When nations around the globe are taking cost-saving measures to tackle the economic fallout of Covid-19 pandemic, Bangladesh has increased travel expenses for ministers, state ministers and deputy ministers by Tk 93 lakh.
The Cabinet Division sent a letter to all the ministries and divisions on August 25, mentioning the allocation for travel expenses for this fiscal year.
The letter signed by Syedur Rahman, deputy secretary at the Cabinet Division, stated a total of Tk 6.90 crore was allocated as travel allowances for the ministries, and a breakdown for each ministry was given.
In 2019-20, the allocation was around Tk 5.97 crore.
The rise may look insignificant but experts think the government should be more careful about how to spend funds as the economy has just started getting back on the road to recovery.
Even neighbouring India last week passed a bill to cut the salaries of MPs by 30 percent for one year to help supplement the financial resources necessary to tackle the pandemic.
Similarly, Bangladesh should reprioritise the resource reallocation and fiscal-monetary policies to meet the exigencies arising out of the pandemic, said the experts.
Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh, said, “At a time when the country is facing what the prime minister called a national crisis and when the government is starved of revenue to confront the multitude of challenges due to the pandemic, such increase of travel allowances is improper both on financial and ethical grounds.”
Allowances for travels cannot be treated as a source of income, he told The Daily Star.
“Publicly exposed persons in situations like this should lead by example by forgoing travel allowances which most of them can definitely afford, or for a maximum get reimbursed on actual basis, that too only if such travels are indispensable.”
He further said public representatives and ministers are expected to be mindful that their salaries and benefits are paid by the taxpayers, and there couldn’t be a worse timing to add such avoidable burdens.
The letter said the allocated money cannot be used for any other purpose other than travel. If money is required outside the allocation, it should be proposed and sent to the Cabinet Division.
Moreover, ministries and divisions will inform the Cabinet Division about travel expenses every three months.
Officials say usually the travel expenses of the ministers are borne by the government but they often travel abroad by invitations. In those cases, the host organisation bears the costs.
Contacted, Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam asked this correspondent to talk to the desk concerned and the person who signed the letter.
The signatory, Syedur Rahman, said, “I cannot say anything about this. I probably signed it as a leave substitute. The officer of the desk concerned can tell you about the issue.”
Contacted, an official of the ministerial service branch of the Cabinet Division, said the budget allocation was prepared in March and at that time it was not possible to forecast the gravity of the pandemic.
“There was no scope for forecasting. When the budget will be revised in January, there will be scope for returning the money if it is unspent,” said the official last week, requesting not to be named.