President’s take on MPs’ foreign jaunts | Daily News

President’s take on MPs’ foreign jaunts

President Maithripala Sirisena has once again broached the subject of foreign trips, made by politicians, bureaucrats and public officials. Appearing on Television the other day, the President, as he has done before, raised the whole question of the cost benefits of these trips, and, if, whatever knowledge gained by the overseas visits by politicians and officials are put to productive use, on their return. He noted that, while some officials made use of their knowledge, gained at overseas seminars, or workshops, and applied this knowledge for the benefit of the country, on their return, there were others who failed to make use of the opportunity. In the latter situation, it was clearly a waste of tax payers’ money, for, the tab for these visits are picked up by the ordinary public.

Of course, one cannot complain of a parliamentarian making the occasional trip overseas. Loaded with a multiplicity of perks and privileges, as they already are, one could well ask why make a fuss about a foreign trip. There is also the case of MPs representing rural outbacks, who had emerged from among the ordinary masses. They can’t be grudged getting the occasional chance to travel abroad. But there are some, who undertake foreign trips, as a matter of routine. Sometimes, parliament is one quarters empty, with members gone on foreign sojourns, neglecting their duties as legislators.

The President’s concern is only to be expected. Today, not only parliamentarians, but also provincial councillors and even pradeshiya sabha members undertake foreign visits for various seminars, workshops and study tours. These programmes are meant to educate the participants of the advanced developments in the various productive spheres, adopted in those developed countries. It is however moot whether those worthies who made the trip, benefited from the whole exercise. We say this because many a foreign visit have been made by our MPs, PCs to study systems operating in the countries they visit, pertaining to important sectors and situations such as natural disaster. However, the country appears to be at square one even after these visits. We don’t see anything being done, so far, to mitigate flood havoc or landslides. The garbage problem remains a serious issue to this day, despite the many visits made by parliamentarians to foreign countries to study ways of tackling this burgeoning problem. When the Meethotamulla garbage mountain collapsed, the Disaster Management Minister was abroad attending a seminar on Disaster Management. What solutions he brought with him, no one is the wiser.

One wonders if those sent for these seminars and study tours are the right choices. This is, given the recent revelation, that as much as one third of our legislators have not passed even their GCE O/L examination. Were these visits then mere joy rides? Were those sent for these programmes handpicked by the leaders of political parties as a means of rewarding them, rather than considering their education and competence? There can be no complain if the funds for these trips came from pockets of the participants. But it is the tax payers’ money which is being squandered, for zero returns. It is not just the study tours undertaken by MPs. There are also the so called official trips made by numerous ministers abroad, more often than not accompanied by family members. There are also foreign trips made by ministers to visit their children studying abroad and also look into the fortunes of their business interests- all at the cost of the tax payer. What benefit the country derives from these ‘official visits’ is anyone’s guess. There was once a Foreign Minister, who made a visit to Iceland, a country far removed from Sri Lanka’s orbit, needless to say with spouse and brood in tow. How the country benefited from this visit, no one could hazard a guess.

Be that as it may, all foreign visits undertaken by parliamentarians, should necessarily yield some form of benefit to the country. There should be a system of follow up, to ascertain if whatever knowledge gained by these visits is put to good use for the welfare of the country. A government minister’s presence is of course is a sine qua non when negotiating financial aid and trade deals. On other occasions, if only a minister’s presence is deemed vitally necessary, that he/she should undertake the trip. We have competent diplomats at the other end who should be able to deal with matters that do not require the presence of government ministers. Of course, it is entirely a different matter if a diplomat concerned is an ignoramus who owed his appointment to political patronage. There was the instance where a close relative of a VVIP of the last regime being appointed as Ambassador to a country, which is the world’s leading Super Power. Being an individual at his wits end, it was left to the government of the day to hire PR firms at the other end, to perform the duties of this ‘diplomat’, at enormous cost to the tax payer.


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