Would you believe the government officials of high, low and medium ranks from Bangladesh are visiting the United States of America and Australia to gather hands-on experience on the management of char (an area of land emerging from sea or river through accretion of silt and sand)?
A group of nine officials has reportedly recently concluded a visit to Australia and enriched (?) their knowledge about improving the living standard of 'char' people. Another group of 11 is now making preparations to go to the USA soon for the same purpose. Even a secretary-level official is included in the group.
It is understood that the news about officials making such a trip would not evoke any surprise. For, officials have been making similar trips for many years, to a no small part, wasting state and donors' funds. There have been questions about the selection of officials, purpose, and destinations of such visits. None, however, has ever bothered to give replies to queries. And similar trips have been going on, although relevant authorities are well aware of widespread irregularities involved in those.
The trip in question is being taken under a Tk 110-million project styled Char Development and Settlement Project Bridging. The UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is making available most of the project money. A proposal on the foreign visits of the officials under the project got the approval of the appropriate authority only days before the curb imposed on a foreign trip by the government officials to help save the country's reserve.
How could a proposal concerning such a redundant visit pass through all the official stages? Didn't they see all the peculiarities involved in the proposal? What the IFAD has done? As the major financier, it was supposed to object to such an irrelevant trip.
It does not require any elaboration that the interested officials themselves prepared the so-called study programme, selected destinations and got it passed through various steps to make pleasure trips. It is easy to understand the trip's outcome as one of the nine officials who has just concluded the Australia trip is due to join a different ministry and another will go on retirement in September next.
A vernacular daily broke the story in its last Wednesday's issue giving details of a study trip to Australia and the USA. Stories of similar nature came out in newspapers in the past as well. But nothing could deter the government officials from organising such wasteful trips.
Allegations have it that despite having no provision for making similar foreign visits in the original project profiles, a section of officials make the same later and insist on including the same. The donor agencies do need to raise objections to such irregularities and withdraw funds. They do not have reasons to succumb to any kind of pressure.
The approving authorities also need to prevent the wastage of government funds on trips like this. They are expected to look into the relevance of foreign study tours and other programmes before giving their seal of approval.