Toward leaner, rational governance | Daily News


Toward leaner, rational governance

All citizens with a conscience will salute the decision taken by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to slash the size of delegations accompanying Government Ministers on official visits abroad. Additionally, the President has asked his Ministers and MPs to cut down on their own foreign travel as far as possible.

Henceforth, only ten members will be permitted in the ministerial entourages on foreign visits, in terms of a directive issued by the President. The President has already shown the way in this regard with his first visit abroad (to India), having only a five-member delegation accompanying him.

This is part of an overall drive by the President to drastically cut down on wasteful expenditure in ministries and Government departments. The President’s move, no doubt, would have been prompted by the all too frequent practice of jumbo delegations towing Government ministers on foreign trips, the outcomes of which are unknown to the public. Not just Government Ministers, even Provincial Council Ministers have been bitten by the travel bug with hoards of them making overseas trips.

Not too long ago, the public was treated to news reports that no less than 43 Councillors of the Western Provincial Council had spent a massive Rs. 43 million of tax payers’ money on four foreign trips just a few weeks before the expiration of the term of the WPC. According to a finding by COPE, the jaunts were undertaken in defiance of a directive by the Presidential Secretariat, which had placed a moratorium on foreign trips by Provincial Councillors and Local Government members unless Treasury approval was granted.

What is more, the amount spent on these foreign trips had been deemed by COPE as unnecessary and a waste of public funds. What is even astounding is that the WPC’s fixed deposits, that stood at a healthy Rs.4,775 million, had dwindled to just Rs. 800 million at the end of its term and all foreign trips undertaken had been financed through these fixed deposits.

One would not have begrudged such foreign trips by our elected representatives if they have yielded results in cost benefit terms. But what benefit has accrued to the Western Province is anybody’s guess. Suffice it to say that, along with this extravagance, Colombo city, which is the heart of the Western Province, had become a stinking metropolis due to uncollected garbage. The CMC was unable to comprehensively resolve the problem of garbage disposal until the change in Government stemmed the rot.

The Western Provincial Council gained notoriety for its extravagance and for splurging on unnecessary projects including installing a massive door and air purifiers/perfume dispensers at its new office complex in Battaramulla. The Central Provincial Council too made news when a large group of its councillors took wing to Bangkok at a huge cost to the taxpayer.

Obviously, there must be a mechanism that can stop unnecessary foreign jaunts and expenses beforehand both by Parliamentarians and lower rung legislators. There is no knowing how much more taxpayers money would have been squandered on wasteful foreign jaunts had Provincial Councils still been in operation.

Now that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has restrained foreign travel by Ministers he also ought to read the riot act that any foreign trip undertaken by them should be accompanied by results beneficial to the country. This perhaps is due to the realization that the purposes for which most of the foreign trips undertaken by Ministers could have been accomplished by our envoys at the other end, obviating the need for them (Ministers) to undertake such costly trips at the expense of the taxpayer. The same rules should apply to the PCs and local government bodies.

Most of the members in the delegations accompanying ministers abroad hardly fit the bill and, rather, owed this favour to political loyalties and for past services rendered. Hence, they are seen as merely taking joy rides at tax payers’ expense. Ditto for ‘advisors’ to Ministers, which is why the President’s decision to restrict such ‘advisors’ to only one per minister is to be commended.

Gone also are the often freely abused vehicle import permits hitherto granted to all Parliamentarians and, the expenditure lavished on external trappings, facades and ostentation. The removal of images of the Head of State from the walls of Government institutions be replaced by the State emblem was an early initiative. Aligned with his decision to slash the high salaries drawn by some Department heads and indiscriminate recruitment to state bodies, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has shown he means business when he vowed to eliminate waste, extravagance and corruption in Government.

Now, by restraining foreign travel for ministers and slashing the number of delegates accompanying them, the President has dealt firmly with another area in which the taxpayers’ money is unfairly appropriated.

This country can ill afford the haemorrhaging of scarce financial resources for the maintenance and upkeep of individuals some of whom have not even the basic educational qualifications. Thus, this is a decision that all right thinking citizens will applaud.

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