of tasks for which they travel abroad could be performed by our envoys at the other end. Not just MPs, even members of Provincial Councils and Local Government bodies too are bitten by the travel bug. Some time ago a sizable number of both ruling party members and that of the Opposition of the Central Provincial Council together went on a foreign trip spending millions of Rupees of tax-payers’ money. There was no record of the benefit that accrued to the Council or the public resulting from this trip. In future, whenever ministers or MPs go abroad ostensibly on important missions, a report should be called for showing how such a trip benefited the country or the people. In the absence of a satisfactory explanation, the entire cost of the journey should be recovered from the minister concerned. Ideally, the minister undertaking such a trip should inform Parliament of the results of such a trip.

Ministers/MPs should also not be allowed to be away from the country during Parliament sittings days except when unavoidable, particularly during the Budget Debates when the presence of ministers in the House is required. Of course, sometime ago, a case was made on behalf of new MPs, particularly those hailing from the outstations being given the opportunity to travel abroad. This, while being a reasonable request, nevertheless should be discouraged under the present circumstances when the country needs every dollar. There were also stories of ministers travelling abroad to visit their children who are receiving education in foreign countries. While there can be no objection to this, any such travel should be strictly undertaken at the minister's own expense. At no time should the tax-payer be made to foot the bill for ministers’ personal travel needs.

One also hears of Ministers and MPs undertaking “study tours” abroad. These trips should be strictly sponsored by the host country and the tax-payer spared by what after all are joyrides undertaken in the guise of so-called study tours. There is a doubt if these ‘study tours’ would have in any way benefited our erstwhile people's representatives if their level of education is anything to go by.

Opposition MPs travelling abroad should not make use of such visits to attack the Government or cause damage to the country. We saw such a phenomenon during the war years when certain Tamil politicians went abroad and raised human rights issues against the Government. Even Sinhala politicians were not beyond such practices as seen during 1988/89 era when prominent politicians from the then main Opposition went to Geneva and attacked the Government.

Meanwhile, Ministers who travel abroad for official purposes should limit their entourage to the barest minimum. There are certainly occasions when the presence of the minister is necessary to sign trade agreements, treaties etc. On such occasions he/she should be accompanied only by the relevant officials and no ‘passengers’ should be accommodated in the delegation. Similarly ministers going abroad for official purposes should avoid expensive accommodation and ideally should make the trip as short as possible, obviating the need for extra expenditure. Business Class travel and luxury accommodation in star class comfort should as far as possible be avoided in keeping with the times.

Given the state the country is in today the Government must ensure that all extravagances are done away with including frequent overseas travel by Ministers and MPs. This should also be extended as far as possible to other areas. The people are in no mood to indulge their representatives. 

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