10-16 April 2015 #753

Junketing officials

Sujit Mahat in Kantipur, 7 April
  • Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat recently took an all expenses paid trip to Australia to inaugurate a Global IME bank branch.

  • Tourism Minister Deepak Amatya went on a two-week trip to Hong Kong and China with UML leader Jhala Nath Khanal ostensibly to evaluate the route for the new Nepal Airlines Airbus. There are rumours the real reason is to discusse financials of the new regional Pokhara Airport being build with a Chinese Exim Bank loan.

  • Water Resource Minister Radha Gyawali flew off on Wednesday to France on a 10-day trip paid for by the French contractor for the Budi Gandaki Project. This is her eighth foreign trip since she became minister last year. She hasn’t even informed the Nepal Electricity Authority about her trip.

While all this junketeering is going on the Prime Minister’s Office is drafting rules governing foreign trips for officials. The committee is against the Prime Minister, ministers and other high ranking officials from taking trips abroad paid by private companies, commission agents, donor agencies and NGOs.

“The Finance Minister going on a trip paid by a private company is a clear case of conflict of interest,” one official said.

Kathmandu-based embassies now routinely nominate their candidate for trips and trainings abroad so their bosses aren’t tempted to take the trip themselves. The American Embassy recently nominated Yam Kumari Khatiwada, joint secretary at the Ministry of Industry, for a security training in Hawaii.

The official said this is also not a good trend: “If this is not stopped, Nepali officials will be beholden to foreign embassies.”

Cabinet secretary Prem Kumar Rai is in the committee drawing up the rules on foreign trips which will be based on a 2013 criteria to only send specialists for conferences and trips, and not random people. Senior officials were supposed to be barred from observation trips. A secretary and the minister from the same ministry cannot go on a trip at the same time. A minister can have only three people and a secretary up to two people in their entourage. A high ranking official cannot spend more than 50 days a year on foreign visits.

Although Nepal only gets five yearly passes for UN General Assembly, records show that up to 48 people have gone to New York to attend it. The smallest team had 17 members led by Khil Raj Regmi. An official at the Prime Minister’s Office says: “Since the UN GA falls around Dasain, most officials go there to visit children and relatives in the US.”

There have been national embarrassments like the secretary of the Ministry of Science and Technology who went to a workshop in Macau as member of a team of someone junior to him. Ministers have gone on trips meant for joint secretaries. Joint secretary Sharad Kumar Bhattarai of the Home Ministry even went for a training for firefighters in Japan.

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