Foreign trips are no gifts to be doled out to state officials
We're alarmed to see the lack of response to concerns over unnecessary foreign trips made by many state officials as part of government projects. We have repeatedly brought this to the attention of the higher authorities in recent months. However, apart from occasionally reprimanding project officials for cost overruns or placing blanket but largely ineffective bans on foreign trips, they never really put the brakes on this farcical exercise. As a recent report by The Daily Star shows, in the absence of effective interventions, these all-expenses-paid "training" trips have turned into "gifts" to be doled out to well-connected officers.
What we're looking at is an example of gross irregularities both in the selection and approval processes of foreign trips, with the officials not even submitting a post-trip training report or proof of application of the knowledge acquired.
Our report cites the case of 13 projects audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General of Bangladesh. These projects were implemented from FY 2017-18 to FY 2019-20 by the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), the Department of Livestock and the Department of Fisheries. In case of the DAE, as many as 228 officials went abroad under seven projects. Of them, however, 45 were above 55 years of age, with 23 of them just one year shy of their retirement age. More worryingly, 73 others had nothing to do with the projects at all. It was the same case in the projects under the Department of Fisheries, where as many as 30 percent of officials sent abroad for training were not from the implementing agencies. Sixteen percent of officials in two projects were also above the age of 55.
Overall, in all these projects, 16-20 percent of the officials going abroad to gain practical knowledge were above 55. The question is, how does a training trip by a soon-to-retire or retiring officer serve the country or the citizens, who end up paying for these expensive trips? As well as nominating officials close to retirement, often people who were not part of the implementing agencies, or were too high up the hierarchy to engage in knowledge transfer at field level, were also chosen. What we're looking at is an example of gross irregularities both in the selection and approval processes of foreign trips, with the officials not even submitting a post-trip training report or proof of application of the knowledge acquired. The motivation here is clearly personal, a collusive arrangement justified in the name of capacity building under development project proposals (DPPs).
Unfortunately, this has become a part of the project implementation culture in Bangladesh. Large portions of project funds are thus spent in non-essential areas or wasted, eventually contributing to frequent cost overruns that have become typical of most development projects. We urge the government to take a firmer stance against such corrupt practices, and hold all involved accountable for wasting hard-earned public money.